Leicester City fans will be waking up this morning in a dreamland with their side top of the Premiership season after an emphatic opening day win over Sunderland. It may be only be a week one but the Foxes will care not especially given that many suspect that they will struggle this season under new boss Claudio Ranieri. Even the Italian himself was pessimistic about Leicester’s chances heading into the game lowering the level of expectations of the fans and preparing them for a hard slog. But on Saturday the Tinkerman got it right with and found his new team 3-0 up within the first 25 minutes of the game, eventually going on to win the game 4-2 in the end. Sunderland to be fair were never at the races and looked like they were still on vacation which will be a worry for returning boss Dick Advocaat. They did look brighter in the second half, winning it by 2-1 but by then the game was already lost. Its going to be a long season for the Black Cats.
Up the road in Newcastle, the Toon Army were in a boisterous mood filled with optimism about the season ahead with a new manager and more importantly some new players after owner Mike Ashley found his wallet down the back of the sofa. Two of the new signings, Chancel Mbemba and Georgina Wijnaldum started whilst the third, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic settled for a spot on the bench. Despite being out jumped for Graziano Pelle’s opening headed goal, Mbemba looked solid at centre back alongside Coloccini which will please the Geordie faithful who still have Mike Williamson nightmares every time they close their eyes. Mitrovic looked lively coming in off the bench, even if his first act was to get booked with a fairly rash over committed challenge. But it was the performance of Wijnaldum in particular that will give Newcastle the most hope. His spirited non stop running, strong reading of the game and eye for goal where demonstrated in the 48th minute when he ran 60 yards to get on the end of a perfectly held up cross from Gabriel Obertan to give Newcastle a 2-1 lead. Southampton may have pegged them back in the end to draw the match 2-2 but the Newcastle fans saw enough to walk away from St James Park with that sense of optimism still in the vicinity.
That result wasnt the only 2-2 draw of the weekend with two other matches ending by the same scoreline. Champions Chelsea made a stuttering start to the new campaign with a laboured 2-2 draw with Swansea who had new boy Andre Ayew on the score sheet within 29 minutes. Jose Mourinho’s side looked tired as they tried to hold on to a 2-1 lead going into the second half but their task was made harder when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saw red for bringing down Gomis as the Swansea front man ran clear. The French striker converted the subsequent penalty and the two sides shared the points. It was a similar story at Goodison as Everton left it late to equalize against new boys Watford. Quique Sanchez Flores’s side looked the fresher going into the match and soon took the lead through new signing Miguel Layun. They held that lead until the 76th minute before Ross Barkley rifled Everton back into the game with a long distance stunner. But seven minutes later Watford regained the lead through Odion Ighalo and looked set for three points until substitute Arouna Kone drilled a low shot past Gomes to tie the game.
Elsewhere there were three narrow 1-0 victories with wins for Man Utd, Aston Villa and Liverpool who all showed glimmers of what is to come. Liverpool needed a late wonder goal from Coutinho to grab all three points whilst United relied on an own goal by Kyle Walker to snatch their points. Bournemouth put up a valid show against Villa with some crisp passing movements but couldn’t find the cutting edge in the final third. In the end a powerful header from Villa striker Rudy Gestede settled the tie. Fellow newcomers Norwich found it more difficult on their return to the Premiership falling to a 3-1 defeat to a new look Crystal Palace with Zaha, Delaney and Cabaye notching for the Eagles. Nathan Redmond did rely for Norwich but Alex Neil has a lot of work to do if this showing was anything to go by. Finally many people’s tip for title challengers Arsenal came unstuck against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham side with the Hammers running out as 2-0 victors in the end. Bilic, who handed 16-year-old Reece Oxford a starting berth in front of the back four, had a dream start as the new West Ham boss with his side going in at half time 1-0 up thanks to a powerful header by Cheikhou Kouyate.
New Arsenal stopper Peter Cech will be blamed for his misjudged attempt to clear but in truth its his defence who should have taken care of Payet’s free kick. Arsenal pressed for an equalizer but couldn’t find it due to poor finishing highlighting their desperate need for a world-class striker, preferably like Karim Benzema. With Arsenal throwing more people forward, space opened up which West Ham took advantage of in the 57th minute with striker Mauro Zarate drilling a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards. On this performance West Ham look like they are set for a good season under Bilic who took a brave move in fielding rookie Oxford in such an important game. But his gamble paid off with the youngster grabbing the man of the match award after a sterling performance that saw him complete 95% of all his passes, higher than the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mexut Ozil and Mark Noble. Oxford has a bright future ahead of him especially if given the playing time he needs under Bilic.
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