Review: Premier League returns

Well, it’s back! Premier League football has returned. And to round-up today’s action, Ciaran makes his competitive debut for Touchline Views.

18th August.  It’s happened. After what’s felt like months of waiting, football – genuine, competitive, exciting club football – has returned into our lives. Of course the highest tier of non-league football began last weekend, along with the League Cup. And there had been two televised Championship games already. But what most people reading this really care about, the Premier League, made its dramatic return in to our lives today at 3pm.

It won’t take long for complaints to begin, in fact they likely already have; “This player dived. F**king disgraceful.”  Or “That was never a penalty – the referees are still sh*te.” But, for most of us, we can let that pass today, for we are just happy to have football back.

So how did the opening day go?

The league certainly came back with a bang. In just 7 games we were graced with missed penalties, shots against the woodwork and 19 goals, including two 5 goal wins and only one goalless draw.

The New Boys

The opening day also welcomed the return of two clubs back into the division. West Ham, straight back into the Premier League following their play-off final win – the season after they were relegated, took on Aston Villa at Upton Park; the battle of the claret and blue.

Also returning to the ‘greatest league in the world’ were Reading, who took on Stoke at the Madejski. Reading have been away from the Premier League a while longer than West Ham, with this being their first match in the top flight since their relegation in the 07/08 season, so they were anxious to put on a good performance to signal their return in front of a packed home crowd.

Both new sides ended the afternoon with reasons to be cheerful; West Ham played out a 1-0 win over the Villains with Vaz Te and Nolan combining after a Mark Noble free-kick to secure the win, and bag an early three points.

Reading had to work considerably harder to claim their first point. Winger Michael Kightly had given Stoke the lead with a tame effort that Adam Federici really should have stopped, instead letting it trickle through his arms and just inside his near post. Not something he will want to reoccur during his time in the Prem’. However, when it had looked like Stoke would be going home with a win, Dean Whitehead found himself dismissed following a second yellow card for a foul inside the area and Adam Le Fondre calmly slotted home the resulting penalty, gaining his team a dramatic late point.

West Ham and Reading both unbeaten at home after one game. A record they will hope to extend if they wish to beat the drop.

The Big Guns

With both Manchester clubs, and the much strengthened Chelsea, playing later in the weekend, the onus was on 4 teams sharing top 4 aspirations: Liverpool, Arsenal, Newcastle and Tottenham with the latter two facing each other in their season opener.

Arsenal drew with Sunderland in what was a frustrating match for the Gunners. After the loss of last season’s talismanic captain, Arsene Wenger gave summer signing Lukas Podolski a first start, and a chance to become the new hero. In a game Arsenal dominated, bar a few small scares from Sunderland, new signings Cazorla, Podolski and later Olivier Giroud – coming off the bench – all missed chances to put the hosts ahead with only 4 of their 14 shots being on target. All three signings did look impressive for Arsenal and Santi Cazorla looked to be a great midfield acquisition on a day Barcelona agreed a fee to take Alex Song to Spain.

Liverpool travelled to The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion, to face ex-assistant manager Steve Clarke’s new side. A first league match to forget for manager Brendan Rodgers saw his team suffer a heavy 3-0 defeat, which could have been an even bigger margin had Shane Long converted the first of two penalties awarded to the Albion.

As you’d expect with the style of football Rodgers likes his teams to play, Liverpool ended the match with the majority of possession and with some better finishing could have had a few goals as they were not devoid of chances. But a magnificent strike from Zoltan Gera handed West Brom the lead on the stroke of half time and two penalties, along with a red card to Daniel Agger, in the space of 4 minutes took the game away from Liverpool just after the hour mark. The second penalty of the match (after an adjudged foul by Martin Skrtel) was this time converted by Peter Odemwingie, and Romelu Lukaku – on loan from Chelsea – rounded off the scoring with a header on 77 minutes.

Completing the opening day’s fixtures was Newcastle-Tottenham. With both teams in the mix for a top four place they were eager for a win, and a loss for their rivals. Tottenham looked the more impressive side in the first half and they were denied two goals by the woodwork. Jermain Defoe’s 32nd minute shot beating ‘keeper Tim Krul, only for it to ricochet off the post. Just four minutes later Gareth Bale had a great chance to put Spurs ahead but his header bounced off the bar and was cleared.

In the second half Newcastle started brighter and their efforts paid off as one of last season’s most exciting strikers Demba Ba curled a half-volley past Brad Friedel in the 55th minute. For a large period of the second half Newcastle’s goal was largely unthreatened but Defoe managed to snatch an equaliser with a rebounded tap in following a failed Newcastle clearance. Mere minutes later, the tricky Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa won a penalty for the home side and stepped up to slot it home himself, winning the match for the Toon.

Two ‘low profile’ games = high scoring encounters

In the lower profile games of the day all three of last season’s newcomers featured, beginning their second successive season in the Prem’ and the two matches provided 10 goals between them!

Last season’s strugglers QPR, with a squad much improved and financially backed, took on Swansea, a team which took many plaudits last year. New manager Michael Laudrup led his team to an exciting 0-5 win, inspired by midfielder Michu (above); the Spanish midfielder scoring two and assisting Scott Sinclair for the fifth goal. Nathan Dyer provided the 3rd and 4th goals for Swansea while things could have been even sweeter as both Chico and Michu hit the QPR crossbar.

Elsewhere Fulham crushed Norwich in Chris Hughton’s first game as manager. This was the second match of the day to finish 5-0 and once again there was a debutant scoring a brace of goals and notching an assist, Mladen Petric scoring either side of half time. Damien Duff provided Fulham’s opener and Kacaniklic finished off a good Fulham move before Steve Sidwell’s late penalty completed the rout.

So after just 7 matches of the new Premier League season fans have already been treated with great entertainment. Some wonderful goals, drama and a couple of red cards. The debate still remains about whether this is the best league in the world, but one thing is for sure – we’ll all be watching to find out.

Also, for more from Ciaran, you can follow him on Twitter 

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