The Premier League returning to my television on Saturday and Sunday mornings is like a fresh injection of drugs for an addict. I need soccer, I crave soccer, I live soccer. There’s no greater feeling than waking up early on a weekend (when you have kids there is no other choice) with a Starbucks in hand and watching whomever has the early game on NBC Sports. The void recently has been filled with Curious George, Thomas the Train, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse thanks to my children. But alas soccer is back!
My team, Chelsea FC, didn’t play until Monday afternoon so the one game I actually wanted to watch I physically couldn’t as I was at work. Of course I had the game-cast up on my computer and I was feverishly following on Twitter but the experience just isn’t the same. Thankfully Chelsea downed West Ham United 2-1 in a very entertaining contest at least by the comments that I saw online. Eden Hazard converted a penalty just after halftime to take a 1-0 (his 5th goal in his last 6 PL games) only for West Ham to equalize late in the 77th minute when central defender James Collins scored a rare goal with his foot. It was an all too familiar scene from last season and it appeared we’d start the season with a home draw against a team we should defeat.But wait….Diego Costa to the resuce! The man who picked up a nasty yellow card earlier in the game, to which West Ham’s coach lobbied after the game that it should’ve been a straight red, scored from outside the box with a minute left before stoppage time. Costa is such a frustrating player to root for because he’s so talented and can score goals with the best of them but he can also go on tilt, lose his temper at referees and opposing players and pick up cards. I’m thankful we started off the season with a nice victory against a quality club. It keeps last season’s negativity at bay. There’s a lot to improve upon from here and you have to love the enthusiasm and energy that manager Antonio Conte brings. There are some tweaks I hope to see in the starting lineup, aka why is Matic starting, but this is a great start.
Life is funny sometimes and it’s amazing how certain story lines play-out and evolve over time. A few years ago after winning the Player of the Year award for Chelsea, Juan Mata was sold by newly re-hired manager Jose Mourinho. Mata was sent off to Manchester United citing that he didn’t fit the style of play he wanted the club to portray and that was that; or so we thought. Eventually Chelsea sacked Jose Mourinho last winter and now the Special one is manager of United. So here we are again with another Mata-Mourinho situation on our hands.
In the Community Shield match Mata was pulled at halftime, a move that usually isn’t done by managers, embarrassing the Spaniard in the final exhibition game of the season. Yet Mata got the start in their opener against AFC Bournemouth and opened up the game’s scoring just before halftime. His hustle (and a little bit of luck from the bumbling Bournemouth defender) allowed Mata to tap in a shot from a yard away into an empty net. Whether Mourinho played Mata to showcase him for other teams in hoping to sell him or is just biding time until Henrikh Mkhitaryan is ready to be inserted into the starting line-up it was Mata who opened up United’s campaign under Mourinho with a goal.
United found their groove once they got on the scoreboard putting an uninspiring first half behind them. Wayne Rooney doubled their lead heading home a mis-struck volley attempt by Anthony Martial from six yards away. The highlight of the match and a goal of the week candidate came in the 64th minute when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his first Premier League goal for Manchester United. From 25 yards away on the right side of the field, Ibrahimovic struck a low driving ball with his right foot towards the opposite post which expertly found the bottom corner of the net. It’s as pretty of a shot that never got more than a foot off the ground as you’ll ever see. Ibra has now scored in back to back games if you include his goal in the Community Shield over Champions Leicester City. All is well and good in the land of United and they haven’t even played a game with Paul Pogba yet.
We’re only one game into the season and Arsenal fans are already livid about their opening day performance and the lack of activity that’s occurred in the transfer market. The Gunners fell flat on their face allowing four goals to Liverpool in front of a sold-out Emirates Stadium. Arsenal actually struck first behind a Theo Walcott goal that made up for the fact that he missed a penalty kick two minutes earlier. The rest as they say “was all downhill” from there. Hindsight will say Walcott’s missed penalty could’ve been the deciding factor in Arsenal earning a draw but in reality we don’t know how the game would’ve been played out had he scored there.
Philippe Coutinho scored a brace while Adam Lallana and newbie Sadio Mane also added goals. Coutinho’s first goal was a gorgeous curling free kick from just outside the box. Liverpool were amped and celebrating on the touchline with their manager Jurgen Klopp with no regard for the Arsenal faithful. Liverpool might have gotten a bit over confident as Arsenal did answer with a pair of late goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Callum Chambers but it was too little too late. I don’t think Liverpool could’ve asked for a better start aside from their shady defending; a victory on the road against a team projected to finish towards the top of the table and scoring four goals.
For Arsenal their biggest deficiency, their biggest weakness, was front and center for all to see. Their defensive quality and depth is laughable. With Laurent Koscielny not fully healed from his stint in the European Championship with France and with Per Mertesacker on the shelf for a while, who is going to defend in front of Petr Cech? A center back pairing of Rob Holding and Callum Chambers isn’t anywhere near what a Top 4 caliber team should be sporting. It’s a joke really. Arsenal needs to open their damn checkbook and sign some defenders and a striker. Act like you want to win instead of pretending to be a contender.
It’s too early to say if Leicester City is going to have a championship hangover but I can assure you the fans of the Foxes cannot be too thrilled with a road defeat against newly promoted Hull City. Hull becomes the first team in the PL to win their opening day match after being promoted since 2012. Leicester City has to be a bit worried that their clock has struck midnight and the magic is over.
Leicester was definitely sloppy in this game committing 17 fouls and picking up a pair of yellow cards. Manager Claudio Ranieri started both of his summer signings (Hernandez and Musa) and neither shined in their debut. Leicester’s lone goal came on a Riyad Mahrez penalty in the 47th minute. Striker Jamie Vardy who finished in the top three in scoring had a pedestrian start to his campaign. They’ll have little time to turn things around as they host Arsenal next weekend.
Give credit to Hull City who took advantage of open opportunities. Late in the first half Hull City converted a double bicycle kick goal from Abel Hernandez and Adama Diomande, who was given credit for the goal. Each player appeared to get their foot on the ball after Leicester’s Schmeicel blocked a Curtis Davies’ header. After some sloppy defense by Leicester, Robert Snodgrass scored with a left footed strike to give Hull the three points.
Swansea City 1, Burnley 0
West Bromwich 1, Crystal Palace 0
Tottenham 1, Everton 1
Stoke City 1, Middlesbrough 1
Southampton 1, Watford 1
Manchester City 2, Sunderland 1
News & Notes
Hull City is the 1st promoted team since 2012 to win on Opening Day
Swansea City have no lost in their last 8 PL games in August (6-2-0)
West Bromwich Albion have won their last 11 PL games by one goal margins
Ross Barkley has scored on Opening Day in three consecutive seasons for Everton
Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United is the first Armenian to play in the PL
112 different nationalities have now been represented in the PL since inception
GK – Maarten Stekelenburg, Everton
D – George Friend, Middlesbrough
D – Eric Bailly, Manchester United
D – Gareth McAuley, West Bromwich
D – Curtis Davies, Hull City
M – Raheem Sterling, Manchester City
M – Robert Snodgrass, Hull City
M – Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool
F – Sadio Mane, Liverpool
F – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manchester United
F – Nathan Redmond, Southampton