By Ian Chadband
LONDON – Chelsea were embroiled in familiar Premier League high drama as the champions were reduced to 10 men and held 2-2 by Swansea City on Saturday in an entertaining start to the defence of their title at their home fortress.
The new season had earlier kicked off in unique fashion with a 22nd minute own goal by Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker giving Manchester United a 1-0 victory in an undistinguished season opener at Old Trafford.
Never before had the competition begun with a player putting the ball into his own net but the day’s late fixture at Stamford Bridge also featured an own goal, plus much, much more.
The rich entertainment included Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois being sent off and the danger of that rarest of events — manager Jose Mourinho losing a home match to inspired opponents.
The games involving the big guns, neither of whom were near their best, book ended a tough afternoon for the unfancied newcomers with Watford pegged back to a 2-2 draw at Everton after twice leading and Norwich City losing 3-1 at home to Crystal Palace.
Bournemouth, the romantics’ favourites after their extraordinary six-year march from near-bankruptcy to the Premier League, had their fairytale rudely interrupted at a vibrant, emotional Dean Court as Aston Villa defeated them 1-0 in their first-ever match in the top flight in 125 years.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
Six minutes after Oscar had put Chelsea ahead with a 23rd minute free kick, Swansea’s new signing Andre Ayew equalised only for the hosts to restore their lead within 92 seconds thanks to a big, looping deflection off luckless defender Federico Fernandez from a Willian cross.
The own goal, which left goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski hopelessly stranded, seemed to have settled Chelsea only for Swansea to roar forward again, with Jefferson Montero in wonderful form, following the break.
After Bafetimbi Gomis beat the offside trap in the 55th, he was hacked down by Courtois on the edge of the penalty area.
Referee Michael Oliver showed the Belgian keeper a red card and Gomis got up to slot the penalty past his replacement in goal, new signing Asmir Begovic.
As Swansea sniffed a similar sensation to when they beat Manchester United in last season’s opening game, Gomis even had a goal disallowed for offside amid thrilling combat.
Though Oliver’s sending off decision appeared debatable, Mourinho, unusually, declined to comment but was happy to defend his team’s effort.
“To play 35 minutes with one player less in the first game of the season when our condition and sharpness is not at the top is even more difficult so, under the circumstances, I have nothing to say against my players,” he said.
The marquee match of the day had seen Tottenham dominate early on until Walker’s own goal enabled a new-look United to take the points even though they only had one shot on target.
A late attacking flurry from Spurs was repelled by the hosts’ new Argentine keeper Sergio Romero.
Manager Louis van Gaal, on his 64th birthday, was impressed with Romero and United’s four other expensive debutants, including World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was booked for a foul in his 30-minute cameo.
“It’s always difficult, it’s the first time they’ve played at Old Trafford,” Van Gaal told BT Sport, saying he would celebrate his birthday in his favourite restaurant later. “But I like the performance, especially from Darmian.”
Romero, replacing David De Gea, dropped because Van Gaal felt his mind would not be on the job amid speculation over his possible transfer to Real Madrid, made three late saves.
Spurs had been firmly in control until Nabil Bentaleb carelessly gave away possession in midfield allowing United to rampage down the right flank.
Ashley Young’s cross looked to have put Wayne Rooney in at point blank range only for Walker to dash back madly to rescue the situation before his attempt to rob the United captain saw him nudge the ball into the corner of his own net.
Watford, back in the top flight for the first time in eight years with another new manager, Quique Sanchez Flores, and a completely revamped lineup, enjoyed a thrilling return at Goodison with Mexican Miguel Layun scoring his first goal for the club in the 14th minute.
After Ross Barkley had equalised with a dazzling effort, Odion Ighalo put the visitors ahead with seven minutes remaining before Arouna Kone equalised two minutes later.
Bournemouth, playing in the smallest ground ever to stage Premier League football, saw their party pooped by Rudy Gestede, Villa’s new signing from Blackburn Rovers who headed home a 72nd minute winner after coming off the bench.
($1 = 0.6454 pounds)(Reuters)