The favourites for the title and relegation made the biggest headlines with emphatic victories on the opening day of the 2010/11 Premier League. Chelsea overwhelmed West Bromwich Albion 6-0 at home, while Blackpool won 4-0 at Wigan Athletic in their first top-flight appearance in almost 40 years.
Aston Villa, with Kevin MacDonald in interim control following the shock midweek resignation of Martin O’Neill, also won comfortably against visiting West Ham United, while Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers edged Everton and Stoke City 2-1 and 1-0 respectively.
The three remaining meetings ended all square, with Birmingham City staging a late fightback to share four goals with Sunderland on Wearside, and the Tottenham Hotspur-Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers-Fulham games ending goalless.
Liverpool host Arsenal tomorrow, while Manchester United and Newcastle United will complete Round 1 on Monday evening. The former three, all among the trophy contenders, were nevertheless issued a statement of intent by the defending champions at Stamford Bridge.
Florent Malouda took just five minutes to edge Chelsea ahead after West Brom goalkeeper Scott Carson had failed to hold a Didier Drogba free-kick, and although the newly-promoted side held their own for much of the remainder of the first half, the Ivorian doubled his team’s lead with a trademark swerving set-piece on the stroke of half-time.
Drogba added two more after the interval, while Frank Lampard made the score-sheet and Malouda completed his brace to ensure the Blues have now posted 33 goals in their last six league outings in front of their own supporters - an average of 5.5 per game.
"I'm really happy with the way we played,” said Drogba afterwards. “We had a difficult pre-season, we all came back at different times, but we have made a good start." Malouda added: It's a new season and we have to work harder and be even better than last year. We are the champions but we have to improve on last season.”
While Chelsea’s cruise to victory was hardly surprising, Blackpool’s most certainly was. Marlon Harewood, who only joined the Seasiders on Wednesday, created the deadlock-breaker for Gary Taylor-Fletcher before scoring twice himself. Alex Baptiste, who was playing in the fourth tier of English football little over two years ago, sealed a 4-0 triumph in the 74th minute.
“We’re all buzzing,” Harewood enthused to Sky Sports. “It’s a great start for us. When you come up from the Championship you always get written off, but the lads have a point to prove and one of the main reasons we won today was through enjoyment.”
One of the 30-year-old’s former clubs put a difficult week behind them in style. Goals from Stewart Downing, Stiliyan Petrov and James Milner secured Aston Villa a 3-0 defeat of West Ham United. The latter, who is expected to join Manchester City before the ongoing transfer window closes, was booed when his name was announced in the starting line-up, but an outstanding performance convinced the Villa faithful to give him a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 85th minute.
When questioned on whether he would like the manager’s job on a permanent basis, MacDonald remained non-committal, but he was satisfied with his outing at the reins. “It was nice, I enjoyed today,” he said. “The players were outstanding, the crowd were tremendous and it was a good day all round.”
If Milner does join Manchester City, he will become the latest high-profile attacking player to make Eastlands his home. It was, however, a defensive one that earned them a point at White Hart Lane.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart, who was given the nod ahead of Shay Given, made a series of brilliant saves to deny Tottenham. “It was just an enjoyable day, I love playing football," he said.
On whether his performance has established the England international as City’s first choice between the sticks, he added: “No. Shay Given is the other goalkeeper and I'm sure he'll get chances. We'll be pushing each other, he's a great goalkeeper."