The 2014-15 Premiership campaign got started with a bang last weekend, as Gameweek 1’s opening match brought the kind of surprise result that keeps England’s top-flight among the world’s very best.
In the mighty Louis van Gaal’s managerial debut for Manchester United, the Dutchman’s reshaped side was upstaged by Swansea City at Old Trafford. However, the Red Devils were hardly the only team to falter on home soil, as Arsenal and Liverpool were the lone hosts to prevail last weekend, with both needing late winners to do so.
In other notable results, Leicester followed up last season’s Championship triumph by splitting points with Everton in a 2-2 draw. Tottenham got an extra-time winner from a newly-signed 20-year-old center-back making his debut in a London Derby. Elsewhere, both Manchester City and Chelsea managed two-goal wins to already sit atop the Premier League table.
Those outcomes paved the way for a stellar Gameweek 1 showing from the Best XI.
Defensively, no clean sheets were produced, but it certainly wasn’t because of a lack of effort. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet recorded five saves, while center-half Ryan Shawcross executed an outstanding 20 clearances.
Then both Chelsea’s John Terry and Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs only allowed first-half goals, but the latter was eventually substituted with a hamstring injury.
Further up the pitch, last week’s midfield was sensational. Arsenal hero Aaron Ramsey and Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling both found the scoresheet. Additionally, Sterling notched an assist, as did Alexis Sanchez in his Arsenal debut.
Rounding out the group, Yaya Toure locked up a clean sheet for Manchester City.
Nonetheless, the strike force carried Week 1’s team, with all three forwards opening their accounts.
However, after needing just 16 minutes in the Premiership to do so, Chelsea's Diego Costa was later booked for diving, something English referees will not tolerate.
Along with Costa, last week’s captain Wayne Rooney tallied Manchester United’s only goal, while Daniel Sturridge made good on Liverpool’s late winner.
In all, the Best XI got started with five goals, two assists, and one clean sheet.
Looking ahead, another full slate of fixtures is scheduled for Gameweek 2. With another week to prepare, more players should be passed fit to contend for starting positions, as will summer signings hoping to make their respective debuts.
As really the only caveat this early in the campaign, the trio of Arsenal, Tottenham, and Hull City are back from mid-week trips to Turkey, Cyprus, and Belgium, respectively, for European competition qualifiers, with the second legs set to take place in the coming week.
To start the Week 2 preview, Aston Villa hosts Newcastle in a match of teams with contrasting opening day fortunes. Villa returned to Birmingham with three points from the Britannia
Stadium after beating Stoke, while Newcastle was somewhat unlucky to lose 2-0 versus Manchester City.
Later Saturday, Chelsea welcomes Leicester in another expectedly lopsided match against a promoted team to begin the Blues’ season.
Sure, Leicester can be proud of their late equalizer last weekend, but traveling to Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea has lost just one league game under manager Jose Mourinho, could prove a humbling experience.
Across London, another derby awaits Crystal Palace and West Ham, both of whom were reduced to 10 men in losses last Saturday. Although Palace did the double over Sam Allardyce’s outfit last season, the hosts are still without a manager for this season.
In a tie featuring two managers new to the Premiership, Southampton and Ronald Koeman take on Alan Irvine’s West Brom team at St. Mary’s Stadium.
Elsewhere, Swansea figure to receive a warm Welsh welcome ahead of their match versus Burnley following last weekend’s inspiring performance at Old Trafford.
However, Saturday’s most enticing game pits Arsenal at Everton. The Toffees were only beaten three times at Goodison Park last season, but an already banged-up Arsenal squad could be lifted by the return of their three World Cup winners. Nonetheless, Everton will aim to rebound from last
weekend’s draw at new-boys Leicester with a reassuring performance in front of their supporters.
Come Sunday, Stoke will also try to compensate for a sub-par opening match, but a trip to Hull City represents a tall task for the Potters. On the bright side, Hull has only claimed victory once in their past 10 meetings with Stoke.
Then, in another London Derby, Tottenham plays Queens Park Rangers in Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino’s White Hart Lane debut against ex-Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.
Finally, to close the weekend action, Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United will seek redemption at a Sunderland side that proved to be the Red Devils’ kryptonite in last season’s Capitol One Cup. With that in mind, United should be wary of the threats that lie Tyneside.
But wait, there’s more!
In fact, one of this season’s most anticipated matches takes the spotlight Monday, when Liverpool targets revenge at Manchester City.
Still stinging from their late title collapse last term, the Reds will hope to wipe away the smiles City carries over from hoisting last season’s silverware.
While the Citizens won the 2013-14 Premiership by just two points, they only outscored Liverpool by one goal, and both teams scored more than 100 times last season.
Moreover, the sides met at Yankee Stadium in the preseason Guinness International Champions Cup just over three weeks ago, when Liverpool prevailed on penalty kicks following a 2-2 draw in regulation.
Given that history, fireworks are expected at the Etihad Stadium and not just because former City pyro Mario Balotelli is now a Red.
Now, let’s look at the candidates to spark another hot performance from the Best XI in Gameweek 2.
Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)
The Polish shot-stopper is riding a high over his past three appearances. First, he prevailed in a penalty shootout to propel Arsenal to the FA Cup final. Then, he was trusted to man the Gunners’ goal in their trophy-winning effort. Finally, following an offseason move to Swansea, Fabianski mustered four saves to top Manchester United at the Theater of Dreams in his Swans debut. His signing compelled Swansea to offload Michel Vorm this summer, so Fabianski should bask in the kind of job security he’s yet to have in his English career. He’ll get to introduce himself to Swansea’s home supporters this weekend versus last-place Burnley.
Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea)
Including Monday’s goal at Burnley, Ivanovic has outscored all but one Premiership defender (Leighton Baines) since the 2010-11 campaign. Over time, the Serbian has successfully made the shift to right-back, where he’s allowed more attacking freedom for Chelsea. A stable figure in last season’s best defense, Ivanovic gets to face new-boys Leicester this Saturday, when he’ll look to extend Chelsea’s home clean sheet streak to eight in nine tries.
Joel Ward (Crystal Palace)
Despite Tony Pulis leaving the club, Crystal Palace’s style last weekend still resembled the one their ex-gaffer installed to such success last season. Through sound organization, strong aerial prowess, and crowded quarters, the Eagles’ defense was difficult to break down. Although still manager-less, Palace should find support in playing at home this Saturday versus West Ham. A mainstay in defense, Ward helped blank the Hammers twice last season, when no returning top-flight team scored fewer
road goals than West Ham, who also went scoreless in their opener last weekend.
Curtis Davies (Hull City)
A road clean sheet last week got Hull off to a fine start, something they’ll look to build on in what figures to be a hard-nosed affair at the KC Stadium versus Stoke this weekend. Even with new attackers in the fold, Stoke’s frustrating offense was held at bay at home last Saturday. The Potters averaged fewer than a goal per game on the road last term, so Hull’s captain Davies could command his side duplicates last season’s home clean sheet versus Mark Hughes’ men.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
Although Chelsea’s leading scorer from a season ago failed to attempt a single shot during his team’s win at Burnley on Monday, Hazard did complete an incredible nine dribbling moves at the opposing defense. One of Jose Mourinho’s first names on the teamsheet, Hazard bodes to deliver more final product this weekend versus Leicester. The Foxes conceded a goal last Saturday along their right side of defense, where Hazard will be attacking this time around from his left winger position. The Belgian scored 10 of his 14 league goals at Stamford Bridge last season, making Saturday’s home opener even more enticing for Hazard.
Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
In his second go-around as a Swansea player, Sigurdsson earned man of the match honors at Old Trafford last weekend by scoring a goal and recording an assist. The Iceland international seems to enjoy donning the Swans’ kit, as he’s now registered eight goals in 19 appearances for them, including his loan spell in 2012. Given the luxury of the No. 10 role, Sigurdsson goes against a Burnley defense that leaked three goals at home in their Premiership return. A road trip this weekend should challenge Burnley once again, especially considering only the top-five scored more goals at home than Swansea last season.
Christian Eriksen (Tottenham)
With a pitch invader skipping Eriksen in the cue to take a free kick last weekend, the midfielder followed suit by leading Tottenham with three shots attempted at West Ham. The pattern should continue in another derby versus newly-promoted Queens Park Rangers this weekend, as Tottenham has scored at least three goals in their past four home Premier League outings. With only two of Eriksen’s seven league goals coming away from White Hart Lane last season, the 22-year-old should enjoy home cooking as manager Mauricio Pochettino aims to impress Spurs’ supporters with his
attacking brand of play.
Juan Mata (Manchester United)
Slated to face the Premiership’s second-worst returning defense, Mata and Manchester United are gifted with a decent opportunity to right the ship versus Sunderland. The Black Cats allowed two goals last weekend to West Brom, who hardly boast similar potential to Louis van Gaal’s setup going forward. Mata was deployed in the heart of United’s attack last weekend and should be boosted by Robin van Persie re-joining Wayne Rooney on the Red Devils’ front line. That dynamic duo has proven to be capable of finishing the chances Mata is known to create, while also giving the Spaniard additional space to shoot on goal. With United mending its defense, Mata will be key in keeping possession and attempting to open a lead Sunday.
Diego Costa (C) (Chelsea)
Besides his theatrical booking incident, Costa’s Premier League debut went about as good as anyone could’ve hoped. Chelsea’s £32 million man immediately paid dividends with a routine goal and could double his tally in his Stamford Bridge curtain-raiser this weekend. Playing promoted side Leicester, Chelsea has scored at least four goals in their last three meetings with the Foxes. So with the Blues’ bevy of creators feeding Costa in the box, Chelsea’s new striker earns his first Best XI captain’s armband this weekend.
Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
The Argentine sealed Manchester City’s first victory of the season by scoring in his seven-minute cameo to finish off Newcastle last Sunday. Now expected fully fit, Aguero should start in City’s clash versus Liverpool. That’s a good sign for fantasy owners, as “Kun” notched 17 goals in just 20 league starts last term. The most recent time Aguero started against the Reds, he scored at home back in February 2013. Furthermore, he found the net in City’s home opener last August. Considering Liverpool’s retooled defense and the goal potential Monday’s encounter possesses, Aguero could play a large part in the proceedings.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
England’s top returning scorer, Sturridge wasted little time keeping his grasp of the pole position with a goal last weekend. One team Sturridge failed to score against last term was Manchester City. Since it’s next to impossible to hold City scoreless at home, Liverpool will need its high-octane offense to be firing Monday. With Sturridge heading that system, the Reds’ talisman should benefit from an open, attack-minded match.
Ivanovic – Ward – Davies
Hazard – Sigurdsson – Eriksen – Mata
Costa (C) – Aguero - Sturridge