In the aftermath of the astounding success of the London Olympics, football came under intense scrutiny and criticism due its perceived out of touch players and poor sportsmanship. Well the Premier League got it’s opportunity to reply on the opening weekend, and of course Monday nights big game, and boy did it! Goals, red cards and lots of talking points to boot. It took all of three days for the Premier League to reassert its authority and we couldn’t be happier.
The main talking points after the each clubs opening Premier League match:
• It’s clear, Man United need to strengthen their defence.
• Heavy defeat for Liverpool, but why there is reason for optimism.
• Arsenal huffed and puffed and couldn’t find an opening, but there is cause for optimism there too.
• Not so though for Norwich, QPR and Aston Villa, where alarm bells must already be ringing.
But we begin with the reigning Champions Manchester City.
Who Says Lightning Never Strikes Twice?
Manchester City began the defence of their title with the narrowest of wins over new boys Southampton. There is cause for concern for the blue half of Manchester after Sunday’s 3-2 win. It is a badly kept secret that Roberto Mancini is after defensive reinforcements, and after the performance of the back four on Sunday, you can be sure he will be in Brian Marwood’s office demanding money for new purchases.
City’s back four were all over the place in the 2nd half, affording Saints attackers acres of space around the 18 yard box and seemingly being afraid to make a tackle, and with the raw Stefan Savic as the only back up CB, this area of need must be addressed if City are to make a successful defence of their title.
What is of particular concern for City is the extent of Sergio Aguero’s knee injury. City refused to match Man United’s bid for Robin van Persie, and that decision could now come back to haunt them. If Aguero’s injury is as bad as feared, they must look to bring in another striker. Despite the second coming of Carlos Tevez, Edin Dzeko is too inconsistent and Mario Balotelli too immature to really be counted upon to pick up Aguero’s share of the goals. Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina is a name that is being heavily linked.
It wasn’t all gloomy for City though. Most importantly the three points was secured in a bizarre reenactment of their defining title-winning game from May 13th. Tevez led the line with aplomb, getting his name on the score sheet and showing a willingness to take on Saints defenders. But the performance of the day had to go to Samir Nasri. So often left in Silva’s shadow, the Frenchman was able to provide the spark City desperately needed as Silva faded early, providing the perfect through ball for Tevez to latch on to and convert, as well as scoring the winner ten minutes from time. Its early days yet, but City remain the team to beat
United’s Defence Needs Addressing
Manchester United, as we all know, signed striker Robin van Persie on Friday for £24million from Arsenal, raising United’s striker quota to five, Sir Alex clearly believing that United’s failure to be more clinical in front of goal cost them the league title last season, but it really didn’t.
United lost the league by losing to Blackburn 3-2 at home, losing 6-1 at home to Manchester City and drawing 4-4 at home to Everton. Failure to keep the ball out of their own net, rather than putting it in the oppositions saw them surrender the title to the Noisy Neighbours.
A major reason why their defence has been shipping so many goals can be attributed to a rash of long-term injuries that continue to plague the side going into this season. A new right back is desperately needed with Rafael Manchester United’s only out-and-out right back of a decent standard. However, following the signing of Dutch left-back Alexander Buttner for Vitesse the void left by Fabio’s loan to QPR has now been covered.
With United starting Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes and debutant Shinji Kagawa in a centre midfield three on Monday night, the trio were continually unable to win the ball back from Everton, whilst continually losing possession to the Fellaini Monster. Cleverley looked like a child thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool, and was largely anonymous, whilst Scholes completed some beautiful passes, got his customary yellow card, but also failed to provide a spark. Kagawa, signed from Dortmund in the summer, impressed as a quality ball player, someone who can pick a pass and doesn’t give possession away. But as everyone else around him failed to perform, he was left largely redundant. Michael Carrick is to come back into this midfield, but he is not good enough to run the midfield alone.
If Ferguson has any desire to grab the title back from City, the midfield must be improved. The defense will be better this season when players such as Phil Jones and Chris Smalling return from injury, and the return of Vidic is huge for United. But the players in front of them also have to raise their game.
It’s very early days so far, but its advantage City so far.
Don’t Underestimate Liverpool
For the first 45mins of their season opener at West Brom, Liverpool almost totally dominated, and if not for some wasteful finishing from Luis Suarez in particular, were unlucky not to be leading before Zoltan Gera’s golazo just before the half time whistle. Joe Allen in particular stood out in the centre of midfield. He rarely, if ever, gives the ball away, plays the simple ball and dictates the game from midfield. Many were questioning the wisdom of signing an unproven talent from Swansea for £15million, but if he keeps performing as he did on Saturday, it would be money well spent.
Brendan Rodger’s philosophy of playing a short passing game, with the onus on ball control and keeping possession, will take time to bed in with some of these Liverpool players more used to a direct, old school style of football. It showed in the second half, as Martin Skrtel was caught in two minds whether to hoof the ball or pass it short to a teammate, allowing Shane Long to nip in from behind and win a penalty. As Brendan Rodger’s said post match “we’ll have more days like this as well along the way, that’s the reality of it”.
It will take time, but as soon as Liverpool adapt to Rodger’s philosophy, and when Luis Suarez learns to score from inside the six yard box, they will rocket back up the table. Top four is not a realistic target just yet, but top six is not out the question.
Arsenal Will Finish In The Top Four
It’s becoming a yearly event down at the Emirates for Arsenal to sell off their best players. The latest sale at football’s version of Harrod’s saw last season’s Premier League top goalscorer Robin van Persie depart for hated rivals Manchester United, whilst Alex Song has moved to Arsenal’s parent club Barcelona. These moves mean Arsenal are, for yet another season, being written off for a place in the top four, a view further compounded by Saturday’s miserable 0-0 draw with Sunderland. Yet to do so would be foolhardy and premature. Arsenal were in a much worse position last season, where they got off to a start so horrendous, they were closer to the drop then to the top, this period exemplified by an 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford. Yet Arsenal still finished 3rd and qualified for the Champions League.
The summer signing of Santi Cazorla already looks a fantastic bit of business. Cazorla ran the show against Sunderland, with his reverse through ball to Olivier Giroud a particular highlight. Gervinho was outstanding also on Saturday, dancing through and around the Sunderland team, as he looked full of confidence and desire, after an injury plagued 2011/12.
Olivier Giroud may not have endeared himself to Arsenal fans, after he somehow managed to miss from six yards out after Cazorla’s aforementioned through ball, some may already have cast him off as the second coming of Marouane Chamakh, but that would be harsh. Giroud showed great intelligence and understanding with Cazorla to run on to that through ball, and when he eventually becomes match fit, he should be in amongst the goals.
Wenger is also understood to still be in the market, with Nuri Sahin and Yann M’Vila being heavily linked, and with Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere to come back into this side, don’t write Arsenal off.
Norwich, QPR And Aston Villa In Early Trouble
Last season, Norwich were never in any serious relegation trouble, much thanks to the expert managerial skills of Paul Lambert. Lambert was able to guide a team consisting mostly of lower league players, such as Grant Holt and Aaron Wilbraham, to raise their game to another level and finish 12th. With Lambert gone to Aston Villa, Norwich turn their lonely eyes to Chris Hughton. Hughton is a shrewd appointment, but for Norwich, with no real quality in the team and with limited resources to add anyone not from the Championship, they will do well to finish anywhere but bottom. The 5-0 opening day defeat to Fulham could be a sign of things to come, it’s going to be a long season for the Canaries.
After playing a starring role in last season’s incredible finish, QPR manager Mark Hughes set about making sure that a repeat of last season’s last day survival will not be repeated, adding eight new faces before Saturday. However, five of these new arrivals are attacking players, meaning Hughes has overlooked improving a defense that shipped the most amount of goals outside the bottom three last season and this overlook came back to haunt QPR on Saturday after a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea. The defensive signings Hughes has made are also questionable ones. Rob Green is a mediocre goalkeeper at best, prone to errors which was on full show against Swansea, as he allowed a weak Michu shot to squirm under his body to start the rout. Fabio and Bosingwa are also poor full backs, prone to being caught out of position. Hughes has two weeks to bring in defensive reinforcements and if he continues to abuse this area, QPR will struggle.
Aston Villa were in the mix at the bottom last season, surviving by the skin of their teeth. The dour Alex McCleish was removed to make way for Paul Lambert, a very good appointment, but the cupboard is bare at Villa Park. There is absolutely no depth there, and the players who are there, a mixture of youth team players and cut price buys (with Darren Bent thrown in) may not be enough to ensure Villa’s survival. Villa owner Randy Lerner has just sold his NFL franchise for £900million, and if he chooses not to invest some of that cash into the Villa team, another hard season will be endured.
Hero Of The Premier League’s First Fixtures
Marouane Fellaini – Everton
Heading into Monday night’s game, Samir Nasri’s virtuoso performance against Southampton was going to see him take this prestigious honour, but after Everton thoroughly outplayed United, there can be only one winner, Fellaini.
Fellaini was imperious, outmuscling United’s midfield with ease, bullying stand in CB Michael Carrick, and popping up with the match winner and clearing a shot off the line to boot. An outstanding performance and Everton, notoriously slow starters, are up and running after Week 1.
Goat Of The Weekend
Martin Skrtel – Liverpool
This was a hard choice to make, considering some of the mistakes made by Green and Federici, but Skrtel’s 2nd half horror show at the Hawthorns just shades the two goalkeepers. The first mistake he made, slipping as Shane Long beat him to the ball to race through on goal, saw his CB partner Dan Agger foul Long in the penalty area as he raced to cover Skrtel’s error, which resulted in a red card and a West Brom penalty. The second mistake he made was mentioned above, you just cannot take three touches in your own penalty area when you don’t know whats going on around you, what was he thinking?!
Ten Thoughts On The Premier League’s First Games Of The Season
1) Southampton will have no problems staying up this season. A well-drilled, organised side, they showed no fear at Fortress Etihad and played the counter attack expertly.
2) We learned nothing about where Chelsea are as a team today. Two early goals and then they sat back. Harder tests will come.
3) Reading vs Stoke, no offence to fans of either team, but a game that only Fantasy Football players would take any interest in.
4) Same with West Ham vs Aston Villa. I dread the day Sky show a West Ham game, Sam Allardyce football is not for me.
5) Luis Suarez, you are a £23.5mill striker, you have to score more than you do.
6) Its only been one game, but Swansea may have the bargain of the season in Michu, two goals and an assist on his debut, he looks a class act.
7) Saw some tipped West Brom for the drop, not this team, some real quality there, and Shane Long is very underrated, just ignore his penalty miss. No way is Romelu Lukaku 19, I’m sorry I’m not having it.
8) Huge win for Everton Monday night, notorious slow starters. Can they crash the top four? I think not, but top seven should be achieved comfortably
9) Great start for Fulham and Martin Jol has built a very nice squad there, but its Old Trafford next, good luck.
10) Tottenham aren’t ready for the start of the season, AGAIN. More reinforcements needed?!
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