Quick Six: Top Premier League storylines from weekend no. 1

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source: Reuters

1. ARSENAL’S CONJURING MEMORIES OF 2011

After Arsenal lost 8-2 at Manchester United on Aug. 28, 2011, Arsène Wegner’s hand was forced. To that point, the Gunners’ boss had been cautions about throwing his recently received Cesc Fábregas/Samir Nasri money at new players, but with his team on one point through three rounds (having been held scoreless in their first two matches), Wenger had to do something. The subsequent ‘panic buys’ of Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker have worked out well for the club.

Perhaps that’s the silver lining Arsenal fans can take out of Saturday’s match, a bitter opener that saw the Gunners lose 3-1 at The Emirates to Aston Villa. Though there’s a small number of Premier League clubs to whom Arsenal can justify losing at home, Villa is not one of them, let alone in the manner they did. Villa scored the match’s last three goals, led for the final half hour, and put more shots on net over the 90 minutes.

If they’re so inclined, Arsenal can hide behind excuses. Laurent Koscielny was sent off, leaving the team short-handed for 23 minutes, while two of Villa’s goals can be attributed to penalty kicks. Those circumstances are unlikely to be replicated next week at Fulham. Still, Wenger would be better served to summon the urgency of Aug. 2011 and throw some money at the problem.

source: Reuters2. MANCHESTER UNITED SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN OVERLOOKED

Barring a Monday night explosion from Manchester City (and with the Sky Blues hosting Newcastle, that could happen), the red side of Manchester will hold the top spot after the Premier League’s opening round. Perhaps that’s only appropriate, given the defending champions had been deprived of the spotlight in the build-up to the season. Though the Red Devils bring back a near-identical squad to the one that ran away with last year’s Premier League, none of your PST writers have them finishing in the top two.

New manager David Moyes has said his club intends on buying, hinting the squad still has weaknesses. Most people point to the midfield as its main point of need, though United’s had the same problems in midfield since Roy Keane left. They’ve still managed to claim silverware since – both at home and abroad.

Saturday was a bucket of cold water for those of us who had dwelt on that weakness. Swansea City — a team that opened last season with two lopsided wins; who drew United on their last visit to the Liberty Stadium — were torn apart by braces from Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck. Although Swansea’s poor play contributed to that results, United’s firepower means they’ll be capable of this kind of result.

source: Reuters3. MOURINHO’S RETURN MORE ‘DECENT’ THAN ‘SPECIAL’

If we learned anything about Chelsea from match one, it’s that they had an easy start. Hull City, roundly picked to resume a place in the Championship, failed to provide a challenge. The Blues dominated for a half hour, built a 2-0 league, then clicked it into cruise. We’ll have to wait for stiffer competition before passing judgment on the Blues.

There were hints, however, of what we could expect from Mourinho’s second term, including in the way Chelsea cruised. Perhaps the team didn’t pile on goals as Mourinho’s Real Madrid might have, but team’s return to a belligerent pragmatism that won two Premier League crowns will be welcome by some. Frank Lampard, despite having a penalty kick saved, lent credence to the notion his effectiveness will be prolonged by his reunion with Mourinho, while the Blues’ three substitutes (André Schurrle, Romelu Lukaku, Marco van Ginkel) confirmed new blood will play a key part.

Hull’s limited performance never gave Chelsea a chance to truly convince, but there were still things to learn from the Special One’s return.

source: Reuters4. PROMOTED SIDES SHOW LITTLE LIFE IN TOP FLIGHT RETURNS

Hull weren’t the only promoted side to disappoint. Crystal Palace, picked 20th by so many coming into the season, were able to keep the score close, their 1-0 loss to visiting Spurs disguising the fact Tottenham controlled the game. Cardiff City, winners of last year’s Championship, fell 2-0 at West Ham United.

Underdogs in each match, it’s no surprise all three Premier League newbies lost, yet their inability is still concerning. Out-shot by a combined 59-24 (13-6, shots on goal), the trio of neophytes seem to lack a Norwich City or Southampton – two promoted sides who managed to stay up last season. While recent signings from Cardiff and Hull may soon change their teams’ outlooks (and it is far too early to condemn any of the new clubs), matchday one was a grim reminder of how far the new teams have to go.

source: Getty Images5. PENALTY KICK GRACE PRESERVES RESULTS

Liverpool’s Saturday win over Stoke recalled the good and bad of last year: strong play; at times not reflected in the score; sometimes leaving matches to be stolen by lesser teams. Thanks to Simon Mignolet’s 89th minute save on Jon Walter’s penalty kick, Daniel Sturridge’s first half opener held up, giving the Reds the 1-0 win they probably deserved.

But penalty kick grace was also evident at The Hawthorns, where West Brom nearly held on for a 0-0 with Southampton before Ricky Lambert converted in the 90th minute, giving a Saints team that had been the ever-so-slightly better side an ever-so-slightly better result. And in South London, Roberto Soldado’s early second half conversion assured Spurs a result to mirror their control.

source: Getty Images6. SUNDERLAND AS IMPRESSIVE ON GRASS AS ON PAPER

Going into Saturday’s match, the on-paper Black Cats’ didn’t look too impressive, but given the club that survived last year’s Premier League, it was easy to look at the additions of Jozy Altidore, Emmanuel Giaccherini, Cabral, Valentin Roberge, and Ondrej Celustka and see an improved team, overlooking the possibility they may still be inferior to their competition.

Saturday reinforced the notion this team’s facing significant obstacles. Against another flawed side (Fulham), the Black Cats lost at the Stadium of Light , putting only three shots on goal. They did out-shoot Fulham 21-5 and held 57 percent of the ball, but given nine of those shots came after the 52nd minute (when the Pajtim Kasami’s goal gave Fulham incentive to change their approach), Sunderland should lament the result rather than dwell on the circumstances.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday