Sheffield United 1 – 1 Liverpool
Hulse 46’ Fowler (pen) 70’
I got a little shiver when I watched the teams walk out onto the field at Bramall Lane. Maybe it was the beginning of the season, but I think it was watching the Blades play their first Premiership match in front of nearly 32,000 fans. This was a match-up of title favorites versus relegation fodder. Neil Warnock, serving the first of a two-game touchline ban, watching from the stands, saw his side take the lead shortly after halftime, with an unmarked Rob Hulse heading in a free kick from the six-yard line.
Benitez picked Fabio Aurelio to play in a deeper midfield role, rather than his preferred left-back position, and the new Brazilian signing did a terrible job marking the Sheffield United striker, giving him loads of space and time to get power behind his header, but Sami Hyypia and Daniel Agger are equally to blame.
Mark Gonzalez and Jermaine Pennant did not start, a tactic of Benitez’s to keep the offensive-minded players rested for their upcoming Champions League tie with Maccabi Haifa next week.
John Arne Riise and Jamie Carragher were subbed due to injury, and their importance to the Liverpool squad was noticeable because of their absence. The equalizer came from a Robbie Fowler penalty kick after an arguable foul by hardman captain Chris Morgan on Stephen Gerrard in the box.
Verdict: Liverpool failed to impress, lucky to walk away with one point. The foul on Steven Gerrard wasn’t much and the ensuing penalty taken by Robbie Fowler was a gift.
Speaking of Fowler, what is he doing out there? Besides the penalty, the aging striker seemed out of position whenever he received the ball from midfield, or just plain bad, at one point, possessing the ball on Sheffield’s backline with loads of space around him, and then promptly falling down. Liverpool’s lucky to drop only two points instead of a full three.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard, his one-two with Fowler that led to the dubious penalty, exhibited some of the best touch and attack of the game, which isn’t saying much.
Arsenal 1 – 1 Aston Villa
Silva 84’ Mellberg 53’
Arsenal were lucky to walk away from this match with a draw. A skeleton crew of a squad, the Gunners were missing Tomas Rosicky, Jose Antonio Reyes, and Ashley Cole, and the result reflected their absence.
The highlight, for Arsenal fans, was the 17 minutes at the end of the match that 17-year old Theo Walcott played. The youngster was able to inject a little energy, pace, and attacking flair on the left, setting up the equalizer for Gilberto Silva. Although Wenger is quick to downplay the teenager’s performance and mitigate the weighty expectations, especially since it’s the forward’s first appearance in an Arsenal shirt.
Emanuel Eboue did well to come forward, positioning himself more as a winger than a right-back. A lot is expected of him this year, as perhaps the closest thing to the departing Ashley Cole. Justin Hoyte started in the left-back position, quickly showing how much the Gunners are going to miss Cashley when he leaves.
As in a lot of games last year, Arsenal lacked that final touch, that killer strike or flick to score a goal. Arsene Wenger blamed Thierry Henry’s performance on France’s employ of the striker for 90 minutes in a friendly against Bosnia earlier in the week.
Verdict: If Arsenal are to vie for a top four spot, they didn’t look like it against the Villans, who seemed to desire the points more than the home team. Aston Villa defended well, pulling 10 men behind the ball, and Arsenal was lucky that Walcott was able to send his ball into Gilberto for an equalizer.
Man of the Match: Theo Walcott, despite only playing 17 minutes, created the most excitement with his creativity and set up for the equalizer, which saved Arsenal the embarrassment of losing to a team they walloped 5-0 last year at Highbury.
Everton 2 – 1 Watford
Johnson 15’ Francis 90’
Arteta (pen) 82’
Newcastle 2 – 1 Wigan
Parker 38’ McCulloch 59’
Portsmouth 3 – 0 Blackburn Rovers
Kanu 62’, 84’, pen miss 90’
Reading 3 – 2 Middlesbrough
Kitson 43’ Downing 11’
Sidwell ’44 Yakubu 21’
West Ham 3 – 1 Charlton Athletic
Zamora 52’, 66’ Bent (pen) 15’
Bolton Wanderers 2 - 0 Tottenhamp Hotspur
Manchester United 5 – 1 Fulham
Saha 7’ Ferdinand (OG) 40’
Ian Pearce (OG) 15’
Rooney 16’, 64’
Rio Ferdinand started off this year’s campaign with a stunning goal in Manchester United’s 5-1 drubbing of Fulham at Old Trafford. Unfortunately, it bulged the back of Edwin van der Sar’s net, taking a deflection off of the England and Man Utd. defender, from the foot of Heidar Helguson.
United came out with guns blazing and overwhelmed Fulham’s porous defense by scoring 4 goals in 20 minutes. Poor man-marking, coupled with Wayne Rooney’s speed into the middle saw Chris Coleman’s squad sliced up quickly, with the first goal coming from Louis Saha in the 8th minute. A brace from Rooney and a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo sealed victory for Sir Alex’s boys.
This is all good news to United, showing the return of Paul Scholes to midfield and Rooney’s seemingly quick recovery from his pre-WC injury. The three-game bans the two are to face, beginning next week will show us if the Red Devils can be offensive without that duo. They’ll miss matches against Charlton, Watford and Tottenham Hotspur.
Verdict: An impressive start to the season from Man Utd, showing the importance of Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo in the team’s success. Those three, along with Scholes will factor in largely on United’s success this year.
Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney shows he can do everything, running into Fulham’s back line to receive a quick ball in, and with his magnificent cross in to give Ronaldo his first goal of the season.
Chelsea 3 – 0 Manchester City
3/10 - bl