With one Premier League match played, and football having returned from its slightly shorter than usual summer break, if the season were to abruptly end before tomorrow’s action begins, Fulham would have narrowly lost out on their first ever Premier League title to neighbours Chelsea, while Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers would be heading back to the Championship having failed to find the net in the top flight.
Although, while Cottagers supporters struggle to contain their nosebleeds and Swansea City fans organise an open top bus parade for legendary manager Michael Laudrup, we must remember that there are 37 games remaining (for most sides), and plenty of time for the table to take on a more predictable appearance. However, although it is impossible to assess a side’s ability and probable fortune this early on, it is worth taking a look at what is likely to transpire over the next nine months.
With the great saga of the summer – Robin van Persie‘s indecision regarding his future at Arsenal – having been resolved by the Dutch forward’s £24m move to Manchester United, the Gunners promptly exhibited a typically blunt home display against Sunderland. New signing Olivier Giroud (pictured) from Ligue 1 champions Montpellier curled wide when extremely well placed, while fellow summer arrivals Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski were similarly unable to force an opening in the 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal will improve, almost certainly, and depending on how successful Tottenham Hotspur are at plugging the chasm of talent and numbers in their forward ranks, could be in line for fourth spot, although certainly no higher.
Despite this, with Alex Song also having climbed out of the club’s talent pool to sip sangria in the sun in Barcelona (for a fee of around £15m), the Gunners appear to have firmly established a reputation for themselves as a selling club, and on the evidence of yesterday, one that may struggle to compete with the likes of Manchester City, United and Chelsea, as the club’s fans so desperately wish Arsene Wenger‘s charges to do. It ought to be added that Cazorla, a £12m buy from cash-strapped Malaga, was hugely impressive on Saturday, and could be one of the smartest additions thus far – particularly given that the 27-year-old cost £3m less than Joe Allen. As well as this, with 23 shots posted by the home side on the Black Cats‘ goal, which led something of a charmed life, perhaps as Wenger himself affirms, it is “too early to worry”.
As for Liverpool, however, panic stations have been reached, if you’ll pardon the pun, worryingly early following a dismal 3-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion. One caller in to the BBC’s 606 fans’ phone-in called for the return of Kenny Dalglish in place of Brendan Rodgers, showing the extent not only of his own lack of mental faculties but the sense of desperation in the ranks of Liverpool supporters. Once again, with Andy Carroll unfathomably left on the bench, the Merseysiders slumped to a dismal defeat by a well-drilled, inventive West Brom side that boasted pace, confidence and a deadly counter attack at times. The signing of Allen from Swansea City for £15m also suggests that last year’s misguided recruitment policy, that combined with failure on the pitch brought about the demise of the Messiah, has carried over into the 2012/13 season.
Nothing, not even a disastrous opening day howler from Rodgers’ charges, can quite match up to a 5-0 defeat, that most destructive of scorelines. Following a 2-0 or 3-0 defeat there are genuine lessons to be learned. Watching a video of the game afterwards may confirm wayward marking, slack defending, poor instigation of an offside trap or sheer profligacy up front. It is only when a side is able to net five times, with consummate ease, that sitting down to “enjoy” Match of the Day becomes rather like stabbing oneself through the neck with a rusty pair of scissors. Yet, for QPR and Norwich fans, this was exactly how two hours of baking sunshine were spent in west London as Swansea and Fulham tore the respective sides apart.
Now for the fun part: would anybody like to Hazard (sorry, really sorry) a guess as to which two teams are playing each other next weekend? Spot on, it is the Canaries and the Rs, who will either sit back licking their substantial, gaping wounds in a drab 0-0 draw or proceed to seize the initiative and inflict further damage on the other, less fortunate XI. The latest disaster rumour emanating from Loftus Road concerns the antics of former Rangers goalkeeper Paddy Kenny. For some unknown reason, the Leeds United ‘keeper chose to ring up and pose as Robert Green’s agent (the ex-Hammer having limply allowed Michu’s opener to slip through his fingers) in order to, for want of a better phrase, rub salt into the wounds. Add in the sight of Grant Holt, freshly shrouded in a new and expensive contract, turning up to Craven Cottage in an XXXL rather than his usual XL Canaries shirt, and tomorrow promises to be a car crash of relegation football.
With all the paraphernalia of doom and gloom at Liverpool, QPR and Norwich, there has been one positive ember in the pile of singed twigs that, a week on, represent the opening week. This constitutes the highly impressive performances of newly-promoted West Ham United, Reading and Southampton. Contrary to popular belief, indeed this writer tipped the Saints in particular for imminent and brutal relegation, Nigel Adkins’ hard working side very nearly threw a gigantic, Holt-sized cat among the rich, complacent pigeons at the Etihad Stadium. After Carlos Tevez, who has apparently done a “reverse Holt” and turned up to the season fitter and hungrier (again, apologies) than this time last year, had given the Citizens the lead, Roberto Mancini’s men took their eye of the ball. Following Rickie Lambert’s equaliser, it was new signing Jack Rodwell giving the ball away to the visitors, whose superb counter-attack was finished off by Steven Davis, that suddenly brought back all those horrible suppressed traumas from the final day of last season where, once again, City went 2-1 down against minnows on the counter.
No such luck this time around, however, for those who like football, as Edin Dzeko and Samir Nasri stole the three points, but in the space of one game the Saints had demonstrated that they would be far more than mere cannon fodder upon their return to the top flight. Reading also very nearly pulled off a shock result against title hopefuls, moving into a 2-1 lead at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday only to see a ruthless Chelsea comeback turn the scoreline on its head, to 4-2 thanks to strikes from Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. This followed on from a gutsy 1-1 draw with Stoke City on the opening day, which confirms the suspicions of a handful of pundits that, as they did a few years ago, the Berkshire side could shock a few people and even secure a close to top half finish. The other surprise result concerned the Hammers, although it wasn’t a massive shock – a 1-0 success against an under-performing and seriously lacklustre Aston Villa – and with Matt Jarvis apparently set to arrive for an astronomical £10.75m from Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sam Allardyce’s men are clearly serious. Whether this is about spending money while the club still has it, or staying in the Premier League, we shall have to wait and see.
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