Chelsea's style eerily familar; QPR hands Everton an opening-day loss
Andreas Vilas-Boas became the seventh Chelsea manager in four years
Liverpool notched its first road at Arsenal in over 11 years with a 2-0 victory
QPR handed Everton its fourth consecutive opening match loss with a 1-0 win
Five things we learned from Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League:
1. Old Blues. Andres Vilas-Boas is the Chelsea's seventh manager in less than four years. At 33 he is expected to usher in a new era at the club. Yet the 2-1 home victory over West Brom on Saturday looked eerily familiar. It stuck closely to the formula of the new man's old mentor, José Mourinho, whose departure in September 2007 began the game of musical manager's chairs.
Chelsea fell behind in the first half, but gradually throttled West Brom squeezing out two goals, the second with eight minutes left, to win 2-1. Mourinho built a team that was both extremely high end and yet utterly no frills. It relied on pace, power and depth to pummel opponents into exhausted submission. This is how it often won.
The starting lineup Saturday, with two holding midfielders and no wingers, was designed on Mourinho principals, with many of his personnel. Even when Florent Malouda, a wide midfielder, came on after 30 minutes, it was still a team that functioned almost entirely in straight lines. In the end, the Blues crushed West Brom's defense. Call them the Vilas-Boas constrictors.
Even so, there were worrying signs for the home defense. Somen Tchoyi might well be the slowest striker in the Premier League, but he and Shane Long cut open Chelsea with ease in the first half. And after Chelsea had taken the lead, its defense still took an early rest and allowed Peter Odemwingie a free volley at goal. Hilario blocked it well.
It is easy to see why Chelsea are attracted by the idea of buying a more traditional winger, Juan Mata, or a tricky midfield player, Luka Modric to add some creativity and unpredictability. But given that Yossi Benayoun, who was bought last year to do just that, again stayed nailed to the bench on Saturday, it's not clear that they would be the new man's first choices. The old formula may look limited, but on Saturday it worked.
2. Booing in the rain. One problem that Arsenal created for itself by insisting on squeezing every cent out of Barcelona for Cesc Fàbregas, is that the delayed sale meant has also delayed spending on new players. Now everyone knows the Gunners have cash and, after Saturday, everyone knows that with the transfer deadline fast approaching Arsenal is also desperate. The 2-0 home loss to Liverpool confimed it.
Arsenal's problems are exacerbated by injuries and suspensions. Half a dozen players were missing or injured against Liverpool. Gervinho and Alex Song were suspended. Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has long believed in youth, but he probably would rather not have preferred to start the first home game of the Premier League season with two teenagers, Emmanuel Frimpong and Carl Jenkinson, making their first Premier League starts. Arsenal was so desperate it even started Samir Nasri, who did not play last week and still seems likely to join Manchester City by next week.
The fans tried to help, cheering enthusiastically every time Nasri touched the ball. Even when things got worse, with Laurent Koscielny staggering off with a back spasm after 15 minutes, the fans tried. They greeted his replacement, another 18-year-old debutant Ignasi Miquel, with shrieks appropriate for a defender who looks like an escaped member of a Spanish boy band.
By the end, as rain fell and Arsenal slid to defeat, fans who had not already headed for the exits were booing. Under Wenger, Arsenal has long had a reputation for ill discipline. Gervinho and Song are both suspended after moments of rashness a week earlier. On Saturday, it was Frimpong's turn. He looked the part for much of the game. He is built like a young rhino, but is a deft ball player. He has the potential to become a dominant central midfielder. But he went too far as he tried to impose himself in the game. He earned one yellow card for stopping Jordan Henderson taking a throw in. Then, after 70 minute, he caught Lucas with a late lunge. Frimpong shook his head in disbelief as he was shown a second yellow. Maybe because he knew it should have been a straight red. He too will be suspended.
The 10 men were overrun. Miquel's panicky clearance cannoned in off teammate Aaron Ramsey to give Liverpool the lead. Luis Suarez added a late second.
Arsenal has not scored in its opening two games. Andrei Arshavin, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, three experienced attacking players, were woeful. Even in defeat, Arsenal normally dominates possession. Yet Liverpool had the edge in that stat from the start.
The Gunners go to Udinese on Wednesday nursing a 1-0 lead. Defeat will end their Champions League season. At least its suspended players can play in European games. Next Sunday, it travels to Old Trafford and, on the evidence of Saturday; Wenger will have trouble scraping together a respectable team. The season is long and fortunes change, but right now, Arsenal is in trouble.
3. Liverpool win in the slow lane. Liverpool's first away victory at Arsenal in over 11 years is hard to judge because the home team was so insipid. The Liverpool defense was at ease throughout. Suarez, who did not start, looked sharp when he came on. But the striking thing about Liverpool's starting lineup was how short of pace it is. Stewart Downing is fairly quick, but not for a winger, which might explain why he rarely takes on defenders on the outside. Of the other recent acquisitions, Henderson, Andy Carroll, José Enrique and Charlie Adam all have qualities, but exceptional pace is not one of them. This is a solid, smart, skilful team that will grind out lots of victories, but it badly needs the injection of acceleration that the injured Steven Gerrard will bring when he is finally fit.
4. Seeing yellow. Maybe Joey Barton's master plan to stay at Newcastle is to amass so many yellow cards that he is suspended before the transfer window closes. For the second week running he earned a yellow card for acting the provocateur in a second-half melee, this time after Sunderland's Lee Cattermole had committed a foul for which he too saw yellow. Still Barton again helped his team gain a good result with a 1-0 win at its local rival.
The Tyne-Wear confrontation was the sort of full-blooded, frenetic local derby that is supposed to be an advertisement for the unique passion of the Premier League. In truth, the passing was desperately ragged and the tackling unpleasantly rugged. The only goal came of the game when everyone in the Sunderland penalty area missed Ryan Taylor's curling fee kick. Sunderland ended with 10 men when Phil Bardsley was sent off for planting his studs in Fabricio Coloccini's standing leg. Overall, the game was just plain ugly. A Joey Barton type of game.
5. Everton's first-day nerves. Maybe QPR got a lucky break when Everton's scheduled game at Tottenham last week was called off. That meant the match at Goodison on Saturday was Everton's season opener. Everton doesn't like season openers. True to form it suffered its fourth straight first-game loss. Beaten 1-0 by new boys QPR, which did not attack well. It managed barely a shot on target. It didn't defend very well either. Everton had 14 shots. Yet Tommy Smith scored the only goal with a neat finish. Paddy Kenny, the Rangers keeper, stopped everything that came near him and QPR somehow won, 1-0. Little about the display suggested that QPR is good enough to avoid dropping straight back out of the Premier League. Yet it is the first of this season's promoted teams to win. But it was lucky to catch Everton at the right stage of the season and a little more such luck could be worth a lot of points.
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