The opening fixtures of the new Premier League season are now completed, with wins for Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool at the top end of the table. Impressive performances from Swansea and West Ham led to Chelsea and Arsenal dropping 2 and 3 home points respectively, whilst Leicester also ran out 4-2 winners at home to Sunderland.
Past just looking at the results, though, what did we actually learn from the weekend’s games? We have a look at the main talking points from the Premier League.
Everyone Forgot About Manchester City
In the pre-season discussion of which team would be the most likely to win the Premier League, the discussion seemed to revolve around the two London clubs of Chelsea and Arsenal.
Jose Mourinho’s team won the league at such a canter last time out that most pundits assume they’re as good as a shoe in for the crown this time around, too. Yet Chelsea haven’t been particularly active in the transfer market, bringing in only Radamel Falcao as cover for Diego Costa and Asmir Begovic as a back up to Thibaut Courtois.
It’s odd that they have been quiet, seeing as though Mourinho is often fond of pointing out that if you stand still in football then it’s as good as going backwards. Admittedly Chelsea under the Portuguese maestro have always been better as a small, tight-knit group. Yet the likelihood is that an injury to Eden Hazard would cause the Stamford Bridge outfit all sorts of problems.
Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool manager, summed up the opinion of most pundits when he said before Arsenal’s game on Super Sunday that Petr Cech would add “10 points” to Arsenal’s tally this season. Yet the former Chelsea stopper was arguably at fault for both of the goals the Gunners conceded to West Ham at the weekend and it looks as though it’s going to take the Czech Republic international a while to work well alongside his new defence.
Arsenal are also at least one striker short of being a team capable of challenging for the title, with even most Gunners fans admitting that Oliver Giroud isn’t a striker from the top bracket in the same way of Sergio Aguero, Diego Costa or even Daniel Sturridge. Danny Welbeck never did enough at Manchester United to suggest he has what it takes to succeed at the top table and he is jut one of numerous Arsenal players that struggle with fitness.
Whilst the two London clubs struggled to get their season off to a strong start with their home matches and Manchester United only just bumbled their way to a 1-0 win over Spurs, Manchester City began their campaign with a convincing 3-0 victory away to West Bromwich Albion. The manner in which City dismantled a team normally so well drilled defensively made a lot of people sit up and say, “Oh yeah, we forgot about Manchester City”.
After a rather mediocre season last time out there was a degree of surprise regarding the club’s decision to extend Manuel Pellegrini’s contract, especially when you consider that Pep Guardiola will likely be looking to move on to a new challenge in May. Yet City have started the season in the most impressive fashion, even if it is only one game into the season, and Chelsea will be more concerned about their visit to The Etihad than City will be in having them over to play.
If people had briefly forgotten about the footballing powerhouse that is Manchester City before the season began, they will have sat up and taken notice of them again now. Whether the Sky Blues have what it takes to reclaim their crown this season remains to be seen, but they’ll be pleased to have reminded people that they’re not to be forgotten.
Jose Mourinho Is Not A Good Person
Jose Mourinho has long been the master of diverting attention from his team when they fail to produce a good performance, with his antics ranging from calling Arsene Wenger a voyeur through to criticising any referee who doesn’t give every single decision in favour of his team.
This weekend he went one step further, deciding to remain silent on what he evidently thought was a dreadful performance from Michael Oliver – even though it wasn’t – and instead decided to criticise his own medical team. Having already gone down to 10 men after the dismissal of Thibaut Courtois for a foul on Bafetimbi Gomis, Chelsea ended up with 9 men on the pitch when Eden Hazard hit the deck and the Chelsea medical team ran on to assist him. Premier League rules say that a player must leave the pitch if he receives medical treatment, meaning that Hazard had to go off.
Mourinho said that his medical staff were “naïve” to have gone on to see their player – though he wouldn’t have been so critical had Chelsea been leading and the medical team worked slowly so as to waste time – and said, “Whether you are a kit man, doctor or secretary on the bench you have to understand the game”.
The reference to being a “secretary” has been taken by many to be a veiled criticism of Chelsea’s female team doctor Eva Carneiro. It comes on the back of the self-proclaimed Special One suggesting that Rafa Benitez’s wife would be better off “watching her husband’s diet” than discussing Mourinho’s managerial record.
The two comments together suggest a sexist and misogynistic attitude from the Chelsea boss and add to the reputation he’s already got as being something of a thug of a manager. The outcome of this is that the Chelsea doctor will no longer sit on the bench during games, meaning Mourinho has sold her out for his own benefit.
Because he gives journalists such good copy Mourinho tends to get away with misdeeds that would cause uproar should they be committed by anyone else. His long running war of words with Arsene Wenger aside, the manager has done plenty to make himself dislikeable. He rubbed the Kop up the wrong way when he told them to shush after Steven Gerrard’s own goal in the Carling Cup Final in 2005, caused the hounding out of football of referee Anders Frisk after he accused Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard of visiting him in his dressing room in the same year, and he communicated with Rui Faria via an ear piece despite a touchline ban in the Champions League quarter final later in the competition.
None of these are the worst misdeeds anyone’s ever committed, it’s true, but they also aren’t the worst of his acts. When he was appointed Real Madrid boss he used the opportunity of a scuffle after a bad tackle in El Clasico in 2011 to gouge the eye of Barca’s assistant manager Tito Vilanova. Whichever way you look it Jose Mourinho is not a good person.
His behaviour towards Eva Carneiro epitomises the worst of his habits. He may have successfully distracted from his team’s poor performance in the home match against Swansea, but he’s done so by sending one of his own members of staff down the river, leaving her humiliated and professionally embarrassed. All of this in spite of the fact that the match referee beckoned the medical team on to the pitch TWICE before she actually ran on to deal with a player who was either genuinely injured, wasting time under instruction from the manager or else feigning injury with the aim of getting an opposition player in trouble with the referee. Jose Mourinho – good copy, but a terrible person who builds teams in his own image.
Everton Are In For A Long Couple Of Months
When the fixture list was announced during the summer break all eyes were focussed on Liverpool given the tough start they had, playing away to Stoke, Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City in a row before December.
It meant that no one paid a lot of attention to Everton’s start – and it’s not an easy one. They play away to Southampton, host Man City, travel to Spurs, welcome City to Goodison, go to Swansea and West Brom before playing the Merseyside derby, Manchester United and Arsenal in October.
All of which means that Everton’s only reasonably simple fixture before they face Sunderland at home at the start of November was the home game against Watford and they were lucky to get out of with a draw, having gone behind twice during the match.
With Leighton Baines now confirmed to be out of action indefinitely and Chelsea chasing John Stone and more than likely to capture him, Roberto Martinez needs to get his players firing on all cylinders to have any hope of picking up some points in the coming months. The opening fixture against Watford was a chance to do just that but the Blue half of Merseyside wasn’t at the races this weekend, struggling to figure out how to break down the newly promoted team.
Of course football isn’t played on paper and results have a habit of constantly taking you by surprise in the Premier League, but looking at Everton’s fixtures it’s not easy to see where the points are coming from. Neither Swansea nor West Brom are easy and the other teams the Blues are playing have aspirations to finish in the top 4 if not win the league outright. Sufficed to say it’s going to be a long couple of months for Toffees fans.
Stoke announcing the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri means they now own the most Champions League winners in the Premier League. Watford have bought more players than any other top flight team this summer and the game against Everton showed they haven’t just bought duds. Swansea’s result at Stamford Bridge came about because of a good mix of the old and settled and the new and invigorated, with Andre Ayew and Jefferson Montero particularly impressing.
Perhaps the biggest thing this weekend has shown us is that every team in the league seems to have been improved upon during the summer, with even the newly promoted teams looking like they have enough to cause problems.
It’s become something of a cliché to refer to the Premier League as the best league in the world and fans of the Bundesliga or La Liga might be inclined to disagree, but this season has the propensity to be the most exciting league campaign for years.
There’s no guarantee of who will finish in the top 4, despite what the pundits may say, the league winners aren’t likely to be a dead cert and all of the newly promoted sides will fancy their chances of staying up. On top of that the teams in the middle of the table have improved during the summer and the battle for the European places could intensify.
The Premier League has the ability to send out shock results virtually every weekend and as the weeks pass we may discover that the opening round of fixtures had more shocks than usual. But if things carry on the way they’ve started there could be plenty of shocks in store in the coming weeks.
Liverpool Know How To Win Ugly
Brendan Rodgers came to Liverpool with a mindset of introducing the club to his philosophy of ‘death by football’. Not that passing and possession are new ideas to Liverpool, of course, but Rodgers had an idea that was based more on the notion of passing pretty than outright attack.
Then in the 2013-2014 season all of that went out of the window, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge making Liverpool’s attack the most potent in the country. Suddenly defensive frailties were exposed but forgotten about as all out attack was the order of the day.
When Liverpool lost Sturridge to injury and Suarez to Barcelona last season Rodgers thought he might be able to keep the club in the hunt for the top 4 by tightening up at the back and trying to be a more solid unit across the park. It didn’t work out, with the Reds falling to a 6th place finish in the league.
Over all of Rodgers’s seasons one of the main things the team has lacked, however, is an ability to get down and dirty and cause the opposition problems of a more physical kind. They lacked the needle in the important matches and could even have won the title if they were a little more savvy when they played host to Chelsea with 3 games to go.
Yet against Stoke this weekend the Reds showed muscle, energy and a stomach for a fight, taking the game to Mark Hughes’s more physical players and picking up 4 bookings in the process. It’s a running joke with Liverpool’s opposition fans that every year will be the year that the Reds take the title back to Anfield, yet a Liverpool team with more physicality, nous and a desire to battle where it matters the most could yet surprise a few people as the season progresses.