The Championship season naturally returned with a bang this weekend, teeing up what should be a frantic, drama-frenzied campaign.
The script-makers were keen to lay down the Championship law in matchday one, a division that has a tendency to venture off track and churn out unexpected results at a frightening pace, such is the charm and allure of English football’s perennially-unpredictable second tier.
Millwall currently lead the charge after beating Sunderland 2-0, while Hull City — 2-1 vs Bristol City — and Burnley — 1-0 vs Huddersfield — come in just below. Blackpool, Blackburn and Cardiff were the only other sides to record victories in the opening weekend, and they make up the early play-off spots.
QPR, Reading and Stoke City currently sit in the bottom three in the fledgling table, while there are a host of clubs languishing in the middle of the current standings including Sunderland and Coventry City, who played out a 1-1 at the Stadium of Light in Sunday’s sole contest.
There are plenty of talking points, and we’ve picked out the five most memorable.
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1. Gyokeres channels his inner Ibra
Viktor Gyokeres’ stock is sky high after he bagged a more-than-impressive 16 Championship goals last season (17 across all competitions), and he has picked up from where he left off in 2021/22 by netting a quite outrageous long-ranged finish against Sunderland.
Coventry were knocking on the door at the Stadium of Light on Sunday, having trailed from the 12th minute after Jack Clarke broke the deadlock, and it took until five minutes from time for talisman Gyokeres to come alive, restore parity, and rescue his side a precious opening point.
So often has the 24-year-old been the difference-maker for Mark Robins, and it was a familiar story in Tyne and Wear as he jinked inside and uncorked from range to leave Anthony Patterson hapless between the Sunderland sticks. It was a strike almost reminiscent of his “idol”.
His form for Coventry has naturally alerted the Sweden national team, for whom he now has seven caps, and Gyokeres has previously spoken about how he tries to learn and listen from legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic whenever he links up with his country.
Gyokeres said in February: “You want to look as much as possible at what Zlatan does and get as much advice as possible, he’s really humble and he takes care of all the other players really well.
“The last time I was with the national team it was really good to see him that close, he’s an idol for a lot of players, it was quite special, hopefully I will be there again.”
Ibra would have been proud of his strike on Sunday.
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2. Seri shines
The one-time Barcelona target has pitched up at East Riding of Yorkshire this summer following the expiration of his contract with Fulham, whom he helped seal promotion to the Premier League with last season, and he will be hoping lightning strikes twice as he looks to end Hull’s five-year top-flight absence.
The midfield tempo-setter looked well-settled in Shota Arveladze’s system on Saturday as the Tigers battled back from a goal down to claim an opening-weekend three points, with Seri earning a place in the back pages with the match-winning goal in the dying embers.
It was another summer signing in Ozan Tufan who brought the scoreline level following Andreas Weimann’s first-half opener for Bristol City, with the Turkey international netting 15 minutes from time, but Seri, in the closing seconds, unleashed from a distance, and a fortuitous deflected looped the ball into the back of the net.
Audacious, certainly, but as the old adage goes: if you don’t buy a ticket, you won’t win the raffle.
3. Burnley’s philosophy recalibration
Sean Dyche spent years bolstering Burnley’s reputation as an up-and-at-’em, physical force. Vincent Kompany tore down those pillars in one match. The Pep Guardiola gold dust has how appeared to have rubbed off at Turf Moor as the Clarets played with a ball-hogging arrogance on Friday night against Huddersfield.
Burnley completed 507 passes in their first league game under Vincent Kompany, equivalent to 5.9% of their 2021/22 Premier League season total. 🍷 pic.twitter.com/1Oq0v5bpAe
— Squawka (@Squawka) July 29, 2022
It was so ‘not Burnley’, it felt almost wrong watching the Lancashire club passing the ball around with the fluidity and rhythm of a Manchester City training rondo. Josh Cullen epitomised the new approach, sitting at the base of the midfield and functioning as the metronomic conductor, keeping the play ticking over.
It was bizarre and brilliant to see, mesmeric and madcap — and we can’t wait for the next Burnley match, a line that wasn’t uttered too often when they were in the Premier League.
4. Norwich buckle
So often we’ve seen Premier League clubs relegated and then struggle to piece together a winning formula to bounce back. Norwich have thumbed their noses at that rhetoric in recent seasons, rightly earning their status as English football’s current yo-yo club. But, if they are to boss the Championship once more, then they will need to bounce back from a dispiriting opening-day defeat to Cardiff.
Now in the colours of the Welsh side following his move from West Brom, Romaine Sawyers scored the decisive goal to sink Dean Smith’s team, before captain Grant Hanley contrived to rub salt in the wounds by getting sent off five minutes from time. Perry Ng was also handed an early bath from the referee, but that will matter little for Smith as he begins the season in concerning fashion.
5. Cresswell with an unlikely double
It was quite the debut performance for Charlie Cresswell. The Leeds United loanee joined Millwall looking to bulk up Gary Rowett’s defence and he produced an opening-day masterclass by keeping a lid on Stoke City in a 2-0 win — and earning an all-important first clean sheet. That’s what a defender should do, right?
Well, not only did the 19-year-old perform his duties at the back, but he also netted a brace to really mark his Den debut in style. Given Leeds’ vulnerabilities at the back last season, could letting Cresswell leave turn out to be a move that comes back to bite Jesse Marsch? Time will tell.