Ranking last season’s opening day results by how misleading they turned out to be

·6-min read
Rafa Benitez waves to Everton fans on the opening day of the 2021-22 season against Southampton at Goodison Credit: PA Images
Rafa Benitez waves to Everton fans on the opening day of the 2021-22 season against Southampton at Goodison Credit: PA Images

We all know that Liverpool and Manchester United’s seasons are already over after disappointing results on the opening weekend. But hang on, what if that isn’t actually true? What if we told you that sometimes what happens on the opening day of the season doesn’t necessarily provide a perfect guide to what will follow?

It sounds mad, but stick with us, because last season’s opening day would tell you that Manchester United were a swashbuckling band of all-conquerors and that Watford were really quite good and Manchester City obvious frauds. And we’ve not even mentioned the “warm welcome” for Rafa Benitez during Everton’s opening day cruise against Southampton.

Let’s go through all 10 of last year’s openers and rank them from least misleading to most and see how much hope there might still be for your Liverpools, your Manchester Uniteds and even the Southamptons and Nottingham Forests of this world…


10. Norwich 0-3 Liverpool
Not in any way misleading at all. Leading, if anything. Right down to a goal and two assists for Mo Salah who became the first player to score on the opening weekend for five successive Premier League seasons, a number that is now six. Norwich, meanwhile, were overpowered and already well on their way back to the Championship.


9. Burnley 1-2 Brighton
Yes. Perfect. Burnley were not good, Brighton were good. So it was on the opening day, so it was for the season. This one was a very good guide to the season ahead, fair play.


8. Newcastle 2-4 West Ham
An entirely accurate guide for a first half of the season in which Newcastle were awful, and also a loud and correct hint that West Ham’s sixth-place finish the year before had been no fluke as they ripped Newcastle apart in the second half after going in 2-1 down at half-time. We can’t really blame the opening day for not knowing what would happen to Newcastle in the end. This was a very correct assessment of where these sides were at the time and would be for significant time to come. Newcastle already have more wins this season than they did by the start of December last year.


7. Chelsea 3-0 Crystal Palace
Yeah, kind of. Did fuel a widely-held delusion – of which we were an embarrassingly vocal contributor – that Chelsea were actual title contenders, which in fairness did look a reasonable assumption for a good few months until they suddenly weren’t any more and ended the season almost having to worry about that pair of North London scamps below them. Palace were much better once they got going and, crucially, were allowed to pick Conor Gallagher.


6. Leicester 1-0 Wolves
This is the best of the lot in many ways, because the final league table – which as we know never lies – will tell you this was an excellent guide: Leicester were very slightly better than Wolves across the season, finishing two places above their opening-day foes. But for most of the season, that didn’t really feel like the case. Leicester’s fast finish lifted them from the bottom half, while Wolves’ late slump took them out of the European contention they had been in for much of the campaign.

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5. Brentford 2-0 Arsenal
Tricky one, this. In one sense, very misleading because Arsenal actually played the game despite having some players missing. They’d soon work that one out, even if it didn’t really do them any favours in the end. There are elements here that would come into play later on. Brentford being quite good, obviously, although it is worth remembering they were dropping like a stone before Christian Eriksen came along and could have ended up in strife without him. Arsenal were very good for most of the season, but that fragility never truly went away.


4. Watford 3-2 Aston Villa
A free-flowing Watford side who would surely survive with plenty to spare based on the way they roared into a 3-0 lead here thanks to the dizzying talents of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis. They did concede a couple of late ones with Danny Ings showing that Villa wouldn’t miss Jack Grealish at all. Neither manager made it past the first week of November. These three points would comprise 13 per cent of Watford’s entire tally for the season. Quite misleading, all told.


3. Manchester United 5-1 Leeds
Technically this one evens out, I guess. Half of it was bang on, with Leeds a complete defensive shambles that Marcelo Bielsa would be unable to resolve until eventually it cost him his job and they had to get an American of all things in to sort it out. For Manchester United, though, this was not quite the tone-setter they might have expected or at least hoped. Three goals for Bruno Fernandes and four assists for Paul Pogba were ultimately to prove cruel and deceptive peaks. Bruno added only seven more goals in the rest of the season, Pogba only five more assists. Given this result was produced by a team that had just finished second in the league and brought back Cristiano Ronaldo, it was reasonable to assume at this point they might go on to do a bit better than a distant, shambolic sixth.

Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United Credit: PA Images
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United Credit: PA Images

2. Tottenham 1-0 Manchester City
Not content with the most misleading opening day imaginable, Spurs went on to have the most misleading opening month possible. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side won their first three games of the season – the only team to do so – and sat top of the table with a shiny manager of the month trophy (take that, Spurs trophy bantersmiths!) on Nuno’s desk. The subsequent 1-0 wins over Wolves and Watford were both actually quite dreadful and rather fortunate, highlighting problems that were clearly being stored up for later pain. Most notably the absolute hole in the ground where a midfield should have been. Spurs’ winner against Wolves was scored by Dele Alli, for goodness’ sake. But against City, Nuno’s Spurs were genuinely and entirely misleadingly excellent amid a full-throated atmosphere in front of a packed WHL2.0. City were kept at arm’s length with Japhet Tanganga notably (and, once again, misleadingly) excellent for the home side.

Does lose some misleading points for providing an early glimpse of Son Heung-min’s ever-growing importance and influence as he scored the only goal, and for City’s only real flaw last season being the occasional frustrating game in which their team of clever, tricky attacking players couldn’t quite get the job done. Overall, though, with Nuno out of a job and Spurs ninth within four months and nine games of this and City going on to win another title, it does go down as Very Misleading.


1. Everton 3-1 Southampton
“Everton fans were not to be disappointed, though, and will hope that Benitez’s reign continues in a similar fashion after both a performance and result that were worth waiting for” was the understandable payoff to the BBC’s match report, but sadly the “perfect start” and “warm welcome” for Rafa Benitez were not to continue in a similar fashion. There were, though, little clues to what lay ahead for both sides if you know where to look. Everton, for instance, were crap in the first half until the now-departed Richarlison was deployed through the middle, while for Southampton it was three goals shipped and a lead tossed away, extending already established trends that continue to this day. Still, though: Everton were pretty decent and Benitez was smiling and happy. That is all very misleading, really.

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