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Monday, Aug. 20, 2012

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Firing blanks: Arsenal's Lukas Podolski (right) and Sunderland's Lee Cattermole vie for the ball during their teams' scoreless draw on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium. AP

Liverpool fluffs lines on opening day

New Reds boss Rodgers suffers nightmare start


LONDON — Liverpool was the big casualty on the Premier League's opening day, losing 3-0 at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, while Arsenal began life without Robin van Persie with a frustrating 0-0 draw against Sunderland.

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Off and running: West Ham's Kevin Nolan (right) and Carlton Cole celebrate after Nolan's goal against Aston Villa on Saturday at Upton Park. West Ham won 1-0. AFP-JIJI

Goals weren't a problem for Fulham and Swansea, with both teams enjoying 5-0 routs, while former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas made a miserable return to English soccer as Tottenham lost 2-1 at Newcastle.

But there were happier returns to the Premier League for West Ham and Reading, with both teams avoiding defeat in their first matches since gaining promotion.

The focus Saturday was off last season's top two, with Manchester City beginning its title defense on Sunday and Manchester United, which was denied the trophy in the final seconds of the last season, playing on Monday.

That put the spotlight on Liverpool as the fallen giants experienced their heaviest opening-day defeat since 1937 in another reminder of just how far it has slipped behind the title challengers.

Replacing Kenny Dalglish with the youthful Brendan Rodgers from Swansea after last season's eighth-place finish hasn't provided the immediate uplift in fortunes so desired by Liverpool's American owners.

Compounding Liverpool's misery was the fact West Brom's victory was masterminded by Steve Clarke, who was Dalglish's assistant at Anfield.

Zoltan Gera put West Brom in front before the break, and Liverpool was reduced to 10 men early in the second half when Daniel Agger conceded a penalty that was missed by Shane Long.

Peter Odemwingie was more accurate from the penalty spot in the 64th after Martin Skrtel had fouled Long, and Romelu Lukaku rounded off the win with a 77th-minute header.

"I thought the scoreline was harsh," Rodgers said. "Congratulations to West Brom and Steve Clarke getting his first win as a manager. I've no complaints about the first goal, a fantastic strike from Gera, showing wonderful technique.

"But in the second half, although I'm not going to go on about the referee, I thought the two penalty decisions were very harsh . . . with 10 men and then chasing the game, it becomes difficult."

At the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal overwhelmed Sunderland but lacked a cutting edge from new strikers Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, one day after Robin van Persie defected to Manchester United.

"The few chances we had we couldn't convert them . . . they defended the whole game very well," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We lacked something I would call sharpness and quality, and more accuracy in the final pass.

"The formation didn't work with three strikers up front. We were not balanced and we did not create enough."

That wasn't a problem in west London.

At Craven Cottage, Fulham didn't miss rebellious striker Clint Dempsey — last season's top scorer for the west London club — as Norwich was crushed 5-0.

After Damien Duff's 26th-minute opener, Mladen Petric scored twice, Alex Kacaniklic netted the fourth, and Steve Sidwell completed the rout from the penalty spot late on.

At Loftus Road, though, host Queens Park Rangers was on the end of a 5-0 thumping by Swansea in a clash of sides both playing a second straight season in the Premier League.

New signing Michu and Nathan Dyer each scored twice before Scott Sinclair hit the fifth.

"Winning the first game in my debut, and also the team's first in their second season in the Premier League, away and 5-0," said Michael Laudrup, who replaced Rodgers as Swansea manager. "I don't think anyone could've dreamed about that.

"Last season I think it took until January to win the first away game, and it is very important that you know you can win an away game as it gives you a lot of confidence for the rest of the season."

Hatem Ben Arfa clinched Newcastle's victory from the penalty spot in the 80th after being tripped by Rafael van der Vaart, four minutes after Jermain Defoe appeared to have salvaged a point for Tottenham by canceling out Demba Ba's opener.

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