Back with a bang

Demba Ba (left) scores a stunner for Newcastle.-AP Demba Ba (left) scores a stunner for Newcastle.

The final 45 minutes of champion Manchester City’s first game of the season provided fans with a nearly-accurate repeat telecast of the second half against QPR in May.

“Agüero!” Martin Tyler’s impassioned cry became a part of Manchester City’s, and even the English Premier League's, folklore more than three months ago. As the defending champion kicked off its campaign against promoted Southampton on the first EPL weekend of 2012-13, the scenes and sounds from that fateful afternoon in May hung fresh in the memory of its fans.

The memory of the euphoria notwithstanding, City’s fans would’ve been forgiven to expect nothing but a straightforward win against an opponent which is widely expected to drop back to the Championship next season. However, this was anything but straightforward.

Manchester City started off brightly and despite losing Sergio Agüero to an injury after 13 minutes, it won a penalty in the 17th minute. Up stepped David Silva and, continuing the trend witnessed over the weekend, hit it straight at the goalkeeper. However, City did take the lead through Tevez later in the half and led 1-0 at the interval.

The next 45 minutes provided City fans with a nearly-accurate repeat telecast of the second half against QPR in May. Lax defending saw Southampton score twice in the space of 10 minutes before parity was restored by Edin Dzeko, who had scored the equaliser against QPR too, in the 72nd minute. Samir Nasri then went on to score the winner eight minutes later to avoid potential embarrassment at the hands of the Premier League new-boys.

While City had been savouring its title triumph over the summer, seven clubs were busy in their efforts to recruit a new manager. In the only contest between new managers over the weekend, ex-Liverpool assistant manager Steve Clarke’s West Bromwich Albion humbled his former team 3-0. Daniel Agger was sent off for Liverpool and if not for West Brom’s kindness in front of the goal and Shane Long’s penalty miss, the scoreline could have been worse.

After last season’s disappointing campaign, Rodgers couldn’t have imagined a worse start. If ever he needed a proof of the enormity of the task that is lying in front of him in order to make the Reds a major force again, he got it in abundance.

While top-level European football looks to be a distant dream for Liverpool now, Chelsea’s Champions League winning manager Roberto Di Matteo got off to a successful start against Wigan after being given a permanent role over the summer. The Blues won 2-0 thanks to goals in the opening seven minutes by Branislav Ivanovic and Frank Lampard. Di Matteo was pleased with new signing Eden Hazard’s league debut as he played an important role in both the strikes. More importantly, Fernando Torres looked threatening for the European champion which has only two recognised forwards in its squad.

Di Matteo’s predecessor and Tottenham’s new manager Andre Villas-Boas didn’t enjoy similar luck as his team slipped to a 2-1 defeat against last season’s surprise package Newcastle United. Tottenham, without want-away midfielder Luka Modric in the squad, missed several chances in the first half with Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale striking the woodwork.

Spurs fell behind to a sweet strike by Demba Ba early in the second half and despite an equaliser by Defoe in the 76th minute, Villas-Boas’ side gave away a needless penalty four minutes later which was coolly taken by Hatem Ben Arfa. As the club continues to grapple with Modric’s unsettled future and a lack of strikers, the ex-Chelsea and Porto manager still has quite a lot of work to do till the transfer window slams shut at the end of August. Among other managerial appointments in the summer, Michael Laudrup (Swansea) and Chris Hughton (Norwich) found themselves on the opposite sides of a 5-0 scoreline against QPR and Fulham, respectively. Swansea’s Michu and Fulham’s Mladen Petric got a brace each in their team’s victories.

While seven teams got a new manager, Arsenal found itself busy in the transfer market after the end of last season.. After selling van Persie, Arsenal bought Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to boost its attacking reserves.

All three of them featured in its opening game against Sunderland, with Cazorla and Podolski starting. Giroud came on as a substitute in the second half and contrived to miss an easy chance as the match ended goalless. However, despite the new signings, Arsene Wenger suffered another blow when it was confirmed that midfielder Alex Song will move to Barcelona.

Compiled by Priyansh * * * Transfer irritants

The transfer window, for all its promises, also brings uncertainty to football clubs. Ask Arsene Wenger. Over the past few years, when it comes to transfer activity, the legendary French manager has largely experienced trepidation followed by disappointment. Though he has tried to change his luck by spending considerable amounts of money in the past two summers, four captains and several other key players have left the club since 2005.

This term Arsenal has already sold last season’s top-scorer Robin van Persie to Manchester United and before its opening game against Sunderland, midfielder Alex Song signalled his intention to leave for Barcelona. He was subsequently dropped for the goalless draw.

Andre Villas-Boas would sympathise with Wenger. The Spurs manager has had to contend with his talismanic midfielder Luka Modric’s transfer saga all summer. While the Croatian is now seemingly headed to Real Madrid, the transfer rumours surrounding him have affected the start of his team’s campaign for the second season running.

Both the north London clubs aside, Fulham had problems of its own when star midfielder Clint Dempsey refused to play and demanded a transfer.

However, after the team’s thrashing of Norwich, fans may wonder whether the team can make do without the American.

* * * Debut delights

The EPL’s opening weekend gave much cheer to austerity-lovers as cheap signings shone on their debuts. Swansea midfielder Michu, signed for GBP2 million from Rayo Vallecano, struck two goals and provided an assist in his side’s 5-0 thrashing of QPR. Upon signing the 26-year-old, manager Michael Laudrup had described him as a ‘steal’ considering he had scored 15 goals in La Liga last season for the relegated outfit.

Fulham’s Mladen Petric, a free signing, also matched the Spanish midfielder’s effort as the Cottagers ran riot against Norwich. The north London side and Swansea sat jointly on top of the league at the end of the weekend. So much for the power of money!

Newly-promoted Southampton, which went down fighting to champion Manchester City, also joined the revolution against the rich as central midfielder Steven Davis, another free signing, scored on debut after a mistake by money-bags City’s latest signing Jack Rodwell.

However, this is the 21st century. Money rules football. Chelsea spent GBP32 million on Belgian playmaker Eden Hazard and in return, it got a fantastic debut from him as he provided assists for both the goals in its 2-0 win over Wigan. The revolution will have to wait.

The results

August 18: Newcastle 2 (D. Ba 55, H. Ben Arfa penalty 81) beat Tottenham Hotspur 1 (J. Defoe 75); Fulham 5 (D. Duff 26, M. Petric 42 and 55, A. Kacaniklic 66, S. Sidwel penalty 87) beat Norwich 0; West Ham 1 (K. Nolan 40) beat Aston Villa 0; Arsenal 0 drew with West Brom 0; West Brom 3 (Z. Gera 43, P. Odemwingie penalty 64, R. Lukaku 77) beat Liverpool 0, Reading 1 (Le Fondre penalty 90) drew with Stoke 1 (M. Kightly 34); QPR 0 lost to Swansea 5 (Michu 8 and 53, N. Dyer 63 and 71, S. Sinclair 81).

August 19: Wigan 0 lost to Chelsea 2 (B. Ivanovic 2, F. Lampard penalty 7); Manchester City 3 (C. Tevez 40, E. Dzeko 72, S. Nasri 80) beat Southampton 2 (R. Lambert 59, S. Davis 68).