Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Premier League Matchday 1: A Review of the Big Guns

Hugely unbalanced scorelines, unexpected results, controversy, penalties scored, penalties missed - the opening weekend of the 2012-13 Barclays Premier League had everything. Except boredom, of course.

Passing end-of-season judgement after just one match is foolhardy, but there are some signs one can look at to see how the next few games will go. Here's a look back at the big teams' matches, how they performed and what they can expect going forward.

Everton 1-0 Manchester United

Millions waited in bated breath to see Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie play together. They were disappointed for the best part of 70 minutes, a disappointment that was compounded when they saw Fellaini hit the net 12 minutes before the Dutchman came on. van Persie's arrival changed little as the Toffees registered a well-deserved win. Manchester United dominated possession but it was Everton creating most of the chances, de Gea doing well to keep the score down. Fellaini was a monster, his unique combination of physicality and finesse tormented Man United throughout. He deserved to be Man of the Match.

What it means for United: The positives from the game were the performances of Shinji Kagawa and David de Gea. Even making allowance for the makeshift defence, United seemed physically inferior to Everton - a worrying sign, especially if this carries into games against teams like Stoke and Man City. Nani and Evra in particular had a terrible game. There is little doubt United will improve though - they always do. Don't let this result fool you into writing off United as title contenders.

Wigan 0-2 Chelsea

Perhaps not as much interest as that surrounding van Persie, but there was certainly some fuss about Eden Hazard's Premier League debut. And the Belgian did not disappoint - he helped Chelsea cook Wigan in less time than it takes to make two cups of instant noodles - and was Man of the Match on his debut. For the opener, he twisted around his marker to play the ball into a space large enough to fly a plane through, and Ivanovic ran through that space to score the winner. Lampard then converted the penalty that Hazard won with more neat skill, and Chelsea chose not to over-exert themselves, a wise decision given the midweek game.

What it means for Chelsea: The one-touch counterattacking play that led to Ivanovic's goal was a thrill for the eyes, but there were still some worrying signs. The fact that Wigan got six corners before Chelsea got one does not say good things about the balance of play, and there was an element of luck about the clean sheet. Things to ponder about for di Matteo, whose Chelsea side have become famous (notorious?) for their defence-based game. They look good for top three, maybe even title contenders if they're consistent enough and solid at the back.

West Brom 3-0 Liverpool

Much was expected from Liverpool's opening game - Brendan Rodgers seemed to have bought smartly in Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, and the team had just come off a good Europa League tie. It all unravelled at the Hawthorns though. Liverpool had a good chance with Suarez before Gera scored a brilliant goal at the end of the first half. Once Agger was sent off though, it was open season on Liverpool. It was nearly all West Brom from then, Liverpool probably lucky to get away with 3-0. Pepe Reina was Liverpool's best player, and that's saying something.

What it means for Liverpool: Rodgers' defeatist words post-match were alarming (he told fans to expect more such days along the way). Liverpool need him to treat such results with intolerance, not acceptance. Suarez still has trouble finishing, but that was the story last season as well, and Rodgers was brought in to move the club forward. The fixture list is unforgiving from here. Liverpool have to improve leaps and bounds, and fast, otherwise they can bid goodbye to the top 4 even before the race has really begun.

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland

Prior to the game, Robin van Persie had joined long-time rivals Manchester United, and there were rumours (true ones, as it turned out) of Song leaving for Barcelona. Arsenal took to the pitch without their (official) two best players from last season. They didn't look out of sorts though, as they troubled a stout Sunderland defence with typical stylish play. Giroud missed a sitter, and while that is no doubt a disappointment, Arsenal can take heart from the general performance.

What it means for Arsenal: Losing their two best players over the summer (again) is undoubtedly a blow (again), but they seem much better equipped to deal with the shock this time. It certainly showed in the performance which only lacked finishing (again). If Giroud and Podolski get used to finding the net, they will finish in the top three or four (again).

Newcastle 2-1 Tottenham

Andre Villas-Boas' first league game in charge of Spurs ended in a not-altogether undeserved defeat. Spurs had their moments before the opener - Defoe and Bale hitting the woodwork being two of them. It was Newcastle that went ahead though, Demba Ba curling in a fantastic finish. Tottenham kept huffing and puffing and finally equalised through Defoe after Krul spilled the ball back into his path. It was Newcastle and Hatem ben Arfa, tormentor of Spurs' midfield, who had the last laugh though

What it means for Newcastle: A performance that we saw many times last season was repeated - disciplined without the ball and creative with it. That gem Hatem ben Arfa is a gift that keeps on giving, as of course are Pardew's other budget signings. He has assembled a great bunch of imports on a shoestring, and his touchline temper aside, they look a great unit. Another race for top 4 is in the making.

What it means for Tottenham: It is hard to fault a performance in which Newcastle won rather than Tottenham lost. Better finishing could've changed the story, and no doubt that will come, but Spurs will have to find ways to get Sigurdsson into the game on days like this where he will be marked down. There is enough, as with Newcastle, to suggest a race for (or a finish in) the top 4.

Manchester City 3-2 Southampton

It was certainly poetic, this game - a throwback to last season's title winning match. City took the lead only to go behind, and then come back to win the game from there. The flow of play wasn't much different either - City kept coming at Southampton time and again and, following a bad penalty from Silva, finally went ahead through Tevez. They contrived to concede twice though, but salvaged the game and then the three points via substitute Dzeko and Nasri.

What it means for City: The game doesn't say much good about City's defence - Far better is expected of title winners playing a promoted side at home. Going forward though, as always, they look awesome. Aguero's injury looks worrying and he was certainly one of the pillars City leant on last campaign, but with Tevez playing the way he is and the quality City have on the bench, they shouldn't be too badly affected. Another title race (and perhaps title) beckons.

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