As the Premier League season kicked off the opening weekend provided a few trademark surprises. Among these was the resilience demonstrated by freshly-promoted Leicester City, who twice came back to claim a famous point at Everton.
Nigel Pearson, looking to continue the form that saw his Leicester side top last season’s Championship nine points ahead of runners-up with a final tally of 102 points, showed an impressive resolve to retain his side’s Championship style, and this approach allowed his side to twice overcome finishes from both Aiden McGeady and Steven Naismith. The first response came from debutant Leonardo Ulloa, arriving at the King Power Stadium from Brighton & Hove Albion, who seized upon a Sylvain Distin clearance to power the ball home from close range, while the comeback was sealed by substitute Chris Wood, who calmly slotted past Tim Howard after an Andy King effort rebounded into his path. Wood took his chance to take home a well-earned result from Leicester’s first top flight match in a decade.
While Leicester might expect their point at Everton to claim pride of place among the headlines, Swansea took that honour with their unexpected victory over Manchester United. Newly-installed United manager Louis van Gaal, like predecessor David Moyes, has left some major buying until late in the window, and the gaps this has left in United’s squad were visible in their match with the Swans. United have spent, with the combined fees of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera totalling over £50 million. Shaw, though, picked up a knock in preseason that may leave van Gaal short a recognised senior left back until his return in a month’s time, and while Herrera is clearly a skilful player his talents are remarkably similar to those of United’s current midfield, and so the Red Devils may have benefitted from a midfield addition who offered a different, perhaps more overtly incisive option.
Van Gaal’s introduction of a 3-5-2 formation also came under review, with the manager himself electing to shift to a more commonplace 4-5-1 for the second half. While the formation itself may be effective, as van Gaal demonstrated with the Netherlands at the World Cup, it requires the right players to fill the more atypical roles it necessitates. It was in filling these roles that van Gaal uncovered challenges, with the pace and decisive play of wideman Adnan Janujaz ineffectual at wing-back. Van Gaal converted his line-up for the second half, permitting the likes of Januzaj to more effectively influence the game, however the absence of Luke Shaw left Ashley Young filling in at left-back.
Though his efforts in an unfamiliar position were intrepid he was eluded by Wayne Routledge, recipient of a well-placed ball from newly-arrived Ecuadorian winger Jefferson Montero, who slipped as he went for goal, inadvertently knocking the ball to well-placed Icelander Gylfi Sigurrdson to expertly capitalise with a calm finish.
Though far from the performance United’s followers would have aimed for, this opening result it might yet turn out to be beneficial for van Gaal’s men. The identification of where United require improvement gives van Gaal time to correct. In any case, United’s current form, wherein they are a competitive, winnable fixture for those around them, keeps the Premier League an intriguing proposition, far from when their dominance left the league too predictable a prospect.
Elsewhere Crystal Palace came close to a result away to Arsenal, appearing encouragingly resolute until a 93rd minute Aaron Ramsey tap-in gifted the Gunners three points, Spurs’ newcomer Eric Dier, regular centre back for the England U21s, scored a late winner in their match with West Ham, while Liverpool began their title challenge with a 2-1 victory over Southampton.
With teams like Leicester and Swansea, both of whom had been tipped by some for relegation, turning in results playing supposed top seven sides, the 2014/15 Premier League looks set to be an entertaining and unpredictable affair.
How might United recover from their opening performance?