Saturday, August 08, 2015

Random Musings on Day One of EPL Season

A great opening day for the English Premier League season is now concluded with the surprise of the day being the defending Champion Chelsea only able to secure a draw at the Bridge. Manchester United opened the new season with a less-than-convincing 1-0 win over a lively Tottenham, the victims of some missed opportunities and an own goal from Kyle Walker. Crystal Palace kept up their good form under the muppet, Leister City cruised past Sunderland 4-2, Everton started the campaign with yet another draw and Aston Villa beat first timers on the road 1-0.

Some thoughts on the day:

1. Manchester United Less Than Impressive: they were outshot, outplayed and looked discombobulated at times, but still won 1-0, reminding of the days of Sir Alex Ferguson when one was so often left scratching one’s head at the score line at the end of a game (no one more than Bayern in the 1999 Champions League Final). Tottenham impressed in the first 20 minutes before the often disappointing Kyle Walker slotted the ball into his own net after an impressive burst of speed caught up with Rooney about to have a shot from eight yards out. Tottenham and United both pressed high and there was a lack of cohesion throughout much of the game. A final burst over the last 10 minutes almost drew the Spurs even, but Romero, shaky at the onset, made two fine saves and secured all three points for his new team. United will have to work out the kinks if they are to compete with more offensively efficient teams in the coming weeks and resolve, as quickly as possible, the De Gea situation – as the Spaniard sat up in the stands with Victor Valdez smiling throughout.

2. Chelsea Blues: the game of the day was saved for last, as Chelsea and Swansea squared off in scintillating fashion in the fading London sun. Chelsea were rampant early and the more expansive football paid off early with a fine free kick from Oscar going straight in. Maybe Fabianski could have done better, but one can’t blame him for assuming one of the charging blues would get a touch. Then Swansea signing Ayew pulled off an impressive move inside the box, after his first shot was blocked, and slotted the ball to the far corner from close range. Chelsea would be back ahead in short order, as a deflected Willian shot looped over the head of the ex-Arsenal keeper and into the Swansea net. Chelsea were growing in stature, but Swansea continued to press for an equalizer and the high line played by the home team finally caught them out as Gomis got past Matic and in on goal. Courtois stormed out of the goal but caught Gomis as he looked to round him. It was a clear penalty and a slightly more controversial red card for the Belgian keeper. After a long delay, as new signing Begovich replaced Courtois, Gomis coolly finished to the far post and the game was level. Playing a man up with 35 minutes to go, one couldn’t help thinking the Swans would go on to claim all three points. But Chelsea held firm on the defensive end and had a few chances of their own, most notably when Hazard cruised around two defenders and sent a hard shot right into the face of Fabianski. A draw seemed fair in the end, but two points dropped in the opener will give hope to Arsenal, City and United. As impressive as the game was, it might have been more impressive to see Mourinho hold his serpent’s tongue after a couple of close decisions went against his team.

3. The Old Timers: veteran managers Dick Advocaat and Claude Ranieri butted heads in their respective season openers as Ranieri won round one 4-2 for Leicester City. Many had questioned his appointment, but the positive football played by the team that pulled a great escape from relegation last season was impressive to watch. Sunderland, as I predicted yesterday, look like the most likely non-promoted team to go down, though they were still able to chip in two goals to almost make it a game. Looking at the scorers and assist makers, it felt like a match from 7 or 8 years ago, with Albright (remember him?) assisting on two and adding a third and Defoe (wasn’t he with Toronto?) and Stephen Fletcher scoring for Sunderland.

4. Do You Believe in Magic: no manager in the past few years has been quite as reviled as Alan Pardew was at Newcastle. Yet after leading them on a winning streak that ultimately saved them from relegation last season, he moved back to his old stomping ground at Crystal Palace. There he led the team to impressive heights, finishing the season on a real high after some impressive performances against the Top 7. Things have started just as they ended, with Palace impressing in a 3-1 victory over Norwich and their young, wunderkind manager. Pardew might be starting to turn some heads if he continues his winning ways and might be due for a move up in a season or two.

5. The Drop Zone: Bournemouth had plenty of chances to forge ahead in their first ever Premier League game, but missed all of them and then found themselves down 1-0 to Aston Villa, after newbie Rudy Gestedes headed in powerfully on 72 minutes. The Villains, an apt title in this case, held on for a win they probably didn’t deserve as Tim Sherwood shook off the nerves and earned three points in his first season opener as a manager. Norwich were beaten rather soundly, as previously mentioned, by Crystal Palace. And Watford were pulled back twice and had to settle for a draw with Everton, who are making a habit of only picking up one point in winnable games over the last season or so. Brendan Rodgers is the bookie favorite to be the first manager sacked this year, but one wonders if Everton might consider replacing Martinez if the right manager comes available. He is an excellent coach on the offensive side of the ball, but has never built a team that defends with real confidence. I think he’ll probably make it through this season, but after almost giving the other side of Meyerside Champions League football, the team has clearly regressed. Back to the three newly promoted teams, they were only able to secure a point between the three of them and could be on the chopping block at the season’s end (as many predict), but on the performances today, Watford and Bournemouth might surprise a few people.

Tomorrow Arsenal open their campaign against a depleted West Ham, Newcastle host Southampton and Liverpool visit Stoke before Man City face West Brom Monday evening. It’s a promising start to the season with goals galore and positive play across the league. Let the games … well … continue.

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