By sportswriter Michael Butterworth
The first weekend of the 2020-21 Premier League season saw wins for Arsenal, Chelsea and defending champions Liverpool, though the title holders were made to work for their 4-3 victory over newly-promoted Leeds.
The clash between last season’s Premier League and Championship winners was the most eagerly anticipated match of the new campaign’s first weekend, and the two sides duly served up a thriller at Anfield.
Having run away with the 2019-20 Premier League, Liverpool started the new campaign in a similar fashion, with talismanic attacker Mohamed Salah opening the scoring from the penalty spot after just four minutes following a handball from Leeds defender Robin Koch.
However, under the eccentric tutelage of coach Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds refused to lie down, and equalized in the 12th minute through Jack Harrison after a fine counter-attack.
Liverpool regained the lead in the 20th minute as Virgil Van Dijk took advantage of some slack marking to smash home a header from Andy Robertson’s corner.
Once again, Leeds would not be cowed, and the Yorkshire outfit had the effrontery to level the scores again ten minutes later, after a poor clearance from Van Dijk allowed Patrick Bamford to fire past goalkeeper Alisson.
Fresh from his early goal, Salah looked in fine form, and added his second and Liverpool’s third when he crashed an unstoppable half-volley past Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal to make it 3-2 to the champions at half-time.
Leeds’ vibrant attacking play has been a hallmark of their football under Bielsa, and the away side equalized for the third time when Mateusz Klich set himself up well and fired home a volley.
But just when it appeared as if Leeds would take a well-deserved point back to West Yorkshire, a loose challenge from record signing Rodrigo resulted in another penalty which Salah tucked away with unerring accuracy.
In Saturday’s early kick-off, Arsenal brushed past newly-promoted Fulham 3-0 at Craven Cottage, with new signings Gabriel and Willian both impressing.
Fulham almost had the perfect start when an errant pass from Gabriel allowed Aboubakar Kamara through on goal, but Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno was able to scramble the ball to safety.
From then on, Arsenal were firmly in control, and took the lead in the 8th minute when Alex Lacazette bundled home from close range.
The visitors doubled their lead shortly after the start of the second half, when the impressive Gabriel rose highest to head home Willian’s corner.
Last season’s top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang completed the scoring ten minutes later, finishing off a fine team goal by curling home from Willian’s assist.
Frank Lampard’s expensively assembled Chelsea side also began the new season with three points, winning 3-1 away at Brighton & Hove Albion in the Monday evening kick-off.
Jorginho opened the scoring for the Blues with a penalty in the 23rd minute after debutant Timo Werner was tripped by Brighton keeper Mat Ryan.
The Seagulls kept pressing, however, and were back on level terms ten minutes into the second half when Leandro Trossard’s effort squeezed past the unconvincing Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal.
Undeterred, the Blues regained the lead in spectacular fashion just two minutes later, when Reece James unleashed a long-range effort that flew into the top corner for his first ever Premier League goal.
Kurt Zouma completed the scoring on 66 minutes, as his low shot from a corner was deflected past the unfortunate Ryan.
Tottenham Hotspur began their season with a defeat, going down 1-0 at home to a James Rodriguez-inspired Everton.
Along with fellow new boy Allan, the Colombian was lively throughout and the Toffees fully deserved their win, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s thumping header proving decisive.
Calvert-Lewin’s former side Sheffield United made a losing start to 2020-21, conceding two goals in the first six minutes as they went down 2-0 at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Raul Jimenez put the away side in front with a half-volley from Castelo Podence’s left-wing cross, before Romain Saiss’s header from Neto’s corner completed the scoring.
Newcastle United also won away from home, defeating West Ham United 2-0 with goals from debutants Callum Wilson and Jeff Hendrick, and Crystal Palace made light of a lengthy injury list to beat Southampton 1-0 at Selhurst Park thanks to Wilfried Zaha’s strike.