Premier League Weekend Game-by-Game Review
The English Premier League returned to action this weekend with supporters around the world anxious to see what their sides could produce.
Favorite players returned from holiday, the unpredictability of preseason friendlies had finished, and new signings were given long-awaited competitive debuts.
In the dugout, Chelsea's Andre Villa-Boas and Norwich City's Paul Lambert were formally introduced to the Premier League, while QPR's Neil Warnock and Fulham's Martin Jol returned to the competition following absences of several years.
While not the most exciting opening weekend in recent memories, there were plenty of surprises and a great sense of intrigue for the rest of the season.
It was also the first time in Premier League history where the home side failed to claim a win in any of the weekend fixtures.
It's good to have football back, and here is a review of the first week of fixtures. Be sure to share your thoughts on your team's performances in the comments below, as well as your hopes for improvements in the next round of fixtures.
QPR 0-4 Bolton Wanderers
Starting off this week's review was the match at West London's Loftus Road, home of Premier League new-boys Queens Park Rangers.
Expectations for the return of QPR to the Premier League have been high, but Bolton Wanderers were more than happy to remind last season's nPower Championship winners of the reality of life in England's elite footballing division.
Things could have been so different for QPR, however, who started the match brightly—new signing DJ Campbell managed to find the back of the net within the first five minutes before correctly having it ruled offside.
It was all downhill from there, however.
Within ten minutes, new signing Kieron Dyer was forced off with a suspected broken metatarsal, but it now appears the injury is not as severe. Long-term injuries have blighted Dyer's entire career, and it seems that this season will be no different for the former Newcastle and West Ham midfielder.
Bolton scored their first goal of the match right on the stroke of half-time, a fine finish from talented defender and reported Arsenal target Gary Cahill.
QPR manager Neil Warnock's half-time speech seemed to have nowhere near the necessary needed effect, and Bolton extended their lead thanks to a blunder from another new QPR signing, Danny Gabbidon, who poked the ball into his own net following a freekick from Bolton midfielder Chris Eagles.
Bolton's third goal came only three minutes later in the 70th minute, when striker Ivan Klasnic fired home from a deflection off of QPR defender Bradley Orr. The rout was confirmed when Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba side-footed home the fourth and final goal of the afternoon, before QPR defender Clint Hill was sent off for a head-butt on Bolton's Martin Petrov.
West Brom 1-2 Manchester United
Last season's Premier League champions Manchester United began their title defense at the Hawthorns, home of a resilient West Bromwich Albion.
West Brom have seemed a completely different side since former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson took over last season, and proved plucky despite their illustrious opponents even after United striker Wayne Rooney opened the scoring in only the 13th minute.
West Brom found an equalizer in the 37th minute, however, with new signing Shane Long coming from the corner of the box and firing in a shot to the far corner, where new United goalkeeper David de Gea made a terrible mistake in diving over the ball, failing to stop the shot.
United supporters will certainly be worried about the performances of their new shot-stopper, who also had an extremely poor match against fierce rivals Manchester City in last week's Community Shield match.
Just as in that match, however, de Dea was saved his back-page blushes in the second half, when more excellent work by Ashley Young was deflected past West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster and into his own net, sealing United's victory nine minutes before full-time.
Overall, it was a mature performance from a United side which included a number of young starlets. The choice of striker Danny Welbeck over record-signing Dimitar Berbatov only further fuels rumours of the Bulgarian's potential departure.
United will be sweating over the fitness of their defense for next week's fixture against Tottenham, however, as the second-half removal of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic leaves them unavailable following hamstring and calf injuries respectively.
Liverpool 1-1 Sunderland
A revamped Sunderland side earned a hard-fought draw at Anfield on Saturday, as Liverpool failed to live up to the pre-season expectation that has surrounded the club's revival in fortunes over the last six months.
Star Liverpool striker Luis Suarez missed a penalty in only the fifth minute of play before scoring the Red's first goal of the season just seven minutes later.
Suarez connected with a free-kick from new Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam—who already looks as though he has been playing in the side for years—while fellow striker Andy Carroll and midfielder Stuart Downing put the Black Cats under significant pressure.
The early pressure from Liverpool in the first half did not result in more goals, however, and Sunderland began the second half strongly. New signing Sebastian Larsson crossed well, only for striker Asamoah Gyan to head directly at goalkeeper Jose Reina.
Larsson proved shortly after, however, that this new-look Sunderland side have plenty to offer. He fired a superbly-taken volley in the 57th minute following good work from Ahmed Almohamedy, who floated a cross from the wing across the penalty area.
Many Liverpool supporters will be left ruing what will be perceived as another poor start to a Premier League campaign, but Steve Bruce's Sunderland have been shrewd in their transfer window dealings and will likely enjoy a much better season this year.
Newcastle 0-0 Arsenal
Liverpool weren't the only club starting the season with massive expectations, as Arsenal traveled to Newcastle without the services of want-away midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
Meanwhile, Newcastle named midfielder Joey Barton in their starting line-up despite the high-profile conflict between him and the club's ownership following his Twitter outburst two weeks ago.
The stage was set for a high-profile match, and in that regard, it didn't disappoint.
The meeting between the two-sides proved a fiery affair on the pitch as well, as Barton appeared to be stamped on by Arsenal midfielder Alex Song before being involved in an altercation with new Arsenal striker Gervinho.
Gervinho was sent off in the 76th minute for the altercation as he slapped Barton. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger criticized the referee for sending off only Gervinho in the altercation, although his focus should be on the playing squad he has available for next week's match against Liverpool.
With Cesc Fabregas' transfer to Spanish side Barcelona officially confirmed today and with the Arsenal midfield seeming to lack any creativity against Newcastle at the weekend, Wenger needs to bring in players sooner rather than later or risk the reality that he will struggle to compete this season.
Blackburn 1-2 Wolves
Both Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers went into their Saturday fixture knowing that this campaign will require far more focus than was exhibited by the sides last season.
Both clubs found themselves mired in the relegation battle last year, and Wolves will be delighted to already have an away win on the board thanks to a convincing display at Ewood Park.
An early goal from Blackburn's David "Junior" Hoilett within four minutes of play was ruled offside, but it was the home side which would find themselves ahead in the first half.
New Blackburn signing Mauro Formica was quick to settle into life in the Premier League, after nice work from Blackburn striker Jason Roberts found the midfielder, who poked into the net from a tight-angle in the 20th minute.
It wasn't long before Wolves found a response, however, as forward Steven Fletcher equalized after only two more minutes of play from a cross from Matt Jarvis.
Following the half-time interval, it seemed like Wolves may have spurned their chance to find a winner after Blackburn defender Michel Salgado was adjudged to have brought down Jarvis. Wolves striker Kevin Doyle had his spot-kick saved by Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson.
Diving to his left, Robinson couldn't push the ball out of play, however, and Wolves midfielder Stephen Ward made quick-work of the rebound.
Wolves were able to hold onto the lead for a well-earned win, as Blackburn manager Steve Kean will quickly need to fix his team's errors. He is the favorite of many pundits to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season.
Stoke 0-0 Chelsea
As has been seen, the opening weekend proved a weekend of disappointment for the majority of sides tipped to be competing for the Premier League title this season.
Chelsea's visit to Stoke City's Britannia Stadium proved no different.
There has been a great sense of expectation around Chelsea since this summer's appointment of former Porto manager Andres Villas-Boas, but Chelsea found the start of their campaign a difficult prospect against a determined Potters side.
Stoke put the visiting Blues under constant pressure throughout the match, and especially in the first half of the game.
Set pieces from Rory Delap and Jermaine Pennant—who already appears to be carrying his fine form from last campaign into the present—caused trouble for Chelsea throughout, but the defense was ever-marshaled by Chelsea defender John Terry against their dogged opponents.
There has been much talk about record Chelsea signing Fernando Torres again failing to find the back of the net for his side, but the striker looked lively throughout the match and appeared a much better player than was seen for Chelsea at the end of last season.
While his lack of goals still may be a worry for some, Torres looks to be well on the road to a return to form.
For the Potters—as with Sunderland—the signings of the summer seem to be fantastic pieces of business, and Chelsea supporters should not be too disappointed to leave the Britannia with only a point.
Expect Stoke to surprise more than a few "big" sides this season, as their excellent performance this weekend will be just the beginning.
Wigan Athletic 1-1 Norwich City
Newly-promoted Norwich City began their campaign with a trip to Wigan Athletic's DW Stadium, and a match which saw both sides battle for advantage throughout.
Wigan opened the scoring from the spot through Ben Watson in the 21st minute, after Norwich's on-loan defender Richie de Laet was harshly adjudged to have brought down Franco Di Santo in the box.
Pressure from the visiters paid off just before half-time, however. Norwich midfielder Wes Hoolahan was able to take advantage of a terrible mistake by Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who missed a cross from Steve Morrison on the right-wing.
Wigan's Victor Moses proved a live-wire for the Latics throughout the match, and Ben Watson had an opportunity to score the winner in the last minutes, but a point was a well-deserved result for both sides, who will likely spend most of the season battling for Premier League survival.
Fulham 0-0 Aston Villa
The quality of new signings for both Fulham and Aston Villa were on display at Craven Cottage this weekend, as the two sides played out a goalless draw in Fulham manager Martin Jol's return to the Premier League.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given was in inspired form for his side throughout the match, denying excellent efforts from Fulham's John Arne Riise and Andrew Johnson.
Riise, who is not unfamiliar with the fantastic long-range goal from his career at Premier League rivals Liverpool, put in an excellent performance for the Cottagers but missed an excellent chance from ten yards out.
Chances to break the deadlock on either side were few and far between.
Aston Villa striker Emile Heskey had arguably the best attempt for his side on the 20th minute, beating Fulham defender Philippe Senderos before tamely firing straight at goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham had the advantage of already having played several competitive Europa League qualifying matches, but there was little to separate the two sides.