By Matt Meyers
A common refrain you'll hear from some soccer snobs about the insanely popular English Premier League goes something like this: "From a technical standpoint, the Premiership isn't the best league in the world; it might not even be top three."
That may be true, but it also entirely misses the point. What makes the EPL so compelling is your neighborhood sportswriter's favorite phrase: narrative.
No one watches Scandal because of its groundbreaking dialogue. It's popular because of the extremely entertaining storylines. (I think the show went off the rails after season two, but that's a separate conversation. The show is still a hit.)
When it comes to compelling storylines and entertaining characters, no soccer league -- or arguably any sports league -- compares to the EPL. After one week minus one game of this year's EPL season, these are the narratives that bear watching.
1. The demise of Manchester United
When it comes to treating one game as a referendum on a team's quality, soccer fans stand tall about the rest, and United fans are already panicking after dropping a 2-1 affair to Swansea at home, the Red Devils' first opening week home loss since 1972.
Manager Louis van Gaal was brought in on the change ticket, promising far more savvy tactics than predecessor David Moyes, who led United to its worst finish since 1990 in his one season after taking over from the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. (Side note to all you coaches out there: You never want to be the guy who succeeds the legend -- you want to be the guy who succeeds the guy who succeeds the legend.)
LVG spoke in the preseason about how he would implement a 3-5-2 formation, one that relies on strong central back play, even though he let two of his most hardened central defenders -- Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic -- leave over the summer. And despite United's deep pockets, van Gaal ended up giving starting spots to homegrown players Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, two players so green they don't even have photographs on their ESPN bio pages.
This was not how the van Gaal era was supposed to begin.
In the bad timing department, the following Tweet was sent out by NBC Sports just moments after the final whistle.
2. Suarez who?
The biggest transfer of the summer was Liverpool selling Luis Suarez to Barcelona for 75 million pounds. For those wondering why Liverpool, a supposed "big" club, would sell last year's EPL player of the year when they hope to contend for the title, it's because Suarez had a not uncommon release clause in his contract that forced Liverpool to sell him if another team reached a certain bid, which was believed to be in the neighborhood of 70 million pounds. Presto chango, he's now with Barcelona.
Liverpool used that cash to raid Southampton, its weekend opponent and last year's darling upstarts of the EPL. Despite bringing in such Saints luminaries as Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert, it was clear that the key to Liverpool contending was the continued ascent of Raheem Sterling, its 19-year-old lightning bolt of an attacker.
Sterling had Liverpool fans forgetting about Suarez when he used his outrageous speed to run onto a picture-perfect feed from Jordan Henderson that put Liverpool up 1-0 in the 23rd minute.
Can't remember who originally said that Raheem Sterling runs like he's drying his nail varnish, but it's a brilliantly accurate description- Luke Aaron Moore (@lukeymoore) August 17, 2014
Southampton managed to tie the game thanks to an incredible feed from Dusan Tadic to Nathaniel Clyne. In the 75th minute, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers brought on Rickie Lambert, who was Southampton's No. 2 scorer a season ago and who was dropped from Liverpool's youth program -- after growing up rooting for the team -- at the age of 15.
Lambert netting the winner would have obviously been great for the #narrative, but it was Daniel Sturridge who put Liverpool back on top after he bounced on a header from the diminutive Sterling in the box just a few moments later.
By the way, Tadic was a dynamo in the midfield on Sunday, and could help Saints overcome their offseason fire sale. Last season, while playing for FC Twente, he led the Eredevisie with 133 chances created, 47 more than anyone else.
3. Arsenal guts it out.
Year in and year out, the Gunners are filled with skilled players but have a reputation for being a little soft. On Saturday, they fell behind a Crystal Palace team that was playing without a manager, as Tony Pulis walked out on Friday.
Laurent Koscielny pulled Arsenal even at the end of the first half, and Aaron Ramsey netted the winner in extra time. These are the kinds of matches Arsenal never wins, or at least hasn't seemed to in recent seasons.
There were no other real surprises over the weekend, or "on the weekend" as they say in England, though Everton will regret conceding that late equalizer to just-promoted Leicester. You never want to read too much into the first week, but Tottenham is a team that Everton will theoretically be competing with for a top-four spot (aka Champions League position), and Spurs' late winner against West Ham was four-point swing in the table in two separate games in the span of 10 minutes of real time. Narrative!
* * *
Matt Meyers is a content director at MLB.com and has -- for reasons that he might explain later -- been a diehard Newcastle United fan for more than 20 years. You can follow him on Twitter @mtmeyers.