LONDON, Aug 20 (AFP): Stuttering Arsenal and Liverpool handed Chelsea an early boost when they both had to come back from a goal down to salvage 1-1 draws as the English Premiership returned with a bang.
The two title hopefuls had the chance to send a warning message to champions Chelsea, who start their campaign Sunday, but the Blues would have seen nothing to suggest they can't make it three titles in a row this season.
In their first Premiership match at their new Emirates Stadium, Arsenal drew with Aston Villa, while Liverpool had to rely on a highly dubious penalty to rescue a point at newly- promoted Sheffield United.
Chelsea kick off their attempt at a third straight title at home to Manchester City Sunday, though Germany captain Michael Ballack, one of their two stellar new recruits alongside Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko, is ruled out with a hip injury.
Villa's Sweden defender Olof Mellberg headed the first Premiership goal at the Emirates Stadium in Villa boss Martin O'Neill's first game in charge.
In their first match in the top flight, Championship winners Reading pulled off a stunning comeback from two goals down against last season's beaten UEFA Cup finalists Middlesbrough to win 3-2 at the Madejski Stadium.
Portsmouth beat visitors Blackburn 3-0 at Fratton Park.
Tottenham hope to break the big four's grip on the Champions League places but they were beaten 2-0 at Bolton's Reebok Stadium.
Newcastle beat Wigan 2-1 at St James' Park.
Elsewhere, Everton beat Watford 2-1 at Goodison Park and West Ham came back from a goal down to beat Charlton 3-1 at Upton Park.