The Premier league has only been back on our screens for the best part of three days and fans all around the country are already foaming at the mouth anticipating another weekend of high-octane footballing action. It was an opening weekend that had everything, ranging from a tense, full blooded encounter on a Monday night in Merseyside to a couple of near annihilation’s in the capital.
The weekend began with every team feeling optimistic and fancying their chances of upsetting the odds this season, however as it has drawn to a close a few fans are wondering what exactly has been going on at their club over the pre-season period. Starting off at Loftus Road where a vastly strengthened QPR team were taking on a Swansea team many expected to struggle over the course of this season. A betting man would have this down as a sure fire home win especially considering it took Swansea until January to register their first away win last term, however that could not have been any further away from the truth. A star may have been born in the form of Spanish player Michu, with two very smartly taken goals, and along with a supreme performance by Swansea starlet Nathan Dyer and even a goal for want away forward Scott Sinclair, Swansea ran riot securing a very impressive 5-0 away win, leaving QPR manager Mark Hughes with a lot of thinking to do over the coming week.
Elsewhere in the capital Fulham, who have had their pre-season overshadowed by forward Clint Dempsey demanding a move away from the club, seemed to have the bit between their teeth securing another impressive 5-0 victory over Norwich, who’s new manager Chris Hughton’s honeymoon period as boss came to a crashing halt. Another new signing Mladen Petric bagged himself a brace along with goals from fellow new signing Kacaniklic, a well taken finish from Damien Duff and a late Steve Sidwell penalty, to provide Fulham boss with a silver lining after this torrid summer period.
The same silver lining never materialised at the Emirates Stadium where the first match since the departure of star forward Robin Van Persie ended in a stalemate. A disjointed performance, lacking cutting edge in the most parts left fans visibly disappointed and wondering if the big name departure over the summer could yet cost them a place among the Premier Leagues elite group of teams. The only point of note on Arsenal’s behalf was the creativity and flare of new signing Santi Carzorla who for brief moments during the match dazzled the spectators and gave them hope that he could lift them to the heights they were once at. Sunderland on the other hand put in a sterling defensive display restricting the space Arsenal could play in and frustrating them for lengthy periods of the match.
Moving over to the Midlands where West Brom took on a Liverpool side buoyed with optimism after the appointment of new manager Brendan Rodgers, and the introduction of new faces Joe Allen and Fabio Borini. This new look style of Liverpool seemed to be working in the opening half with them dictating the pace of the game and if it wasn’t for some less than desirable finishing from forward Luis Suarez, they could have found themselves in front. However just before half time the sucker punch arrived with Zoltan Gera striking an absolute thunderbolt into the roof of Pepe Reina’s goal, leaving the reds keeper helpless. After half time the Baggies seemed to be lifted by the strike applying more pressure to the Liverpool backline leading to numerous defensive slip-ups by the usually solid defensive partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. One of these slip-ups led to the dismissal of Agger as he was adjudged to have pulled back Baggies forward Shane Long in the penalty area leading to a penalty and a red card. The penalty may have been missed but the whole complexion of the game changed after this with West Brom gaining total control and running out 3-0 winners. There will undoubtedly be complaints from Liverpool players and fans about the penalty decisions but at the end of the day there is no hiding from the fact that the team under performed during the second half and seemed very frail when attempting to play this new style of play adopted by Brendan Rodgers. Never the less it was a wonderful start by West Brom and they deserve a lot of credit for the style of football they played and the desire they showed for the full 90 minutes.
Elsewhere on Saturday there were wins for West Ham United and Newcastle United over Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur and a hard fought 1-1 draw between Reading and Stoke City.
Moving onto to Sunday where the day began with Chelsea travelling to the North West to take on Wigan. Many expected this game to be a walkover and for the first 10 minutes many would have agreed with Chelsea storming to a two goal lead courtesy of goals from Branislav Ivanovic and a penalty from Frank Lampard. For the duration of the first half Chelsea remained in control with new signing Eden Hazard shining, quashing opinions that he may take a while to settle into the pace of the English game. The second half however was a different story with Chelsea riding their luck on numerous occasions with Wigan being guilty of wastefulness in front of goal. Chelsea target Victor Moses was a thorn in the Chelsea side for the majority of the game giving Ivanovic a torrid time down the left flank, but ultimately Chelsea hung on showing that they have the ability to win games ugly and sending a message out to their Premier League rivals.
The other game to take place on Sunday was new boys Southampton who made the daunting trip to Manchester to take on champions Manchester City. This was seen by many as a stroll in the park for the defending champions and for large parts of the game it seemed like the team thought this as well, with a casual tempo being adopted and the slick passing we see often by Manchester City absent from their performance. Despite this they managed to take the lead just before half time with Carlos Tevez cooling slotting home when put through on goal. The game seemed to be going the same way until two second half substitutes by Nigel Adkins who brought on prolific striker Rickie Lambert and new singing Steven Davis, who both popped up with goals to give Southampton an unexpected lead. This however seemed to sting Manchester City into life and they hit back with goals from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri, to give the Manchester club a 3-2 lead, reminiscent of the day when they won the league title back in May. You would have forgiven Southampton for dropping off the pace at this stage with many players running on their last legs, but for the remaining 10 minutes of the match they managed to dictate possession and even threaten the City goal on a few occasions that would set up an unlikely result. It was City though who reigned supreme getting the ball rolling on another season where they are expected to achieve so much.
Last but not least it was the turn of Everton and Manchester United to take the stage, many seeing this as the game of the weekend, and it failed to disappoint. From the get go Everton took the game to United allowing them little time on the ball in the Everton half making it very difficult for them to create any meaningful opportunities, as well as creating numerous chances of their own. First half chances by the imperious Marouane Fellaini, who struck the post whilst bearing down on goal and Leon Osman who stung the fingertips of impressive goalkeeper David De Gea increased the noise level at Goodison leaving United visibly shaken. There were a couple of chances for the Manchester club during the first half however, with Wayne Rooney testing Tim Howard with a well taken free kick and Danny Welbeck slotting just wide from the edge of the penalty area. As half time loomed Everton had one final chance to break the deadlock. A free kick was awarded when United central defender Nemanja Vidic was adjudged to have climbed over the back of Everton striker Nikica Jelavic, and from the resulting free kick Leighton Baines curled the ball towards the top corner of the goal, only to find a flying Spanish goalkeeper equal to it as he palmed the ball to safety. The second half began and with a mere four minutes on the clock Everton were pressing again with Leon Osman striking the underside of the crossbar. Many fans must have been thinking that this just wasn’t to be Everton’s day however the home side carried on pressing and got their reward just before the hour mark when Fellaini rose high to nod a Darren Gibson corner into the bottom corner of the United net. The stadium erupted with jubilation as the ball entered the Gwladys Street net with a sense of relief more than anything that they had finally broken the deadlock. This inspired the fans to get behind the team for the remaining 30 minutes and along with the wholehearted players they provided a barrier protecting their goal that rarely looked like being broken by Manchester United, even with new star Robin Van Persie making his much anticipated debut. It was a great night on Merseyside with a win over their North West rivals perhaps providing the perfect tonic for a successful season ahead.
The weekend as a whole has had everything and just goes to show that the Premier League is still without doubt the most exciting league in the world.
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