LONDON, ENGLAND - Chelsea roared into the new English Premiership season in style on Sunday, thrashing Portsmouth 4-0 to open the Luiz Felipe Scolari era with a bang while titleholders Manchester United could only draw 1-1 at home to Newcastle.
With the Blues swatting the FA Cup winners aside and with Aston Villa, aspiring to break into the top-four this season, beating Manchester City 4-2 aided by a Gabriel Agbonlahor hattrick inside seven minutes, there was pressure on United to start with a similar flourish.
The omens appeared good, Newcastle having been woeful in the corresponding fixture last season, when they surrendered 6-0 before finding patches of form to finish in midtable.
This time, despite the absence of the injured Michael Owen, Kevin Keegan's side gave as good as they got from the outset against the Premiership and European champions, who were missing last year's twin inspirations Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson opted in their absence for a partnership of Wayne Rooney and Fraizer Campbell in attack but last year's champions amply demonstrated their need for new offensive options.
Although the hosts dominated possession they had only Darren Fletcher's 24th-minute strike to show for their efforts as he cancelled out Obafemi Martins' towering header 90 seconds earlier for the Magpies.
To make matters worse for Ferguson, who has been heavily linked with a move for the Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov, he also lost midfielder Michael Carrick to an ankle injury in the first half.
Ferguson said Carrick would be withdrawing from the England squad and faced three weeks on the sidelines.
United will take a crumb of comfort from the knowledge that last year they could only manage a scoreless Old Trafford stalemate with Reading on the opening day and then swiftly lost the first Manchester derby before righting themselves and ending two years of Chelsea domination in the league.
'It was disappointing. I think in the first half we played pretty well, our attacking play was very good, Ferguson told Sky Sports.
'But in the second half we never looked like breaking them down,' admitted Ferguson, who gave Newcastle credit for their fluency on the counter attack. 'We were the better team - but we didn't make it count.'
Newcastle counterpart Kevin Keegan in contrast enthused at how his rejigged side, for whom new boy Gutierrez was outstanding.
'I said to the lads: 'If we can come here and do that we can go anywhere after a game like that.'
'I think we thoroughly deserved a point here today,' added Keegan, whose first Newcastle side famously let the title slip from its grasp 12 years ago, with the trophy going to Old Trafford.
As United laboured, Chelsea's new manager Scolari was purring after his men flattened Portsmouth - though he earlier had admitted he fears the sack if he does not deliver glory this term to Stamford Bridge.
Scolari told the News of the World he believes owner Roman Abramovich's patience will not stretch very far should he fail to bring success to the London club after Avram Grant was dismissed following narrow misses in the league, Champions League and League Cup.
'I don't want to be sacked, but maybe it is one line that Chelsea will follow. Because at Chelsea, if you don't win it is bad,' said Scolari.
'I have a contract for two years and I will try and stay two years. But it's true nobody remembers a loser.'
Joe Cole, Nicolas Anelka and a Frank Lampard penalty wrapped up the points in a one-way first half and Deco netted a fine fourth to put the icing on the cake.
Villa were also four-star as Agbonlahor netted his quickfire treble after John Carew had hit their opener against a frail Manchester City defence.
On Saturday, new French star Samir Nasri scored four minutes into his Arsenal debut in a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion while promoted Hull, in the big time for the first time in their history, edged out Fulham 2-1.
Fernando Torres secured a 1-0 win for Liverpool at Sunderland, Middlesbrough saw off fancied Tottenham with former Spurs striker Mido netting the winner and Paul Ince's Blackburn scored a last-gasp 3-2 win at Everton.
Elsewhere, promoted Stoke slid to a 3-1 loss at Bolton and a double strike from Dean Ashton enabled West Ham to edge out Wigan 2-1.