14 August, 2015

Premier League Gameweek1: Once more into the breach.............

So the the season has kicked itself off with, depending on whom you support, either a bang or a groan followed by a firm slap to the groin. It was a curious weekend in which the Premier league seemed to collectively attempt to convince all and sundry that it really is the best league in the world by throwing up a series of results so odd that you could stick a fence around it and charge yokels two bob to stare at them through a small hole.

Or was it? For all the guff about the PL being the most "Competitive" league in the world (In football the words competitive and unpredictable are synonymous) were the bizarre series of events that occurred last weekend really all that bizarre? Let's crack open the skull of the weekends action and feast on the goo inside:

Man U Vs Sp*rs: An offense to paint drying
On the surface this game promised just so many goals; two teams sans their first-string world-class goalkeepers, coupled with some hilarious defensive records (Spurs shipped more goals than all bar four teams last season and United have a new look defence and what looks like the most determined pitch invader ever in goal) in fact, United did not have three fucking goalkeepers available over the weekend (De gea, Lindgaard and Valdes) naturally all of this pointed to a goal-fest; which is the exact opposite of what actually transpired. Both teams slogged around the pitch for an absolutely rancid 90 minutes. At least Van Gaal had the balls to say that they were lucky to win that day.

But were they? It's not the first time United have won a game without registering a single shot on target, they did it against Arsenal two seasons ago. Maybe the luck he talks about is that, whenever they play badly, they're confronted with an opposition seeking to play even worse. United looked like a team of total strangers and ,while I've no doubt that Rooney would've put that ball away before he was expertly dispossessed by Walker who tucked it bottom corner, their lack of any cohesion on any part of the pitch was truly awful.

As for Spurs this game can only be considered a wasted opportunity. With United in such a shambles, even a mediocre display would've at least seen them a point but Spurs succeeded in only shooting themselves in the foot with Walker being the biggest culprit, own goal not withstanding. He can certainly forget any chance of ever pulling on an England jersey if this is how he continues. As Roy Keane once put it: “It was a typical Spurs performance, they always let you down”

Villa vs Bournemouth: Happy to be there Vs Lucky to be there
Or maybe that should be “Won't be here next season Vs Won't be here either”. This match really didn't add up to much on paper and didn't disappoint in reality, at least on that “This is going to be garbage” front. Villa have to effectively build to new spine to their team following the loss of their two best players and Bournemouth have to wonder if having Artur Boruc as your most experienced premier league player is going to keep them up. But for the most part, Bournemouth held their own and were solid. Whether that's due to them playing well or Villa simply being shit is another question to ponder.

For the most part Bournemouth performed just as well as the 'Plucky Underdog' label they'll be saddled with this season will allow them. They rightly deserved a point as they were the most active team and, even though they never really looked like scoring, can feel hard done by with the rocket header that put them one down against a listless Villa team. Westwood's delivery wasn't that good but Gestede took the header exceptionally well considering he had to leap into the upper atmosphere to get to it. He'll be their one bright spark this year in the midst of a season filled with plodding draws and outright trouncings. They can celebrate three points but, if they play like this against any other team, they're boned.

Everton Vs Watford: Martinez's season of pain begins
Only Everton could still consider it a good match when they get booed off at half time and get given a standing ovation at full-time. Despite Watford playing with a level of togetherness that belies the rag-tag nature of their team (Watford's team had 11 different nationalities, the full squad has 16) Everton really shouldn't have had this hard a time against them. Fielding a near full-strength team (Baines is out while they assess an ankle injury he picked up blocking a ball in training and may need surgery) They went behind after 14 minutes and didn't look at all like scoring until Barkley ripped off a thunderbolt of a shot on the 76th.. They look remarkably toothless considering the team is so attack-minded and the fact that their two goals came from unlikely sources should not be lost on Martinez, Barkley only scored twice last season and Kone only scored once in the last two.

There's lots to be worried about for Everton there's an immense amount of room to improve and Tom Cleverly on a free just isn't going to cut it, especially in defence. Jagelka's clearance from a standard cross went no further than a Wheezy ant with a lung infection and Layun (who with only 15 starts for Watford can consider himself a team veteran) rifled home. Stones, too, was comically bad for a player that's having 30 million pound bids tabled for him. Ighalo's dummy wasn't that good, Stones bought it hook, line and sinker before slotting past Howard.

Everton need to be better than this, given that eight of the next nine games are against last seasons top ten, this could be the season that sees Martinez being shown the door that loomed so big last season.

Leicester Vs Sunderland: What is dead may never die....... but it's fun trying
How the fuck did Sunderland make it last season? In an escape last season that had Harry Houdini spinning in his grave so much that we could wrap his body in copper wire and use him as an alternate source of power, Sunderland have decided that the old phrase “Those who don't learn form History are doomed to repeat it” was a load of bollocks and picked up right where they left off last season by switching off completely, conceding a rake load of goals, and then trying to scramble back desperately. Leicester also picked up from last season, playing with an energy and buzz that would make them a match for most in the league and the only reason they weren't six up at half time could be that they believed they had fallen asleep playing FIFA the night before and were dreaming a defence this bad.

Defoe and Fletcher were the only sources of goals and pride in this Sunderland team and if that statement alone doesn't make them relegation certainties I don't know what will. The entire team was just awful and it was epitomised by Cattermole being subbed off after half an hour. Just think about that, it took him 30 minutes in the first game of the season to convince his manager he's that shit. Cattermole has been eternally on the cusp of being put out of his misery and his performance today should see him taken out behind the barn, that his replacement scored the second goal should hopefully load the gun.

Norwich Vs Crystal Palace: Pards is back, bitches.................#KissMyFace
Again another match that didn't promise much on paper but certainly delivered some thrills in the form of a dubious ref decision and four goals. Palace certainly look like a consolidated force but, while they were on form, they cannot depend on the type of lacklustre marking Norwich employed to crop up every match. While an argument could have been made for Zaha's cracking volley, there is no doubt that the Watford defence were probably still in the dressing room for Delaney's goal.

The dubious decision was that Cameron Jerome's tasty overhead kick finish was judged to be dangerous play despite the fact that the 'fouled' player, Ward, not only wasn't contesting the ball at the time but wasn't even facing it. The ref duly ruled the goal disallowed. Even Pardew agreed afterwards that the goal should've stood. This was an end-to-end match and many tuned in just to see how Cabaye fared in the Premier league. Given he swept home a goal like a boss despite a year out playing in the kiddies sandpit of Football that is Ligue 1 it's not surprising to hear how he needs about six or seven games to get back to his best.............and if he does, expect Palace to finish higher than tenth this season. The eagles have landed.......

Chelsea Vs Swansea: It's going to be tough to move the bus with the medics under it.....
Now we're fucking talking. After the crushing disappointment that was United Vs Spurs compounded with further crushing disappointment that the only other match being shown was the Villa one, we're now going to get a game. This one promised to be a slugfest between two shower of bastards that steadily refuse to give in. In Swansea we have Monk and his disciples, honed in the fine art of killing a match dead until the opposition have slipped into a narcoleptic coma and, in Chelsea, the man and the team that wrote the book on boredom as a method of victory. However, both teams needed to go for it as the usual tactic of sitting on the ground sucking your thumb wasn't going to cut it this early into the season, they both needed a win to kick off.

And what a match we got. In particular Swansea were brilliant. I like seeing how Gomis has grown into being the main man when, prior to Bony pissing off to City, he looked like he'd rather cut his dick off with a rusty breadknife than lead the line for Swansea. Now he looks born to do it. Every time he moved the near mythically good Chelsea defence shat themselves trying to cover him. Ivanovic had a torrid time trying to contain the potential rising star that is the fantastically named Jefferson Montero. He simply couldn't get near him the whole game. Methinks the bid for Rahman has an end game of sticking Cesar into his favoured right back position.

Oscar opened the scoring with one of those “Fools literally everyone before curling into the net” free-kicks. Swansea responded in style when Montero chewed up Ivanovic and spat him out while crossing perfectly for Gomis to head, Courtois saved excellently and Ayew picked up the re-bound before cracking home to level the score. Chelsea re-took the lead from a heavily deflected Willian shot and Swansea kept coming and got their second from a Gomis penalty after Courtois took him out when a beautiful chipped through-ball from Shelvey left him one-on-one. The Belgian cleared him out Stoke-style and was sent packing. Now, Jose needed a scapegoat.... and two duly arrived in the form of his own medical staff attempting to do their jobs towards the end of the match.

Arsenal Vs West Ham: AFC- Providing that WTF moment since 2012
It was all going so well, Great pre-season? Check. Beat Chelsea? Cech (sorry,couldn't resist) Injury free squad? Mostly Check. The first game promised an abundance of attacking riches to be meted out on the poor unfortunate London Morlocks of West Ham. Not so. Arsenal were blunt and confused in attack, Giroud was attempting to cross in from the left wing on occasions for fucks sake, to listless in midfield and clueless in defence, Arsenal hit the trifecta of shoddy play against a solid Hammers team determined to never again be sucked into the Europa League against their will due to fair play. They managed to get both their CB's and their main CM booked inside the first twenty minutes. In the face of this obvious weakness Arsenal instead retreated into their own shells rather than take the game on and it just all fell apart from there. Cech had a game so poor you'd swear he'd been an Arsenal keeper all along, diving into no-mans land for the first and just not diving for the second. The only positive from this game is that it seems Oxlade-Chamberlain has finally discovered the player he can be, at one point he ran the ball past at least seven Hammers only for no-one to be in the box for his cross.

Ozil was played off the pitch by Reese Oxford, the only Premier player who will have to travel to overseas games on his mother's passport. The defence still don't know how to defend from set-pieces and the movement and energy was so bad that a clearly gassed Alexis was thrown on with Walcott as Arsenal reverted to a flat back three to chase down the game.

It's unfortunate that most of the focus will be on how badly Arsenal played which will overshadow the praise West Ham deserve. Zarate, Kayote and Payet were all excellent and seem to be the attacking triumvirate that Bilic is basing this teams hard-boiled, attacking philosophy around. There'll not be an FF team in the land that doesn't have at least two of those by the end of the month if they continue on playing like that. Maybe this Bilic guy does know what he's doing.........

Newcastle Vs Southampton: Return of the Mc
Southampton managed to avoid being picked clean this season again and can so claim to having something resembling a settled team for the first time in a while and Newcastle have recruited Steve McClaren and can so claim to having a settled manager for the first time in a while. This match was a good view of how both teams will attempt to start this new season and it looks to be a promising albeit spotted start. Newcastle have some slick attacking players in Wijnaldum and a reliable defender in Mbemba (who'd showed up dressed for a James bond audition not a PL match..... don't hate the playa, hate the game). Too bad their other defenders looked unconvincing, Coloccini especially, and Mitrovic looked like a man who badly needs an anger management counsellor.

Lucky not to be sent packing seconds after getting off the bench by taking Targett's name too literally and launching into him with tackle that could only be charitably described as “blood-curdling” he compounded it by elbowing Yoshida in the face. Newcastle, however, were stretching the Soton defence to the limit when Obertan flew in an excellent cross for Wijnaldum to head top corner to crown his MOTM performance. Cisse took Newcastle ahead again and it really seemed like they would do it until Janmaat performed a vanishing act to allow Shane long in to power home the equaliser fifteen minutes from time.

Stoke Vs Liverpool: The Revengence
The hype job on this game was something else. Returning to the scene after a 6-1 trouncing Liverpool were without their talismanic midfielder and DJ upper-cutter Stevie G and their potential talisman in Sterling who pissed off to City. Even after using the money to buy a centre-forward who specialises in the air even though they're not a crossing team and splurging 30 million on some unknown Brazilian who was started on the bench, Liverpool could at least expect to do better than last time against a strong Stoke team who, despite having added real talent in Afellay, are still badly without a spine. Reliance on Charlie Adam and Glenn Whelan (Two men who look like they would be genuinely confused by their own reflection) was always asking for trouble.

In fact, it was a lack of closing down from Footballs' Mr and Mrs Potato head which led to the goal, even though they could be mildly forgiven for thinking that there was no way Coutinho (even with his track record in the distance department) was going to do what he did. It surprises me that Liverpool are so eager to buy in new talent to become stars when they've had one in the making for years with Coutinho. Maybe it's the nerves that, if the team were built around him and he exploded, he'd just sod off to City or Spain. For all it's hype, however, this game delivered an expected match between two teams in flux. Liverpool are still to work how to play in Benteke, Johnson proved just how useless he is by putting over from about ten yards out. Pointing out individual players though seems a little cruel in a match that was this mind-numbing, plodding towards a point apiece until Coutinho decided “Fuck bitches, get money”, accelerated through the middle and thumped home the winner.

Whilst reading into the league after first game is a recipe for disaster, City have firmly ensconced themselves as the title favourites by simply being the only big team that didn't suck ass over the week. They also look like the only team that has improved from the top tier despite Aguero not being entirely match fit, which is a worrying prospect for the other title teams. City are now no longer dependant on the status of Sergio Aguero's hamstrings, it's official. Almost to a man City were fantastic, Silva in particular, and the relative ease at which they carved open the Brommie defence was startling. Were it not for Myhill putting in one of those games the scoreline would have been humiliating, his one-handed save after a mazy Sterling run, which the Brommie players were so mesmerised by I half expected them to start fucking clapping, was the high point of a fine performance.

Yet, next week, city will not find opponents this accommodating. While the first goal was a dribbly mess of deflections, the second was practically asked for. Giving Toure that much space 20 yards out on his right foot is ludicrous and it was no surprise when he plastered the ball into the top right corner. West brom were in damage limitation mode after that and when Kompany added the third the whole Brommie team resembles an 11 part picture of deflation, they just wanted it to be over. Make no mistake though, should City add De Bruyne to their ranks, only the most hardened, delusional fanboy would look past them lifting the title come the end.
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