United and Chelsea start their seasons
The Premier League pretenders got the ball rolling Saturday. A missed penalty and dubious disallowed goal meant Liverpool settled for a 1-1 draw against Sunderland at Anfield, while Arsenal -- without soon-to-be-departed pair Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri -- lacked in end product (again) in a 0-0 result at Newcastle.
On Sunday, two of the three title contenders, defending champion Manchester United and Chelsea, began their 2011-12 campaigns. Not surprisingly, United found a way to get past a determined West Bromwich Albion 2-1, and Chelsea shared the points in a goalless draw at Stoke, never an easy place to visit.
Here are a few thoughts from Sunday's action.
United has a GK problem
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, one of the best ever in the business, rewarded the likes of Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck. The young trio was bright against Manchester City, the third title contender, in last week's Community Shield, and all three started against the Baggies. Cleverley kept out the experienced Michael Carrick, and Dimitar Berbatov, the joint Premier League top scorer last season, was bypassed in favor of Welbeck.
But Ferguson didn't apply the same logic when it came to keeper David De Gea, and maybe he should have. De Gea, the 20-year-old brought in from Atletico Madrid to replace stalwart Edwin van der Sar, struggled against Manchester City in a continuation of his shaky preseason form. Rather than utilize Anders Lindegaard, who had a solid preseason, Ferguson stuck with his £18 million buy.
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De Gea pulled off a morale-boosting save to deny an onrushing Paul Scharner in the 35th minute, and you thought he'd kick on. But only two minutes later, De Gea let new signing Shane Long's weak effort squirm past him. United defender Rio Ferdinand was in disbelief.
It's ironic that Ben Foster was on the other end of the field. Ferguson probably wouldn't have minded having the former England international in goal, even if Foster underachieved in his spell at Old Trafford. How can Ferguson, who saw another of his goalkeeping purchases, Massimo Taibi, flop badly in 1999-00, not take action when United meets Tottenham and Arsenal, much better opposition, in its next two matches? The Red Devils can't keep bailing out De Gea.
About two weeks remain in the transfer window, and if Ferguson wants a Spanish keeper (he was linked for a time with Jose Reina), we hear Manuel Almunia is available.
Yes, bad joke.
Ferguson had more reason to be concerned Sunday -- Ferdinand and central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic limped off with injuries. At least another of Fergie's summer acquisitions, winger Ashley Young, is excelling. He's developed a fine understanding already with talisman Wayne Rooney and orchestrated United's winner (with the help of a double deflection against two defenders) deep in the second half.
Torres looked good
New Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas had some tough decisions to make at Stoke. One of them revolved around £50 million man Fernando Torres. Should he start Torres up front instead of the tried-and-tested Didier Drogba, use the Ivorian, or put them both on the pitch, with Drogba on the wing?
Villas-Boas opted for Torres and named Drogba as a substitute, and the result was positive. Torres was a handful the entire game. His movement was sharp, he linked up well with his teammates and he should have earned the Blues a penalty. On this form, he'll start scoring soon.
When Drogba entered late in the second half, Torres remained as the striker. They were on the pitch together for 13 minutes before Torres departed. Villas-Boas signaled his intent to attack Stoke by picking Jose Bosingwa at right back instead of the more defensively sound Branislav Ivanovic, who might not have been 100 percent because of a thigh injury. Once action-man David Luiz returns to the fold, Villas-Boas will have to decide whether Alex, Sunday's starter, or Luiz partners John Terry in the center of defense.
Does it all even itself out?
Some pundits like to say that calls even out over the course of a season. One game a club will get a bad decision and the next it'll benefit from one, the thinking goes.
In that case, Chelsea is due for some good fortune already.
Referee Mark Halsey had a tough day, not awarding a spot kick when Torres was fouled by Ryan Shawcross seemingly inches inside the box. And even though Frank Lampard later looked to be going down early under a challenge from Marc Wilson, there was certainly contact. But again, nothing was given.
In both cases, theatrical falls probably hurt Chelsea. Stoke manager Tony Pulis wasn't complaining; last season, his side was on the wrong end of more than a few key decisions.
Meanwhile, Mike Jones didn't have a crunch call to make at The Hawthorns, but it seemed like every 50-50 went against the home team.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.