As noted in the season preview, far too much is read into results from the first weekend of the Premiership campaign and this is particularly the case when one of the big clubs fails to win their opening match. Therefore, Manchester United’s defeat on Monday night against Everton will have many writing Ferguson’s men out of the title race with a mere 37 games left to play; Arsenal’s failure to break down Sunderland at the Emirates is a sign that their fans will have to endure another season of frustration; and Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat to West Brom already has some of their supporters questioning the departure of the much-loved Kenny Dalglish as manager.
All of these storylines may be quashed this weekend, but there was one match this weekend that had a remarkably familiar feel to it. On the final day of last season, Manchester City played QPR at the Etihad; took the lead, only to fall behind 2-1; before recovering to win the game 3-2. Last Sunday, against Southampton – another team in their first campaign back in the top-flight – Mancini’s side repeated the trick, though they did not leave their comeback until injury-time on this occasion. The Saints did put on a strong showing, but their frailty in defense needs to be addressed before the end of the transfer window if they are to have any realistic chance of avoiding relegation straight back to the Championship.
Before the weekend’s action, Manchester United had completed the purchase of Robin Van Persie from Arsenal – giving Ferguson a plethora of options in attack and leaving Wenger the dilemma of how to replace his main striker from the last few years. As it turned out, neither team was able to find the net in their first fixture: United were frustrated by Everton, who fully deserved their 1-0 victory; while Arsenal could not find a way to score against Sunderland. There was plenty to encourage the Emirates faithful, in particular the creative play of new signing, Santi Cazorla, who impressed on his debut. However, Arsenal did not dominate possession (52:48) in their usual manner, managed a mere four shots on target and, perhaps of most concern, Wenger was visibly irate with Olivier Giroud for missing a great chance late in the game, after Cazorla had played him through. If the Frenchman is showing little patience for one of his players in the first match of the season – and on the striker’s first appearance for the club – then water bottles in the North London region should watch out as the campaign heats up.
Andre Villas-Boas lost his first competitive fixture in charge of Tottenham, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at St. James’ Park against Newcastle United. Demba Ba’s impressive strike had been cancelled out by a poacher’s goal from Jermain Defore, but moments later Aaron Lennon and Rafael Van der Vaart both fouled Ben Arfa in the box and the Frenchman converted from the spot to give Alan Pardew’s men all three points. What should be of most concern to AVB was the frequency with which Spurs surrendered possession – Benoit Assou-Ekotto was particularly guilty of sloppy passing and being loose with the ball. Also, the Portuguese manager started Gallas and Kaboul in the centre of defence in preference of Jan Vertonghen, believing the French pair’s experience would be important in the match, but Gallas failed to close down Ba quickly enough for his goal and his performance throughout was lacklustre. Both Vertonghen and Michael Dawson should be in contention to play this Saturday against West Brom, who will be on a high after their impressive 3-0 win against Liverpool at the Hawthorns.
Albion were not the only team to start the season with a big win: master beat apprentice at Craven Cottage, as Martin Jol’s Fulham beat Norwich 5-0 in Chris Hughton’s – who was assistant to Jol during the Dutchman’s tenure at White Hart Lane – first game in charge; and Swansea thrashed QPR 5-0 at Loftus Road, new boss Michael Laudrup showing the Welsh fans there is life after Brendan Rodgers. Elsewhere, newly promoted West Ham secured a 1-0 win over Aston Villa; while Reading earned a 1-1 draw against Stoke in their first match back in the top flight. On Sunday, Chelsea continued their record of not having lost their opening Premier League fixture since 1998, as they beat Wigan 2-0 at the DW Stadium. Both goals were scored inside the first 10 minutes and were created by new signing Eden Hazard – the Belgian played Ivanovic through for the opener; then was fouled inside the box to give Frank Lampard a chance from the penalty spot, which he converted.
Roberto DiMatteo’s troops will be in action again on Wednesday night against Reading – a fixture rearranged from September 1st because Chelsea will be competing in the UEFA Super Cup on August 31st, reward for their Champions League triumph in May. This weekend: the Blues have another home game, this time against Newcastle, who beat them 2-0 at Stamford Bridge in May thanks to Papiss Cisse; Manchester United will try to get on track when they take on Fulham at Old Trafford; Stoke host Arsenal; West Ham travel to Wales to face Swansea; and Spurs and West Brom meet at White Hart Lane. Norwich and QPR – joint bottom of the early Premiership table after their 5-0 defeats – square off at Carrow Road; Wigan are away at Southampton; Sunderland entertain Wigan; and Everton follow-up their victory over United with a trip to Birmingham to play Aston Villa.
Perhaps the biggest fixture of the weekend is on Sunday, as Liverpool play Manchester City at Anfield. Brendan Rodgers needs a victory at home to help him win over the supporters who are still disgruntled by Dalglish’s sacking; while Mancini takes his side to a ground on which they were held to a draw with in the league last year and where they exited the League Cup at the semi-final stage in January.
Last week, 4-6; Season 4-6
Chelsea vs Reading – Home win
Swansea vs West Ham – Home win
Aston Villa vs Everton – Draw
Manchester United vs Fulham – Home win
Norwich vs QPR – Home win
Southampton vs Wigan – Away win
Sunderland vs Reading – Home win
Tottenham vs West Brom – Home win
Chelsea vs Newcastle – Draw
Stoke vs Arsenal – Away win
Liverpool vs Manchester City – Away win