MANCHESTER: Manchester United secured an unconvincing 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in their opening Premier League game of the season yesterday thanks to an own goal from Kyle Walker. On manager Louis van Gaal’s 64th birthday the hosts rarely threatened the Tottenham goal as the Old Trafford crowd got their first glimpse of some of United’s close-season signings.
The visitors had chances of their own as they rallied late in the contest, but ultimately Walker’s own goal, in the 22nd minute, proved to be the difference. Van Gaal, as he had promised in his pre-match press conference, did not select David de Gea, explaining that the Spain goalkeeper was not “capable” of the focus required for the match amid speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid.
The Dutchman instead handed a debut in goal to Argentina international Sergio Romero, signed on a free transfer following his release from Sampdoria. United also gave full debuts to forward Memphis Depay, midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin and right-back Matteo Darmian. With four new faces, United’s play was fragmented and passes went astray as they struggled for rhythm during a first half in which none of their players managed a shot on target.
Tottenham almost took the lead in the sixth minute when Harry Kane scooped a clever ball over the top of the United defence for Christian Eriksen, who lifted his effort over the crossbar.
Despite their uncertain start United took the lead, albeit fortuitously, with an own goal from Spurs right-back Walker after Juan Mata had intercepted a lazy pass from Nabil Bentaleb. Mata sent Ashley Young scurrying clear down the right flank and his low cross picked out the unmarked Wayne Rooney, only for Walker, in his haste to deny the United captain a shot at goal, to accidentally poke it past Spurs goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
Mata’s influence grew and he threatened twice after cutting in from the right, while Toby Alderweireld, Spurs’ only debutant, saw a snap-shot from the edge of the area saved by Romero on the stroke of half-time.
United were marginally better after the break as they initially played with more intensity and purpose, although with Young and Mata largely stifled out wide, they struggled to create clear-cut chances. Van Gaal introduced Bastian Schweinsteiger for Michael Carrick on the hour, and four minutes later the hosts managed their first shot on target.
The impressive Darmian floated a cross into the box in the direction of the German and the ball dropped to Young, who cut inside onto his right foot and drilled in a lot shot that Vorm gathered.
Darmian’s energy down the right flank yielded another chance moments later when he delivered a high ball for Rooney, but the United skipper was not able to properly execute a spectacular acrobatic effort. United were indebted to Romero in the latter stages as he denied Spurs three times to preserve his clean sheet and ensure that Van Gaal’s side banked the points.
Denmark international Eriksen, arguably Tottenham’s most accomplished performer, struck an angled shot that brought a smart reaction save from Romero. The Argentine then clawed away a deflected header from Kane before making a low diving save to his right to push a drive from Eriksen away from goal.
Swansea stymie Chelsea
LONDON: Thibaut Courtois was sent off as Chelsea’s title defence began in stuttering fashion with Jose Mourinho’s side held to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge by Swansea City yesterday.
Dominant at home last season, the Premier League champions found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to hang on for a point after twice losing the lead, the second time to a 52nd-minute penalty, converted by Bafetimbi Gomis and conceded by Courtois for a foul that earned the goalkeeper a red card. Chelsea had taken a 23rd-minute lead through Oscar and restored their advantage with a Federico Fernandez own goal a minute after Andre Ayew had marked his competitive Swansea debut with a goal. This was certainly not the way Mourinho had hoped to celebrate signing a new four-year contract, particularly in the light of an indifferent pre-season.
At least the Chelsea manager was handed the boost of seeing Diego Costa come through 90 minutes after another hamstring injury.
The inclusion of Costa-and Courtois, who recovered after picking up a knee injury in the warm-up-meant the Chelsea starting line-up carried a familiar look with new recruits Asmir Begovic and Radamel Falcao named among the substitutes.
Chelsea’s failure to make more signings in the wake of last season’s success has prompted accusations the club risk standing still while their main rivals have strengthened. Mourinho defended the approach in the build-up to this game, although he admitted he still wants to bring in a left-back to challenge Cesar Azpilicueta following the departure of Filipe Luis.
Initially it appeared to be business as usual on the pitch, with the hosts quickly hitting their stride against a Swansea side anxious to avenge the two heavy defeats they suffered at Chelsea’s hands last season. Garry Monk’s side shipped nine goals in those two games, but after finishing eighth last term, the Welsh side are confident of making further progress, particularly following the addition of Ayew from Marseille. An early header from Gomis flashed across the face of Courtois’s goal to confirm the visitors’ threat.
Then the Swansea striker was too slow to make the most of a good 15th-minute chance after being set up by Jonjo Shelvey. But it was Chelsea who began to dominate the game with Oscar, operating behind Costa, at the heart of most of the home side’s attacking moves.
And they took the lead when Gomis conceded a free-kick on the left-hand angle of the Swansea penalty area following a clumsy challenge on Azpilicueta. Oscar whipped in a low cross that eluded everybody and drifted inside the far post.
Swansea responded positively and were level six minutes later when Jefferson Montero eased past Branislav Ivanovic before crossing for Gomis, whose header brought an excellent diving save from Courtois. Ayew was on hand to pick up the rebound and he finished cleverly from close range after his initial effort had been blocked by Gary Cahill.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they did not remain on level terms for more than a minute with Chelsea restoring their lead when Willian’s left-wing cross was deflected into his own net by Swansea centre-back Fernandez. However, Swansea never allowed their belief to waver and were given encouragement by Montero’s complete dominance of Ivanovic, which ensured that Chelsea were unable to close the game down.
And they were rewarded with a second equaliser when Shelvey’s through ball released Gomis-played onside by Willian-and prompted Courtois’s rash challenge on the striker on the edge of the box.
Oscar was sacrificed for Begovic, who was sent the wrong way by Gomis as the striker finished calmly from the spot. The balance of the game shifted, with Swansea dominating and Chelsea forced to hang on until the final whistle brought relief to Mourinho and his players. -AFP