Good Weekend, Bad Weekend
The Premier League returned with a bang and there is no shortage of topics to discuss in GWBW. Touched upon below are the fact there were six away wins on Saturday, every London team grabbed three points over the weekend and why central defenders are the new strikers (Vermaelen, Gallas, Shawcross, Upson and Bassong were all on target).
The Gunners produced the performance of the weekend and after just 90 minutes of football have made a huge number of talking heads look like idiots. Of course, it would be premature to take too many conclusions from one result but Arsene Wenger’s side will be there or thereabouts this season. (Arsenal are now 11/2 to win the league.)
Crucially, Thomas Vermaelen had a solid debut in defence and coped admirably with Everton’s direct football. The fact the Belgium international scored will only boost his confidence. Denilson scored a cracker and the Brazilian midfielder will improve as the season goes on after playing a major part last season.
Many fans and pundits have been too caught up on the departures of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor. In the meanwhile Wenger has stockpiled a fine squad at the Emirates and it is likely that a whole host of players will show marked improvement this campaign. In particular, Cesc Fabregas certainly looked like he has the desire to finally bring some silverware to the Emirates.
After Saturday’s demolition of Everton the question marks now surround whether Arsenal can put up a title challenge, as opposed to asking if they can hold off the challenge of Manchester City for a top four spot. The Champions League tie with Celtic is crucial as it is believed Wenger will strengthen further if the Gunners progress to the group stages.
If Arshavin and Fabregas stay fit, Arsenal have as good a chance as anyone of winning the title. After the rout at Goodison Park it would take a brave man to back another team scoring more Premier League goals in 2009/2010.
And Jack Wilshere didn’t even make the bench.
Starts have been tough for Spurs in recent years. Last season it took Spurs nine games last season to achieve their first Premier League win, while over the past three seasons the Lilywhites had failed to register a victory in their curtain-raiser.
All that changed on Sunday as Harry Redknapp led Spurs to an opening day win and while ‘Arry will take all the plaudits it is clear to see his imprint throughout the 2009/2010 side.
Much like he did at Portsmouth, the foundations at Spurs look solid despite the best efforts of Heurelho Gomes. Wilson Palacios appears to get better with every game and besides his goal, Sebastien Bassong could be just what Spurs need if he can avoid injury—not always so easy for a central defender at White Hart Lane.
There will of course be some who now hail Redknapp’s side as possibilities to break into the “Big Four.” (Spurs are 3/1 to win the “without the Big Four” market.) The real test will come in the next three away games at Hull, West Ham and Doncaster as Spurs usually struggle away from home and the signing of Peter Crouch was aimed at alleviating this issue.
Redknapp may also now regret handing the captain’s armband to Robbie Keane. The Republic of Ireland’s all-time goal scorer missed three good chances in the first half and looks a shadow of the player that left White Hart Lane for Liverpool.
For all the talk of Carlo Ancelotti’s diamond formation, it looked like same old Chelsea on Saturday as Didier Drogba plowed a lone furrow up front (where was Nicolas Anelka?) and won the game for the Blues.
The importance of the Ivory Coast striker cannot be underestimated and his poor form at the start of last season was undoubtedly one of the key reasons for Chelsea failing to sustain a title challenge and Luiz Felipe Scolari’s departure. As a point of comparison, Drogba’s first Premier League goal during 2008/2009 didn’t come until Boxing Day.
Ancelotti has much to ponder. While the spine of the side in Cech, Terry, Essien, Lampard and Drogba should be good enough to win silverware, some of the other players at the club look decidedly average. Neither Jon Obi Mikel or Michael Ballack looked particularly inspiring on Saturday lunchtime and if Yuri Zhirkov, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda are all available, a diamond formation in midfield doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
A crucial win for City as a defeat on the opening day would have moved the pressure up a notch on manager Mark Hughes and the project at Middle Eastlands. Whilst two excellent finishes from Emmanuel Adebayor and Stephen Ireland took the headlines, the performance of Shay Given at his former club was the real reason City came away with the points. As long as City’s defence looks porous, Given will have a major role to play.
Two set-piece goals got Stoke up and running for the season as they introduced Burnley to the more direct style of play that can be found in the Premier League.
Ryan Shawcross who scored the first is now reportedly a target for Manchester United with Sir Alex Ferguson regretting the decision to let the central defender leave Old Trafford. The second came from a Rory Delap long throw which will be heartening for Tony Pulis as will be the massive noise generated at the Britannia Stadium that suggests ”second season syndrome” may not affect the Potters.
Roberto Martinez/Hugo Rodallega
We did tell you to expect good things from Wigan and Roberto Martinez could not have wished for a better start at Villa Park on Saturday. Huga Rodallega looks to be in fine fettle and he could be a surprise Golden Boot candidate after putting his name forward for the Goal of the Season award.
If the tabloid rumours are nonsense and Zola lasts the season at Upton Park, it will be a straight battle between the diminutive Italian and Roberto Martinez for up-and-coming manager of the season.
Bent looked a different player to the one that missed a sitter for Spurs at home to Portsmouth last season. Climbing above Kevin Davies is no mean feat and the former Charlton and Ipswich striker could be an inspired buy from Steve Bruce.
United’s narrow win over Birmingham didn’t tell us a whole lot that we didn’t already suspect. The Red Devils will rely on Wayne Rooney and keeping it tight at the back this season whilst more is expected from Owen (guilty of missing a chance late on that he would have gobbled up five years ago) and Berbatov.
Goals from midfield are a must, which made Darren Fletcher’s first-half miss all the more galling. Nevertheless, United secured all three points and will need to show similar professionalism at Burnley on Wednesday night. (Manchester United are 2/7 to win against the Clarets.)
The Newcastle striker scored a fine hat-trick and then dedicated the goals to Sir Bobby Robson.
The Bundesliga champions have continued this season where they left off in 2008/2009. Two wins out of two and they are already four clear of Bayern Munich. Former coach Felix Magath joins them at the top of the table with new Schalke and it looks like another mightily intriguing season in Germany.
He might make almost hourly comments on his desire to leave Bordeaux, but the constant speculation about Chamakh only seems to be inspiring him to score goals. Three in two now for the Moroccan striker.
Whilst much is being written and said about Real Madrid and Manchester City, Lyon have gone on their own spending spree in recent weeks. Bafetimbi Gomis secured the only goal of the game against Valenciennes to suggest money can buy success.
A 4-3 win over Ajax is a fine way to secure the first three points of the season.
If you don’t know about the VVV Venlo midfielder yet, it’s time to get with the programme. Honda, the new star of of the Eredivise, took his season tally to four goals and two assists in just three games yesterday at Utrecht, to confirm the “new Naka” as one of the hottest properties playing in European football.
Forget the furore over Joleon Lescott, Everton defended like school boys and Moyes’ anger could be visible from the bench. The Toffees could hardly be faulted for the opener but the two headed goals from Gallas and Vermaelen before the break killed the game and were most unlike David Moyes’ side.
This was Everton’s heaviest Premier League defeat at home and they have been on the receiving end of some real pastings by Arsene Wenger’s side in recent years. These have included a 4-1 defeat at home exactly five years prior to this defeat and during the same season (2004/2005) a famous 7-0 drubbing at the Emirates. This defeat was another blow to Everton challenging the very best and hits hard as it comes hot on the heels of their FA Cup final loss to Chelsea. (Everton are 8/1 to win the “without the Big Four” market.)
Moyes failed to strengthen the side in the summer and now a Champions League spot looks a tall order. As ever expect Moyes to get his side back on track at home to Sigma Olomouc on Thursday night but the fixture at Burnley next Sunday already looks tricky.
As many have mentioned since Arsenal ran riot, maybe Moyes has to sell Lescott to reinvigorate his side?
Liverpool (The Reds are now 9/2 to win the league.)
It was a chastening day for Rafa Benitez and he was quite clearly riled by the defeat. Much has been made of Xabi Alonso’s departure but following the clash of heads between Skrtel and Carragher, perhaps Benitez should have done more to hold on to Sami Hyypia.
The loss of Alonso was quite clearly seen throughout the match as Liverpool failed to provide much service through the centre for either Gerrard or Torres. The decision to play Ryan Babel was also remarkable, a point proven by the industrious Yossi Benayoun when he was introduced.
Whilst the defeat was hard to take there were some positives for the Merseyside giants. Not least the fact that full backs Insua and Johnson contributed to the attack which should make a major difference when teams come to defend at Anfield.
The key is to get Torres and Gerrard on the ball as much as possible, with these two players arguably the best in the Premier League. Liverpool are still well capable of securing title number 19.
Martin O’Neill hid behind no excuses following the home defeat to Wigan. Villa fans will however be worrying that their highly-rated manager hasn’t replaced Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen, who were the backbone of the side that threatened to break into a Champions League spot last season.
It is way too early to start panicking, but the next three games against Rapid Vienna (twice in the Europa League) and Liverpool (where they lost 5-0 last season) look tricky. Most importantly, if Villa do struggle this season, Ashley Young will continue to be linked with a move away from Villa Park.
Like many a side managed by McCarthy, Wolves were a tad naive against West Ham and will need to show some savvy in upcoming away games against Wigan and Manchester City. (Wolves are 11/8 to be relegated.)
Paul Hart’s post-match interview was indicative of the gloom surrounding Fratton Park, summed up by the most unlucky of goals to concede as Clint Dempsey’s effort took a cruel deflection off Bobby Zamora. As suspected, it doesn’t look like Frederic Piquionne will be much of a threat up front and besides Nadir Belhadj and Niko Kranjcar the whole squad looks woefully short of the attacking quality necessary to stay up.
Sulaiman Al Fahim clearly believes the takeover is close otherwise he surely wouldn’t have been present at Fratton Park looking splendid in his white suit. David James summed it up in his column in The Observer yesterday: “We have been told we have a new owner lined up and the future is bright, but until everything is signed, sealed and delivered we are all—fans, players and staff—prone to worry.”
Beckham’s time in the MLS took another turn for the worse as he saw red in LA Galaxy’s 2-0 defeat to the Seattle Sounders. These moments of despair may just be a prelude to when Goldenballs takes a starring role in the MLS playoffs.
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