It’s here. It’s here in all of its glory. The Premier League is back and as the clock strikes midnight and it become the 8th of August, from that point on I could feel the excitement building up and bubbling over within fans around the world. Through out the entire summer, some quality signings were made by a lot of teams in the league such as ‘Mr Bayern Munich’ Bastian Schweinsteiger joining Manchester United to Man City’s new £49m man Raheem Sterling from Liverpool and Stoke City’s Ibrahim Afellay, Mark Hughes’ newest recruit from Barcelona. These players and more are set to give the Premier League a new breath of fresh air and everyone eagerly anticipated their league debuts. As the Premier League season’s curtains were drawn back,it reiterates the fact that the best league in the world is back, and boy did it come back with a bang. From comical own goals to dazzling debut strikes, the opening weekend had it all. I’ll be discussing the top 4’s opening matches and how they fared.
Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur
Venue: Old Trafford
Kick off: 12:45
Man United starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Romero; Darmian*, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Carrick, Schneiderlin; Mata, Memphis*, Young; Rooney.
Tottenham starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Vorm; Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies; Dier, Benteleb; Dembele, Eriksen*, Chadli; Kane.
Sergio Romero – Man Utd
Matteo Darmian* – Man Utd
Morgan Schneiderlin – Man Utd
Memphis Depay* – Man Utd
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Man Utd
Dele Alli – Tottenham
Toby Alderweireld – Tottenham
The first game of the 2015/16 Premier League season was Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, and when the league fixtures were released, this was by far the juiciest game and what a curtain raiser it was, two teams which were direct promised to be an exciting game. It was empty promises. What a snoozefest of a season opener, the game ended 1-0 to the hosts by an own goal, a typical Manchester United win that we’ve all become accustomed to over the years.
The game started with pressure from both sides as they both pressed high up the opposition’s half, although the dominance quickly came heavily in Spurs’ favour as they dominated possession and soon carved the first real chance of the game, as last season’s boy wonder, Harry Kane sent a lobbed though ball which split the centre backs though to Eriksen, who wonderfully controlled it with his head before attempting to lob Sergio Romero, thankfully for the Argentine, him and Manchester United survived the early scare as flash backs to last season’s opening day shock defeat against Swansea. Tottenham continued their bombardment on United’s defence and goal as Kane had a shot parried away and Romero made a great save following a darting run forward from Kyle Walker and the Englishmen’s attempt at goal. The game was pretty much all Spurs, until a careless misplaced pass from Algerian International Nabil Benteleb conceded possession to Man United, the ball quickly shifted out wide to Ashley Young, who put the ball into Wayne Rooney who took his time to control the ball, which in the meantime Walker sprinted back to clear the danger, inadvertently put the ball past his own keeper, seemingly being too fast for his own good, completely against the run of play. The goal seemed to demoralise the North Londoners and put a spanner in the works in terms of Pochettino’s game plan and his team seemed to drop off as the game grew further and further in United’s favour. The home side soon was awarded a free-kick, Memphis and Juan Mata stood over the ball and it seemed like the perfect chance for Memphis to bag his first goal from the free-kick, much like last year’s number 7, Angel Di Maria. Instead, Mata took the strike and hit the wall. The half ended with another good save from the new man between the Old Trafford sticks, from another debutant, Toby Alderweireld’s effort calmly caught and held by Romero.
The second half started how the first half ended, with Manchester United piling on the pressure and Tottenham backing up and being pinned back to their half, although when Spurs did get the odd breakaway, Chris Smalling proved to be integral to United’s clean sheet and kept Harry Kane at bay multiple times. The hosts had a catalogue of chances including a Wayne Rooney free-kick which was blasted over, to double their lead but failed to capitalise on their dominance as they struggled to kill the game off with another goal. Smalling further proved his solidity at the back by making a thwarting tackle on Nacer Chadli to stop the Belgian from running through before Romero made a save from Kane’s header and in the dying embers of the game, made an excellent save to deny Christian Eriksen a long-range equalizer. As the full-time whistle went, sighs of relief were sounded around Old Trafford as Manchester United secured their first three points of the season and made the first steps towards their title charge to regain the league crown and get their hands on their 21st League trophy.
Chelsea vs Swansea
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Kick off: 3:00
Chelsea starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Matic, Fabregas; Willian, Oscar, Hazard; Costa.
Swansea starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Williams, Taylor; Ki, Shelvey; Ayew ,Sigurdsson, Montero; Gomis.
Asmir Begovic – Chelsea
Radamel Falcao – Chelsea
Andre Ayew – Swansea
Eder – Swansea
Chelsea’s title began at home against Swansea, a team that Jose’s men dismantled 5-0 at the Liberty Stadium the last time two teams faced off. After a less than impressive pre-season, losing out the first piece of silverware, the Community Shield, to Arsenal and minimal activity in the transfer window resulted in some restless Chelsea fans, and the first game of the season did not ease nerves, after a drama-filled 2-2 draw.
Before the game had begun, in the warm-ups, Thibaut Courtois was an injury worry after being named in the starting line-up, this was further magnified as it was the first league game following Petr Cech’s departure from the Bridge, much to the amusement to Arsenal fans. He was later passed fit to start and play the game, although it was in vain due to events and decisions that occurred later in the game. The game started quite evenly, with possession being yo-yoed between the two teams, although it was Swansea who got the first chance, a header from Frenchman Bafetimbi Gomis, who’s header just went past outside of the post. Swansea slowly grew in the game and got 2nd chance of the game, as a defence-splitting ball from Jonjo Shelvey allowed Gomis to have a pop at goal, although John Terry blocked the effort at goal, shortly after Courtois had to react quickly to a shot from Ki, and parried the driven shot away. A counter-attack by the champions swiftly followed, led by Diego Costa, only to be brought down fairly by Fernandez inside the box, according to the officials. Soon after, Gomis tackled Azpilicueta and it was deemed a foul, so this presented Oscar an opportunity to showcase his dead-ball ability. He has shot a pretty tame shot from the left hand side and didn’t pose any threat to Swansea but with Cahill hassling Fabianski prior the free-kick, the Pole went the wrong way and gave Oscar the most undramatic first goal of the season of all time. Their lead only lasted 6 minutes however, as Andre Ayew scored a debut goal to level things at Stamford Bridge, albeit only for a minute. As pretty much straight off from kick-off, Willan put a cross in from the left, however it clipped Fernandez’s boot and it diverted the ball into his own net, giving back Chelsea the lead, literally seconds after losing it. Gylfi Sigurdsson made Courtois’ gloves sting with a powerful strike just before half time.
After the break, Swansea were again the most dominant side as the away team had two chances early in the half, one being a Sigurdsson free-kick which just clipped the bar on way though and later Fernandez, the who scored at the wrong end, headed just wide. This is when the real drama happened, Shelvey had put a long ball forward to Gomis to run onto, this with Courtois coming out to collect the ball meant the two had collided on the edge of the area, and the officials deemed the Belgian international of making a professional foul on Bafetimbi , which resulted in referee Michael Oliver to give him his marching orders and was shown a straight red card. After this, Jose has a big conundrum on his hands; who does he take off in order to get another keeper in? Ultimately he went with goal-scorer Oscar, which was disappointing by a neutral’s point of view as when he was taken off, the Chelsea creativity was stifled. In his place came on Asmir Begovic for his league debut for Chelsea. As soon as he came on, he was needed between the sticks as there was still a penalty to be taken for Swansea, and Gomis calmly slotted it home, sending the Bosnian the wrong way. After Swansea levelled the score they looked likely to score again, and made another chance, as Sigurdsson slipped through the speed demon Jefferson Montero although Begovic stood tall and parried the shot. For the rest of the game both teams had half chances to snatch a winner but neither could make the breakthrough and although it wasn’t the best start to Chelsea’s title defence, it was a well-earned point from a very good resilient Swansea side.
Arsenal vs West Ham United
Venue: The Emirates
Kick off: 5:30
Arsenal starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Cech; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlin, Ozil, Carzorla; Giroud.
West Ham starting XI: (4-4-2)
Adrian; Tomkins, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Oxford, Noble, Kouyate, Payet; Zarate, Sakho.
Petr Cech – Arsenal
Angelo Ogbonna – West Ham
Reece Oxford – West Ham
Dimiri Payet – West Ham
What an utterly underwhelming and flattening result for Arsenal. After a great pre-season which included having six of the best against Lyon and beating Premier League champions Chelsea 1-0 to win their second Community Shield in succession and are hotly tipped by many to challenge Chelsea to the wire for the Premier League trophy. Now they sit 19th in the table and risk having yet another underwhelming season.
The game started evenly between the two sides although West Ham had the earliest chance, as Diafra Sakho was slipped though although former Germany international slid in to deny him. Despite this early scare Arsenal remained the dominant side as Frenchman Laurent Koscielny saw his looping header shave the top of the cross-bar and Oxlade-Chamberlain had a powerful strike stray just off target. West Ham did provide a threat occasionally on the counter but soon Oxlade-Chamberlain had a silky run down the right before putting in a ball for Monreal, who volleyed just over. Arsenal continued to pile on the pressure as Welshman Aaron Ramsey came close to score as his well struck 20 yard bullet edged the crossbar. Somewhat against the ruin of the play, West Ham won a free-kick which new signing Dimitri Payet took and it was headed in by Kouyate. After the late shock in the first 45, the home side came out with real intent to put a marker down in the league and started brightly and Giroud had two close shots, one hitting the side netting and the other forcing Adrian to make a smart and firm save to keep the Frenchman’s shot at bay. Although Arsenal failed to capitalise on their dominance once again as Mauro Zarate doubled West Ham’s lead as he slid in a low effort past Petr Cech. Soon after, both Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez were put on by Arsene in an effort to salvage a result although both had minimal impact although near the end of the game, Oxlade-Chamberlain had a shot which ended up on the wrong side of the post. Arsenal need to buck up their ideas and their performances if they want to mount a serious title challenge.
West Brom vs Manchester City
West Brom starting XI: (4-4-2)
Myhill; Dawson, Chester, Lescott, Brunt; Gardener, Fletcher, Morrison, McClean; Berahino, Lambert.
Manchester City starting XI: (4-2-3-1)
Hart; Sagna, Kompany, Mangala, Kolorov; Fernandinho; Y.Toure; Navas, Silva, Sterling; Bony.
James Chester – West Brom
James McClean – West Brom
Rickie Lambert – West Brom
Raheem Sterling – Man City
All eyes were on Manchester City as they were the last of the top 4 to play and following their flat season last year, which withered away as their hopes of winning their first back to back titles faded. They didn’t look overly impressive in pre-season, especially after imploding against Real Madrid, and were out to make a statement against West Brom.
West Brom were on the back foot from the off, succumbing to City’s immense and constant pressure in the 9th minute after Yaya Toure had a shot and went past Myhill via deflections off Craig Dawson and David Silva, the goal was firstly awarded to Toure but the Premier League later gave the goal to David Silva due to his touch directing the ball towards goal. Manchester City continued pinning back the Baggies and soon doubled their lead, as Yaya Toure exchanged passes with fellow countryman Wilfried Bony before guiding home an effort from outside the area. West Brom, though two nil down, still had some fight as Myhill denied Raheem Sterling in a one-on-one situation before Saido Berahino seemingly pulled one back with a clipped finish, only for it to be ruled out for offside. This deflated the home side just before half time. After the interval, Pulis hooked off McClean for a more defensive-minded Claudio Yacob and West Brom came out a rejuvenated side, as their two English forwards tested City, first Lambert’s free-kick went inches over and then Joe Hart pulled out some heroics to deny Berahino after being slipped though via a James Morrison ball. Late on in the game a move involving Chris Brunt and Saido Berahino although it failed to flourish as it ended with Morrison heading straight at Joe Hart. Manchester City are again strong title contenders and with the addition of Raheem Sterling, they look to have a quicker and more potent attack.
The Barclays Premier League is due to have another whirlwind season with many highs and many lows for all 20 teams, and I for one cannot wait for it all to unfold.
An in-depth analysis on the asterisked players can be found here;
- Christian Eriksen – https://footballnews92.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/player-focus-christian-eriksen/
- Matteo Darmian – https://footballnews92.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/player-focus-matteo-darmian/
- Memphis Depay – https://footballnews92.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/player-focus-memphis-depay/