Points for Guardiola, pain for Ranieri as EPL season starts
LONDON >> Pep Guardiola's first match in charge of Manchester City ended with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Sunderland on Saturday, just hours after the new English Premier League season got underway with a shock defeat for champion Leicester at Hull.
With $200 million spent on new players and Guardiola arriving from Bayern Munich to manage an already impressive lineup, City is the hot favorite to win the league this season.
But instead of making a stylish debut against modest opposition, Guardiola's team needed an 87th minute own-goal by luckless Sunderland defender Paddy McNair to start with a win.
At least the outcome was better than Leicester's at Hull, where the champions were left stunned by a 2-1 defeat to a newly-promoted team.
Elsewhere, Tottenham had to come from behind to finish 1-1 at Everton. There were 1-1 draws too for Southampton against Watford, and Stoke at newly-promoted Middlesbrough, along with 1-0 wins for Swansea against Burnley and West Bromwich Albion at Crystal Palace.
But the day's spotlight was inevitably going to be trained on Guardiola, given his trophy-laden spells at Bayern and Barcelona, and his new club's hunger for league success.
The Spaniard signaled the changes with his very first starting lineup. England goalkeeper Joe Hart was dropped in favor of Willy Caballero and there were debuts for defender John Stones after his 47.5 million pound ($62 million) move from Everton and Spain forward Nolito.
His team certainly got off to a perfect start, with Raheem Sterling winning a penalty that was converted by Sergio Aguero after only four minutes.
But despite having nearly all the possession, City labored to make their superiority count and was pegged back in the 71st minute when Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe rifled home an equalizer.
McNair handed City all three points, though, when the ball struck his head and flew into his own net following a deflected low cross by Jesus Navas.
"It was tough for everybody and that is why the people says the Premier League is tough," Guardiola said. "We were constant and we deserved the victory."
As for his new signings, he added: "All of them were a team, so we fight. We spoke many times what we should do like a team, this is just the first step. But of course, for the new people, new manager, new players, to start winning helps to believe in what we are doing."
Claudio Ranieri knew what his Leicester players were doing against Hull, and he didn't like it.
Along with the missed opportunities in front of goal, Ranieri said a lack of teamwork meant his team was second-best on the day.
"They played better, we tried to do our best," the Italian told Sky Sports. "The effort was amazing, but individual effort — not as a team. And I think this is the key of the match."
Having defied odds of 5,000-1 to win the league last season, the tables were turned on Leicester as the surprise champions lost to a club that was struggling with pre-season injuries and protests by fans against the owners.
Although Leicester has managed to keep all but one of its key players from last season — with combative midfielder N'Golo Kante moving to Chelsea — Ranieri's team lacked its usual bite.
Adama Diomande put Hull ahead in first-half stoppage time, Riyad Mahrez leveled from the penalty spot just after the restart and Robert Snodgrass scored the winner in the 57th minute.
Hull, with Mike Phelan in the role of caretaker manager after Steve Bruce left in July, had been struggling in the run-up to Saturday's match.
"A lot of the time it was fingers crossed to make sure that we had enough players to get out onto this field today," Phelan said.
"But all credit to the football players. They showed a lot of the determination."
Ross Barkley gave Everton its fifth-minute lead in Ronald Koeman's first game in charge, but Erik Lamela headed a second-half equalizer for Spurs.
Nathan Redmond scored an equalizer on his Southampton debut against a Watford side that finished with 10 men after taking a ninth-minute lead through Etienne Capoue, while a free kick from Swiss playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri earned Stoke a point at promoted Middlesbrough.
Leroy Fer scored Swansea's late winner against Burnley and a header from West Brom's Salomon Rondon gave the visitors their victory at Crystal Palace.
On Sunday, Jose Mourinho's Manchester United plays at Bournemouth and Arsenal hosts Liverpool.
Chelsea hosts West Ham in a London derby on Monday night.
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