Liverpool, Chelsea and Man Utd off to flying starts

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LONDON (Reuters) – Chelsea served notice of their Premier League title intentions with a confident 3-0 defeat over Crystal Palace as the Premier League enjoyed a return to its familiar format on Saturday.

Manchester United got things going in the early kickoff with a 5-1 hammering of Leeds United with Bruno Fernandes netting a hat-trick and Paul Pogba making four assists.

After last season’s staggered kickoffs and empty stadiums because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stamford Bridge, like Old Trafford earlier, was packed full for one of five 3pm kickoffs.

Thomas Tuchel’s European champions rewarded their fans with a commanding display with goals from Marcos Alonso, Christian Pulisic and academy graduate Trevoh Chalobah.

It was a tough day for Palace’s new manager Patrick Vieira but Rafa Benitez marked the start of his Everton reign with a 3-1 victory over Southampton at Goodison Park.

Former Liverpool manager Benitez wore a frown when Adam Armstrong gave Southampton the lead on his debut, but it was all smiles at the end as Richarlison, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Dominic Calvert-Lewin all struck after the break.

Leicester City, who fell agonisingly short of the top four last season, began with a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers with the ever reliable Jamie Vardy on target.

Watford marked their return to the top flight with an impressive 3-2 win over Aston Villa as Emmanuel Dennis and Cucho Hernandez both scored on their debuts.

Danny Ings was also on target on his Villa bow but his late penalty conversion was a mere consolation.

Brighton and Hove Albion won 2-1 at Burnley.

Chelsea are earmarked as the side most likely to challenge champions Manchester City for the title and they did nothing to suggest otherwise as they outclassed Palace without the need for new signing Romelu Lukaku who is still observing quarantine restrictions after his 97.5-million-pound (US$135 million) move back to Stamford Bridge from Inter Milan.

Spanish left back Marcos Alonso fizzed a free kick into the top corner to put Chelsea in charge in the 27th minute while U.S. forward Christian Pulisic followed up on the rebound to double their lead five minutes before halftime.

It was homegrown defender Chalobah’s goal that raised the biggest cheers though, having been out on loan for three seasons in England and France.

“We were pretty sharp,” Tuchel, whose side won the European Supercup on Wednesday, said. “It looked easier than it was.

“Some players we pushed with 120 minutes over the line already and they stepped up again. We set our standards as high as possible. It was a huge team effort.”

Manchester United were equally impressive as they ran riot against Leeds United having been pegged back to 1-1 when a Luke Ayling thunderbolt cancelled out Fernandes’s first-half effort.

Mason Greenwood fired United back in front before Fernandes added a quickfire third to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in command and the Portuguese completed his treble with another fine finish on the hour before Brazilian Fred completed the rout.

Liverpool eased into the new Premier League season as goals by Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah earned them a 3-0 victory at promoted Norwich City on Saturday.

With defensive linchpin Virgil van Dijk back after nine months out with a serious knee injury, Liverpool enjoyed a relatively trouble-free evening at Carrow Road.

Norwich had their chances but once Jota gave Liverpool the lead in the 26th minute the visitors were in command.

Salah set up Firmino to make it 2-0 in the 65th minute and then sealed the points nine minutes later with a neat finish.

The Egyptian striker has now scored on the opening weekend for the past five seasons — a Premier League record.

But the focus was very much on Dutchman Van Dijk whose absence was a key factor in Liverpool’s disappointing defence of their Premier League title last season.

“It was a tough game for many reasons and 3-0 sounds comfortable,” Van Dijk, who signed a new contract with the Anfield club this week, told Sky Sports.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)