Scotland V England Saturday 24th February. 4:45PM. BBC One Scotland v England renew their rivalry…
Premier League football is back and it took just 90 minutes for our first major headline of the campaign as Garry Monk’s Swansea City rained on Louis van Gaal’s welcoming with a stunning victory at Old Trafford.
This was meant to be the day that English football’s most successful club put a miserable 12 months behind them but the season’s curtain-raiser didn’t go as expected as the Theatre of Dreams quickly turned into a house of nightmares.
Swansea’s Ki Sung-yeung netted the first Premier League goal of 2014/15 with a decent strike from the edge of the box just before the half-hour mark. That made Van Gaal’s first half-time team talk far more difficult but it appeared that his side had responded as new captain Wayne Rooney notched the equaliser just ten minutes after the break. With parity restored, surely Manchester United would go on to claim the three points?
The Welshmen had different ideas though as Gylfi Sigurdsson celebrated his return to Swansea by notching the winner 18 minutes from time. The Icelandic midfielder’s goal condemned the hosts to their first opening day defeat on home soil for the first time since 1972.
A day to forget for van Gaal but hopefully a barometer of the excitement that fans can expect over the coming months.
The Wenger Bus Is Coming
The drama continued in the Saturday evening game at the Emirates too as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal looked to capitalise on the bizarre developments at Crystal Palace earlier in the week. Just two days before the new season, manager Tony Pulis parted ways with the Eagles to leave the club floundering.
However, a trademark header from new central defender Brede Hangeland gave the visitors a shock lead to suddenly rekindle Arsenal memories of last season’s opening day loss to Aston Villa. A crucial equaliser from Laurent Koscielny just before the interval relieved the pressure around the Emirates, but the Gunners were made hard to work for their win.
Palace very nearly held out until the end but Aaron Ramsey, who had endured a tough evening, converted from close range in the 91st minute to ensure the Gunners secured an opening day triumph for the first time in half a decade. It wasn’t pretty but Wenger’s men will be ecstatic with the three points.
Red Mist at the Boelyn
Ramsey’s goal meant that Arsenal joined north London rivals Tottenham in securing an injury-time winner as Spurs triumphed in a derby of their own with their visit to West Ham.
Prior to the departure of Pulis, Sam Allardyce had been one of the hot favourites to be the first manager to leave his post in 2014/15. Whilst he may have been spared that unwanted accolade, he is still reportedly fighting for his job and an opening day defeat to their rival won’t have helped the Hammers boss.
A 1-0 loss might not seem the worst result against Tottenham but the visitors had been reduced to 10 men as Kyle Naughton saw red for a handball in the first-half. The normally reliable Mark Noble missed the resulting spot kick and the Hammers failed to take advantage of their numerical advantage.
When James Collins joined Naughton for an early bath midway through the second-half it always felt that Spurs were the more likely winners and in stoppage time it was debutant defender Eric Dier broke free to net a dramatic goal to provide Pochettino with the perfect start to life at White Hart Lane.
All other Saturday matches
Elsewhere in the 3PM kick-offs there was late drama at the King Power Stadium as Leicester City rescued a late point against Everton thanks to a Chris Woods strike five minutes from time.
Whilst it signalled a satisfactory opening day back in the top flight for Nigel Pearson’s men, Roberto Martinez will be disappointed after seeing his side throw the lead away twice. Summer signing Aiden McGeady had given the Toffees the best possible start with a sublime curling effort before Leicester showed their credentials by hitting back immediately through Leonardo Ulloa.
It appeared that Steven Naismith’s goal on the stroke of half-time had been enough to give Everton the three points but the leveller from Woods ensured that the hosts grabbed the point that they deserved.
Fellow new-boys QPR suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Hull City as the Tigers roared to three points courtesy of James Chester’s second-header. Meanwhile, Aston Villa also secured a vital away victory thanks to an early second-half winner as Andreas Weimann provided Paul Lambert with a dream start against local rivals Stoke City.
The last of Saturday’s three o’clock matches was arguably the most spectacular as West Brom and Sunderland put on a thrilling show at the Hawthorns. It took just five minutes for the game to spark into life as the visitors took an early lead through temperamental midfielder Lee Cattermole. However, the Baggies were level by half-time as Saido Berahino scored a penalty just before teh break.
It was the England U21 star who put the hosts in front with his second of the game just 15 minutes from time but Sebastian Larsson coolly converted Patrick van Aanholt’s pull back to prevent Alan Irvine from a perfect start to life in the Baggies hot seat. On reflection, though, neither team will argue with a point from this action-packed contest which also saw both sides have goals disallowed.
Reds Start Life Without Suarez
On to Sunday and Liverpool started life after Suarez in a positive manner by claiming a 2-1 win over Southampton. The Reds took a first-half lead after Raheem Sterling latched on to an exquisite pass from Jordan Henderson.
A Saints’ equaliser, through Nathaniel Clyde, ten minutes into the second-half had threatened to stop Brendan Rodgers’ side from picking up the three points but a crucial late winner from Daniel Sturridge ensured that the Anfield club start the season with a bang.
Citizens Take Comfortable 3 Points at St James’ Park
Liverpool went so close to the title in 2013/14 but ultimately lost out to Manchester City. The Champions began their title-defence at St James’ Park, where Manuel Pellegrini’s men churned out a relatively comfortable 2-0 win.
It was hardly vintage City but goals during the closing stages of either half, supplied by David Silva and Sergio Aguero, ensured that the champions got off to a winning start and fires an early warning shot to their rivals.
The opening round of fixtures concludes at Turf Moor new-boys Burnley hosting Jose Mourinho’s new-look Chelsea on Monday night. It will be a tough test for the Blues but this is the sort of match they must win if they want to win a first Premier League title since 2009-2010.
It should be a thrilling climax to the first weekend of matches. The Premier League is back; it’s as if it never went away. Strap yourselves in for a roller-coaster ride in 2014/15.