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Saudi consortium completes controversial Newcastle takeover

A consortium backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) finalized a deal Thursday to take over Newcastle United for a reported £300 million, bringing to an end Mike Ashley’s unpopular 14 years as owner of the storied Premier League club.

PIF will reportedly have an 80% stake in the club, with PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers sharing the remaining 20%.

Fans celebrated the news at St. James’ Park amid an outcry from activist groups over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Amnesty International accused PIF, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, of using Newcastle to “sportswash” its “appalling” history of human rights abuse.

PIF revived its bid to acquire the Magpies after withdrawing from negotiations in July 2020. The Premier League had previously expressed concern that Saudi Arabia’s government was directly involved in the bid.

That has now been resolved, according to the Premier League, which said Thursday it has “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club.”

Fans largely viewed the deal with a renewed sense of hope and relief. Large swaths of Newcastle supporters campaigned for several years for Ashley’s ouster, criticizing the retail tycoon for a lack of investment in the first team and using the club to promote his own business interests.

Newcastle suffered relegation from the Premier League in 2009 and 2016 and hasn’t won a major domestic trophy since the 1955 FA Cup.

“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan added. “We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”

The Newcastle United Supporters Trust said a “resounding” 96.7% of its membership supported PIF’s takeover.

“We admire your desire and tenacity to buy our football club despite the protracted issues with the Premier League, and we appreciate your clear understanding of the special place Newcastle United holds in our communities, the passion of our supporters, and your commitment to developing Newcastle,” read the trust’s statement.

Owen Humphreys – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer tweeted: “Yesssssssss. We can dare to hope again.”

Negotiations were far from straightforward. While the consortium first struck an agreement with Ashley in April 2020, the club said the Premier League had rejected the offer despite “overwhelming evidence and legal opinions that PIF is independent and autonomous of the Saudi Arabian government.”

The Premier League argued that the group had rejected an invitation to appoint an arbitrator to determine who would own the club.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, PIF’s chairman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, reportedly warned U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the country’s diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia could suffer if he failed to intervene.

Amnesty condemned Prince Mohammed’s involvement in the deal, citing a U.S. report that accused him of ordering the killing of exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Prince Mohammed has denied any wrongdoing.

The bid also came against the backdrop of geopolitical tension between Saudi Arabia and neighbouring country Qatar.

Qatari-backed beIN Sports, a primary carrier of Premier League matches, filed a case against Saudi Arabia with the World Trade Organization over the piracy of its broadcasts in 2018. beIN, which was banned from operating in Saudi Arabia, sought damages totaling more than $1 billion and later asked the Premier League to block the Saudi-backed takeover.

Saudi Arabia reversed the ban this week, according to The Athletic’s Adam Crafton and Matt Slater, and the network that pirated beIN’s matches has ceased operations.

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Premier League

20 overreactions to the Premier League's opening weekend

The dust has settled on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 Premier League season. So, naturally, it’s time to overreact about the state of each team. Below, theScore tips some for glory and others for ruin.


Saliba is already the league’s best defender

William Saliba waited three long years to make his Premier League debut. No one at Arsenal will forget it. The 21-year-old, who played on loan at Saint-Etienne, Nice, and Marseille before rejoining the Gunners this summer, put in a man-of-the-match performance during Friday’s 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. He dominated the area with a team-high seven clearances and committed no fouls while boxing out his opponents. A physical center-back with in-game intelligence, Saliba has what it takes to become one of the Premier League’s top defenders.

Aston Villa

Neville Williams / Aston Villa FC / Getty

Gerrard will be the first manager sacked

Despite signing Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Digne, and Calum Chambers in January, Steven Gerrard went 10-5-12 at Villa last season after replacing Dean Smith in November. Villa have to improve on their 14th-place finish, but that remains a tall order. Promising midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka and left-back Matt Targett left the club this summer, and newly promoted Bournemouth issued Villa a sobering reminder of their deficiencies Saturday.


Relegation is far from a certainty

Many understandably consider Bournemouth to be a lock for relegation. The Cherries haven’t spent much since returning to the Premier League, and manager Scott Parker has enjoyed little success outside of the Championship. But there’s enough in this team to survive the season. Dominic Solanke kick-started his career with 29 goals in Bournemouth’s promotion campaign, giving the club confidence he can lead the line in the top flight. 6-foot-4 midfielder Philip Billing and 6-foot-3 center-back Chris Mepham form a solid foundation. Summer signing Marcus Tavernier adds style. Incoming defender Marcos Senesi brings confidence on the ball. With all of that, Bournemouth have the tools to stay up.


PA Wire – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Damsgaard is a worthy heir to Eriksen

Mikkel Damsgaard is the perfect choice for Brentford. Counting Christian Eriksen as one of his idols, Damsgaard has molded his game around the visionary Danish playmaker. So, naturally, he’s a worthy heir. The 22-year-old is just as accurate as Eriksen from set-pieces and even shiftier on the ball than his predecessor. Brentford are excellent at identifying successors, transitioning from the likes of Ollie Watkins to Ivan Toney without a hitch. Damsgaard could even be considered a long-term upgrade on Eriksen. And, at a reported £16 million, he fits the budget.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Who needs Cucurella?

Brighton had no reason to sell Marc Cucurella. That’s why they wouldn’t accept anything less than £50 million. But he wasn’t indispensable, either. When Chelsea agreed to stump up the cash, Brighton accepted. They knew they could live without him. The Seagulls proved as much Sunday at Old Trafford, outfoxing Manchester United in every category. Tactically, Brighton were at their fluid best, rotating between multiple formations while targeting open space on the counterattack. Even if manager Graham Potter needed Leandro Trossard and Solly March to do the job of one on the left flank, where Cucurella shined last season, it worked. Potter’s team has always been a collection of moving parts. Losing one won’t make a difference.


Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Chelsea are going backward

Chelsea aren’t any better than they were last season. Despite Kalidou Koulibaly’s arrival from Napoli, the Blues still lack quality defensive options. An even bigger concern lies up front. With Romelu Lukaku out on loan, Timo Werner on his way back to RB Leipzig, and Armando Broja still learning his trade, manager Thomas Tuchel is missing a reliable goalscorer. Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Everton exposed more problems than solutions, with Kai Havertz looking lost and Raheem Sterling struggling to connect with his teammates. If the west London side doesn’t make at least one more splash in the summer window, it’ll finish outside of the top four for the first time since 2018.

Crystal Palace

Doucoure is going to run out of steam

Cheick Doucoure should feel daunted by the task that lies ahead after Friday’s rather forgettable debut against visiting Arsenal. Those remaining in Crystal Palace’s stable of deep-lying midfielders are poor. Wideman Jeffrey Schlupp was uncomfortable alongside Doucoure in a central role, and the Eagles’ other deputies for that position – Luka Milivojevic, Will Hughes, and James McArthur – are uninspiring. Doucoure, a £20-million recruit, could be one of England’s most overworked players this season.


Tony McArdle – Everton FC / Everton FC / Getty

Everton on the path to relegation

Frank Lampard has a big problem on his hands. Everton are already in the throes of a full-blown injury crisis a week into the new season. Richarlison is long gone, oft-injured striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin remains vulnerable to setbacks, and center-backs Ben Godfrey and Yerry Mina are out long term. Even with the addition of Conor Coady, there are too many holes to plug. The club barely recovered from last season’s sluggish start, and it hasn’t made enough signings to ensure that doesn’t happen again.


Mitrovic can win the Golden Boot

Ahead of kickoff Saturday, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s ability lay somewhere between the Championship and Premier League. His second-tier record stands at 85 goals in 126 outings, while his top-flight return was 24 goals across 104 appearances. Then, Liverpool visited and Mitrovic was a constant nuisance. Aside from his two goals, the Serb won 11 aerial duels, ranked third for touches by a Fulham player, drew four fouls, and completed three clearances. With form like this, Mitrovic can easily lead the Cottagers to safety, and maybe even collect some individual hardware.

Leeds United

David Rogers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Aaronson and Adams > Raphinha and Phillips

The American revolution at Leeds United is underway, and the early returns are extremely promising. Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams stood out for all the right reasons in Leeds’ win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. The USMNT pair fit into compatriot Jesse Marsch’s system like a glove, excelling when they’re tasked with putting pressure on the opposition and forcing turnovers that can then be turned into scoring opportunities. Aaronson, in particular, looks set to have a breakthrough campaign. Replacing Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips is a gargantuan task, but Aaronson and Adams are up for it.

Leicester City

Sell Maddison, give Dewsbury-Hall the keys

There’s been much consternation this summer over Leicester City’s lack of activity in the transfer market. While others have splashed serious cash, the Foxes are yet to sign a new senior player to their squad. Against that backdrop, allowing James Maddison to depart for Newcastle United seems ill-advised. But if Maddison’s potential sale – which could fetch over £50 million – allows Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to become the conductor of Leicester’s midfield, Brendan Rodgers’ team might actually be better for it. The 23-year-old ran the show in a season-opening draw with Brentford, and his slick goal was the exclamation point on a distinguished performance.


Andrew Powell / Liverpool FC / Getty

TAA needs to play further forward

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a superlative attacking right-back. He’s inarguably one of the elite players at his position, if not the best. However, his defensive shortcomings were again on display in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Fulham. There’s no shame in losing a contested header to Mitrovic, especially when the hulking Serbian has forward momentum coming in at the back post to meet a cross. But Alexander-Arnold, not for the first time, put himself in a suboptimal defensive position that handed the opponent the upper hand. Obviously, the good (far) exceeds the bad with the English international, but with such tight margins expected in the title race, these little moments are enough to make a huge difference come season’s end.

Manchester City

Haaland will score 40 goals this season

Haaland is going to terrorize the Premier League for years to come. No other center-forward in the game possesses the same combination of pace, technique, and strength as the monstrous Norwegian international. Now, imagine pairing a player who can time runs to perfection with a team of licensed assassins who can pick passes like locks. Manchester City have some of the best playmakers in the league, and if the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish, and Phil Foden can release Haaland into open space, watch out. Haaland’s going to break the Premier League’s single-season scoring record with ease.

Manchester United


The Ten Hag era will be fleeting

Deep inside, if just a little, Erik ten Hag may have some regrets right about now. The Dutch tactician left Ajax, a club that plays beautiful, cohesive football and develops talent like few others can, for a dysfunctional Manchester United outfit that’s deep in the doldrums. If he didn’t know the full extent of the issues at Old Trafford, he got an immediate dose of reality in Sunday’s home defeat to Brighton. The Red Devils have deep-rooted personnel problems that’ll take multiple transfer windows to fix, and his preferred style of play could take even longer to properly implement. Will he be around long enough to see it through?

Newcastle United

Champions League, here we come

Maybe we were all too modest with our preseason prognostications for Newcastle United. Most pundits expected the Magpies to build on their strong finish to last season and take a moderate leap forward in ’22-23, pushing for a European place in Eddie Howe’s first full campaign behind the bench. But Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest suggested there may be even more room for optimism on Tyneside. Yes, this all comes with the caveat that a home opener against a newly promoted team isn’t exactly a litmus test for European credentials, but Newcastle were absolutely dominant, outshooting Forest 23-10 and not conceding a single effort on target. Matches against Manchester City and Liverpool later this month will be a better indicator of just how high this team should be aiming this season.

Nottingham Forest

Stu Forster / Getty Images Sport / Getty

We need even more signings to compete

Six of Nottingham Forest’s 12 (!) summer signings started in the loss to Newcastle, with two more new recruits being introduced as substitutes. At times, it looked as though the players, many of whom have just met, weren’t on the same page. Not surprising, considering the wholesale changes made during the transfer window. That type of upheaval can have a destabilizing impact. Forest, who are expected to bring in at least a couple of more new faces before deadline day, would be wise to instead try and forge connections and understanding amongst the players already brought in.


The transfer strategy has already backfired

After Southampton’s heavy defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, Ralph Hasenhuttl said it was “frustrating” to see the gap in quality between the two teams. He may have to get used to it. Encouraging showings from Romeo Lavia and Joe Aribo aside, there were very few positives to emerge for the Saints, and plenty to be nervous about. Southampton couldn’t cope, eventually getting overrun. “It felt like the opponent switched in the next gear after the first 20 minutes, and we could not follow,” Hasenhuttl added. Relying on so many young players to all deliver at once can be exciting, but this is the other side of the coin. An inexperienced group is being thrown right into the deep end. It’s sink or swim.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

Conte has already built a title-winning team

Antonio Conte loved what he saw during Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of Southampton. His players pressed high, won possession in dangerous areas, and scored for fun. Tottenham fired in a whopping 24 crosses, and not of the speculative kind. Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon stretched Southampton’s back five, and Dejan Kulusevski’s quick footwork made mince meat of what was left of it. Conte’s teams are at their best when they’re swarming the pitch. In almost a year at the helm, he’s now achieving his vision at Tottenham. Forget a place in the top four: Tottenham have what it takes to challenge City and Liverpool for the title.

West Ham United

Antonio and Scamacca can’t co-exist

West Ham United had the unfortunate honor of providing the opposition on Haaland’s Premier League debut. Spoiler: It didn’t go well. But they’ll get over that. What’s of more lasting concern is their own striker situation. Much is expected of angular Italian Gianluca Scamacca, who made his own debut when he replaced Michail Antonio in the second half. Therein lies the problem. Antonio has been a revelation at center-forward for the Hammers, but he’ll be displaced, in some way, to accommodate Scamacca, who arrived in London with a hefty price tag. Getting the best out of his two physical forwards could prove challenging for David Moyes, who’ll need to make concessions elsewhere on the pitch if he plans to play them together.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Isaac Parkin – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Regression coming for Jose Sa

Much of Wolverhampton’s success last season can be attributed to the excellence of Jose Sa between the sticks. Underlying metrics suggested the Portuguese netminder wasn’t merely good in 2021-22, he was the best pure shot-stopper in England’s top flight. His outstanding track record was the main reason why it was so surprising to see him concede from a bad angle against Leeds; Rodrigo’s low shot had some fizz on it, but the goalkeeper’s dismayed reaction to the goal told the story. He knew he should’ve kept it out. If Sa isn’t at his absolute best, it’s going to be a very long year for goal-shy Wolves and Bruno Lage.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

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Premier League

By the numbers: Standout stats for each EPL club on opening weekend

theScore picks out the best stats and facts to surface following an entertaining opening weekend of the new Premier League season.

0 – It was a rather ineffectual Nottingham Forest debut from Jesse Lingard. The former Manchester United man recorded no shots on target, completed no dribbles, and didn’t draw a single foul during Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United.

1 – Southampton have won just one Premier League match since February (a 1-0 victory over Arsenal in April). They lost their 10th game over that span with Saturday’s 4-1 slump at Tottenham Hotspur.

3 – Callum Wilson has scored in Newcastle’s opening game in each of the three seasons he’s been with the club. He’s the second to complete three in a row since Alan Shearer after his deft finish in the win over Nottingham Forest.

6 – Pascal Gross’ goal tally against Manchester United. Only eight players have scored more goals against the Red Devils in Premier League history. It’s twice as many as Gross has mustered against any other team, and the most a Brighton & Hove Albion player has scored against a single opponent in the Premier League. Brighton shocked United with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford on Sunday.

7 – Jesse Marsch wants his team to gamble in possession. Winger Jack Harrison provided seven key passes for his Leeds United teammates in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers while ending the game with just 64% passing accuracy. His colleague Rodrigo’s passes were only accurate 61% of the time.

8 – No player has scored more goals than Mohamed Salah during Premier League opening weekends. The Liverpool superstar is level with Shearer, Wayne Rooney, and Frank Lampard on eight after his close range finish in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Fulham.

9 – Spurs’ Dejan Kulusevski has set up nine goals since making his Premier League debut in February. No player has made more assists in that time.

Tottenham Hotspur FC / Tottenham Hotspur FC / Getty

11 – Everton’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea marked their first defeat in a Premier League opener since 2011. Tim Cahill, Tim Howard, Phil Neville, and Louis Saha played for the Toffees in that 1-0 setback to Neil Warnock’s Queens Park Rangers.

12 – Number of teams that didn’t use their full allocation of five substitutes per game. Out of those to take advantage of the move from three to five, Brentford perhaps used their subs most effectively as they scored two second-half goals to draw 2-2 at Leicester City on Sunday.

15 – Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has netted 44 times in 45 league matches since the start of last season following Saturday’s brace against Liverpool. That’s 15 more than any other player in England’s top four leagues.

20 – West Ham United need to find their frontmen. Michail Antonio touched the ball 11 times and his replacement Gianluca Scamacca had nine touches in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City.

21 – Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen started as he means to go on this season with 21 attempted long balls during Friday’s 2-0 home defeat to Arsenal. When you’ve got runners like Wilfried Zaha and Eberechi Eze in your lineup, it’s a sound tactic.

23 – Total points collected by Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa in their last 22 Premier League outings. Falling 2-0 at newly promoted Bournemouth on Saturday was a new low point in his short tenure.

Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth / AFC Bournemouth / Getty

29 – Bournemouth goalscorer Kieffer Moore made his Premier League debut two days before his 30th birthday. His career started with sixth-tier Truro City in 2012. Bournemouth is his 12th club.

50 – Mikel Arteta is the second-quickest manager to reach 50 Premier League wins with Arsenal (98 matches). It took Arsene Wenger four fewer matches.

79% – With six shots and five chances created, James Maddison was involved in 79% of Leicester’s attempts on goal against Brentford.

90% – Eighteen of Jorginho’s 20 Premier League goals have come from the penalty spot. The Chelsea midfielder’s percentage is the highest of any player with at least 10 tallies in the competition.

1,929 – Conor Coady was an unused substitute in Wolves’ loss at Leeds, marking the first time he missed a start for something other than injury or suspension since April 25, 2017. That’s a run of 1,929 days. The defender is set to move on loan to Everton, according to The Times’ Paul Joyce.

2014 – You don’t have to go back too far to find a Manchester United manager who lost his first Premier League game. Louis van Gaal did it eight years before Erik ten Hag when his United side lost 2-1 to Swansea City.

Copyright © 2022 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

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Premier League

5 thoughts from opening Saturday of new Premier League season

The Premier League is back! theScore examines the most important developments and discusses the biggest talking points from Saturday’s busy slate of action in England’s top flight.

Is there enough energy in Liverpool’s midfield?

Fulham’s attackers diligently tracked back while Harrison Reed and Joao Palhinha, positioned in front of the defense, frustrated Liverpool and kick-started attacks. Crowd favorite Tim Ream was committed at the back. It was a studied and industrious performance, one which suggested this iteration of the Cottagers is more assured and settled than other Fulham teams that reached the Premier League in recent years.

But this was more than an earned point for Fulham; there were some issues with Liverpool’s midfield that led to a disappointing 2-2 draw to begin the Reds’ title challenge.

True, Liverpool are currently short-handed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, and Naby Keita were already dealing with injuries before Thiago Alcantara joined them after suffering a hamstring problem during the second half. However, even before these ailments, there were legitimate concerns over the fitness and consistency of Thiago, Jordan Henderson, and the rest who play in front of Fabinho in midfield.

Julian Finney / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Before his 50th-minute substitution, Thiago was overrun and unable to orchestrate attacks in his usual unruffled fashion. He attempted just one through ball, and that failed. Meanwhile, Henderson was once brutally exposed by the excellent Aleksandar Mitrovic. He did almost pinch a win for Liverpool with a smash against the crossbar in injury time, but he was otherwise too frantic and didn’t always appear in the right positions.

It was a game where Liverpool needed more energy. It was a game where they would’ve benefited from more midfield exuberance. It was a game where Harvey Elliott would’ve been more useful playing as a No. 8 from the start, rather than coming off the bench to team up with Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right flank.

Major Leeds Soccer

There was a North American flavor to Leeds United’s 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers.

It was evident in Leeds’ match-winning tally. Rayan Ait-Nouri’s own goal in the 74th minute was a culmination of New York Red Bulls product Tyler Adams’ involvement and pressure from ex-Philadelphia Union standout Brenden Aaronson. Former Montreal Impact and Red Bulls boss Jesse Marsch high-fived his coaching staff after the final whistle, while former New York City FC winger Jack Harrison lapped up Elland Road’s applause on the pitch.

David Rogers / Getty Images Sport / Getty

There no doubting it: Major League Soccer is an established breeding ground of top-end talent.

Aaronson and another summer arrival from Red Bull Salzburg, Rasmus Kristensen, were among Leeds’ best performers. Aaronson faded a little in the second half, but that was understandable given his all-action performance. His pressing helped squeeze out the opportunity that resulted in Rodrigo’s equalizer, he held up the ball well, and he was generally the most threatening attacker in Marsch’s ensemble. It was no surprise Aaronson was breathing down Ait-Nouri’s neck during the full-back’s own goal.

It’s doubtful that any current Leeds player will reach the high standards of Raphinha – who joined Barcelona this summer – but the ease in which Aaronson has slotted into Marsch’s side is extremely promising. He’s on course to earn himself a starting berth for the United States at the World Cup.

Kulusevski thriving in Conte’s system

Southampton had no answer for Dejan Kulusevski. The 22-year-old posed a threat every time he collected the ball. Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo tried his best to contain Kulusevski’s runs on the right flank, dropping deeper every time his opponent picked up the ball. Every time, Kulusevski left Djenepo behind.

Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 win Saturday offered ample evidence of Kulusevski’s individual brilliance. He stretched play and switched gears to accelerate into open space, and he spotted teammates on the run by playing with his head up. His Premier League-leading ninth assist of the calendar year came off of a brilliant cross-field pass to Ryan Sessegnon in the first half, a bullet of a cross that met his opposite number as he ran into the box. Kulusevski then scored a goal of his own, opening up his body in the area before firing into the far corner.


He was simply too much for Southampton. Because the visitors lacked the pace to handle Kulusevski’s constant change of speed, they had no choice but to backpedal to cover the space behind them. Kulusevski accepted the trade-off, cutting inside to deliver balls with incredible pace and accuracy.

Antonio Conte’s system allows Kulusevski to do all of the things he does well. With a wing-back to his side, the Swede can focus on making darting runs without worrying about tracking back. Not that he doesn’t do the dirty work. Kulusevski attempted a team-high seven tackles, including five in the opponent’s half.

“Dejan made a big impact (Saturday), but also last season,” Conte told the BBC. “He and Rodrigo (Bentancur) integrated really good with the squad. Dejan has continued in this way, but he has to continue to work in this way with his behavior and ambition. He has a lot of ambition, he wants to become one of the best players in his role. I think this ambition is good, if he is humble and works … he can do that.”

Gerrard could soon feel the pressure

Steven Gerrard can’t blame any of Aston Villa’s failings on a lack of support from the boardroom. Following a January window that included a loan deal for Philippe Coutinho and moves for Lucas Digne and Calum Chambers, Gerrard welcomed Coutinho (this time permanently), Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara, and others to Villa Park this summer for over £45 million total.

But the Villans’ 2-0 defeat at Bournemouth shows there’s still a lot of work to do for Gerrard. The Cherries deserved their three points and gave Carlos and Kamara tough introductions to English football. Villa’s big-name players were outclassed by Marcus Tavernier, the midfielder whose move to Bournemouth from Middlesbrough last week was lost amid the transfer chaos.

Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth / AFC Bournemouth / Getty

Gerrard had a strong six games to start his Aston Villa tenure, but his team finished the rest of the 2021-22 season with a worse record than relegated Burnley.

Now, his summer recruitment has significantly lifted exceptions. This is his squad, and an improvement on last season’s 14th-placed finish is needed. Two-goal defeats to newly promoted teams shouldn’t be part of the script.

It won’t take long for fans to get on the Scouser’s back if results don’t improve. His recruitment drive has forced previously established – and largely popular – first-team players like Emiliano Buendia, Douglas Luiz, Tyrone Mings, and Ollie Watkins onto the bench. Some of those changes seemed unnecessary. The Coutinho signing was arguably a huge waste of resources given Buendia’s ability to influence games with more consistency than the Brazilian. Mings often draws plenty of criticism, but is the impulsive Carlos really that much better?

If Gerrard’s signings don’t work out quickly, the fans will be on his back and, by extension, be questioning the work of chief executive Christian Purslow.

Everton limping from the get-go

Everton are already looking worse for wear just 90 minutes into the new season.

The Toffees took the pitch Saturday against Chelsea without Dominic Calvert-Lewin, their only recognized striker. They then lost defender Ben Godfrey to a gruesome-looking ankle injury midway through the first half. Fellow center-back Yerry Mina also went off with an ankle issue.

Manager Frank Lampard could now have a serious shortage of options in defense and attack. Everton don’t even have the funds to go out and sign replacements. That doesn’t bode well for a team many had regarded as relegation fodder before kickoff.

“When it rains,” Lampard said afterward, “it pours.”

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The players, however, don’t seem as short on spirit. They hustled for possession all game and only lost because of a penalty kick midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure conceded toward the end of the opening period. Anthony Gordon won tackles in his own half, and left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko made crucial blocks. Gordon, Demarai Gray, and summer signing Dwight McNeil ran nice passing sequences. The effort was there, and the game was for the taking. Everton were just missing a presence up front.

There’s some irony here. Despite the obvious lack of depth, the club allowed Ellis Simms, one of the only other center-forwards in its ranks, to leave on loan. The 21-year-old, who’s at Sunderland for the rest of the campaign, served up a timely reminder of his ability with a two-goal performance earlier Saturday.

Unfortunately, Lampard likely knows the deal by now. He’s not going to get much help from majority owner Farhad Moshiri, who’s shown no desire to reinvest the funds from Richarlison’s £50-million transfer to Tottenham. Everton suffered pre-tax losses of £372 million over the last three years, severely handicapping what they can spend on the transfer market. Solutions will have to come from within.

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