Rejoice! Football is back! The summer of endless speculation is dying down as attention returns to what’s happening on the pitch rather than what’s happening off it. With summer transfer sagas ending (Fabregas) or abating (Tevez), the opening weekend of the English Premier League answered some questions and supplied more for supporters of the top teams.
English Champions Manchester United started their title defence away at West Brom with Sir Alex Ferguson fielding a youthful side that included Tom Cleverley, Ashley Young and David De Gea. After Wayne Rooney exchanged passes with Young to open the scoring, a mistake from keeper De Gea brought Albion back into the match. United gained victory in the 81st minute when Young burst through on the left-flank, his deflected cross ending in the net. The win came at a cost, with experienced central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic suffering from hamstring and nerve injuries respectively, leaving United short of defensive cover.
…but failed to make their pressure count.
Andre Villas-Boas or “The Group One” (it’ll never catch on) began Premier League life as Chelsea manager in the scoreless draw at Stoke. Chelsea had the better of the play in the second-half but failed to make their pressure count. Villas-Boas’ team had several claims for a penalty; with one in particular (Shawcross on Torres) that could have been given. Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic made two superb saves, tipping over John Mikel Obi’s volleyed effort and palming Nicolas Anelka’s cross-cum-shot onto the bar. Fernando Torres looked livelier than he had done for the majority of last season, but not even his energised performance could direct a somewhat disjointed Chelsea team from taking all three points.
Arsenal were back at St James’ Park, a ground where they had let slip a 4-0 lead last season (ending 4-4). There were no goals this time (and little goalmouth action to speak of) but drama was provided in the form of Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton. Incensed after he was stamped on by Alex Song, a riled up Barton aggressively confronted Arsenal’s Gervinho for a believed dive, the latter sent off for “striking” Barton in the face. A dour draw then, one that did not help the tumultuous mood surrounding Arsenal in what is becoming a vital few weeks for the club and its embattled manager Arsene Wenger as they face Udinese in their Champions League group qualifier this week.
…horribly blazing over a penalty after he was felled…
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish opted to play Luis Suarez after his recent exploits at the Copa America, a decision that appeared to produce positive dividends as Suarez opened the scoring against Sunderland from a Charlie Adam free-kick. Suarez had the opportunity to open the scoring earlier on, horribly blazing over a penalty after he was felled by Kieran Richardson. After a lively start Suarez and the team faded badly and new Sunderland signing Sebastian Larsson scored with an acrobatic volley in the second half as Sunderland took control after the restart. A promising start for Liverpool but one they could not sustain in this 1-1 draw.
Last but not least, Manchester City began their campaign on Monday night with a 4-0 routing of newcomers Swansea. Despite speculation over the future of Carlos Tevez (who did not attend the match) City comfortably romped home to victory with Edin Dzeko, David Silva and new signing Sergio Kun Aguero scoring twice on his debut. Aguero was impressive, setting up Silva and demonstrating a keen eye for goal, unleashing a dipping 30-yard shot to close the scoring.
…this league looks set to be more competitive…
So we’ve now seen the contenders for the league crown play. City were undoubtedly impressive and so were United in stretches against WBA. The task for the managers now is to build upon these performances as match fitness is gained and signings settle in. If anything can be gleaned from the opening weekend it’s that this league looks set to be more competitive than last year.