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Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011

United opens with victory; Stoke frustrates Chelsea


LONDON — Manchester United opened its Premier League title defense with a victory over West Bromwich Albion on Sunday while Andre Villas-Boas' first match in charge of Chelsea ended in a draw at Stoke.

News photo

Ashley Young's cross was deflected into the net by West Brom defender Steven Reid to clinch a 2-1 victory for Alex Ferguson's side.

At the start of United's quest for a 20th English title, Wayne Rooney gave United an early lead.

But renewed questions were raised about new goalkeeper David de Gea after the 20-year-old Spaniard allowed Shane Long's angled strike to go under him as West Brom leveled before halftime.

"It was just a bit of concentration there but welcome to English football," Ferguson said. "He came in for it in the second half and I thought he should have been protected more by the referee, but it was a good experience for him. It's all a learning process."

While a moment of late good fortune spared de Gea's blushes at the Hawthorns, there was no such luck for Villas-Boas.

In a frustrating start to Premier League management, the Portuguese coach's side was held to a 0-0 draw at Stoke with several penalty appeals turned down.

"I can't be pleased with a point but it's one of the most difficult grounds to play at," Villas-Boas said. "For our title challenge I would say one point at Stoke is not bad. It's not the greatest start to the Premier League of course."

That stalemate followed draws for Arsenal and Liverpool on Saturday. Manchester City's season doesn't start until Monday when the big-spending club hosts Swansea.

United's victory at West Brom came at a price, with Rio Ferdinand sustaining a hamstring injury in the match that will sideline him for six weeks and fellow center back Nemanja Vidic faces two weeks off after being substituted with a calf injury.

United will also be without right back Rafael da Silva for the first 10 weeks of the season after injuring a shoulder in training ahead of the season opener.

At least Rooney is off the mark already, latching on to Young's pass and shooting into the bottom corner from 20 meters in the 13th minute.

"The first 25 minutes we were superb, the movement of the ball was great, but then we slowed and lost momentum," Ferguson said. "We lost a goal which David should have done better with."

Fabregas granted move


MADRID — Cesc Fabregas is finally returning to his boyhood club Barcelona.

The Spaniard's long-awaited transfer from Arsenal finally materialized Sunday when the two clubs announced they had reached a preliminary agreement for the 24-year-old midfielder.

The deal would be completed once Fabregas signed his contract and underwent a medical exam on Monday, the clubs said.

Spanish media reports put the price of the transfer at around ?40 million ($57 million).

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said the club was reluctant to let Fabregas go.

"However, we understand Cesc's desire to move to his hometown club and have now accepted an offer from Barcelona," the Frenchman said in a statement on Arsenal's website.

Fabregas will return to the club that nurtured him before he joined Arsenal in 2003. He went on to become Arsenal's youngest ever starter only one month later at 16 and was made club captain in November 2008.

"It's been costly, a saga of two years. It's like when a son returns home because we consider him one of us," Barcelona president Sandro Rossell said.

The 24-year-old playmaker could make his debut Wednesday at the Nou Camp as the Spanish champions welcome Real Madrid for the return leg of their Spanish Supercup series, after a 2-2 draw in Sunday's first leg.

"Tomorrow is the presentation and after that we see," said Guardiola, who didn't believe relations between the clubs had soured because of the protracted and sometimes awkward negotiations for Fabregas.

"Last year we made an offer and they said no. All the time this situation is happening, it was tough negotiations," Guardiola said from the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

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