In the aftermath of the Olympic Games heads turned to Birmingham where the traditional starter for the footballing season was taking place. Football fans from across the country were hoping to be given some clues and insights into what might happen over the coming months in the Premier League. There were high hopes for the new campaign after Manchester City won the title in May with a dramatic come-back against QPR in stoppage-time, finishing ahead of neighbours Manchester United on goal-difference.
Chelsea, their opponents today, ended up well off the pace last season in sixth position. However they did have an up-turn in fortunes towards the end of the campaign as new manager Roberto Di Matteo transformed the side and led them to their first ever Champions League victory thanks to a penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich. The Blues also defeated Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley in the FA Cup final to complete a cup double.
Since then both sides have made changes, especially Chelsea. The West-London outfit have seen top goalscorer over the last ten years Didier Drogba leave for China shortly after scoring in both cup finals. The mantle of main striker has finally been passed onto Spanish forward Fernando Torres; over 18 months since his British record-breaking £50 million move from Liverpool. In that time he has flattered to deceive and has scored just seven goals in 46 league games compared to the 65 in 102 that he bagged at Anfield. He found some sort of form with Spain at Euro 2012 as he scored twice against the Republic of Ireland and then netted again in the final 4-0 drubbing of Italy.
On the back of that many have tipped him to re-discover his old form and take the Premier League by storm, assisted by new arrival Eden Hazard. Today the 28-year-old started as he means to go on with the opening goal, taken expertly with a delicate left-footed dink over City goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon. El Nino looked in good form for the majority of the game as he ran the channels well. He sent out a firm message to football fans around the world that he is back and ready to be Chelsea's main man, just like he was for Liverpool.
With the European champions seemingly in control the match was turned upside down when Branislav Ivanovic was sent off for a lunge on Aleksander Kolarov. Referee Kevin Friend lost plenty of admirers in the Chelsea camp when he produced the red card but after extensive replays it was clear why. Referees no longer tolerate studs-up tackles and the Serb's challenge was exactly that. What happened in the 30 minutes after that was predictable as the English champions took control.
Shortly after half-time Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure showed his attacking prowess with an excellent finish from the edge of the area. Goalkeeper Petr Cech will be disappointed with his efforts though as he failed to even get a touch on the ball as it flew inside his near post. It did not take long for the 11 men to take the lead for the first time and it was much-maligned striker Carlos Tevez who gave it to them. Like Torres, Tevez has been out of the Premier League picture for a while because of a row with manager Roberto Mancini. However, like his Spanish counter-part, he sent out a message today that he means business this year.
Samir Nasri sealed the win with a cool volley as the three-time Premier League champions ran out of steam. Youngster Ryan Bertrand pulled one back late on courtesy of a Pantilimon error but Chelsea's late rally proved in vain. A good win for City will not quash doubts over their hopes of successfully defending their title as Ivanovic's dismissal played a vital part in their victory. Chelsea on the other hand showed signs of strength in the first half with good link-up play and strong team-work. Eden Hazard looked a danger going forward and with Marko Marin to come back from injury they will have plenty of fire-power with which to threaten teams.
City have not made many significant signings although today did sign young midfielder Jack Rodwell from Everton. It is unlikely that he will make an immediate impact and it looks as though they will have a similar starting eleven to last season. There has been a lot of speculation surrounding Eastlands over Liverpool centre-back Daniel Agger who would greatly strengthen their back-line, especially after a typically unconvincing display by Serb Stefan Savic.
After watching the first game of the new season it is clear that City will be the team to beat, but everyone already knew that. What is also obvious is that Chelsea will be mounting a much bigger title challenge than last time around. There are plenty of positives for both managers to take into next week-ends opening Premiership fixtures from this feisty clash at Villa Park.