The Premier League 2021-22 season kicked off in emphatic fashion on Friday, with fans welcomed back in numbers for the first time in 18 months.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some key talking points from this weekend’s top-flight matches.
Football is far better with fans
For the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, there were no restrictions on fan numbers allowed into Premier League grounds this weekend. Brentford and Arsenal supporters were the first to see their clubs and for many Bees followers it was the first time they had seen their side in the top flight. On Saturday a sell-out 72,732 crowd descended on Old Trafford for the lunchtime 5-1 win over rivals Leeds. Spectators up and down the country made their voices heard on a highly-anticipated return to normality.
Harry Kane’s future remains uncertain
The England captain had just two training sessions with Tottenham’s first team following his late return from holiday and missed their victorious Premier League opener over Manchester City, the club he wants to join, with the striker deemed not fit enough even for the bench. The saga over his future looks set to continue until the end of the transfer window, with Spurs needing an offer of over £150 million to get behind a negotiating table.
Liverpool and Chelsea lay down a marker
Virgil Van Dijk’s long-anticipated return from an anterior cruciate ligament injury in October 2020 coincided with one of Liverpool’s most dominant recent performances in a 3-0 win over newly-promoted Norwich. More encouraging for Jurgen Klopp will be the form of his strikers, with Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino all finding the net. For Chelsea, goals from Marcos Alonso, Christian Pulisic and top-flight debutant Trevoh Chalobah rounded off a thoroughly dominant 3-0 win over Patrick Vieira’s Eagles, just three days after they lifted the European Super Cup.
The relegation battle could be close
Norwich’s season did not start any better than their previous ill-fated top-flight campaign in 2019-20 when they were beaten 4-1 by Liverpool on the opening day, but manager Daniel Farke will be hoping their form picks up soon. However, the other recently-promoted sides, Watford and Brentford both secured unlikely victories despite being among the favourites to go down, with impressive wins over Aston Villa and Arsenal respectively.
Arsenal’s woes continue
Although Arsenal were without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette after both fell ill in the build-up to the game, it was a lacklustre performance and has raised questions about the future of manager Mikel Arteta. Ben White failed to impress on debut after a £50 million transfer from Brighton while the Gunners’ brightest spark was 21-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe. Arsenal will have to improve if they want to secure European football this season after falling short in the previous campaign.