The first Premier League fixtures of May 2021 got underway this afternoon with no fewer than eight teams in action, including Chelsea and Fulham.
Manchester City moved a step closer to championship glory, their fifth in ten seasons, when they ran out 0-2 winners at Crystal Palace in the early game.
Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United squared off at the traditional 3pm kick-off time, with the hosts producing an impressive 2-0 victory, subsequently improving their chances of staying up.
As for the first evening game, we saw West London rivals lock horns at Stamford Bridge, but this result was a mere formality. Relegation-threatened Fulham were no match for Champions League semi-finalist Chelsea, who also claimed a 2-0 win.
With the dust beginning to settle in the British capital, here are five things we learned from that encounter and those before Everton and Aston Villa round off today’s matches.
1. Kings of London
The promotion of Fulham increased the number of London club’s participating in the Premier League to six, meaning extra derby games this season. Scott Parker returning to his former stomping ground as manager of Chelsea’s neighbours up the road presented another test for Blues boss Thomas Tuchel, now coaching in his fourth capital clash.
He passed those previous examinations with flying colours (wins over Tottenham, Crystal Palace and West Ham) and it was business as usual this evening. Kai Havertz, again deployed in a ‘false nine’ role, proved to be the difference when he grabbed a brace, which in the process doubled his tally for this campaign.
This result further cemented Chelsea’s claim to be London’s number one team. Across the London derbies in England’s top division this season, Chelsea have won the most games (7), the most points (22), scored the most goals (17), and conceded the fewest (4). With two remaining games — Chelsea vs Arsenal (May 12) and Palace vs Arsenal (May 19) — Tuchel’s side have secured this particular crown. As things currently stand, the Gunners are on four wins including an Emirates success over The Pensioners, so even if they win those remaining fixtures they won’t be able to catch them.
2. Mendy the protector
The latter statistic perfectly illustrates what a good job Edouard Mendy has done in his debut season. Chelsea desperately needed a top shelf goalkeeper following Kepa Arrizabalaga’s lowlights in the preceding seasons. Despite being the world’s most expensive goalkeeper, the 26-year-old was error prone and given the Blues are in the business of immediate results, they could ill-afford Kepa developing under intense pressure.
Mendy’s arrival from Rennes — from whom legendary club ‘keeper Petr Čech also joined Chelsea — was a godsend. He made no fewer than three saves against Fulham en route to a 16th clean sheet across 28 league outings. In the race for the Premier League’s Golden Glove, only Manchester City shot-stopper Ederson (18) has kept more shutouts. That said, of all ‘keepers to have started at least 25 games in league history, Mendy is the only ‘number one’ to keep a ‘zero’ in more than half of them (57%).
3. Vulnerable from distance
Very few were backing Crystal Palace to get something from today’s game. Their visitors were in buoyant mood following a sensational comeback win at Paris Saint-Germain earlier this week. As it stands, there are now 90 minutes between City and their first Champions League appearance, so it came as no surprise to see Pep Guardiola rotate. Walking his way into City’s starting lineup was Ferran Torres who joined the Cityzens from Valencia last summer.
It’s been a stop-start campaign for the 21-year-old Spanish forward, but he made the most of this latest opportunity. With tails up after Sergio Agüero broke the deadlock, Torres found himself in shooting distance and placed his shot beyond compatriot Vicente Guaita. A significant goal for two reasons; firstly it means no club has conceded more Premier League goals from outside the box this season than Palace…
4. Another milestone reached under Pep
… and secondly, it was City’s 700th in all competitions under Pep Guardiola, which is 157 more than any other Premier League team since he took over in 2016 and we can expect plenty more before this season is out. City have been quietly relentless this season having bagged 71 in England’s top division, seven more than next best Manchester United, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have a game in hand.
Guardiola’s first game in charge following a successful period coaching Bayern Munich was a home game against Sunderland, which they narrowly won. An unfortunate Paddy McNair own goal three minutes from the end meant the spoils remained at the Etihad Stadium. As for the identity of City’s first goalscorer in the Pep era, it couldn’t be anyone else but Sergio Agüero, who converted a fourth-minute penalty.
5. Danny’s return to form
Heading into today’s meeting with Leeds United there was a sense of renewed confidence surging through Danny Welbeck and for good reason. The 30-year-old Brighton & Hove Albion forward had been enjoying one of his more prolific Premier League seasons. He’d netted four times across 20 games, which is more than his previous two league campaigns combined (three goals in 26 games). It’s worth mentioning two of those strikes came in his last five appearances, so Marcelo Bielsa’s boys had been warned.
Despite their preparation, which you know to be painstakingly intricate given their manager’s methodology when it comes to studying the opposition, they weren’t able to keep the former Manchester United academy graduate at bay. Welbeck ensured all three points were staying on the south coast after Pascal Groß had given Graham Potter’s men an early lead. Welbeck’s strike matches his 2017/18 return, when he bagged five goals for Arsenal. He needs four more to equal his personal best, which is nine goals for United on two occasions (2013/14 and 2011/12).