Manchester City hit their first speedbump on Saturday in their quest to repeat as Premier League Champions, falling 1-0 to Stoke thanks to a goal from Mame Biram Diouf. It was only manager Manuel Pellegrini’s second home league loss -- only Chelsea, last March, had managed to derail the Citizens at their Etihad fortress -- but the Potters, playing a gritty and at times expansive game, were a good cut above what looked a very jaded City side Saturday afternoon.
Normally free-scoring City looked leggy and lethargic, and were kept off the board for only the second time in 71 consecutive league games. Several tough tackles -- usually at the boots of Ryan Shawcross -- set the tone for the Potters early on and the Citizens were never really able to get into full flow. Samir Nasri did force a fine save from Asmir Begovic midway through the first half, but the best chance for the home side came late when Aleksandar Kolarov laid off a ball for Yaya Toure that was crashed off the crossbar.
But Stoke were arguably the unluckier side. They were denied a clear penalty in the first half when Diouf was hacked down by Gael Clichy after rounding Kolarov. So when Diouf scored on a clean breakaway in the 58th minute following another wild bit of play at the opposite end, it did feel deserved. Toure had forced Begovic into making a good parry and on the break, Diouf simply ran the length of the field, nutmegging both Fernandinho and Joe Hart to ruffle the back of the net. It was a classic breakway goal, and it would be enough as despite a late flurry from City, it was Stoke who always looked the more threatening.
Elsewhere, Newcastle and Crystal Palace drew 3-3 in a wild game that saw the lead change three times before Wilfried Zaha finally scored the tying goal five minutes into stoppage-time. Palace had actually seized the lead after just two minutes when Dwight Gayle latched on to a poor clearance to cannon the ball into the top of the net. But Newcastle nicked an equalizer just before the half when Daryl Janmaat stuck out his toe to poke home a loose ball in the box after Palace failed to completely clear an attack.
That set up a wild second half that saw four goals and several breathless near-misses. Jason Puncheon restored Palace’s lead right after the break with fine volley, only to see Rolando Aarons draw the Toon back level with a great header in the 73rd minute. Then, Aarons would ping a ball off the far post that Mike Williamson was johnny-on-the spot to tip home to give Newcastle the lead for the first time in the game with just two minutes to play. Zaha -- who had several great chances and a goal disallowed -- finally slammed the ball home after Damien Delaney’s knockdown off a set piece. The result gave Neil Warnock a point on the road in his return to Palace -- but will surely raise more questions about Alan Pardew and Newcastle’s fundamental weaknesses.
Swansea put two goals past West Brom in the first half and never looked back, seeing Baggies off 3-0. Nathan Dyer and Gylfi Sigurdsson combined in the second minute to open the scoring, with Dyer rounding Ben Foster to net from an acute angle. Swans would double their lead on the 24th minute when Craig Dawson sent a weak clearing header out to the top of the area, only to see Wayne Routledge leap up and acrobatically scissor the ball into the top corner. Swansea kept piling on the pressure and were denied a third by the crossbar. Dyer finally got his second in the 70th minute when Sigurdsson split the defense, allowing Dyer to run right on net and score at the near post.
West Ham were outmatched for significant parts of their game against Southampton, but a mistake from Morgan Schneiderlin allowed Mark Noble a free run on Fraser Forster’s goal to give them an unlikely lead that would not last. Schneiderlin was caught in possession at the halfway line, and Noble ran in alone, and let go a shot that took a big deflection off Maya Yoshida to give the keeper no chance. Schneiderlin would make amends just before the break, lofting his own rebound from a blocked shot into the top left corner with a feathery scoop.
Schneiderlin quickly made amends, scoring twice after the break to lead the Saints to a deserved 3-1 win at Upton Park. Graziano Pelle would get his first league goal with seven minutes to play off a fine sidefoot volley to ice the points for the Koeman brothers and continue Southampton’s strong start to the season.
QPR were deserved winners at Loftus Road with one-time non league star Charlie Austin finally breaking Rangers’ duck. The Loftus Road side had yet to score in the Premier League so far this season, but Austin’s smashed half-volley at the death of the first half punctuated what had been an absorbing show against an out-of-sorts Sunderland side. Sunderland had their chances but a good show inbetween the posts from Robert Green eased the pressure on Harry Redknapp.
Earlier on Saturday, Burnley held Manchester United to a goalless draw that piled more pressure on manager Louis van Gaal. Angel Di Maria made his debut for United in the match, but it was a tepid affair with neither side really looking better than average.