A year on: Dele Alli, Daniel James and 18 more astonishing opening-day starters from 2021

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Dele Alli played for Tottenham on the opening day of last season Credit: PA Images
Dele Alli played for Tottenham on the opening day of last season Credit: PA Images

As we prepare for the Premier League opening day, we remember what happened last year and who surprisingly played a part…


ARSENAL: Folarin Balogun
A disastrous opening night for Arsenal at Brentford went terribly for many, many people: Ben White, Calum Chambers and Balogun chief among them. It began a season-long theme for calamitous Arsenal striker performances but at least Balogun’s nightmare lasted only 59 minutes before he was hauled off; he would not start another Premier League game and has now moved to Reims on loan.


ASTON VILLA: Anwar El Ghazi
He ended the season playing 11 minutes of Premier League football in four months at Everton but he started it in an Aston Villa side managed by Dean Smith who contrived to lose 3-2 at Watford. The Dutch international is now one of several players Steven Gerrard would quite like to sell, thank you very much.


BOURNEMOUTH: Emiliano Marcondes
Played in the development squad in this pre-season as Scott Parker tried to send a pointed message about the lack of quality available to him, but he started last season in the Cherries’ starting line-up for a 2-2 draw with West Brom and actually scored. He would start only seven more games of their promotion season.


BRENTFORD: Frank Onyeka
It was hardly a surprise that the Bees pitched their new £9m signing into the opening game v Arsenal but you’d be forgiven for forgetting he existed; he started only two Premier League games in 2022 as international duty, injury and inexperience restricted his appearances. He is likely to be back on the bench as the Premier League returns.


BRIGHTON: Steven Alzate
At some point during the win over Burnley, Graham Potter realised that he might have been a tad cautious by including Steven Alzate, Yves Bissouma and Enock Mwepu. The latter was taken off at half-time and Alzate followed midway through the second half. He would start only four more Premier League games last season.


CHELSEA: Timo Werner
Failing to score in a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace was not tolerated and Werner would be on the bench the following week against Arsenal once Romelu Lukaku was through the door. He ended the season out of the starting XI in the second of two cup finals and now wants to leave, which is not so unusual at Chelsea.


CRYSTAL PALACE: Jairo Riedewald
He started v Chelsea, played 77 minutes, and then managed only another 40 minutes of Premier League football all season as Crystal Palace became very glad indeed that they signed Conor Gallagher on loan.


EVERTON: Rafa Benitez
That still seems hella weird.


FULHAM: Tyrese Francois
Who? Indeed. The Australian midfielder started the opening game of the promotion season – a 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough – and then played only four minutes more Championship football. He has signed a new contract but would probably benefit from a loan.


As if. This was Marcelo Bielsa. The only vague surprise was that he left Kalvin Phillips on the bench after his European Championship exploits.


Now very much on the unwanted list, the forgotten Spaniard started the opening game v Wolves but was replaced just past the hour mark. He would start only five more Premier League games and would not score until the very last day, which brought a 4-1 cruise against a Southampton side in flip-flops.


LIVERPOOL: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The last of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s nine Premier League starts of last season came in February but the first came in the opening game at Norwich as Jurgen Klopp quite rightly posited that James Milner, Naby Keita and the Ox would be enough midfield to match the Canaries. He was right, though the Ox came off after barely an hour. As one Liverpool website noted, ‘at least his skin fade and new curly blond locks were looking immaculate’.


Yes it was that recently that he was playing. Why?


Within weeks he would join Leeds United – who Manchester United beat 5-1 on that opening day – but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deemed him more worthy of a start on that opening day than Jadon Sancho. Of course he did.

Dan James Man Utd Leeds Credit: PA Images
Dan James Man Utd Leeds Credit: PA Images


A Newcastle United team managed by Steve Bruce and owned by Mike Ashley lost 4-2 at home to West Ham with new Preston keeper Freddie Woodman in goal. Also in the team were Jacob Murphy, Ciaran Clark and Isaac Hayden. Things have changed a tad.


Things have changed a tad at Forest, too, since they opened their Championship season under Chris Hughton with a 2-1 defeat to Coventry that featured this fella in defence alongside Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel, who left for Blackpool weeks later.


SOUTHAMPTON: Moussa Djenepo
A season which brought no goals, no assists and three yellow cards in just 453 minutes of Premier League football actually started with the promise of four straight starts for the Malian winger. It ended with 25 minutes of top-flight football in 2022.


Dele bloody Alli. Who knew? He started the opening-day win over champions Manchester City. That now seems extraordinary. Every single word of it.


This is David Moyes. He couldn’t astonish you if he tried.


WOLVES: Ki-Jana Hoever
“To the eye, he is a nice player, but his weakness is of course his defensive qualities.” A former PSV coach there, utterly destroying the young Dutchman, who has been sent back to the Eredivisie on loan after a poor season with Wolves that started with a 1-0 defeat at Leicester and pretty much got worse by the week. He ended the season with 305 Premier League minutes and a flea in his ear from Bruno Lage.

The article A year on: Dele Alli, Daniel James and 18 more astonishing opening-day starters from 2021 appeared first on Football365.com.

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