EPL

Premier League fixtures 2021-22: Salah and Sterling looking to continue prolific opening-day records

By Sports Desk June 16, 2021

The Premier League fixture release for the 2021-22 has thrown up some intriguing opening-day clashes.

Champions Manchester City head to Tottenham, with the future of Harry Kane and speculation over which club he might be representing by August 14 still up in the air.

Arsenal are at newly promoted Brentford, while there is a familiar feel to Liverpool travelling to Championship winners Norwich City.

Manchester United v Leeds United is very much in the conversation when it comes to what might be the pick of the initial games, while Chelsea's quest to add domestic dominance to European glory begins against Crystal Palace.

Here, with help from Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the landmark numbers thrown up by the big kick-off and who might be gunning for a piece of history this time around.

Chelsea to soar against the Eagles?

Still without a manager and facing a close season of extensive squad turnover, Palace certainly have a daunting assignment in prospect at Stamford Bridge against Thomas Tuchel's Champions League winners.

Chelsea boast the biggest opening-day win in Premier League history, a 6-0 thrashing of West Brom in August 2010.

That result replaced the previous most emphatic triumph by Liverpool, who won 6-1 away from home back in 1994. Their opponents? Crystal Palace.

Klopp and Salah send out another welcome party

For a third consecutive season, Liverpool will face a promoted team in their first match of the campaign, having thumped Norwich 4-1 at Anfield in 2019-20 before sharing a 4-3 thriller with Leeds last time around.

Mohamed Salah fired a hat-trick against Marcelo Bielsa's men – the ninth opening-day treble in the competition – and was also on target versus the Canaries.

Salah's six goals on the first weekend place him joint third in the Premier League's all-time standings, level with Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (eight) have more matchday one goals than any other player.

Rooney's five assists leave him out in front on 13 goal involvements, ahead of Shearer and Teddy Sheringham (10).

More capital punishment from Sterling?

Alongside Salah, Raheem Sterling is the only other active Premier League star to have an opening-day hat-trick to his name, having claimed the matchball in Manchester City's 5-0 win at West Ham in 2019.

Overall, the England winger has five goals and two assists on matchday one, and Pep Guardiola's side will be looking to continue a habit of making flying starts.

City have won all of their opening day fixtures in Guardiola's previous five seasons in charge. Indeed, they have won each of their past 10 games on the opening weekend, dating back to a 4-0 triumph over newly promoted Swansea City in 2011.

However, the last time they failed to take an initial three points was in a 0-0 draw at Spurs in 2010. Additionally, in three visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions since its 2019 opening, City have suffered three defeats and failed to score a goal.

Gunners must keep cool to avoid Bees sting

History is to repeat itself on a historic day for Brentford. Arsenal's visit will be their first top-flight game for 74 years, since a 1-0 defeat to the Gunners in May 1947.

Thomas Frank might be able to count on ill-discipline afflicting Mikel Arteta's side if Arsenal's previous efforts are anything to go by.

No team in Premier League history has collected as many as the north London club's six opening-day red cards, one more than Charlton Athletic – a fairly remarkable return given the Addicks were relegated in 2007 and are yet to return.

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    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has commanded Manchester United to douse the blazing brilliance of Liverpool's "on-fire" forward Mohamed Salah.

    The United manager knows Salah is capable of turning up at Old Trafford on Sunday and making a game-winning contribution, after scoring 12 goals in 11 games this season.

    Six of those goals have come in Salah's last four games, including Champions League doubles against Porto and Atletico Madrid, and the Egypt international has only failed to net in one game this term: the 2-0 win over Burnley in August.

    Although Solskjaer said he would side with Cristiano Ronaldo in any debate about who is the best player in the world, his admiration for Salah shone through.

    "I'll always back Cristiano in any competition. He's unique and his goalscoring record has been fantastic and he keeps on scoring," Solskjaer said.

    "But that being said, Salah at the moment is on fire. You've seen some of the goals he's scored lately. We know we need to be at our best to defend against him.

    "Players like this don't come around very often and we've got to enjoy them when we watch them – from afar, not on Sunday, that's too close for me."

    Wonder strikes against Manchester City and Watford in Liverpool's last two Premier League games have illustrated how well Salah is performing, and he sits alongside Jamie Vardy on seven goals at the top of the Premier League scoring chart.

    Along with those goals in Europe, that lift him into double figures, Salah has found a consistency this season that makes him Liverpool's number one threat.

    "So we've got to do a good job, but not just against him," Solskjaer said. "I'm a big admirer of the frontline they've had for many, many years now, with [Sadio] Mane and [Roberto] Firmino. Maybe [Diogo] Jota will play, who knows?

    "They're players you have to focus on and you've got to be nailed on for 95 minutes to keep a clean sheet.

    "When you play against a team at the level of Liverpool at the moment, they're on a great run of form, with some individuals' skills that you cannot almost defend against. But as a team we need to be compact, we need to be aggressive, we need to go out there and give every drop of nous and knowledge, strong mindset and physical energy.

    "It's going to take everything to get results against the best teams in Europe and the world, and Liverpool are one of them at the moment."

    Salah scored three goals in his two away games against United last season, netting twice in a 3-2 FA Cup defeat before hitting the fourth as Liverpool won 4-2 in the Premier League.

    No Liverpool player has ever scored in three consecutive away games against United, while the Merseyside giants have not earned consecutive league wins at Old Trafford since January 2002.

    Should Jurgen Klopp's men follow up last season's Premier League success at United with another victory, they would hold a seven-point cushion over their great rivals.

    United have a disappointing recent record in league games against Liverpool, winning just one of their previous 10 encounters. This game has often failed to live up to expectations in recent seasons, with six of the last 10 ending in draws, and Liverpool coming out on top in the other three.

    Solskjaer said he hoped the 3-2 win over Atalanta on Wednesday signalled "the end of a bad period for us" and that it might be "the start of something big". That is bold talk, given United have lost three of their last four domestic games, including a 4-2 setback at Leicester City last Saturday.

    Liverpool are unbeaten in 18 in the Premier League, with the turmoil that plagued them at the start of the year banished and replaced by an optimism they can challenge for a second title in three years.

    United are without a clean sheet in any of their last nine home league matches, their longest such run since a run of 10 between September 1970 and February 1971.

    Although United finished ahead of Liverpool last season, Solskjaer was realistic enough to recognise it was injury chaos in the Anfield ranks that blunted the 2020-21 challenge from Klopp's men, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez sitting out most of the season.

    "They're one of the teams we're trying to chase. What they've done in the last four years is something we're striving towards and [trying] to go past them," Solskjaer said.

    "We ended above them last season, they had a very bad spell of injuries, so now they're back to their best."

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    Pep Guardiola came to the defence of 'exceptional gentleman' Steve Bruce following his recent departure from Newcastle United earlier this week.

    A decision that looked on the cards following the completion of the club's Saudi Arabian-backed takeover, Bruce left the Magpies by mutual consent on Wednesday after a difficult start to the Premier League season.

    Newcastle are yet to win in the league this season, having collected just three points from 24 on offer.

    The 60-year-old subsequently suggested it could be his final managerial role due to the abuse he received during his two-year tenure.

    "I think this might be my last job. It's not just about me, it's taken its toll on my whole family because they are all Geordies and I can't ignore that," Bruce told The Telegraph.

    "By the time I got to Newcastle, I thought I could handle everything thrown at me but it has been very, very tough.

    "To never really be wanted, to feel that people wanted me to fail, to read people constantly saying I would fail, that I was useless, a fat waste of space, a stupid, tactically inept cabbage head or whatever. And it was from day one."

    Newcastle's Allan Saint-Maximin paid tribute to the 'gentle' and 'caring' Bruce, and Manchester City boss Guardiola believes that the winger's social media post epitomised the respect warranted by the ex-Manchester United defender, who took charge of his 1,000th game as a manager in Sunday's defeat by Tottenham.

    Addressing the media ahead of City's trip to Brighton and Hove Albion, Guardiola said: "I read the post on Twitter and Instagram from Saint-Maximin.

    "This is, for me, what Steve Bruce is – [he is] an exceptional gentleman. He always took care of me so nicely when I came here from Catalonia. I wish him all the best. 

    "I'll tell him 'don't pay much attention to the comments because it is bull****.'

    "Steve Bruce and all other managers want to do the best; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. He does not have to worry. I'm pretty sure all the people in Newcastle – the board and especially the players – know exactly what Steve is."

    It was a sentiment echoed by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who told a news conference: "Is it social media? Don't read it, don't watch it, especially not in average or bad periods. That's the best advice you can give to every manager in the world.

    "I'm really sorry for Steve Bruce if that happened. I think the most important skill in modern football for a manager is to not let criticism get too close to you or just ignore it. That's what I do."

    Rafael Benitez preceded Bruce at St James' Park, and was a popular figure with the club's fanbase. The current Everton boss has ruled himself out of contention to take over at Newcastle, however.

    Asked if such harsh criticism could possibly lead potential managers to stay away from coaching, Benitez said: "Not for me at Newcastle or here at Everton. You have to accept that in football if you win, everything is fine, if you lose, you can lose your job.

    "This is the situation for many years, in a lot of countries.

    "My relationship with the Newcastle fans is fantastic, my relationship with the people in the city was very good so I have good memories. At the same time, I do not want to see any manager lose his job, that is the only thing I can say."

  • Lukaku and Werner to miss Chelsea's next two games, confirms Tuchel Lukaku and Werner to miss Chelsea's next two games, confirms Tuchel

    Thomas Tuchel has confirmed Chelsea will be without Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner for at least the next two matches.

    Club-record signing Lukaku was injured by a tackle from Lasse Nielsen that resulted in a penalty Jorginho confidently dispatched to add to Andreas Christensen's opener in Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of Malmo in the Champions League.

    Kai Havertz replaced Lukaku and scored Chelsea's third before playing a role in another spot-kick for the Blues converted by Jorginho, though Chelsea also lost Werner to a hamstring injury.  

    Chelsea face the Premier League's bottom side Norwich City on Saturday, before going up against Southampton in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.

    Though Tuchel refused to put a definitive timescale on the return of his two first-choice strikers, the former Paris Saint-Germain boss revealed neither will play a part in the two games.

    "They're both out for tomorrow, all three of them are out for tomorrow," Tuchel told a news conference, also referring to Christian Pulisic, who has been out since suffering an ankle injury while on international duty in September.

    "No big news, for Romelu and Timo the thing I can say is they are out tomorrow and the Southampton game and from there we will see what's next.

    "I don't think it makes any sense to speculate how long it will be. The fact is you never know, things can be shorter or longer than expected. The one thing I can tell you for sure is both are in treatment, both are positive but are out for the next two games for sure."

    Tuchel's decision to play Lukaku against Malmo has been questioned, with the striker having recently left Belgium's Nations League Finals camp early due to muscle fatigue.

    With Chelsea's fixtures before the next international break comparatively kind - trips to Newcastle United and Malmo follow the Southampton match, before a home game with Burnley on November 6 - Tuchel was asked if Lukaku's enforced break had come at a good time.

    "No, never a good thing, honestly never a good thing," Tuchel continued.

    "Mentally, he was a bit overplayed, like other players in our squad, but that does not mean we have to rest them. Jorginho and Mason Mount are in the same spot but they played a fantastic match, so it is like this, they played a lot of competitions with a lot of enthusiasm and personal targets.

    "It was not a muscle injury, it was an accident. It is just some percentage, don't underestimate the effort these players go through. 

    "If you constantly turn the wheel, and the guy wants to turn it, take the responsibility, you can get tired. These little things can make a difference."

    Chelsea allowed three forwards, Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud and Michy Batshuayi to leave in the last transfer window, but Tuchel has no regrets over that decision.

    "You cannot keep a squad of 40 players," he added. "If you think Oli, Tammy and Michy would be in the perfect shape now, but hadn't made it into the 20-man squad, then would they be in the perfect shape?

    "Of course in theory it would be like this, but [not] in real life. Nobody wants this to happen, it's a bit of bad luck that we have two injured players in the same position, we have to find solutions, there is no worry about the decisions."

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