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Layth’s Take A Premier League campaign already packed with highlights

LAYTH YOUSIF reflects on one of the best openings to a top-flight campaign in recent memory, with fans, top quality football and shocks back in full force

SO, HOW has it been for you? I have to say, the start to the 2021-22 Premier League season has been one of the best openings to a new campaign that I can remember. 
The return of football supporters, top-quality football, plenty of sides challenging for the top spot and a number of gripping subplots and narratives have resulted in the top flight being as exciting as it has been in years.
One look at the table explains plenty. Chelsea, current Champions League and Super Cup holders, head the division after assured displays. They have been ruthless in swatting aside pretenders, including an imperious performance in routing Spurs 3-0 in N17 last weekend.

Their showing at Anfield last month with 10 men, during a hard-fought 1-1 draw, also laid down a future marker in the clash of the titans. Against the might of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool – Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, the majestic Virgil van Dijk and all – Chelsea’s display was a template in how to deal with the loss of a player, offensively, defensively and in transition. 

I genuinely wonder how Frank Lampard feels, because the improvement on this Blues side has been immense since he was ruthlessly replaced last term.

Thomas Tuchel’s side already have the look of potential champions, with Blues returnee Romelu Lukaku adding another layer of interest for Chelsea fans and interested observers, who should be savouring their side, not least because N’Golo Kante is simply on another level.
Football is all about space, positioning and movement, and I would urge all youngsters to watch the former Leicester midfielder in a bid to try and understand just how simple the game of football can be when performed at its absolute best. Never mind rivalries, to study Kante is to savour a world-class footballer at his very peak. 
I, for one, can’t wait to cover their mouthwatering clash against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at Stamford Bridge this lunchtime.
Speaking of City, I saw them lose 1-0 to Spurs before thrashing Arsenal 5-0 at the City of Manchester Stadium last month. The sight of an exuberant Jack Grealish allied with the attacking talents of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez -– not to mention my player of last season, Ruben Dias, at the back – meant the home side, while not being at their best, were too good for an abject Gunners that day.

Thrashings of 6-3 and 6-1 of RB Leipzig in the Champions League and Wycombe Wanderers in the League Cup respectively also suggest that this team is full of more goals than ever. 
As an aside, so bad were the visitors during that 5-0 humiliation that I had to purge myself by going to another football match nearby that afternoon. I eventually found a temporary element of solace by taking in Salford City 3-0 Newport, with arch shop steward and Salford cheerleader Gary Neville even liking my tweet in praise of the progressive club a few miles away from the moneybags in south Manchester.
Across Manchester – back near Salford in fact – the return of Ronaldo to Manchester United has been gripping for anyone who loves theatre, with the roadshow set to come to a town near you soon.
His much-hyped “second debut” – or return, as I liked to call it – was crowned with a two-goal display against Steve Bruce’s struggling Newcastle, and Old Trafford lapped up that 4-1 win.
The spry 36-year-old’s performances have also served to highlight Leo Messi’s distinctly underwhelming start to Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain, certainly compared to his incredible showing for 15 years at the Camp Nou. Regardless of who you favour (Messi is still the better player for me, but don’t write in about it) the spectacle is utterly absorbing. 
It was also mightily instructive to note that West Ham beat Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils in the League Cup this week, with the former Juventus and Real Madrid icon absent for the home side.

The fact that “penalty sub” Mark Noble missed his spot kick in the league defeat at a packed London Stadium three days prior only added to the satisfaction that many West Ham fans of my acquaintance felt after that Old Trafford victory to reach the fourth round this week.
Other intriguing narratives involve Graham Potter’s high-flying Seagulls, who prior to this weekend sit in a heartwarming fourth place. While the south coast remains the closest that many of us will get to the continent this winter, the prospect of Brighton maintaining such a high position as to be dreaming of a Champions League spot is delicious. 
And for Gooners everywhere, former Gunners legend Patrick Vieira and his Crystal Palace side romping home 3-0 against Spurs earlier this month remains a genuine highlight.

That’s along with his line after the game, which for many will take some beating as quote of the season: when asked how he felt beating Tottenham, he simply replied that it was nothing special as he’d never lost to them in his career. 
And so to the north London derby on Sunday. As if to underline the vagaries of our wonderful game, Spurs earned plaudits for three wins on the bounce to kick off the campaign while Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal suffered brickbats after losing their first three. 
How times change. And so quickly. Fast-forward a month and the Gunners host Nuno Espirito Santo’s struggling side after notching three wins in a row, registering two successive hard-fought victories in the league including felling an obdurate Norwich side at Ashburton Grove and emerging triumphant after beating Sean Dyche’s Burnley at their Turf Moor citadel. 
I’ll be there on Sunday as I simply can’t get enough of the north London derby in any form, having first watched a clash in this bitter long-running series nearly 40 years ago. As an aside I’ll also be at Boreham Wood next week for Arsenal Women vs Spurs Women in the FA Cup with my youngest daughter.
First and foremost Sunday I’ll be at the arches on Hornsey Road, flogging copies of the Gooner Fanzine to returning fans before ducking in to report on the game. 
It promises to be a weekend full of drama. And, for once, even an old cynic like me is thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of a genuinely gripping Premier League.


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