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Zaza and Immobile impress

Italy 7 days ago
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Aug 17, 2014

Heroes and Villains: Premier League week 1

The Premier League is back, and ESPN FC takes a look at some of the biggest protagonists and antagonists from this weekend.

HEROES

Aaron Ramsey missed half of the past season with an injury that robbed him of a claim to the Player of the Year Award and Arsenal of a player who might have kept them in the title race. He's certainly making up for lost time now. Although his performance at the Emirates didn't match his heroics at Wembley last week, his effort level never dropped, not even late in the game when it seemed certain Crystal Palace would claim a share of the spoils. Ramsey kept plugging away, and he made sure he was in the right place at the right time to claim his reward.

Gylfi Sigurdsson's return to Swansea would have ranked about 119th in a list of potential talking points before yesterday's game at Old Trafford, but it was the Icelandic midfielder who turned the game. First he had the wherewithal to assist Ki Sung-Yueng, albeit with some help from nose tackle Wilfried Bony, then he was on the spot to pump home a dramatic winner in the second half. His clever movement and deft touches caused United's uncertain defence problems all afternoon. Garry Monk said he wanted to raise standards at Swansea this season. Sigurdsson is a pretty good start.

Mile Jedinak was ever-present for Crystal Palace the past season, and if he stays fit and focused again, even the resignation of manager Tony Pulis won't drag the Eagles down. The Australian is one of the Premier League's most destructive players, and that's a compliment of the highest order. Time and time again, Arsenal built up momentum. Time and time again, Jedinak smashed it to bits like a toddler ruining a board game. You wonder sometimes if Arsenal could do with a player like that.

Eric Dier made the perfect debut for Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday by smashing home the winning goal in the last minute of a bad tempered London derby against West Ham. At a club for which supporters aren't always as patient as they might be with new signings, Dier has now made friends for life. After all, West Ham's three victories over Tottenham the past season had spawned a run of hastily-printed T-shirts and the gleeful song, "It's Happening Again!" As one Spurs fan remarked on Saturday, "It was almost worth losing all those games just to do them in the final minute in their own ground."

Simon Mignolet was one of a number of heroes on call to help Liverpool to victory this weekend. Mention should also be made for Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Shane Long. But it was Mignolet's superb, one-handed parry from Morgan Schneiderlin that saved the day for the Reds. The Belgian stopper hadn't been entirely convincing last season, but this was the sort of stop that makes the difference between title contenders and title winners. Mignolet opened last season with a penalty save. This was just as impressive.

Aaron Ramsey, left, continued his fine recent form in Arsenal's win over Crystal Palace, while Louis Van Gaal clearly has some heavy rebuilding ahead at Manchester United.

VILLAINS

Louis van Gaal warned us that it would be three months before Manchester United settled under his control, and he wasn't messing about. After 45 minutes of a back three and 45 minutes of a back four, the end result was much the same: David Moyes rolling around the floor of his house and laughing until the tears came. In truth, it's not Van Gaal who is the villain here. We are all the villains for being suckered by the line that a sudden injection of personality would cure all of United's ills. Van Gaal is a demonstrably excellent manager. But he's got his work cut out with this lot.

Leicester City's Jeff Schlupp should not be too disheartened this week. Yes, he was responsible for one of the most spectacular misses in some time, but he has an amazing name and he now knows that whatever else happens to him this season, it can't possibly be worse than that shot. But hey, if you're going to miss the goal, miss it in style. Miss it in a way that says, 'I don't care about missing or knocking out one of the floodlights or adding to the impenetrable belt of debris that circles the planet, obliterating satellites and spooking visiting alien craft.' We salute you, Jeff Schlupp.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere has stagnated. There's no hiding it. Even if Arsene Wenger was quick to defend him from the slings and arrows of TV pundits Saturday, the simple truth is he hasn't developed the way every Englishman who enjoys being involved in the latter stages of the World Cup would have hoped. While Aaron Ramsey recovered a less-than-perfect performance with a last-minute winner, by that point Wilshere had already been removed for his own good. Something isn't quite there. It could be focus, it could be physical frailty, but unless he plays himself out of this funk, he'll never fulfill his potential.

Jon Moss might consider himself the clown prince of refereeing, but he pushed his luck Saturday when he maliciously and recklessly discharged his can of vanishing spray in the direction of poor Santi Cazorla. Clearly, Moss is not a man familiar with the phrase, "It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye." He also, it seems, entirely failed to consider the possibility that Cazorla might hang around for two minutes and then slowly fade from vision until there was nothing left, save for a greasy patch of grass and an empty pair of boots. We're not scientists, but we think that's how that stuff works.

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