Good Weekend, Bad Weekend
Normal service was resumed by Manchester United on Saturday, whilst Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City continued their impressive starts to the season. Alarm bells are now ringing at Fratton Park and at Goodison Park, whilst the return of Serie A may have crowned another Brazilian sensation for the Rossoneri.
At half-time on Saturday at the DW Stadium, things were looking a little hairy for Manchester United having failed to take the chances that had come their way against Wigan and with the defeat at Turf Moor fresh in the memory. A blistering spell of three goals in nine minutes won the match for the Premier League champions and dispelled a number of doubts about whether United can move on without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez.
Wayne Rooney (9/2 to be the Premier League top goalscorer) took many of the plaudits for his 100th and 101st goals for United and after much hype in pre-season, the England striker appears to be revelling in a central role, as talisman of the side without Ronaldo and at the beginning of a World Cup season. Many have questioned whether Dimitar Berbatov has the necessary desire and heart to succeed at Old Trafford and his celebration after the third certainly suggested that the Bulgarian does give a damn.
The final two goals, which came when the game was won, were also significant. Michael Owen’s movement and finish for the fourth was a hark back to his glory days. Without wishing to get carried away, one has to hope that the former Newcastle striker can produce such finishing when the pressure is really on, he did after all miss decent chances at critical times against Birmingham and Burnley.
Nani’s fifth also suggested, following his goal in the Community Shield, that with enough quality in wide areas, alongside the likes of Valencia, Giggs, Tosic and Obertan, that United have what it takes to replace Ronaldo simply by force of numbers.
The much derided Abou Diaby came to prominence early doors with two goals to all but see off a Portsmouth side that look like certainties for relegation even at this early stage. (Pompey are 8/11 to go down.) Diaby, like a clutch of other players at the Emirates, can only get better. Players such as Sagna, Clichy, Song, Fabregas, Walcott, Van Persie, in fact almost the whole Arsenal squad, should continue to improve, which makes any critics of Arsene Wenger look a little stupid.
Comparisons with Patrick Vieira have dogged Diaby since he joined Arsenal - Wenger added to these after the win over Pompey. Whilst he might not have the tough tackling skills of his legendary countryman, he does have the ability to make lung-bursting runs into the opposition’ box. Diaby’s goals at Aston Villa and Newcastle last season showed his ability to score after losing his markers in midfield, and this is a fine attribute to have in the Premier League as Frank Lampard has shown over the years.
Wenger also displayed the strength in depth that the Gunners possess. Very few Premier League teams could rest full-backs of the quality of Clichy and Sagna and replace them with Gibbs and Eboue. Aaron Ramsey came in at half-time for Cesc Fabregas and added to his burgeoning reputation, whilst this author feels Eduardo should be the first choice for the left-sided attacking player in the 4-3-3 formation.
Following Arsenal’s excellent start to the campaign, we will learn a whole lot more about the Gunners at 17.15 next Saturday night as they face Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka
Carlo Ancelotti negotiated another tricky game and had his front two to thank for the victory. Drogba and Anelka were both responsible for tidy finishes and an assist each which underlined just how much quality they possess when on form.
The depth of the Chelsea squad was yet again illustrated by leaving Michael Essien and Deco on the bench and whilst Liverpool and Manchester United have already stumbled, the Blues are looking like the team to beat. So much so, that our pals at William Hill are now offering tasty odds of 20/1 on whether Ancelotti’s men will go unbeaten through the season.
As Chelsea play Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United at home within the next nine games, if they continue this blistering start they will be the team to catch by the turn of the year.
(A full list of all the Chelsea multiples this season can be viewed here.)
Spurs dominated at Upton Park and, but for some poor finishing, would have been in control of the game before the break. Tottenham have now had their best league start since 1961 and with two tasty home games coming up against Birmingham and Manchester United, optimism is as high at White Hart Lane as it has been since the 2008 Carling Cup win.
Although they received a huge slice of fortune from Carlton Cole’s mental back pass, Spurs showed character at Upton Park and Aaron Lennon deserved his goal for a tireless performance that will have many a left back in the Premier League quaking in their boots. Once again Ledley King’s presence at the back was a major factor and now it isn’t just deluded Spurs fans asking if the Big Four should be worried.
City again rode their luck a little, Shay Given made a great save in the first half and Andy Keogh smacked the bar in the second half. Nevertheless, the attacking riches on show at Eastlands look good enough to see Mark Hughes’ side challenge for a Champions League place.
Emmanuel Adebayor appears to be re-invigorated at City and is showing his form of 2007/2008. Once Carlos Tevez and Robinho get used to playing together week-in-week- out, we could be in for a real treat.
Hull proved last season the importance of getting early points on the board and two wins in a week over two of last season’s top five have put Owen Coyle’s side in a great position at this early stage of the season. Already some top class players are emerging at Turf Moor. Brian Jensen looks like a formidable presence in goal and Wade Elliott is a player who can provide goals from midfield.
Sunderland were battered by Blackburn on Saturday and Sam Allardyce’s men looked like they would score from every corner or set-piece. Steve Bruce’s side got out of jail thanks to two fine finishes from Jones and Sunderland’s manager will need goals to keep flowing from his strikers whilst he gets to grip with other areas of his team.
The Tigers claimed their first win at home in 13 games and following the 5-1 defeat to Spurs needed to get their season going. Phil Brown may not be everyone’s cup of tea but after riding his luck last season he had to get some real quality in during the summer and the strike force of Jozy Altidore and Kamel Ghilas could make all the difference.
Altidore set up Ghilas for the only goal against Bolton just seconds after coming on and the little and large pairing look like a decent bet to give Hull a chance of beating the drop. Ghilas usually gets his fair share of goals and Altidore has looked like a class act at international level. Hull now have some hope.
After selling Kaka to Real Madrid and a pre-season campaign where they were outclassed by almost all their opponents, AC Milan began the Serie A campaign with a win at Siena. Pato claimed a brace and continues to grow as a striker who can get 20 goals or more in a season.
Pato wasn’t the only Brazilian to impress, Ronaldinho looked in good shape and could yet return to the form of his glory days at Barcelona. The buck-toothed wonder set up the first and played an incredible ball for Flamini to set up the second. Central defender Thiago Silva also had a good game and has the potential to emerge as the new Maldini, Baresi or Costacurta.
Laurent Blanc’s side have now won their opening three games of the season, scoring a total of 11 goals in 270 minutes of Ligue 1 football. Combine this with their winning streak of 11 at the back end of 2008/2009 and the French champions look like the team to beat.
When people complain that the riches of Manchester City are ruining football, Hamburg should be cited. After receiving a ludicrous transfer fee for Nigel de Jong last January, Hamburg were able to strengthen with the money received for a player who would have left for free at the end of the season.
With part of this money, Hamburg signed Eljero Elia who looks like being one of the most electrifying players in the Bundesliga this season. Two wins out of three and eight goals in their last two games suggest Hamburg are well equipped for a title challenge.
The Toffees are unlikely to be the last big team to come a cropper at Turf Moor and after playing in Europe on Thursday, Everton were a little unlucky to visit Burnley after they had seen off Manchester United.
However, coupled with the 6-1 mauling by Arsenal and Everton look like the “crisis club” of the Premier League at this early stage. Add in good starts for Manchester City and Tottenham and you have to feel Everton are unlikely to repeat last year’s fifth placed finish.
After the game David Moyes admitted there would be a number of fresh faces to come into Goodison Park before the window shuts. But the question has to be asked, if Moyes knew Phil Jagielka would miss the start of the season and the Joleon Lescott saga has been running now for over a month, why was a central defender not brought in before the new Premier League campaign?
Much will be made of Manchester City’s visit to Fratton Park next week as a club facing extinction plays host to the richest club in the world. Of more importance to Pompey fans, where are the first points of the season going to come from?
Defeat at Arsenal was not unexpected although the Gunners did score some goals which embarrassed the Pompey defence. The games against Bolton, Aston Villa and Everton in September all look like giving Portsmouth’s opponents the opportunity to get their season going.
After the opening day win at Villa Park, Wigan’s season has come off the rails a little and how long before someone mentions that perhaps the Latics shouldn’t have renamed their stadium?
Gianfranco Zola was a little unfair after the defeat to Tottenham when he said: “In attack, I can only choose Carlton Cole or myself,” as the West Ham manager’s former team mate has come on in leaps and bounds under the tutelage of the little Italian. His opening goal was proof of this, coming as it did from his weaker left foot.
Cole holds the ball up well, is pretty quick and always looks like a threat when he plows the lone furrow up front. A World Cup place is very much a possibility as long as he cuts out the suicidal back passes.
The “Ginger Mourinho” has never been the most popular with the Bolton fans and after two defeats and no goals he could soon be under a lot of pressure.
Ipswich are second from bottom in the Championship having picked up just one point in four games.
Much like under Jurgen Klinsmann last season, Bayern have started the season in woeful form, giving hope to the rest of the Bundesliga.
The 2-1 defeat to Mainz on Saturday marked the club’s worst start for 43 years having gained a measly two points from three games.
Louis van Gaal’s position already looks precarious and Franck Ribery cannot return quick enough, Bayern hope in time for next Saturday’s match against Champions Wolfsburg.
Inter began their defence of the Scudetto with an uninspiring unimaginative draw at home to Bari. Life after Zlatan was never going to be easy and whilst Samuel Eto’o will score goals he won’t provide many assists.
In many ways Mourinho has used the opportunity to urge Massimo Moratti to get his cheque book out once again. The “Special One” made a point after the game of mentioning his lack of a playmaker and it is a wonder that Inter have stalled in their move for Real Madrid’s Wesley Sneijder.
Inter face great rivals AC Milan next weekend.
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