United's Vidic dominates; West Ham's Bridge falls flat in debut

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It should be entered into England's statutory law that Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion play one another annually, regardless of the division each is in. There was a case for saying that their earlier meeting, a fantastic set-to in November, had the wet and windy conditions to thank for its breathlessness, but after a five-goal thriller Saturday that could easily have ended with either side on double figures, we must conclude that this just is a dynamite fixture.

As open -- crazily, suicidally, brilliantly open -- as you'd expect from two teams determined to do it their way, the game made blinking feel dangerous: 34 shots, some of them wildly off target, some of them agonizingly close. DJ Campbell could have scored for Blackpool within seconds of the kickoff, and was denied by a frantic scramble in the final moments; in between, Peter Odemwingie and James Morrison created enough chances to see West Brom through 3-2.

It's a toss-up between two of Manchester City's four goals against Wolves (who scored three of their own in another compelling match). For the Maradona-esque slalom past the despairingly outstretched legs of the Wolves' defense, Carlos Tevez's first was pretty special. He squeezes between Stephen Hunt and Christophe Berra, cuts inside Richard Stearman and calmly slides the ball beneath Wayne Hennessey. For a lovely team effort, City's third isn't at all shoddy. Toure plays the ball out from the edge of his own area, and Edin Dzeko (who made a quietly impressive debut, full of fine touches) collects and plays an instant one-two with Tevez to take City over the halfway line. Cutting inside the defender, Dzeko plays a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Toure, who has galloped from one box to the other and simply passes the ball into the back of the net -- 12 seconds after the move started.

Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic was a fistful of Rafael van der Vaart's shirt away from perfection Sunday. This shouldn't be taken as a compliment to Spurs' attack (13 shots off target!), but since United's attacking threat was limited and Spurs enjoyed the majority of possession, Vidic was kept busy. He was on his toes at all times, categorically winning the aerial battle with Peter Crouch (who got his head to a measly two Tottenham crosses) and smothering van der Vaart in the second half. He played the ball out of the defense well on the whole, too. Anyone still wondering how United are maintaining their unbeaten run without playing that well should look no further than the return to fitness of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

No, you can't have three guesses -- only one man prompted a nationwide debate about the worst debutants ever. While it was generally agreed that Jonathan Woodgate's title was still intact, Wayne Bridge wasn't far off in his first appearance for West Ham. The signs weren't good when he failed to close down Theo Walcott as he set up Arsenal's first goal, but the Gunners' second was a double whammy. First Bridge played Robin van Persie onside, then he lost Walcott, who slammed van Persie's pass into the roof of the net. When he conceded a penalty for a foul on Walcott in the 76th minute, he simply lay face down on the turf. To cap it all off, he had to come off injured late in the match.

David Bentley had a rather more successful debut, at Birmingham City, which smiled as the announcer named him Man of the Match against Aston Villa. He brings genuine width to City's right and, though his long-ball game wasn't quite on the money, his eagerness to get forward will please the fans. But a word for the central duo of Alexander Hleb and Barry Ferguson. Hleb has sometimes looked a little dwarfed by the task of linking City's midfield and attack, but he kept it buzzing around the edge of the box with short, sharp passes. Ferguson, who was at the heart of Birmingham's best soccer, roamed all over the middle, pinging passes around with his habitual ease and finding several probing forward balls as Birmingham controlled the game around halftime.

Everton's David Moyes was virtually a footnote in the buildup to Sunday's Merseyside derby, as Liverpool supporters prepared to mark Kenny Dalglish's return with a flag day and the media got caught up in the frenzy. After two defeats in his first two outings as manager, this was the fixture to kick-start Liverpool's season. Moyes wore a suit, for once, but still he couldn't tempt the cameramen away from Dalglish's glistening eyes as Anfield rang to the sound of You'll Never Walk Alone.

But whatever Moyes said in the dressing room at halftime certainly did the trick. Everton never got to terms with Liverpool, which could have scored a handful but put away only one, in the first half, but scored the tying and go-ahead goals in a seven-minute span to start the second half. Pressing and harrying, Everton forced Liverpool deeper and deeper, interfering with the partnerships that had tick-tocked perfectly in the first 45. Liverpool earned a draw with Dirk Kuyt's penalty kick in the 68th minute.

Birmingham City's Ben Foster has been widely credited with tipping Nathan Delfouneso's shot onto the bar to preserve a 1-1 draw in an entertaining West Midlands derby. Despite repeated viewings, with and without specs, I can't quite make out the touch, which makes it either an absolutely amazing save, or no save at all. Let's go with the former.

The weekend's unluckiest goalkeeper must be Newcastle's Steve Harper, who made it through 93 minutes largely untroubled by Sunderland's wayward shooting, but then parried Phil Bardsley's last-gasp strike straight into Asamoah Gyan.

"I think our bad moment is over."-- Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti reacts to his team's 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, in which the Blues produced 23 shots to Rovers' three. Didier Drogba still doesn't look quite right, however.

#allsquare -- Three local derbies and the hotly anticipated meeting of Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, and all four ended in draws Sunday. If you'd had an English pound to bet on that eventuality, you'd have been given £109 ($173) back by the bookies.

22 -- The number of months Andrew Johnson, beset by injury problems, had gone without scoring before putting away Fulham's late equalizer against Wigan. He didn't let a fortunate deflection off Antolin Alcaraz stop him from celebrating properly.

Just as it became certain that West Ham's 3-0 capitulation to Arsenal would be the most dispiriting soccer match we watch this season, a moment to cheer the soul: The camera panned to pick out three separate members of the crowd fast asleep.