19 August 2012

Opening Premier League Weekend Does Not Disappoint

The first weekend of the Premier League season is over and there were some surprising results as the league table takes an unusual form after 18 of the sides' first matches. Swansea City and Fulham are the joint leaders after brilliant 5-0 wins over QPR and Norwich City respectively. Champions Manchester City started their campaign as they finished the last, with a thrilling come-back 3-2 win at home to newly-promoted opponents. The valiant Southampton were one of three promoted sides that produced good opening performances. Chelsea also set down a marker with a comfortable win at perennial over-achievers Wigan, but Liverpool failed to start well and were battered 3-0 by a brilliant West Brom team at the Hawthorns.

Arsenal struggled to impress at home to Sunderland in a disappointing 0-0 draw as new centre forward Lukas Podolski was largely anonymous. There was one bright spark for the Gunners, and that came in the form of Spain attacking midfielder Santi Cazorla who played well and created numerous opportunities. The best of these fell for fellow new signing Olivier Giroud who blazed horribly wide with the goal at his mercy. The game at the Emirates gave little away about the state of Arsenal's squad, but they looked decent enough and on another day could have taken all three points. 

Fellow North London side Tottenham Hotspur were given a tough opening fixture away at St James' Park against last season's fifth place finishers Newcastle United. Spurs hit the wood-work twice in the first half before Demba Ba produced a moment of magic to give the Magpies the lead. In a tactical, cagey encounter Spurs pressed the ball well but Newcastle always looked dangerous. Jermain Defoe scored a typical poacher's goal to level things up but Hatem Ben Arfa won and duly converted an 80th minute penalty to give Pardew's men the perfect start to the season. Both sides looked good, although Spurs are in desperate need of a striker to partner Defoe before the transfer window closes. Newcastle's fire-power up front won them the game, with Ben Arfa, Ba and Papiss Cisse always a threat. 

Swansea and Fulham were the surprise packages of the opening day as both cruised to great 5-0 victories. Swansea, tipped by many to find life tough this year, played some wonderful football to thrash a poor QPR team at Loftus Road with 2 goals and an assist from new attacking midfielder Michu. The Spaniard looks to be a great prospect and a good buy at just £2 million, despite scoring 15 league goals for unheralded Rayo Vallecano in La Liga last season. Diminutive winger Nathan Dyer further enhanced his burgeoning reputation with a well-taken brace. Fulham swept past a disappointing Norwich at Craven Cottage with goals for new forwards Alex Kacaniklic and Mladen Petric. The alarm bells will be ringing at Carrow Road as new boss Chris Hughton watched with disbelief as his back line was dismantled with ease time and time again. This could prove to be a very difficult nine months for the Canaries.

New boys Reading and West Ham United both picked up their first points on their Premier League returns. The Royals showed great fight to come back after going a goal down to Stoke thanks to a shocking goalkeeping error by Adam Federici in a match that they could have ended up winning. In the end the 89th minute equaliser and a 1-1 draw was enough to keep the home fans happy. The Hammers played well at Upton Park in their 1-0 win over Aston Villa and manager Sam Allardyce will be particularly pleased with the clean sheet after the amount of goals the East London club have conceded in the last two years. This was partly down to the commanding performance at the back from former Villa centre back James Collins.

The main story on day one was the shocking performance by Brendan Rodgers's Liverpool in the Midlands. The Baggies were on fire as goals from Zoltan Gera, Peter Odemwingie and on-loan Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku provided the goals. Liverpool were guilty of similar mistakes as last season as Luis Suarez missed a host of chances before the Reds's defence fell to pieces. The Northern Irish manager has a long way to go if he is to transform the Anfield club into a top four team. 

Today the focus was on defending title winners Manchester City as they took on Nigel Adkins's Southampton at the Etihad. They created and spurned plenty of chances, including a missed David Silva penalty, before Carlos Tevez gave them the lead with a low drive on the stroke of half-time. The Saints came back admirably after City missed more opportunities and talismanic forward Rickie Lambert scored an excellent equaliser. When fellow substitute Steve Davis gave them the lead with little more than 20 minutes left it looked as though a real upset could be on the cards, only for the Sky Blues to come back like champions. Goals from Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri gave them all three points as they showed why they are favourites to retain their title. 

The earlier game was at the DW Stadium where Chelsea were hoping to put down a marker and prove that they are ready to mount a title challenge. They started wonderfully as Wigan's awful defence made it all too easy for The Blues to take a 2-0 lead after just seven minutes. Branislav Ivanovic opened the scoring before Frank Lampard converted a penalty. Belgian winger Eden Hazard was at the heart of both goals as he showed why Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich splashed out £32 million on the 21-year-old. Di Matteo's side looked comfortable for the most part, despite a second half rally from the Latics, and will be hopeful of pushing the Manchester clubs all the way this season. 

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