Well, that was a horrible few months. Luckily, just as easily as seasons end, new ones begin. In a new feature here on BPF, each week we’ll take a look at five of the top conclusions that can be drawn from the recent action from across the pond. Each offering is by no means exclusive so feel free to add your own talking points/rebuttals in the comments section underneath where I’ll be happy to at least entertain them…! It’s good be be back.
1. Last year’s top two continue where they left off……
Fair enough, each of the other four most realistic title/top 4 challengers faced difficult ties against each other on the opening weekend but it was still telling how comfortable it was for Chelsea and Manchester United to dispose of West Brom and Newcastle respectively.
Whereas the afore mentioned challengers huffed and puffed to break each other down, last year’s top two hardly had to break sweat as they swatted aside their newly promoted opponents. Given the staggering of each of the fixtures to accomodate the ever expanding TV Schedule, the United and Chelsea bosses were no doubt keen observers of their challengers games this weekend and truth be told, they most likely saw very little to worry them. City were disjointed, Spurs organised but very likely to suffer the effects of a tough European schedule as the season progresses, Liverpool impressively solid but seemingly lacking the overall quality for a title push and Arsenal lucky to even get a point from a game in which they gave up all control to a team with ten men.
Given the pre-season difficulties experienced by Chelsea it would have been deemed wholly excusable for their supporters to carry some nerves into Saturday evenings kickoff, but within six minutes of the whistle blowing at Stamford Bridge all their fears were lifted as Carlo Ancelottis men blew the Baggies aside. The Blues have won their last three home games with a combined score of 21-0. Frightening.
United had slightly longer to wait to break the deadlock against Newcastle on Monday night, but once Dimitar Berbatov fired them ahead in the 33rd minute they entered cruise control and simply toyed with Newcastle for the remainder of the game.
Both sides looked composed, focused and most importantly hungry.
On this evidence, it would take a brave/stupid person to bet against either of these two lifting the trophy in nince months time. Even at this extremely early stage, for both bosses to be looking down the table rather than up is a huge plus.
2. Various lives left in various old dogs as Golden Oldies prove their worth…..
As City continue to spunk more and more money on young “superstars”, it was some of the old battlers of the Premier League that showed their true class this weekend. 32 year old Didier Drogba matched the hat trick he scored on the final day of last season with another one on the opening day of this one and showed he is most probably the best all round striker to be found anywhere in the world while Paul Scholes (pictured) gave an exhibition in the centre of the park for Manchester United.
Scholes’ controlled play to a level where it almost seemed unfair to watch the Newcastle midfielders struggle to cope with him. Time and time again he found himself in possession and as has become his trademark since changing his game from regular goal scorer to creator, always seemed to have the time and intelligence to pick the right pass. With Mesut Ozil being touted by many to be the man Fergie sees as the ginger maestro’s long term replacement, few could confidently predict the talented German (should he even make it Old Trafford) to have a fraction of the influence Scholes has had over his career.
Credit also goes to Ryan Giggs, 36 years young, who has now scored in each of the last 21 Premier League season. Incredible.
3. Same old failings for Arsenal……….
Squad short on adequate cover – check.
Goalkeeper who continues to inspire fear in fans – check.
Inability to change from a neat passing style into something more effective if required – check.
While Arsenal are quite often a joy to watch, it’s come to the point where Arsene Wenger’s stubborn belief in some of his players is seriously mitigating the respect I once held for him and his team. As a United fan, I shouldn’t care less about this, but yet, I do. Wenger is an immensely talented coach and in no way do I support the numerus Arsenal fans who have called for his head over the past few seasons but his blind confidence in continuing with constantly disappointing players is beyond me.
Andrei Arshavin is a shadow of the man who once famously scored four at Anfield. Theo Walcott may never gain the ability to cross a ball or regularly be trusted to make a right decision and but for the fact that he was English, Jack Wilshere may well have been booed off the field yesterday. Whilst all these players have undoubted talent, they cannot be relied upon to consistently produce it, regardless of the faith shown in them from their manager.
Arsene Wenger has set his target as improving on last season’s finish, therefore meaning a top two finish. On yesterday’s evidence, this will not happen. Don’t get me wrong, Arsenal will go out and win 80-90% of the games they play in but it is those other games, most likely agaisnt their main competitors which will make sure of their failure. Their system is predictable and completely one-dimensional as shown so conclusively by both Chelsea and United last season. Apart from the signing of Marouane Chamakh, they have little to attempt to remedy this problem and all in all, the squad seems almost weaker than last years. The returning Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie will help things, but not by enough.
Despite the failings listed above, the single most obvious one comes in the first place you look – position number one. While I feel criticsm of his part in Liverpool’s goal was harsh, Manuel Almunia is not of the level required to act as goalkeeper for a championship winning side. This is as good as beyond question at this stage. Arsene Wenger must take off his blinkers and take out his chequebook……..Which leads us on nicely to the next point……
4. Shay “Given” little other choice but to move on?……
Rumours swirled all last week of the difficult decison facing City boss Roberto Mancini as he geared up to name his team for the clash against Spurs. In Shay Given and Joe Hart, the Italian has two of the League’s best keeper’s at his disposal. As anyone knows, only one can ever start and Saturday’s starting berth was handed to the young Englishman who grabbed the opportunity with both glooved hands leaving Given a forlorn figure on the sidelines with the memories of last year’s opening day, where he played out a man of the match performance, serving as a cruel reminder as to how quickly sporting fates can change.
As Joe Hart pulled off another excellent save on Saturday, TV cameras picked up Given turning to a teammate on the bench and saying “I don’t think I’ll be playing next week lads”. While this might have been said in good humour the situation at City is a lot darker for the Irish international. Having made the huge decision to leave Newcastle last summer it finally seemed like Given had a chance to challenge for honours in a team deserving of his immense skills but with Joe Hart being proclaimed the future saviour of the club, his country and the world (should Sky Sports be believed) Given is now very much playing second fiddle.
With time ticking on his career, Given cannot afford to sit around and wait for an opportunity to arise and it would seem a gross injustice if he was ultimately forced to do so. Arsene Wenger, if you’re reading, which I’m sure you are……. do the right thing.
5. Blackpool’s bite worse than their bark….?
Notable mention should definitely be given to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool and their magnificent performance against (an albeit extremely poor) Wigan. Holloway is a terrific manager and rarely gets the credit he deserves. No doubt results like their 4-0 opener will be few and far between but the honesty,responsibility, humility and enthusiasm shown by all at the club is hugely admirable. Raging favorites for the drop their fans will take each day as it comes and Saturday’s result will warm them a long way into Winter should their fortunes take a downturn. Its impressive to see each of the three promoted sides taking a cautious approach to their spending given the current troubles of so many gone before them. Holloway admitted last week that over 40 players rejected his advances over the summer because of the club’s £1ok wage ceiling making their position in the “World’s richest League” even more impressive. I still fancy them to go down, but I’ll also shout for them more weeks than I don’t.