After months of world tours and international tournaments, the English Premier League has finally begun.
Not a moment too soon for some clubs, as a return to the pitch signaled a brief distraction from the ongoing drama of English football. For others, the start of league play ushered in new eras as fresh signings took to the field amid vast expectations.
Only five of the top six clubs were in action during the first week, as Tottenham had to postpone their match due to overflowing civil unrest in their home city. On a side note, could they not have just played the game at Everton and played their second match in Tottenham instead? Just a thought...
The rest of the bunch (Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) all did well too. At the very least, they opened their seasons without losing a match. That is as far the likenesses go as the five clubs ended their match days with very different emotions.
After the first week, how do the top six rank?
Gervinho being sent off during Week 1
Week 1 Result: Newcastle 0 - 0 Arsenal
It was a tumultuous offseason for manager Arsene Wenger and his club. His lineup was seemingly picked apart as starter after starter decided to leave the Emirates. The transfer drama was highlighted when captain Cesc Fabregas became home sick and left for FC Barcelona, but the mass exodus did not stop there.
Fellow midfielder Denilson checked out, while the back line was depleted by departures from Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue (announced Tuesday).
To add to the mess, French midfield star Samir Nasri has been linked to an inter-league transfer for months and was unavailable for Week 1.
All of this movement has severely hurt the Gunners' chances of repeating a top-four finish, let alone challenging for a league title.
Their opening match against Newcastle did little to change opinion. There was little action in the final third as the new-look 11 struggled to produce chances.
Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky combined well in midfield, showing some promise. New signing Theo Walcott also produced some flash in his role off the bench. Ivory Coast striker Gervinho caused problems to a pieced-together Newcastle back line but he caused bigger problems when he was sent off after slapping fellow headcase Joey Barton during an altercation.
Wenger will have his hands full this year trying to get his lineup to come together. There were signs of life in their first match but the club must spend some of its newly acquired cash on midfield players and defenders to compete at the top of the league.
Week 1 Result: Postponed vs. Everton
We will have to wait one more week to see Harry Redknapp's side begin their EPL season. The side is bustling with talent at each position, but piecing them together to form an effective starting 11 has been the biggest difficulty over the past few seasons.
Their deserved fifth-place finish in the table last season will have them in Europa League competition after missing out on the chance to make another impressive Champions League run.
If midfield maestro Luka Modric leaves to often-rumored Chelsea, the side will be in real trouble.
Another storyline to watch is whether or not Mexican international Giovanni Dos Santos gets a run at striker, given his impressive international performances as of late. The team has been on the hunt for scoring help during the transfer period and, given a chance, Dos Santos could possibly fill the void.
Expectations are high at White Hart Lane and, barring disaster, Tottenham should compete for the coveted top four yet again this year.
Week 1 Result: Liverpool 1 - 1 Sunderland
Like Arsenal, Liverpool made headlines throughout the transfer window during the offseason. Their headlines, however, were much more positive.
Kenny Dalglish brought in slews of new talent for the upcoming season, hoping to turn around his squad's disappointing sixth-place finish last year. Time away from European competition could do the side well, allowing them to focus on getting their new signings acclimated and finishing in the top four.
Andy Carroll will join Luis Suarez up front for what will prove to be a combination that could easily lead the league in goals come season's end.
New signing Charlie Adam will be a regular on corners and long free kicks. His deadly aim combined with the towering Carroll in the box look to mark the score sheet at regular pace this season.
The midfield will be an ongoing experiment as Adam and two more mids (Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing) were brought on as well. Dalglish began the match with Lucas directing traffic from a defensive mid position to Adam, Downing on the left wing (where he excelled) and Henderson on the right, leaving the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles to be brought on after the hour mark.
Adam and Downing continued their run of good form from preseason matches but Henderson, despite early flashes, faded away yet again. Reds fans will likely be clamoring for Kuyt to start—or Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard if he gets healthy.
Brand new signing Jose Enrique was solid at left back having been signed only three days before the match and was a much-needed addition to the back line. Martin Kelly was benched in favor of John Flanagan at right back, but the youngster made several mistakes and looked a bit overwhelmed at times. Look for Kelly to start the next match.
All in all, the Anfield side looks much stronger than last year with their new additions and will look to challenge for the fourth spot, or even higher, in the league table.
Week 1 Result: Stoke City 0 - 0 Chelsea
All eyes are on the front three of new coach Andre Villas-Boas' side and rightfully so. The previously deadly Drogba/Anelka combination combined for 23 fewer goals last season than the season before, and supporters are beginning to wonder if the duo is past their prime. AVB elected to place Fernando Torres at the lone striker position to begin this weekend's match.
While "El Nino" showed improvement form from his disappointing run last season with the Blues, he still did not produce a goal. He made several impressive runs but was unable to finish. The Spaniard has now scored only once in his 19 appearances since his $50 million transfer in January and is in a rut dating back to his international side's trophy-lifting World Cup run where he was hardly influential.
Drogba and Anelka came on late but were unable to impact the match. The Potters of Stoke City applied immense pressure on the ball throughout the match, making it difficult for the talented Chelsea side to find much room at all. John Terry was his usual self at the back, seemingly in on every play, enforcing his will.
Chelsea supporters will give AVB a small window to get accustomed to his team and English football, but if the goals (and wins) don't start coming soon, the coach will be on the hot seat.
They did not outperform Liverpool in the first week, but there is enough talent and potential on the squad to win a league title if the 33-year-old manager can get the ship steered in the right direction.
Week 1 Result: Man United 2 - 1 West Brom Albion
It seems the late-game heroics the Red Devils were famous (or infamous, depending on your colors) for last season have carried over to this year.
The football gods gifted Nani an injury-time winner against rivals Manchester City in the FA Community Shield one week ago, and in their opener against West Brom this weekend a deflected own goal in the 81st minute gave the game to United.
The glory will be short-lived, however, as the back line has now been riddled with injuries, not to mention the departure of Wes Brown and John O'Shea over the summer. Center backs Rio Ferdinand (hamstring) and Nemanja Vidic (calf) went down with what could be serious injuries during the game. They join Patrice Evra (knee) and Rafael (shoulder) on the busy trainer's table.
As if things at the back could get any worse, new stopper David de Gea is having real problems. His inability to assert his presence in the air on set pieces and a failed routine save this weekend have Sir Alex more than a bit nervous.
United will have no problems going forward this season, as their midfield and forwards are as strong as ever. If they do not perform along the back, however, they will have to hope to simply outscore their opponents all season—something they could do if they needed to.
The road to title defense looks quite a bit bumpier all of a sudden, as Alex Ferguson could have one of his toughest challenges ahead of him if he wishes to repeat. At this point, a top-four finish would be a success at Old Trafford.
The three goal scorers from this weekend celebrate a desisive victory
Week 1 Result: Man City 4 - 0 Swansea City
The most impressive side, by far, this weekend was Manchester City. The "Noisy Neighbors" return the league's top defense from last season and added goal machine Sergio "Kun" Aguero to an already potent attack.
The Kun Era began with a bang, as his difference was felt immediately. Aguero waited only eight minutes after his 60th-minute insertion to open up his EPL account, but the second he stepped on the pitch the team looked more dangerous in attack. His strength, pace and scoring mentality were on display and the team finally looked as if they could pile on the goals.
Manager Roberto Mancini chose to begin the game with Edin Dzeko as the lone striker. He impressed with a strong goal in the Community Shield alongside Mario Balotelli, but was all thumbs up front by himself. It seemed the closer he got to goal, the more uncomfortable he felt with the ball at his feet, often hesitating and turning full chances into half ones. His goal was a lucky tap in on a deflection.
Upon Kun's arrival, Dzeko spent more time on the wing where he looked far more at home. He made several impressive runs and seems to operate much better with more space, playing a perfect floater to Aguero that set up the third goal with David Silva.
However, Aguero came on for defensive midfielder Nigel De Jong, who played excellent in front of the back line. After his exit, Swansea City spent much more time in their final third. Had City been against a more quality opponent, one could only wonder if the added pressure could break the back four.
Mancini's biggest decisions will be tactical ones; whether to play a defensive mid and a lone striker (Sergio could likely handle the duties) or use Dzeko and Aguero together up front and hope for good form from the back.
Ether way, considering United's recent injury woes and turmoil at many of the other top clubs, City look ready to achieve their long-awaited and much-deserved destiny as Premier League champions.
Eric Pennell is an up-and-coming columnist at Bleacher Report covering the NBA, NFL, College Football and EPL Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.
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