Premier League returns stronger than ever

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Three short months after Sergio Aguero clinched Manchester City their first top-flight title in 44 years, with a stoppage time strike in the most dramatic of final-day fixtures, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the 2012/13 Premier League campaign would struggle to live up to expectations.

The European Championships in Poland and Ukraine delivered in terms of excitement over the summer, even if England disappointed (again), and the pre-tournament favourites, Spain, won the trophy at a relative canter. Then there was the small matter of the Olympics.

For 16 days, London came alive with a carnival atmosphere sweeping the capital. Great Britain's Olympians rose to the occasion with an unprecedented medal return. From the participants to the spectators, right the way through to the volunteers, the 2012 Games was something to be proud of.

It was almost as if the distraction of the Olympics helped the Premier League return with a bang. Already we've seen early goals, late goals, some absolute screamers, red cards, scored penalties, missed penalties, as well as a catalogue of unforced errors - and that's all in the opening round of fixtures.

If last year's title race set the benchmark for the most enthralling football season in the league's 20-year history, early indications already suggest that we could be in for a similarly scintillating campaign.

Predictable only by its unpredictability, the reigning Premier League champions Manchester City made hard work of seeing off newcomers Southampton in a tightly-contested 3-2 victory at the Etihad on Sunday. The following evening Manchester United travelled to Goodison Park, only to be beaten 1-0 by Everton, as David Moyes looks to have successfully rid his side of their traditionally poor early season form syndrome.

Much was expected of the Red Devils and their newly formed strike force that scored a combined 57 league goals last season. But, United looked particularly limp in attack, Wayne Rooney failing to make an impact on his most recent return to Merseyside, while Robin van Persie was restricted to a 20-minute cameo from the bench.

Fellow summer signing Shinji Kagawa looked promising in a central attacking midfield role, adding to the list of impressive debutants from all four corners of the country. Eden Hazard was the star of the show as Chelsea ran out 2-0 victors away at Wigan. The highly rated Belgian winger set up Branislav Ivanovic for the opener, and won the penalty which was converted by Frank Lampard minutes later.

Swansea manager Michael Laudrup got his Premier League managerial career off to the perfect start, with an emphatic 5-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Michu has already stated his case for being the steal of the summer. The Spanish midfielder arrived at the Liberty Stadium from Rayo Vallecano for £2million.

Liverpool, under the new stewardship of former Swans boss Brendan Rodgers would have hoped for a better start, after going down 3-0 to West Brom at The Hawthorns. It was the Reds' worst opening day defeat since being hammered 6-1 by Chelsea in 1937, and to make matters worse, the unwanted record came courtesy of a team managed by Steve Clarke - one of the men sacked as Rodgers installed his own coaching team at Anfield.

So as not to be beaten by Swansea's free-scoring heroics, Fulham also thrashed Norwich City 5-0 at Craven Cottage, and that was without the services of last season's leading marksman Clint Dempsey, who continues to push for a move away from west London. It was not the platform Canaries boss Chris Hughton will have envisaged building on.

The same can be said for Arsene Wenger, after his new-look Arsenal side failed to find the net against Sunderland, and despite an eye-catching display from Santi Cazorla, the pre-season pessimism from Gunners fans following the sale of Van Persie to Manchester United, seems like it will take some shifting.

West Ham United made a winning return to the Premier League thanks to Kevin Nolan and his chicken-wing celebration, while Reading could only manage a 1-1 draw with Stoke City after goalkeeper Adam Federici gifted the Potters a goal, allowing Michael Kightly to score on his debut after his shot slipped through the Aussie stopper's arms.

And finally, a notable mention for last year's 4th and 5th placed sides - Tottenham and Newcastle - who played out an entertaining encounter at St James' Park, with the hosts edging out a 2-1 win. Magpies boss Alan Pardew even admitted he had told his players to use the Olympics as an inspiration for an honest, hard-working attitude, but quickly forgot his own advice about good spirit and fair play, when he was sent to the stands after pushing an assistant referee.

Pardew will be lucky to escape an FA ban, irrespective of his light-hearted apology. His 'heat of the moment' action in fact represents the passion, the commitment, and the tribal nature of football, that also gives the game so much of its thrill. The Premier League will never capture the positive energy or the goodwill of the Olympics, but that doesn't matter either. The main thing is that football is back, and it's back bigger and better than ever!

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Carlos Tevez
Premier League

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