Tuesday, 17 August 2010

As if we've never been away...

Man On, your number one source for football comment, debate and probably some conjecture, is back. Inspired by the glorious football on display at the World Cup (Ha!), the opening weekend of the Football Leagues and at long last the Premier League, it has been deemed time to resume hostilities, and re-focus efforts back on to all that is holy with a bumper season-opening edition. Football - its like you’ve never been away…

Today will be dedicated to England’s number one league, and what better place to start than the contrasting fortunes of the gang’s newest members. Blackpool surprised everyone with a 4-0 thrashing of an extremely lacklustre Wigan, who, it is fair to say, surprised no-one. Last season the Latics were far from good enough, and were perhaps saved by the virtue of the unusually low quality of the teams at the bottom of the league. The same could be said of West Ham, Wolves and Bolton, all of whom stayed up despite failing to reach the supposedly ‘magic’ 40 points mark. The Hammers struggled on Saturday, away at ’crisis club’ Aston Villa, but should stay up with the managerial prowess of Avram Grant and importantly the retention of midfield dynamo Scott Parker. Wolves, in contrast, started impressively, with a 2-1 home win over Stoke, a team admittedly prone to homesickness. Bolton managed to shut out Fulham on Mark Hughes’ debut, and, similarly to the Hammers, seem to have made a shrewd enough managerial appointment last term to guarantee safety in this.

The other newly promoted sides, West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle, suffered more predictable fates. Both faced extremely tough away trips, and both, unsurprisingly, capitulated, 6-0 to Chelsea and 3-0 to Manchester United respectively. The first weekend of the season is the worst time to make predictions, and I wouldn’t dream of writing anyone’s (even chronic relegation fodder WBA‘s) chances off yet, but both of these sides look like they will at least be in and around the relegation dogfight come the end of May, and don‘t be surprised if any number of West Ham, Wolves, Wigan, Bolton and Blackpool are down there with them. Looks like a good relegation battle at least!

Other results this weekend included Allardyce’s Blackburn continuing their impressive form at Ewood Park with a 1-0 win over perennial slow starters Everton and Birmingham’s comeback from 2-0 down away at Sunderland. Steve Bruce got the traditional managerial criticism of officials off to an impressively early start, with some misguided and misinformed comments about rookie referee Anthony Taylor:

“The referee put himself under pressure. We’re a team from a tough working class area, the fans want a team which mirrors that but I believe Lee is victimised… the referee was totally inadequate, absolutely awful, and its cost us.”

Cattermole is a persistent offender, albeit a very gifted player, and his manager will be asked to explain his comments, a good thing as Bruce’s excuses ring a hollow tone. Furthermore, his suggestion that Taylor was taking charge of his first top flight game are simply incorrect, and he spectacularly failed to acknowledge the ridiculous penalty decision that put his side 1-0 up in the first place.

Finally, a quick mention of the final two games this weekend. Spurs versus City was a wonderful opening tie, a truly fascinating 0-0. Tottenham’s failure to capitalise on their periods of dominance might have cost them on another day, but City were disastrously blunt. Three holding players is not a tactic that can win the title, and Mancini needs to learn this, presuming the money men at the Middle-Eastlands are as ambitious as their chequebook suggests. Tottenham, for their part, looked exciting, dynamic and altogether reminiscent of last season (unsurprisingly!). Last, but by no means least, Roy Hodgson’s first league outing as Liverpool supremo. Reina’s last minute howler aside, the Reds looked organised, dedicated and as a result tough to break down. Exactly what the Anfield faithful will want and expect from a Hodgson side. Arsenal, so often cited as the archetype of free-flowing, attacking football, saw a glimpse of what life would be without Fabregas. The conclusion? No Cesc and Arsenal appeared impotent.

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