Will Aubameyang save Arsenal all season? Are Man City getting better?
MANCHESTER, England -- Frank Lampard has hit back at Jose Mourinho's criticism of his team selection against Manchester United by insisting that he doesn't care what pundits say.
Mourinho, working for Sky Sports, said Lampard could have picked a team with more "know how" instead of selecting youngsters Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham for the 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford.
But Lampard rejected his former manager's claim by insisting more experienced players like N'Golo Kante, Olivier Giroud and Willian were not available to start.
"I can't drag people out of the medical room, whether they're experienced or not," said Lampard after his first competitive game as Chelsea boss.
"The players we played today, and on the bench, are the players we have. We were clearly the better team for 45 or even 60 minutes but we made individual errors that led to four goals from five shots. That's the harsh reality.
"I don't have to be too concerned about what anyone else says -- the pundits -- but what is clear is the squad is the squad we've got and I believe in it.
"Had we gone in at half-time 2-1 or 3-1 up, which we should have done, the game would have been completely different."
Lampard's team hit the post twice during an impressive first-half display but went in at the break a goal down thanks to Marcus Rashford's 18th-minute penalty.
United were clinical after the break and scored three times in 16 minutes through Rashford, Anthony Martial and Dan James prompting Mourinho, who also said Man City's "B Team" could beat United, to suggest that Chelsea had been hurt by a lack of experience.
"My feeling is that today they had a possibility to play with more know-how," Mourinho said. "[Marcos] Alonso was on the bench, Kante was on the bench, Giroud was on the bench, and to come to Old Trafford, even if this is not the huge Manchester United that used to scare people, it's Manchester United.
"It's the first match at home, the first match of the season, people are excited, the stadium is on fire waiting for something positive.
"A little bit of experience [from Chelsea] would fit well with the team. You look to the performance of Mason Mount, the performance of Tammy Abraham, you look to the performance even of [Andreas] Christensen and for matches of this dimension you need a little bit more."
Lampard admitted that the match had been a "reality check" for his young team, but refused to make excuses over missing international stars as the reason for the result.
"We are missing internationals and big players but I don't want that excuse," said Lampard.
"The team we put out today was clearly competing in the game for long periods but we made four mistakes and they were clinical in the way they put them away. There's a reality check for us all."
Abraham and Emerson struck the frame of the goal before half-time and Chelsea played some attractive football until United's powerful counter-attacking play exposed the away side's defensive weaknesses.
"They are a counter-attacking team, it's a big strength, they have pace and if you turn over the ball or give them opportunities they will counter," said Lampard.
"For massive parts of the game we didn't allow them to do that. We were the ones winning the ball back, but our final ball wasn't great. We were so comfortable in the first half, so loads of lessons for us.
"We can't make unforced errors and mistakes at this level. At the same time, it was nowhere near a 4-0."
Lampard was reluctant to dwell on the positives for his team but was justified in his view that the scoreline did not reflect his team's performance with the ball.
"Four mistakes for the goals, but we controlled major parts of the first half. We hit the woodwork, poor decisions in the final third when we should be able to get shots away, we should be in the lead at half-time," he said.
"Early in the second half I didn't mind it -- and then two mistakes for their second and third goals -- it's much easier for them to play at 3-0 up. At 1-0, we were the better team, but I can't stand here and look happy with that."
Information from Reuters was used in this story.
The Premier League is thankfully, mercifully, back. Nick Miller recounts the highs and lows as England's highest level of club football returned to grounds around the country and television sets around the world.
So what did their opening day victory tell us about Arsenal's season ahead? The first thing is that their forwards are almost certainly going to dig them out of a hole or two in the coming months, with three points coming thanks to a brilliant goal by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after a performance greyer than the Newcastle skies.
It looked pretty simple: control a low cross, clip it over the goalkeeper. But that cross skidded off the sodden grass, the goalkeeper was advancing with purpose and Aubameyang had to do all of this at significant pace. That he made it look so straightforward is an indication of how good Aubameyang is, and perhaps a sign that they will be relying on him, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe for similar acts as the season grinds on.
Ultimately, given the starting XI that trotted out at Newcastle, Arsenal could not have expected much more from their afternoon. The aim would have been to try, by any means necessary, to get three points and get out of town as quickly as possible.
If you were being super optimistic, you could say it's a sign that they can grind out ugly 1-0 wins on the road, while a pessimist would say they would lose to 16 or 17 of the other Premier League teams playing like that. We'll find out which is true when they get a first-choice XI back together.
The result alone wasn't a great start to Steve Bruce's tenure as Newcastle manager, but it was tough not to chuckle when he shouted "What the f--- is happening?" after introducing left-back Jetro Willems as a second-half substitute, only for him to start bombing around central midfield rather than take his appointed position.
You suspect that will be a frequent sentiment at St James's Park this season.
Bad news for the 19 other Premier League clubs: it looks like Manchester City are getting better. Sure, you can dismiss Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of West Ham as routine (City's worst result in five visits to the London Stadium is 4-1), but as well as the two summer signings that undoubtedly beefed up their squad, a couple of last season's more underwhelming performers looked extremely sharp.
Gabriel Jesus scored one and was denied a second by whatever part of Raheem Sterling's body VAR decided was offside, while Riyad Mahrez set up two, was central to another pair and was fouled for the penalty that Sergio Aguero eventually converted.
Afterwards Pep Guardiola essentially said that he only picked Mahrez and Jesus in order to keep Bernardo Silva and Aguero on their toes, which is a pretty extraordinary indication of City's strength and confidence. For different reasons both men had so-so 2018-19 campaigns, but if they remain as good as they looked on Saturday, even more records could fall this season.
Even those who hadn't seen much of his work in France pegged Tanguy Ndombele as the most exciting newcomer to the Premier League, and he met those expectations with his goal against Aston Villa on Saturday. The strike was crisp and low, but it was the timing that made it special: shortly after Moussa Sissoko put his effort from seven yards out for a throw-in, Spurs needed something -- anything -- to dig them out of trouble. Ndombele stepped up.
- ESPN Premier League fantasy: Sign up now!
- All Premier League summer transfers
- When does the transfer window close?
Erik Pieters was one of the more underwhelming signings of the summer, but he immediately justified Burnley snapping him up from Stoke with an absolutely sensational, booming cross from deep on the left, volleyed home by the impressive and underrated Ashley Barnes against Southampton. More of that, please.
The biggest worry for Chelsea ahead of the new season was they would be sending boys to do men's jobs. The young players Frank Lampard has to use because of their transfer embargo are talented but perhaps not yet ready for life at the thick end of the Premier League, although with guidance from the older heads they might be able to see things through.
It will have troubled Lampard, therefore, to see Cesar Azpilicueta's performance against Manchester United, with the previously reliable Spaniard at fault, to varying extents, for all three of the goals scored from open play.
For Lampard, having to deal with a young team but suddenly discovering that Azpilicueta can't be relied upon is a bit like someone worrying about a leak in the kitchen roof only for the windows to fall out. It's just another concern that he could really do without.
So bad were Liverpool at various points of preseason that you feared for their chances once the competitive stuff got underway. But by the time they scored their fourth goal in the 37th minute against Norwich on Friday, those fears were dispelled with no little gusto.
Sure, it was only Norwich and they got a little sloppy after the break, but it will have reassured any nervous fans that they appear to be just the same Liverpool as last season.
Billy Sharp made his Sheffield United debut 15 years ago, first playing for his boyhood club for a grand total of one minute after coming on as a substitute against Watford. Since then he's made 558 more appearances for eight different clubs, and before Saturday had played only 18 minutes in the top flight.
A few years ago Sharp's career looked on the downturn, scoring just 11 goals across two Championship seasons. League One looked to be his level, but as he had returned home and was playing at that level for the Blades, you suspect he would've been reasonably content with that.
At the weekend he scored an 88th-minute equaliser for that same boyhood club in their first game back in the Premier League for 12 years, his first ever goal at this level. For all it frustrates us, we shouldn't forget football's ability to produce moments of pure, wholesome joy.
The three newly promoted clubs only managed a point between them as they returned to the top flight, but there was enough in their performances to suggest none of them will slip straight back down without a fight.
Aston Villa pushed Spurs to the limit and showed their raft of new signings are already knitting together quite well. Norwich never stopped attacking and their fans had more fun losing 4-1 than they did in most of their last season in the top flight. Sheffield United dismissed any lazy assumptions about their style of play and were perhaps unlucky not to win at Bournemouth.
All three will be competitive, and from a neutral's perspective the important thing is that all three should be entertaining to watch, too.
One small point that should be mentioned in relation to VAR. Burnley had a goal disallowed on Saturday when linesman Andy Garratt raised his flag for a tight offside call against Ashley Barnes. This is interesting because assistant referees have actually been told not to flag for such marginal decisions if they think a goal-scoring chance is afoot, and instead to wait for VAR to judge, if a goal is subsequently scored.
As it turned out the decision was upheld, but it's another indication that everyone -- officials included -- is still getting used to the new system.