Goal feast for fans as Man U, Chelsea, Liverpool win in EPL

The return of near-capacity crowds fueled a barrage of goals and a bunch of home wins on the first Saturday of the English Premier League season.

Fans at Old Trafford particularly enjoyed themselves.

More than 72,000 spectators — Britain’s biggest soccer crowd since the pandemic — saw Bruno Fernandes’ hat trick and Paul Pogba’s four assists sweep Manchester United to a 5-1 thrashing of fierce rival Leeds, a statement of intent from a team whose last of its record 20 top-flight titles came in 2013.

It was the highest-scoring encounter on a day featuring 25 goals across seven matches, at an average of 3.57 — much higher than a typical season’s average. The presence of fans may also have contributed to there being five home wins, an immediate swing from last season when there were more away wins (40% compared to 38% for home teams).

Chelsea, the European champion and a big title contender like United, flexed its early-season muscles by overwhelming Crystal Palace in a 3-0 win that could have been heavier in front of nearly 39,000 fans.

Liverpool was the other expected title challenger to begin its league campaign and Mohamed Salah set up two goals before scoring himself — the fifth straight season he has netted in the opening round — in a 3-0 win at promoted Norwich.

There were also wins for promoted team Watford and Everton, who beat Aston Villa 3-2 and Southampton 3-1 respectively, and Leicester, which defeated Wolverhampton 1-0 thanks to a goal by 34-year-old striker Jamie Vardy.

Aside from Liverpool, the only away winner was Brighton, which came from behind to beat Burnley 2-1 at Turf Moor.

The British government lifted social-distancing measures on July 19, paving the way for clubs to allow fans back in force after they were shut down for almost the entirety of last season and the end of the 2019-20 season. Capacities aren’t quite at their maximum, though, because certain areas of stadiums have limited access around players and officials.

Manchester City, the reigning champion, begins the defense of its title at Tottenham on Sunday.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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