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in Futbol/PL Recaps by
countinho

ARSLIV

The game of the season thus far highlighted the enthusiasm of Jurgen Klopp, the complacency of Arsene Wenger and, ultimately, two squads that will vie for a Champions League spot come April and May, but likely not more than that. Liverpool were mostly lifeless in the first half; their press was far from organized or disorienting and the Gunners were free to build up in midfield. Luckily for the Reds, Arsenal were toothless up front with unnatural striker Alexis Sanchez playing up top and Theo Walcott playing wide.

Walcott contributed enough in the first half, winning a penalty on the hapless Alberto Moreno before having his attempt from the spot saved. Walcott atoned not even a minute later after Francis Coquelin’s brilliant challenge in midfield spurred a quick counter, with the ball pinging from Alex Iwobi to a wide open Walcott on the edge of the box. With Moreno completely outside of position, Walcott was free to line up a fine strike to the far post for the opening goal.

But despite their poor half, Liverpool were level at halftime thanks to Philippe Coutinho’s marvelous free kick on the stroke of halftime. Coutinho’s golazo seemed to set the tone for Liverpool in the second half, for they came out of the changing room revved up and promptly made Arsenal’s makeshift and embarrassingly youthful center back duo of Callum Chambers and Rob Holding look foolish, though one could hardly blame the youngsters for letting in three extremely well taken goals.

First it was Adam Lallana taking the lead with a pretty finish to the far post, then it was Coutinho tapping in his brace after a typical Arsenal move and finally it was summer signing Sadio Mane charging forward with one of the best individual runs of the season before cutting inside on Chambers and unleashing a curling shot with his left foot.

To their credit, Arsenal gathered themselves and made Liverpool sweat out the final half hour of the match. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored within five minutes of coming on and Chambers headed home Arsenal’s third in the 75th minute, giving the Gunners a lifeline. But in the end Liverpool’s own shaky defense was able to hold off Arsenal’s comeback attempt. It’s hard not to question why Wenger didn’t start the game with Santi Cazorla, Granit Zhaka and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the lineup. Cazorla’s insertion in particularly completely changed the game for Arsenal; he gave the Gunners a spark going forward and collected two assists within 15 minutes.

Had Cazorla featured instead of Aaron Ramsey, who came off for an injury that will sideline him for about a month, Arsenal might have had a better chance controlling the midfield and keeping Liverpool from going on the tear they did to start the second half. If the pressure wasn’t already on Wenger to spend money on a true center forward and a center back to partner withLaurent Koscielny while Per Mertesacker and Gabriel are injured, it sure is now.

BURSWA

A Swansea side that has had a transformative summer, and not necessarily in a good way, got its season off to a good start by spoiling Burnley’s return to the Premier League. Leroy Fer, who spent the second half of last season in Wales on loan from QPR before making the move permanent this summer, got the winning goal in the 82nd minute, tapping in a rebound past Burnley keeper Tom Heaton.

How the goal was made should give Swansea fans some optimism after an offseason that saw them sell off Andre Ayew, who led the club in the goals last season, and Ashley Williams, who flat out led the club since 2008. The Swans dominated the flanks all game, with strong play from Modou Barrow, Wayne Routledge and substitute Jefferson Montero from the wings as well as fullbacks Kyle Naughton and Stephen Kingsley. Montero come on in the 64th minute and created the scoring chance about 20 minutes later when he dance passed his defender on the left edge of the box and whipped in a cross for Fernando Llorente.

Llorente, who signed from Sevilla this summer, won eight aerial challenges against Burnley, showcasing his ability as a target man for a Swansea side that has been searching for a reference point up top ever since Bafetimbi Gomis’ incredible goal-scoring predictably came to an end last season. Llorente got his head to Montero’s cross, forcing the save and creating the rebound for Fer to finish off. Francesco Guidolin’s side was better than expected in its debut, and the Swans performed well even though Iceland hero Gylfi Sigurðsson only made a cameo and record signing Borja Baston didn’t feature.

Given Llorente’s positive start, how Guidolin decides to fit Baston, another striker, into his team plans will be interesting. Will he switch from the 4-3-3 the Swans played against Burnley to incorporate a second striker or will he rotate between the Spaniards?

There were barely any standout players for Burnley, with Championship standout Andre Gray failing to muster a solid chance throughout the match. Burnley were one of my picks to be relegated this season, and without a few more reinforcements that can offer something going forward, this team will struggle to score goals as they did in its opener.

CRYWBA

Alan Pardew’s second full season at Crystal Palace started the way last season ended rather than how it began. After a flying start to last year’s campaign, Palace fell apart down the stretch without a striker to convert their mounds of possession and spells of good play into goals. In their opener, the Eagles dominated possession against Tony Pulis’ side only to concede a set piece goal to the the towering Solomon Rondon while failing to create any chances of their own. Rondon’s goal was the kind of match-stealing poach that Palace desperately need, and now that Yannick Bolasie, who had a cameo as a sub in this game, has been sold to Everton, it is time for Palace to finish the deal for rumored target Christian Benteke.

On the bright side, Palace’s top summer signing, Andres Townsend, looked fantastic in his first game at Selhurst Park. Townsend offered the kind of dynamism going forward that Palace’s attacking players showcased as the club got off to such a hot start last season, making Bolasie expendable if the fee is right. That said, neither Townsend nor Wilfried Zaha could produce the end product necessary in this match, and its quite clear Connor Wickham isn’t the man to lead the line alone if Palace are to avoid the drop this season.

For West Brom, it was more the same under Pulis, parking the bus and squeezing the most out of set piece opportunities. Rondon’s solid form from the second half of last season continued on opening day while the Baggies’ backline proved impenetrable against an opponent lacking a killer instinct in the final third.

EVETOT

Former Southampton manager Ronald Koeman debuted with a three-at-the-back system that gave Everton more of a defensive backbone than they showed all of last season for Roberto Martinez. With John Stones off to Manchester City and signing Ashley Williams not quite ready to play for his club, Ramiro Funes Mori, Phil Jagielka and debutant Mason Holgate were solid at the back, only veering off course once Mauricio Pochettino inserted a second striker, which opened up a gap for Erik Lamela to score Tottenham’s equalizer minutes after the substitution.

Spurs grabbed firm control of the game after getting on level terms, pressing Everton with fervor and precision, but they couldn’t find a way through to secure all three points. Koeman proclaimed his squad’s fitness levels were only at 70 percent prior to the match, and the Toffees did seem to run out of gas during the final half hour.

That, however, shouldn’t dampen the lively and hopeful hour that came before it. Everton started the game on the front foot, with former Aston Villa midfielder Idrissa Gueye dominating the middle of the park for the Toffees. With Gueye operating in the engine room, breaking up Spurs’ play and carrying things the other way, Everton’s front three of Kevin Mirallas, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley were free to get creative in the final third, swapping places and making adventurous runs past a Tottenham backline that was a step slow all game.

Deulofeu, who started the game up top and spent the majority of the game playing centrally, showed promise in a position he hasn’t played much of in his career. His movement was fantastic and though he began to tire late in the game, he was always Everton’s most likely player to get a second. It was Barkley, though, who got the game’s opening goal from a free kick that went untouched on its way into the area. The keeper might not have been expecting it, but Barkley’s technique was fantastic and it was a goal worthy of at least a point for Koeman’s side.

hulllei

This result was even more shocking than the Foxes winning the league last year. OK, so it wasn’t THAT surprising, but it sure was unexpected to see a team in turmoil with 13 fit players beat the reigning Champions in Hull’s first game back in the top flight. After Abel Hernandez and Adama Diomande’s synchronized bicycle kick got the Tigers the lead just before halftime, Riyad Mahrez’s equalizer from the penalty spot seemed to put the dream upset to bed. But Hull wouldn’t go away, with Robert Snodgrass thumping in the winning goal in the 57th minute.

Leicester were poor in this game. Summer signing Ahmed Musa was the most lively player on the pitch and created the most chances for the Foxes, but Mahrez seemed to be moping around for most of the match and Jamie Vardy couldn’t find any space behind a Hull defense that was well prepared for Leicester to play for a goal on the counter attack. It might be the only three points Hull secure all season, but the Tigers picked a pretty good team to stun. At least for now, Hull can claim to hold the Premier League title belt having stripped it away from the Foxes on opening day.

MANSUN

The Pep Guardiola era at the Etihad didn’t get off to a flying start, with City requiring Paddy McNair’s late own goal to secure all three points, but there was some encouraging signs for the Sky Blue. Most notably, Raheem Sterling, who had an anonymous season after becoming the most expensive English player ever last summer, looked lively from kick off, taking on his man and flying down the flank. He won the penalty that Sergio Aguero converted to open the scoring and completed a game-high six dribbles, a sign that his confidence is building after a poor first season at City and an even worse tournament at the Euros.

John Stones looked good in his City debut, stepping up and looking comfortable on the ball throughout the contest. We still haven’t seen him under pressure, but the initial returns point to Stones being the ball playing center half that Guardiola loves. It was enjoyable to see Stones step up on the ball with Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna taking up spots in the holding midfield slots and Fernandinho and Aleksandar Kolarov, a central midfielder and a left back, respectively, acting as the last line of defense. Guardiola’s innovation and outside the box thinking is talked about a lot, but that doesn’t mean it’s overrated; the man is a legitimate football genius.

Kolarov, by the way, was superb, and the manager said as much after the game. He might not play center back again this season, but his career might have a second wind once his legs go because of how well he adapted to playing centrally. It wasn’t all good for City, with Jermain Defoe nabbing the equalizer in the 71st minute and a lot of their possession not producing chances, but the framework is only now being established and it shouldn’t be long before City are flying.

MIDSTK

The Boro made a strong debut in the Premier League with former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo getting off the mark in the 11th minute, allowing Aitor Karanka’s to comfortably control the game for the remainder of the game. Left back George Friend was magnificent in both of his roles, getting forward with intent and ability, dribbling past defenders and creating chances down the flank while also keeping Stoke talisman Xheridan Shaqiri in his pocket for the majority of the match.

Shaqiri would get his goal, though, with a good free kick in the 67th minute. The goal rescued a point from what was an otherwise uninspiring performance from Mark Hughes’ men. With summer signing Joe Allen only getting a cameo, Giannelli Imbula was the Potters’ most influential player in the middle of the mark, but Stoke hardly threatened the goal without a true striker leading the line.

Middlesbrough should be happy with its Premier League return and particularly with the player of playmaker Gaston Ramirez. Ramirez spent last season at the Riverside Stadium on loan from Southampton before making the move permanent this summer and he pulled the strings magnificently in the opener, assisting on Negredo’s goal before hitting the post himself and being taken off in the 88th minute.

SOUWAT

The Saints, who are utilizing new manager Claude Puel’s diamond midfield system, look a fun side with Nathan Redmond up top along side Shane Long and Dusan Tadic. Redmond, signed from Norwich City as a Sadio Mane replacement this summer, scored on his Saints debut and nearly made it a brace if not for the offside flag. His first was enough to secure a point against a Watford side that was solid defensively and that got a wonderful opening goal from Etiene Capoue. After a down first season at the club, Capoue started off his second campaign with a controlling performance in midfield and a deciding goal.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Southampton’s summer signing from Bayern Munich, entered the game with half an hour to go and opened up the game for the Saints, offering more dynamic play than James Ward-Prowse. He looks to be a great signing in Saints’ midfield and it might not be too soon to consider how long Southampton will be able to hold onto a player who looks to be one of the brightest midfielders in Europe.

BOUMAN

The Mourinho era at United got off to a negative start, with Manchester ceding possession to the Cherries in the first half, but the pace of the game picked up in the second half and Manchester’s superior talents began to make their presence known. Juan Mata scored the game’s opening goal in the 40th minute, but it was less a goal and more Cherries’ captain Steve Francis’ personal rendition of Yakety Sax, commiting two unthinkable errors in the span of five seconds to lead to Mata’s opener. Rooney’s goal in the second half wasn’t much better, for he headed home Anthony Martial’s mishit shot in the 59th minute, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s capper and first Premier League goal was a thing of beauty.

Bournemouth didn’t have enough creativity in the midfield to break down United’s double pivot of Ander Herrera and Mauroane Fellaini. Fellaini was perfect with his passing and tremendous defensively while Herrera dropped deep and create things with his long passing. Despite Mourinho saying Rooney would’t play a deeper midfield position, United’s captain frequently dropped deep to get on the ball. Whether Rooney was disobeying instructions or merely searching for space, he wasn’t stagnant in the No. 10 role and displayed much better chemistry with Zlatan than he did during the Community Shield match against Leicester.

CHEWHU

Chelsea looked like a totally different team than the one that tried to defend the title last season. Antonio Conte’s debut at the club featured aggressive and dominant possession, a far cry from the negative brand of football Jose Mourinho’s side had regressed to by the end of his second term at the club. Most importantly for Chelsea, Eden Hazard looked like one of the top players of the world again; he scored Chelsea’s opener from the spot, getting on the board in the opener after waiting until March to score his first Premier League goal last season, and took on defenders with glee.

West Ham were lost with Dmitri Payet on the bench, sitting back and absorbing the pressure despite having safety valves providing an outlet. Credit Conte, who had Branislov Ivanovic and Cesar Azpilicueta flying forward from the fullback spots, requiring West Ham’s wingers to track back and essentially removing them from the game. The lack of an outlet on the wings negated Andy Carroll’s impact, for his hold up play was mostly useless with nobody around him to connect with.

Of course, Chelsea wouldn’t have been able to be so aggressive with its defenders were it not for the presence of N’Golo Kante, who was tremendous in his Chelsea. Kante sat in between Chelsea’s center backs to protect them from the counter attack and showed he can pick a pass as well. Conte’s controversial exclusion of Cesc Fabregas proved fruitful as Kante and Nemanja Matic looked like a tremendous defensive duo in midfield while Oscar played magnificently in a more creative midfield role.

Although West Ham had nothing to offer going forward, Payet’s inclusion led to a couple of set piece opportunities, one of which fell kindly to center back James Collins, who thumped the ball beautifully past Thibaut Courtois in the 77th minute. Conte wouldn’t settle for the point, though, as he threw on Pedro, Victor Moses, who spent last season on loan at West Ham and former Marseille striker Michy Batshuayi on to chase a second goal. In the end, it was Batshuayi’s header down to Costa moments after coming on that created Costa’s fantastic winning strike just moments before stoppage time.

Sterling Soars, Klopp Debuts, Chelsea Stabilizes And McClaren Survives

in Futbol/PL Recaps by
raheemsterling

Manchester City continue to score goals for fun, Jurgen Klopp manages his first game for the Reds and the Blues end a three-match winless streak in all competitions.


 

MCIBOU

Even without Sergio Aguero, who injured his hamstring while on international duty with Argentina, this was the kind of performance that we’ve come to expect from City this season. Against the new boys of Bournemouth, Manuel Pellegrini’s men were dominant in possession, fluid in their attacks and lively on the move. In the absence of Arguero and David Silva, City stuck Wilfried Bony up top and record-singing Raheem Sterling in the hole behind him. The result was five goals between the two of them, with Sterling netting his first hat trick in a baby blue shirt while Bony stuck a pair in the back of the net.

Jesus Navas was, surprisingly, not a determinant to his team’s 5-1 victory, as he was quite engaged and supportive on the right-hand side. Bournemouth were a promising bet to maintain in the Premier League beyond this season, but injuries to most of their key players, including their most expensive summer signings, have dampened the mood and their competitiveness. To be fair, they were always going to be smashed by City at the Etihad, injuries or not, but it’s a bit dispiriting to see one of the league’s more entertaining and positive sides have to live with a weakened cast in their first season in the top flight.

EVEMUN

Everton had its moments in this game, and the Toffees came out strong after halftime looking to erase United’s 2-0 lead. But this was always a game for the Red Devils to take all three points from. Everton had a slight majority of possession and occasionally pieced together some good build-up, but United were more decisive and dangerous when they got the ball forward. Ander Herrera played a major part in that. The Spanish midfielder got the start behind Wayne Rooney while youngster Anthony Martial spent most of the game playing wide on the left.

Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, who scored the game’s opening goal, controlled things in the middle of the park for Louis van Gaal’s side, completing 95% of their 114 passes. Herrera also added a goal and an assist, giving him a strong case for more playing time, which may mean more substitute appearances for Dutchman Memphis Depay, who was not used in this game.

CHEAST

When your team is struggling to get results, then Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa is exactly what the doctor would order. The Lions haven’t won a game since defeating Bournemouth 1-0 in their season opener and they had lost four in a row heading into this game. Of course, even as the Blues got their first league win since defeating Arsenal a month ago, they only put one goal past the awful Brad Guzan (their second was an Alan Hutton own goal) and they even ceded possession to the 19th ranked team in the Premier League.

NEWNOR
Managing with his job seemingly on the line, Steve McClaren’s men came out and delivered one of the more entertaining performances of the season. It helped that Norwich City were game in turning this into a wide-open contest with little attention paid to stopping the other team from scoring. Chances were created, opportunities were taken and breaks were frequent as Magpies put six past John Ruddy, matching the goal total that they had in their previous eight matches combined.

The Canaries were actually in this game for a half, as Dieumerci Mbokani provided an equalizer when Newcastle only had one goal and Nathan Redmond got one back before halftime to make the score 3-2. But fueled by summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum, Newcastle would blow the game open in the second half. Wijnaldum had one of the most impressive performances of the season in any league, scoring four goals and providing an assist. He scored with his head, on the break and with tremendous touch, showcasing the deft skills that made his $22 million price tag seem like a pretty nice bargain. Moussa Sissoko notched three assists in this contest, helping make sure that McClaren would have a job for at least another week.

TOTLIV
Speaking of manager’s on the hot seat, Jürgen Klopp managed his first game at Liverpool since taking over for Brendan Rodgers. The performance didn’t match the energetic and entertaining reputation that his coaching style carries, but on such a short turnaround for both he and the players who had been on international break, a point away at White Hart Lane isn’t the worst debut result. Belgium international Divock Origi started up top for the Reds and hit the post, but chances were sparse other than that. Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele looked like the best player on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, bossing the midfield with nine tackles, six interceptions and three clearances, as well as 91% pass completion from his holding midfield spot.

WATARS

For the first 45 minutes, Arsenal didn’t possess the same kind of precision and aggression that they showed in the opening 20 minutes of their victory of United, but Watford didn’t have enough to make them pay for it. The Hornets were game for a half, but their front two of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo wasn’t sharp enough when they had their chances, and Arsenal came out of the lockerroom with a strong intent to dominate the game. Alexis Sanchez, who cannot be stopped at the moment, got the scoring started in the 62nd minute, and within a 12-minute span, Arsenal would add two more. Olivier Giroud, who was subbed on in the 64th minute, scored in the 68th, and Aaron Ramsey ended his BPL goal drought with the Gunners’ third in the 74th.

WBASUN

In a matchup between two of the Premier League’s least exciting teams, the most enjoyable moment came when West Brom striker Salomon Rondon ended up catching Sunderland’s DeAndre Yedlin in midair before twirling him around like it was a part of a Dancing with the Stars routine. In terms of the result, Saido Berahino, who once proclaimed he would never play for West Brom ever again, scored the game’s only goal on a very poor piece of work by Black Cats’ keeper Costel Pantilimon. Sunderland still hasn’t won a game nine games into the season and I take any odds that Sam Allardyce becomes the second Black Cats manager to be fired this season at some point.

CRYWHU

This was a pretty surprising result given that Palace has been in the kind of form where you’d expect them to defeat West Ham at home, but really it’s no surprise when the Irons go on the road and beat a good team this season. When you’ve beaten Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City on the road, then a 3-1 result at Selhurst Park doesn’t seem so miraculous. Things might have gone differently for Palace if it weren’t for some immature mistakes by young striker Dwight Gayle, who started this game up top for Alan Pardew. Not only did Gayle take off early on Yohan Cabaye’s 25th minute penalty, forcing Cabaye to beat Adrian a second time from the spot, but he also got two pretty clumsy yellow cards, leaving Palace with 10 men for the entire second half.

West Ham deserve credit, though, because their attacking play was quite good when Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini were invovled. Payet got himself a goal while playing out wide whilst Lanzini, who has now made his move to London permanent, played behind Diafra Sakho and collected a goal and an assist. The Irons now sit fourth in the league behind City, Arsenal and United. That’s some pretty familar company up top. But right behind them? In 5th and 6th sit Leicester and Crystal Palace, neither of whom are accostomed to fighting for Champions League spots. The beauty of this season is that West Ham, Leicester and Palace all look like they have an outside shot of staying in the European picture for the remainder of the season, even though Chelsea are a lock to get back into the mix at some point.

SOULEI

Another 2-0 deficit, another two-goal comeback for Leicester City. For the third time this season, the Foxes erased a two-goal deficit, earning a draw for the second time in such matches. The Saints dominated the first half and notched two goals as both of their centerbacks – Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk – scored headers off of set pieces. But once Claudio Ranieri injected his most dangerous player to start the second half, the entire game changed.

Riyad Mahrez and Nathan Dyer came on together after the break and provided Leicester with pace and creativity which they lacked with Shinji Okazaki and Jeffrey Schlupp in their place. Mahrez and Dyer each collected an assist, with both feeding in-form striker Jamie Vardy, who currently leads the league in goals (9) by three over Wijnaldum and Sanchez. The Foxes nearly missed out on securing any points when Vardy just missed a chance to put away a gorgeous ground cross that Mahrez fired into him in the 82nd minute. Luckily for the Foxes, Vardy would make due one minute into stoppage time to earn the draw.

SWASTK

After starting off the season on fire, Swansea haven’t been quite as sharp over their past five games. They’re winless in the past five, dropping away matches to Watford and Southampton and this home tie against Stoke. You could argue that the Swans were the better team in this game, or at least that Stoke didn’t deserve all three points, but a penalty call in the fourth minute allowed Bojan to give Stoke the lead almost from kickoff, and the Potters would park the bus from there.

Swansea could have earned something from this game, but, like Stoke, they were incredibly sloppy with their passing in the midfield, and they didn’t often come close to connecting on final passes that would have created good chances. Then again, Swansea would have at least a point if Jonjo Shelvey’s brilliant effort from a tight angle inside the box had bounced in off the post instead of right back to him. Stoke has now won three games in a row, moving them a few spots above Swansea in the BPL table, which isn’t something I saw coming after the first few weeks.

City Start Hot

in Futbol/PL Recaps by
city

West Brom 0 – Manchester City 3

Armed with the opportunity to take the top spot in the table after less than convincing opening day showings from the likes of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, Manchester City went the Hawthorns and put together an utterly dominant performance that left the Baggies looking like a Sky Belt side. West Brom put on a very negative performance, sitting back and giving City the ball without every troubling themselves to pressure them up the field. City easily counteracted that tactic as their midfield maestros Yaya Toure and David Silva dominated in the pockets of space between West Brom’s defensive lines. Toure netted a brace, including a tremendous strike from outside of the box, but I’d expect David Silva to be credited with the first goal as it was his flick near the six-yard box that secured the goal. Either way, both players were fantastic, and even as the rest of the TV-rich Premier League snaps up talent from all over Europe, it’s City’s duo of Silva and Toure that commands the middle of the park like no other pair when they are on form.

The other key storyline was the City debut for Raheem Sterling, who is, at least at the moment, the most expensive signing in the world for the 2015 summer transfer window. Sterling’s pace and positioning made a great chance for him near the end of the first half, but he spoiled the finish when he failed to curl the ball around the keeper. Nonetheless, Sterling and leftback Aleksandar Kolarov seemed to have a great understanding down the left hand side. The Serbian international was one of the best players on the pitch as his forays forward were always dangerous, and he nearly netted himself a goal off of a gorgeous piece of play that slid him in on goal at a nifty angle, but he just overhit the ball on the finish. Ricky Lambert worked hard in his debut for the Baggies, but with club-record signing Salomon Rondon coming over from Zenit, you have to wonder how Tony Pulis will end up balancing the playing time between his three capable forwards (Saido Berahino being the other).

All-in-all, it was a strong start for City, and they’ll have a chance to build on their top-of-the-table form in a Sunday afternoon tilt against Chelsea at the Etihad.

Newcastle United 2 – Southampton 2

This was an entertaining tie between two teams that spent most of last season flirting with positions nobody would have pegged them for – relegation for Newcastle and a Champions League spot for Southampton. Perhaps Southampton deserved better seeing as Cisse’s equalizing goal when the Magpies were down 1-0 was chested in three inches in front of the goal following a lucky deflection off the cross, but Georginio Wijnaldum’s header on a counter-attack that put Newcastle up 2-1 was all class, giving the Geordies’ $22 million signing a debut performance to remember. Southampton would draw even with a fabulous header from Shane Long that was made by a tremendous cross from dangerman Dusan Tadic. We didn’t see much of Newcastle new boy Aleksandar Mitrovic, but the return of Jay Rodriguez for Southampton after a year off due to injury was a welcome sight. Both of these sides seem to have the quality to make some noise in the league this season, and they kicked the season off with a cracker of a match.

Stoke City 0 – Liverpool 1

In what may have been the most drab of the opening day contests in the Premier League, Liverpool seemed to play as if they didn’t know they bought a $51 million striker. Christian Benteke wasn’t given much of a chance to show off why he was worth that kind of money in his debut for the Reds as his support players failed to provide him with any kind of service. Adam Lallana and Jordan Ibe were particularly poor as wide midfielders, and Brendan Rodger’s new pairing in the middle of the park – former Man City man James Milner and new captain Jordan Henderson – failed to have a remarkable impact on the game. Even lively #10 Philippe Coutinho had a performance that lacked much substance, but it was his moment of clarity and clairvoyance that provided Liverpool with all three points on the afternoon. The diminutive sparkplug smashed a screamer from way outside of the box in the 86th minute to rescue the match from becoming the first scoreless draw of the season.

The Potters were a bit worse off than I was expecting for their home opener. Stoke have injected a fair amount of creativity and industry into the side over the summer but their big-name signings didn’t quite gel against Liverpool. That said, more help is on the way as former Bayern Munich winger Shaqiri is prepared to make a move to the Britannia Stadium after initially rebuffing Stoke’s inquiries earlier in the summer. Placing Shaqiri alongside former Barcelona man Ibrahim Afellay in the attack with Chelsea loanee Marco Van Ginkel supporting in midfield, Mark Hughes’ men should enjoy a lot more entertaining performances than their no-show on Match Day 1.

westham

Arsenal 0 – West Ham 2

In what was easily the most surprising result of the weekend, the Hammers went into the Emirates and held down Arsenal’s star-studded attack, pouncing on their chances to take three points from a title contender away from home. A hype-filled pre-season for the Gunners, which included a Community Shield triumph over Arsene Wenger’s arch-nemesis, built up to a letdown performance in their league opener during which their passing wasn’t precise and their inspiration was lacking. A fantastic free kick from West Ham’s $15 million man Dimitri Payet found the forehead of Cheikhou Kouyate and then the back of the net in the first half, and centre forward Mauro Zarate added the insurance with a tremendous strike from outside the box in the 56th minute.

What’s perhaps most dispiriting for the Gunners is that a world class keeper probably would have kept both shots out of the back of the net, but an out-of-form Petr Cech found himself out of position and off balance on both goals, perhaps succumbing to the nerves that came with his first Premier League start for the North Londoners. Once West Ham got on the board, Slaven Bilić’s side happily sat back and let Arsenal come onto them, keeping their shape for the full 90 minutes while only allowing Arsenal a couple of clear chances. West Ham’s new centreback combo of Winston Reid and recent addition Angelo Ogbonna, who arrived from Italian giants Juventus for $12 million over the summer, was fabulous, keeping Arsenal’s dangerman Olivier Giroud from causing any havoc in the box, and 16-year-old (YES, 16) Reece Oxford, who completed 95% of his passes in his top flight debut while out-shining Arsenal’s defensive midfield combo of Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, gave the Hammers stability in the middle of the park against an Arsenal side that lives to slice teams open.

West Ham look a good side that can push for a high place in the middle of the table if their injury luck improves (they are already without striker Enner Valencia due to ankle and knee ailments). Arsenal are still a sure-fire bet for a top-four finish, but if Wenger was looking to quell the idea that they still need to buy a world-class striker and more help in defense, his side failed him on Match Day 1.

Manchester United 1 – Tottenham 0

In a game that featured the league debuts of sexy new signings like Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, it was the less heralded signings of Matteo Darmian and Sergio Romero that made the biggest difference in the league’s opening contest. Schneiderlin was fine in midfield, but Schweinsteiger couldn’t do much as a 2nd half substitute and Memphis was generally awful. Romero, on the other hand, did well to hold his clean sheet with a few fabulous saves, and Darmian looked really good on that right hand side. United did deserve a goal in this game even if Kyle Walker was credited with the own goal that got Untied the three points, but this was not a performance that Louis Van Gaal will be happy about. LVG’s famed “philosophy” is all about possession, creativity and industry, and we saw very little of that against Spurs. In fact, Tottenham actually enjoyed the (slight) majority of possession, which is a bit of a surprise for a match at Old Trafford.

This game probably deserved to end in a draw, but Tottenham’s #10 Christian Eriksen spoiled an early chance with an over-hit dink over Romero and the chances were few and far between after that. Spurs would have to be the move encouraged side even in defeat as they played one of the league favorites even away from home after a nightmare of a week scheduling wise that had them playing a mid-week friendly in Munich on Wednesday before returning to England for the first kickoff of the season on Saturday afternoon. Toby Alderweireld, who anchored Southampton’s defense last season and was bought from Atletico Madrid for $17 million over the summer, looked excellent in defense, and Spurs as a whole looked really solid at the back.

amaviBournemouth 0 – Aston Villa 1

Bournemoth’s debut in the top flight of English football was an entertaining one, and it’s already clear that this is a side that will play on the front foot as much as possible this season. Villa were in the middle of the pack in the Premier League as far as possession went, but they were on the wrong side of a 60/40 split away at Dean Court. Bournemoth bossed the midfield, kept Villa danger men Gabby Agbonlahor Jordan Ayew, a summer acquisition from French side FC Lorient, off the ball and seemed a comfortable side in their first Premier League tie, but they squandered a few tight chances and a single moment of excellence from Villa’s new center forward Rudy Gestede spoiled the home fan’s opening day celebrations.

Villa could have done more to win the ball back in this game for me, but for a team playing its first league game since selling danger man Christian Benteke, they did well to get three points away from home. The Lions went shopping in France over the summer and brought what appear to be two gems back to the Premier League. Midfielder Jordan Veretout is the obvious one. The 22-year-old cost around $10 million from Nantes, and after finishing last season as one of the best creators in Ligue 1, he looked like he’ll do the orchestrating for Villa’s attack this season. Veretout played in the middle of the park and drifted wide at times, completing 87% of his passes and keeping play alive whenever Villa did have the ball.

Villa’s other impressive newcomer was my man of the match on the day: left back Jordan Amavi. The 21-year-old Frenchman arrived from Nice for $12 million over the summer and immediately gave Aston Villa a creative and dangerous threat down the flank that also has the pace and work rate to track back and defend. Amavi was the sole source of joy for Villa for a 10- to 20-minute stretch in this match, as his eye-catching work on the ball allowed the Lions to foray up the pitch down the flanks. Amavi also mixed in a couple of juicy crosses and he was incredibly confident on the ball, and at the age of 21, he looks like he has the room to grow into one of the best left backs in the Premier League.

Bournemouth should improve once they get their new signings in tune with the rest of the squad. 10 of the 11 names in the starting XI were returning faces for Bournemoth, but it would seem as if they’ll need the inspiration and creativity of a player like Max Gradel, who spent some of his early years on loan at Bournemouth before making a permanent move there from Saint-Etienne this summer, to maintain a spot in the top flight heading into next season. Once there is some familiarity with the new faces, Bournemouth’s exciting, diverse play should, at the very least, cause a thrill during the clubs first tour of the Premier League.

Everton 2 – Watford 2

Drawing at home freshly-promoted Watford is not exactly the most convincing way to start off what is a crucial season for “the Martinez way.” Everton dominated possession as you’d expect, notching close to a 70/30 split, but Watford were the more dangerous team on tilt all afternoon, creating chances on the counter and converting their opportunities in front of goal. The Hornets kept their shape well for the majority of the game, but a Ross Barkley screamer knotted the game at 1 in the 76th minute, and an awful mistake on the edge of the box led to an another equalizing goal for Arouna Kone in the dying embers of the game. Everton look like a side without any kind of spark. Without Leighton Baines, Barkley was the only player that moved play along into semi-dangerous areas, and striker Romelu Lukaku almost never got on the ball before he was able to hold up play on the edge of the box and create the equalizing goal for Kone. Martinez has spent virtually no money in the summer, with his only two key signings being former Man United midfielder Tom Cleverley on a free and a permanent deal for Barcelona product Gerard Deulofeu, who spent the 2014 season at Goodison Park on loan. Considering the fact that the only transfer rumors that Everton are in involved in would mean the departure of wonderkid John Stones, this looks like it could be another punchless season for the Toffees.

Leicester City 4 – Sunderland 2

In what was a shockingly inviting contest, Leicester City seemed to maintain the strong form that they closed last season in, mopping up a Sunderland side that looked totally over-matched in the first 45 minutes. Riyad Mahrez was the danger man for the Foxes as the Algerian international might have had the most impressive individual performance of the opening weekend. He netted a brace (likely the only one in the league thus far if David Silva gets his way), he played key passes, he put the ball on the net, he got by defenders and he forced a few fouls. It was a complete performance that deserved a 10 grade even though he was subbed off in the 77th minute. The Foxes also got a stellar performance from midfielder Marc Albrighton, who kicked off his second season in Leicester with a magnificent one-goal, two-assist performance. With Mahrez causing trouble on the left and Albrighton running things on the right, Sunderland got completely overrun early in the game and they never really had a chance once they got down 3-0.

Norwich City 1 – Crystal Palace 3

What was a pretty up-and-down, interesting contest was marred by a bit of controversy. The Canaries had what they thought was a magnificent equalizing goal when striker Cameron Jerome raised his boot and flicked in a goal in the 70th minute, but it was disallowed as the referee deemed that he had raised his boot to a dangerous height. It’s true, his boot was pretty close to a defenders head as he went to strike it towards goal, but for me, you can’t make that call when there is no malicious intent and the kick produces such a pretty goal. But Norwich City would have to do without, and before the final whistle blew, Palace talisman Yohan Cabaye etched his name on the score sheet with a debut goal after arriving from PSG in the summer. Despite the home defeat, Alex Neil’s men looked pretty good at times, but you do get the feeling that their return to the Premier League may be short lived. Palace look to be a much improved side thanks to the addition of Cabaye, and with 22-year old English winger Wilfried Zaha looking better and better, the Eagles should be in for a fun season in Alen Pardew’s first full year managing his former club.

Swansea

Chelsea 2 – Swansea City 2

In what was my favorite tie of Match Day 1, the Swans went in the home of the defending champions and played superior football to that of the Blues, though they did have to settle for a point at Stamford Bridge. Of course, a point at Stamford Bridge is nothing to sneeze at for any team in the Premier League, and the way that Swansea played should be even more encouraging for Gary Monk. You could argue that neither of Chelsea’s goals were deserved, as Oscar’s free kick snuck past Lukasz Fabianski as the Polish international waited for a touch from the onrushing attackers that never came.and as Willian’s cross flukely deflected off of Federico Fernández for an own goal.

Swansea, on the other hand, got a class goal from newly signed Andrew Ayew and a well-deserved penalty earned and converted by striker Bafetimbi Gomis to get the result. The former Marseille man impressed with his composure and savvy in front of Thibaut Courtois’ goals when a parried header fell to his feet; the Frenchman himself hit the ground, but he was able to get up while maintaining possession and then had the wherewithal to tuck the ball into the opposite corner. Courtios would later abandon his net when Gomis found his way through on goal in the second half, leading the Belgian keeper to stick a foot out and trip Gomis in the box, notching a penalty and a red card. Although he constantly found himself in offside positions, Gomis was always threatening Chelsea’s back four with his runs and it seems as if another double-digit goal campaign is in the cards for the former French international.

But as good as Ayew and Gomis were, Swansea’s goal scorers weren’t the top performers on the pitch for me. Those honors go to creative Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero and English midfield maestro Jonjo Shelvey. Montero was a terror for Chelsea to contain all afternoon as he used his pace and flair to fly past Branislav Ivanovic, cutting inside to create opportunities for his teammates. You could argue that both goals could be created to Montero even though he didn’t get an official assist for either. It was Montero’s cross into the box that eventually fell to Ayew on the first goal, and it was Montero’s presence that played Gomis on for his charging run towards Courtios when he earned the penalty. Because Montero was causing so much trouble for Ivanovic down the flank, William often had to drop back to fill in for Ivanovic, and given his lack of defensive awareness, he unwittingly played Gomis on and allowed him to surge towards goal without the hindrance of the offside flag.

Shelvey ran things all afternoon from the center of the park. With Chelsea playing a bit higher of a line than we’re used to seeing, Shelvey was always looking to pick out long balls to Gomis over the top, Shelvey was credited with six key passes, tied for the most in the Premier League after the first round of matches, and 12 long balls against Chelsea, which is an absurdly good performance against one of Europe’s top defensive sides. Gary Monk’s side has always played an attractive brand of football, and after seeing how well they got on against Chelsea, there’s no reason to believe this won’t be a season to remember for the Swans.

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