MANCHESTER, England, (Reuters) – English champions Manchester United opened their title defence with a 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion yesterday while Chelsea could manage only a draw in new coach Andre Villas-Boas’s first Premier League match.
United opened the scoring in the 13th minute, when Wayne Rooney combined well with winger Ashley Young before sending a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner.
The hosts levelled through debutant Shane Long, who made the most of United keeper David De Gea’s lack of conviction, before Young masterminded a winner that West Brom defender Steven Reid deflected into his own net in the 81st minute.
United did what none of their main rivals could this weekend after Chelsea drew 0-0 at Stoke City yesterday and Arsenal and Liverpool also managed only a point apiece in their openers on Saturday.
Alex Ferguson’s side struggled away from home last season, picking up just 25 points from a possible 57 on their way to a record 19th title, and started the game in a lively fashion that suggested they were keen to travel better this term.
Their main negative from the match was injuries picked up by centre backs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, who Ferguson said were facing six and two weeks on the sidelines respectively.
Those blows came hours after United said fellow defender Rafael would be out of action for 10 weeks after dislocating his shoulder. .
Encouraged by the inspirational second-half showing in the 3-2 comeback win over Manchester City in last weekend’s Community Shield, Ferguson backed his youngsters to deliver on a bigger platform.
Midfielder Tom Cleverley, 22, and 20-year-old striker Danny Welbeck both started, while new signing Young made his United league debut with a blistering performance down the left wing.
He exchanged passes with Rooney for the opener before bursting into the box nine minutes from time to fire in a cross that bounced off Reid to ensure United took the points.
“He was a threat all the time,” manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports.
Young’s confidence contrasted with goalkeeper De Gea, whose shaky start to his United career continued after his handling of Manchester City’s goals last week was widely questioned.
The 20-year-old Spaniard, who arrived at Old Trafford from Atletico Madrid for around 18 million pounds as a replacement for the retired Edwin van der Sar, should have comfortably saved Long’s nonchalant effort in the 37th minute.
The gum-chewing Long, who arrived from Championship (second division) side Reading, drove a shot in low across the goal that De Gea allowed to get past him at the far post.
“David should have done better, I think it was just a bit of concentration there … welcome to English football,” Ferguson said.
Goalkeeping was also an issue for Chelsea on Sunday, as they were held 0-0 at Stoke City thanks to some excellent saves by Stoke’s Asmir Begovic.
Following a muted first half, Chelsea picked up the pace after the break with John Obi Mikel, substitute Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou all testing Begovic’s reflexes.
Striker Fernando Torres was behind many of the Chelsea moves, dribbling past defenders with a confidence last seen in his best Liverpool days.
“I am only 27, I have not forgotten how to play and how to score and to play well,” man-of-the-match Torres told Sky Sports.
“Last season was a season to forget for me … it’s in the past and now I want to look forward.”
As well as being denied by Begovic’s acrobatics, in particular when he tipped Mikel’s long-range volley over the bar and Anelka’s curling shot against the woodwork, Chelsea were also frustrated that their appeals for penalties were ignored.
Manchester City host Swansea City today, seeking to match United’s pace.