United and Chelsea on track as Gunners go top
Premier League opening weekend review
Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic
Anyone doubting the capabilities of Wigan’s new manager Robert Martinez will have been left impressed on Saturday as his team marched to a comfortable victory. A wonder-goal from new signing Hugo Rodallega set Wigan on their way as Villa failed to come to terms with the opposition. Indeed Martin O’Neill’s side looked a shadow of their former selves. Of course one must remember Villa have lost key figures this summer, Gareth Barry leaving for Manchester City and captain Martin Laursen retiring from football. Villa looked extremely vulnerable in defence, only for Brad Friedel keeping the Lactics out, it could have been a much a larger deficit. As it was, Jason Koumas added a second before the end to give Martinez a perfect start to his debut in the Premiership.
Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester City
The game at Ewood Park began and ended with a flurry. A sweeping Manchester City move was started and finished by Emmanuel Adebayor. After that City failed to take the game by the scruff of the neck as Blackburn Rover slowly found a foot hold in the game. Blackburn midfielder David Dunn had issued a rousing battle call during the week insisting that Rover’s would kick their cash rich opposition all over the pitch. This simply never happened but Rovers did threaten continuously from set pieces as the new central pairing of Dunne and Toure was put under the microscope. City were content to hit Sam Allardyce’s side on the break with Robinho and Bellamy looking in fine form with the ball at their feet and running at defenders. The introduction of Carlos Tevez added an extra dash of spice to the City attacking line-up and Stephen Ireland, City’s best player last season, made it 2-0 on 90 minutes.
Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Sunderland
Steve Bruce will have been encouraged by the performance of new signing Darren Bent who scored the only goal of the game as the Black Cats left the Reebok Stadium with all three points. Another positive for Bruce will be the gelling of the Bent-Jones partnership up front as the pair ran Bolton’s defence ragged. Gary Megson has been relatively quiet in the transfer market and the signs point to another average season for his team with a comfortable lower mid-table spot. Megson will be disappointed with Bolton’s tendency to wastefully lose possession giving the initiative to Bruce’s men. Albeit in the second half after some brash words at half time delivered by Megson, Bolton started to match Sunderland’s efforts but it came too late and Bruce’s side held on to an opening day victory.
Chelsea 2-1 Hull City
Didier Drogba rescued all three points for Chelsea as he sealed his brace with a bizarre winner in the second minute of added time much to the dismay of Phil Brown. Carlo Ancelotti has borrowed the diamond system he used to great effect with AC Milan but in the first half it proved largely ineffective. Hull City were content to cram their own half with 10 men only leaving Caleb Folan to make the odd foray into Chelsea’s half. The one attack of any notice Hull had in the first half resulted in a goal as Chelsea villain Stephen Hunt capitalised on a kind ricochet to bag a goal on his City debut. Chelsea hit back before half time with a stunning free kick by Drogba which rocketed into the top of the net. The introduction of Deco and Ballack saw a more threatening Chelsea outfit in the second half and they produced a couple of good chances to take the lead. Hull surrendered the opportunity to snatch an unlikely victory before Drogba’s misdirected cross found the back of the net to land Ancelotti with maximum points on his baptism to the Premier League.
Everton 1-6 Arsenal
This match was effectively over before half time, but the final hammer blow came just minutes into the second half as Cesc Fabregas effectively ended the any chance of an Everton revival to extend Arsenal’s lead to four goals. All the off-pitch drama clearly affected Everton’s composure in defence. They looked vulnerable from the start. A Denilson wonder strike set Arsenal on their way as the Everton collapse began. The next to Arsenal goals came from free headers in the box for first Vermaelen and then Gallas making it 0-3 at half time. After some tidy passing by Arsenal, Fabregas finished the move with a shot that went through the legs of the on-rushing Tim Howard. Less than 15 minutes later Fabregas was allowed the freedom of Goodison as he ran from inside his own half to fire a second goal in from outside the box. Eduardo made it six before the end with a simple tap in after a shot from Russian Arshavin rebounded off the post into the Croatian’s path. Louis Saha poached the most meaningless of consolation goals to wrap up proceedings in Merseyside with Goodison Park already like a ghost town. Arsene Wenger’s men produced a classy display but they were unquestionably helped by Everton’s woeful efforts. The Lescott soap opera needs to be settled.
Manchester United 1-0 Birmingham City
It was by no means vintage Manchester United. The first half was a tale of United dominance with no cutting edge with the exception of Wayne Rooney’s goal on 39 minutes. Birmingham were content to put all their men behind the ball with Cameron Jerome providing the only outlet for City. They struggled to cope with United’s movement in the early stages of the match but as the half progressed they grew in confidence. Hart looked in good form between the sticks. The only other chance of note was presented to Darren Fletcher who blazed his shot wide of the post. During the second half Ferguson’s men became slightly complacent as the Scottish duo of Ferguson and McFadden started to dictate proceedings. Indeed McFadden gracefully floated in United’s half threatening to cut open the United defence. New Birmingham signing Christian Benitez was presented with the best chance for the visitors but he failed to beat Ben Foster in goal who palmed the ball wide of the post after Benitez has been clean through. United are perennial slow starters so this will be a welcome start for the Old Trafford side. Birmingham proved that they won’t be the whipping boys of the league if they can reproduce performances like this.
Portsmouth 0-1 Fulham
Affairs at Fratton Park are in complete disarray with owner elect Sulaimann Al Fahed still to finalise his takeover of the south coast club. A staggering £60 million has been raised from the sale of players, yet none has been reinvested into the club. The squad is becoming a little stagnant, so investment is needed. Paul Hart has arguably the most unglamorous job in the league right now with the future of the club uncertain. Fulham on the other hand are a club with a settled future under Roy Hodgson. Their defensive record last season was simply awesome and they continued on the right note at Fratton Park securing another clean sheet. A Bobby Zamora goal was the difference between the two teams. An away win so early in the season will please Hodgson whose side took over eight months last season to record a victory away from home. The closest Pompey went to an equaliser was a shot from Papa Bouba Diop but Fulham were good value for their win.
Stoke City 2-0 Burnley
Burnley didn’t enjoy their Premier League debut after being taught a lesson or two by Tony Pulis’ men after Stoke enjoyed a comfortable victory at home. The combative Stoke picked up from where they left off last season as they played some unattractive but effective football. A free kick from Liam Lawrence was headed home by centre back Ryan Shawcross to give the home side the advantage after 19 minutes. The infamous Rory Delap long throw worked it’s magic once again on 33 minutes as Stoke doubled their advantage thanks to Burnley’s captain Stephen Jordan. Stoke revelled in their title as favourites to win a game for the first time since their arrival in the top flight, and they bossed the new boys around the pitch and looked comfortable throughout the entire 90 minutes. Burnley fans have reason to be worried already.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Liverpool
The late kick off Sunday meant Liverpool needed three points to keep pace with title rivals Chelsea and United. In truth it was a dour Liverpool side who desperately missed Xabi Alonso as Gerrard and Torres found themselves isolated from the midfield. Spurs have improved steadily under Harry Redknapp and have a strong squad. They out fought Liverpool yesterday with a shaken Jamie Carragher and a battered and bruised Martin Srktel conceding fouls at regular intervals. A Tom Huddlestone free kick ploughed into the Liverpool wall only to fall at the feet of Assou Ekotto who unleashed a fierce shot which soared into roof of Reina’s next. Liverpool lacked spark and any invention in midfield. However a Glen Johnson marauding run earned the away side after he was brought down by Spurs keeper Gomes in the box. Captain Steven Gerrard expertly scored from the spot to give Liverpool an undeserved equaliser. Less than five minutes later Bassong headed home the eventual winner after Carragher failed to match the Cameroonian’s leap. The arrival of Yossi Benayoun who should have started the game added some urgency and genius to Liverpool’s play but Spurs escaped with three points despite an obvious shove on Voornin in the box by Ekotto and then Ekotto was at the centre of controversy after he handled the ball in the penalty area. However a Liverpool equaliser would have been an undeserved result and Benitez’s men rightly succumbed to an opening day defeat.
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 West Ham United
Mick McCarthy made his welcome return to the Premiership but despite spending heavily in the summer it didn’t help Wolves avoid defeat at Moulineux. England under 21 captain Mark Noble opened the scoring on 22 minutes as he blasted a shot from outside the box past Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessy. McCarthy was missing his new £6 million signing Kevin Doyle and the normally lethal Ebanks Blake failed to finish the chances fashioned for him by the industrious Wolves midfield. Indeed Serbian playmaker Nenad Milijas enjoyed a promising debut looking dangerous throughout the match. Matthew Upson sealed victory for Gianfranco Zola as he nodded home from a corner to leave Wolves facing defeat on 69 minutes. In truth it was a fair result and McCartthy will be looking for a notable improvement in their next game away to Wigan Athletic.