EPL Wrap-up: Leicester Shocked, Liverpool Outgun Gunners

Hull City 2-1 Leicester City

The first match of the 2016/17 Premier League season pitted the reigning champions, Leicester City, against a lowly newcomer, Hull City. On paper, the Foxes should’ve dominated the match with Hull being predicted by some, including myself, to be on track for the worst season in league history. But, as the result proved, that’s why we play the game. It doesn’t matter what’s on paper, it matters what happens on the field.

Despite their apparent disadvantage, the Tigers didn’t look intimidated by the champions. They managed to hold their own through the opening stages of the match, and Leicester didn’t seem to have the sharpness required to finish their chances. A whiff from Jamie Vardy in the 19th minute, or, as Leicester’s official Twitter account called it, a “dummy,” ended up setting up Riyad Mahrez, but the Algerian couldn’t put his shot on target.

Leicester continued to press for their first goal of the season, and Danny Drinkwater’s slicing effort in the 25th minute came within inches of breaking the deadlock. In the 40th minute, Christian Fuchs, Vardy and Mahrez all had a chance to find the back of the net in a hectic sequence of events, but excellent defensive work from Hull denied all three.

Vardy even had another chance three minutes later thanks to an excellent cross from Ahmed Musa, only to fire it over the woodwork. For a brief spell of time, it looked as if the Foxes were finally starting to find their stride in the match.

These wasted chances would come back to bite the Foxes two minutes later. A corner from Robert Snodgrass found the head of Curtis Davies at the near post. Davies’ header was expertly saved by Kasper Schmeichel but the rebound fell to Abel Hernández whose first touch put the ball in the air. A seemingly perfectly timed dual bicycle kick from Hernández and Adama Diomande saw the latter hammed the ball into the back of the net, and send Hull into the break with a shocking one-goal lead.

That lead didn’t last long, however, as Leicester won a penalty kick less than a minute into the second half. Mahrez stepped up to the spot and slotted home into the middle of the net to draw Leicester level. Were the Foxes finally going to find their form?

Apparently not. Ten minutes later, Hull were back on top. A beautifully taken volley from Snodgrass left Schmeichel helpless in goal, and Hull took an unprecedented lead. Snodgrass’ goal was good enough to seal all three points for the Tigers and I guess you could say Leicester got Leicestered the first game of their title-defending campaign.

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool

In this hectic opening weekend to the league, there was one matchup that packed a little bit more star power than the others. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool travelled to the Emirates to take on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. This high-profile managerial clash will be the first of many this season, and it somehow managed to live up to the hype.

The first half belonged to Arsenal. Liverpool’s brand new cast of midfielders struggled to click and the Gunners looked more comfortable in possession. In the 28th minute, a foul from Alberto Moreno on Theo Walcott gave the hosts a penalty kick, but Simon Mignolet made a brilliant diving save to deny Walcott.

Three minutes later, the former Southampton winger atoned for his mistake. A precise pass from Alex Iwobi found Walcott in space on the right side of the penalty area, and 27-year-old did well to slide his shot across the face of goal and into the side netting. 1-0 to Arsenal, and it looked like it was going to be the start of a lovely opening day in North London.

Even though they had been unconvincing through the majority of the opening 45 minutes, Liverpool managed to equalize just before halftime. Philippe Coutinho, who has developed a knack for scoring highlight reel goals, added to his collection in the 46th minute. The Brazilian sent a 20+ yard free kick curling into the top corner, and Jürgen Klopp’s side were back in business.

The Reds looked revitalized to start the second 45 minutes, and it took them just three minutes to pull ahead. Summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum lofted a cross onto the chest of Adam Lallana just outside the six-yard-box. Lallana controlled the pass before slotting home past a sprawling Petr Cech to give Liverpool a 2-1 lead.

Less than ten minutes later, they doubled that lead. A strong run from Nathaniel Clyne on the right wing produced a fizzed cross into the Arsenal penalty area. Coutinho was in the right spot at the right time to apply the finishing touch with his shin and Liverpool looked like were getting ready to run rampant at the Emirates.

The goal of the match came in the 63rd minute. Another summer signing, Sadio Mané, absolutely tore apart Calum Chambers on the right wing. He proceeded to run past Nacho Monreal, as well, and then unleashed a thunderbolt into the top corner of the net. 4-1 Liverpool. Game over?

Well, not exactly. Just over a minute later, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain produced his own moment of magic. Another Southampton product, Chamberlain cut past Clyne and Lallana on the left wing before hitting a low drive to the near post. A slight deflection left Mignolet helpless as the ball flew into the back of the net, and now Arsenal’s deficit was cut to two goals.

The comeback really started to pick up steam in the 75th minute. A lofted free kick from Santi Carzola was perfectly placed into Liverpool’s penalty area. Adding to the list of Southampton alums contributing to the match, Chambers rose and got just enough of a touch to send the ball past Mignolet and into the side netting. Now Arsenal were just a goal behind with 15 minutes left to play.

Sadly, for the home fans at the Emirates, another goal just wasn’t in the cards. The thrilling match came to a close with Liverpool escaping with a 4-3 win. After the match, Klopp would admit that his celebrations with Mané after the fourth goal made his squad mentally switch off, and that nearly cost them the match. In the end, all that matters is that he’s going back to Merseyside with three points in the bag.

Chelsea 2-1 West Ham United

The final fixture of matchday one of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign featured West Ham United’s trip to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The Blues were in high spirits heading into the season with a new fiery coach in Antonio Conte at the helm, and after last year’s disappointment anything would be seen as an improvement. West Ham, on the other hand, were coming off of a promising season last year, and a brand new stadium awaited their arrival next weekend. In this London derby, who would come out ahead?

Chelsea had the first sight of goal in the 12th minute. A lovely backheeled pass from Oscar found an onrushing Branislav Ivanovic, and the Serbian did well to cut across his defender to open up a yard of space. His low drive forced Adrian into a quick save, but in the end the West Ham keeper was more than up to the task.

The hosts looked the dominant force in the opening stages of the match, and the Hammers looked overwhelmed. Just after the half hour mark, Eden Hazard came within inches of giving his side the lead, only for his shot to curl just wide of the far post. A freekick from Willian forced Adrian into another save in the final minute of stoppage time, and the Spaniard’s save made sure the sides went into the break still deadlocked at 0-0.

Chelsea started the second half with the same dominance that they had shown in the opening 45 minutes. Within the first 60 seconds, Diego Costa forced Adrian into a difficult save at the near post. Michail Antonio failed to clear the ball properly and gave it away to César Azpilicueta before fouling the Chelsea defender in the box to give the Blues a spot kick. Hazard stepped up and hammered it straight down the middle to give Chelsea a well-deserved one-goal lead.

Hazard’s goal did little to slow down Chelsea’s attack, and West Ham continued to struggled to produce anything in the opposition’s half. Just after the hour mark, Willian again forced Adrian into a difficult save with a low slicing shot from the right wing. West Ham’s backline weren’t doing their keeper any favors this match.

In the 67th minute, Adrian held on to the ball a little too long and Diego Costa saw an opportunity to pounce. Unfortunately for the Chelsea striker, Adrian got rid of the ball before he arrived resulting in a very ugly studs up challenge on the keeper. Despite the protests of fans and West Ham players, all that was awarded was a foul and no card, not even a yellow (it would’ve been his second), were produced. Just another season of Diego Costa being Diego Costa.

In the 77th minute, West Ham had their first real chance of the match. Dimitri Payet’s corner found the head of James Collins who nodded in down into the danger area. Enner Valencia’s initial volley was blocked and drew appeals of hand ball. The ball continued to ping pong around in the penalty area and eventually found its way back to Collins who rocketed a shot past Courtois to surprisingly draw West Ham on level terms.

The final 10+ minutes belonged to Chelsea. West Ham looked fine settling for the draw, and the Blues clearly were pushing for all three points. The visitors’ bend-don’t-break mentality finally gave way in the 89th minute. The man who could have been sent off earlier in the match, Diego Costa, delivered the dagger with a perfectly placed low drive from outside of the box and his first goal of the season rescued three points for his new manager.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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