Welcome back Premier League, we missed you

Last week I brought you a round-up of the opening weekend’s of the football league, but many fans will have seen that action as nothing more than a warm-up for the big one: the Premier League kick-off.

Almost every club has been busy in the transfer market, and supporters have been eager to see how their side’s new recruits coped with the demands of top-flight football. But it was an uncharacteristically familiar Chelsea side who took the plaudits after an exciting start to the season up and down the country.

Drogba: hat-trick

Carlo Ancelotti has only made two senior signings this summer, and with neither Ramires or Yossi Benayoun ready to start it was left to Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda to fire a warning shot to the rest of the league. Hat-trick hero Drogba looks to be on worryingly good form already, and the champions are in no danger of stumbling out of the starting blocks

But it would take more than that 6-0 demolition of West Brom to take the shine of the performance of Premier League newcomers Blackpool. The Seasiders coasted (pun intended) to victory at Wigan, with the 4-0 scoreline putting them second in the table, their inexperienced side showing no signs of stagefright.

‘Pool manager Ian Holloway has had limited success in the transfer market so far, but in French under-21 international Elliot Grandin he seems to have found a bargain. The former Marseille and CSKA Sofia youngster ripped the Wigan defence to shreds, creating the third goal for Marlon Harewood when his shot was saved, and could provide the creativity Holloway’s team will need if they are to continue surprising their opponents.

Albrighton: unplayable

Another future star of the game announced himself at Villa Park. Marc Albrighton may be called upon more frequently if James Milner moves to Manchester, but on the kind of form he showed against West Ham there are many who would argue he deserves to start ahead of the England utility man. The young winger created two goals and ran the Hammers’ full-backs ragged as he switched wings with Ashley Young over the 90 minutes.

Avram Grant’s side, like fellow bottom-three residents West Brom and Wigan, were worryingly toothless, demonstrating that an unbeaten pre-season counts for nothing. The return of Manuel da Costa and Thomas Hitzlsperger will help, but Grant may need to bring in more new faces.

Elsewhere, several goalkeepers hit the headlines, none more than Manchester City’s Joe Hart. After an accomplished if unremarkable performance at Wembley on Wednesday, Hart was a one-man barrier between Spurs and the City goal after his back four decided to take the day off. At least half a dozen top-class saves meant the score stayed 0-0, and Hart’s form may well see Shay Given decide he needs to find a new club.

That club could be Arsenal, for whom Manuel Almunia faltered once again. Beaten at his near post by David N’Gog, Almunia’s days at Arsenal must surely be numbered. With his every move under close scrutiny, the Spaniard could not afford to make any mistakes.

Reina: howler

At the opposite end of the Anfield pitch, Pepe Reina looked to be enjoying a more fruitful 90 minutes, with a world-class stop from Tomas Rosicky set to round off a stirring performance. That was until, just minutes after flapping at a cross to nearly let Theo Walcott in for a late equaliser, Reina somehow contrived to scoop the ball into his own net in the last minute of normal time.

With Rob Green and Ben Foster doing little to enhance their international prospects this weekend, Fulham’s David Stockdale staked his claim for inclusion in Fabio Capello’s next squad. Called upon as an eleventh-hour replacement for Mark Schwarzer, Stockdale denied Bolton victory with a number of impressive saves. The Trotters already look more of an attacking force under Owen Coyle than they ever did during Gary Megson’s tenure, with even Johan Elmander starting to find some form.

Cattermole: predictable

At the Stadium of Light, Lee Cattermole surprised no one by becoming the first player to be sent off this season. Failing to recognise the line between reasonable aggression and persistent fouling, the Sunderland captain picked up two yellow cards before the half-time interval. Opposite number Stephen Carr attempted to match Cattermole in the embarrassment stakes with a comical own goal, but he was ultimately bailed out by his team-mates, with two scrappy goals seeing the Blues overturn a two-goal deficit.

The remaining two games both – perhaps surprisingly – ended in home victories. Wolves eased past Stoke after scoring twice in the same game for the first time this century* while yet another goalkeeping howler (this time from Tim Howard) saw Blackburn’s Nikola Kalinic score the only goal against Everton.

Mick McCarthy’s Wolves side have made the necessary improvements to their squad this season, and know they will need to turn Molineux into a fortress if they are to prolong their stay in the top flight. And they can do far worse than look at Blackburn for inspiration, the Ewood Park side picking up 36 of their 50 points last season on home soil.

*statistic may or may not be exaggerrated for comic effect

Team of the week (4-5-1):

Hart (Man City); Onuoha (Sunderland), Samba (Blackburn), Dunne (Aston Villa), Agger (Liverpool); Albrighton (Aston Villa), Jones (Wolves), Grandin (Blackpool), Huddlestone (Tottenham), Malouda (Chelsea); Drogba (Chelsea)


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