Team of the Week
The Premier League is back, and so is our erstwhile Team of the Week, the column that divides opinion like no other. No wonder, given that there are roughly 100 players vying for 11 spots any given weekend.
After warming the bench for a year at Manchester City, Shay Given dives back into our TOTW at the first time of asking in the 2011/12 season. His performance was a triumph of positioning, the sort that develops with a wealth of Premier League experience. His best moment came with a point blank save from Bobby Zamora but he also repelled a fearsome effort from Andy Johnson to ensure Alex McLeish began life as Villa boss with a clean sheet and a decent point.
Steve Bruce likes buying from Old Trafford and judging by Wes Brown's performance at Anfield, his decision to raid Fergie's defensive ranks looks a shrewd one. No-one in white covered themselves in glory in the first half but in the second Brown's experience came to the fore as Sunderland quelled Liverpool's potent strikeforce and grabbed themselves an equaliser.
He's hot property at the minute and Gary Cahill probably added a few quid to his price tag with a classy display at newly-promoted QPR. Not only did he help register a comfortable shut-out, he also grabbed the opening goal, shunning the traditional'header from a corner' routine to smash a curling shot into the top corner from 25 yards out. Bolton should make the most of him while they can.
He may not be able to tell the difference between an elbow and an open-handed slap but that was the only blot on Steven Taylor's copybook as Newcastle opened their season with a goalless draw against Arsenal. A large part of his afternoon comprised of watching Arsenal execute pretty passes on the edge of the box but his timing and positioning meant opportunities for the Gunners were limited.
Stoke's Jonathan Woodgate completes our sturdy defensive line-up and before any of you eagle-eyed readers point out that we are enlisting four centre-backs in TOTW United, we are shamelessly copying the tactic from Tony Pulis, who did exactly the same against Chelsea. Woodgate showed no susceptibility to pulls, tears or breaks as he held firm in the face ofan increasing Chelsea onslaught. If he can stay fit, and that's a rather large if, Stoke will reap the benefit.
Given the paucity of goals on the opening weekend, it's no surprise we've elected to go with a five-man midfield, kick-started by Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye. The 25-year-old offered glimpses of the quality that helped propel Lille to the Ligue 1 last season as he held his own in the face of the Premier League's slickest passing unit. Mobile, with the proverbial'good engine' Cabaye gave Toon fans hope he could prove the perfect accompaniment to Chiek Tiote in the heart of Newcastle's midfield.
Most pundits predict another tough season ahead for Wigan but if Victor Moses can maintain the form he showed in patches against new-boys Norwich on Saturday perhaps Latics fans can look forward to a less fraught final few weeks of the season. The 20-year-old was busy throughout, troubling every yellow-shirted opponent he came up against. But for two last-ditch blocks late in the game, Moses would have potted Wigan a precious late winner.
It should be ominous for Manchester United's title rivals that Ashley Young has slotted into the champions' starting line-up with such ease. After a confident display in the Community Shield win over Manchester City, Young ensured maximum points from a game in which United struggled after a dominant half hour. Jinking into the box from the left, Young's low ball forced a decisive deflection off Steven Reid - the man he had troubled all afternoon.
On a good day for Steve Bruce, another of his summer acquisitions helped to forge an opening day point from a tricky looking fixture at Anfield. Sebastian Larsson was a man in demand after his contract expired in the close season and his exquisite volleyed equaliser in the second half will have reinforced Bruce's belief that the Swede's was a signing worth pursuing.
Jarvis took full advantage of Blackburn's depleted defensive ranks to play a part in both goals, and remind Michel Salgado just how old he is. It was Jarvis's floated back post cross that allowed Fletcher to climb above the ageing Spaniard and nod powerfully past Paul Robinson. Then in the second half, Jarvis skipped round Salgado, drew a foul and from the resulting penalty - that Kevin Doyle missed - Stephen Ward volleyed into the net.
As for our first gaffer of the season, step forward Owen Coyle, the man who coolly negotiated a tricky trip to QPR. Given the lack of money spent in the summer, Wanderers have featured as an outside tip for relegation in a few newspaper pages, but on this evidence they shouldn't have need to fear an icy hand on their shoulder come May. As soon as Cahill found the net they were in cruise control, ruthlessly punishing some woeful Rangers defending, and can proudly boast that they are top of the league.