The eagerly anticipated opening fixtures of the best league in the world (hasn’t that been trademarked by Sky now?) has been and gone, starting at Old Trafford and finishing at the Hawthorns in two very different games, and with eight other fixtures in between of varying quality.
There were certainly some shock results–I’m sure few people’s accumulator’s came in–not least with Arsenal losing at home to West Ham, and ten-man Chelsea lucky to earn a draw with Swansea at Stamford Bridge.
We also saw glimpses of brilliance and solid debuts for a number of players such as Reece Oxford, West Ham’s youngest ever player to play in the Premier League. However, going by the reaction of some pundits and fans, everyone needs to calm down a bit.
Of course, the dramatic narrative of the Premiership is better for post-match analysis by experts and back pages of newspapers spelling out doom for certain clubs is a surefire way to garner interest in the new season, but perhaps our lack of appropriate alternatives has left us, as fans, with a little too much bottled up excitement.
And yes, the opening fixtures are a chance to highlight weaknesses of title challengers and can create momentum for the inevitable “surprise package” of the season, but after all, it is but one game. Here I analyse the teams and players that fans and pundits alike have been discussing in fervour for positive and negative reasons, and give them all a “Cause for Concern/Celebration” rating out of ten.
Starting alphabetically, and, conveniently, with the team that gave us what was perhaps the biggest shock of the weekend, we have the Gooners. A 2-0 home loss on the first day of the season was certainly not in the script. There seemed to be a feeling of expectancy in the Arsenal camp before the weekend. Many have been tipping Arsenal for the title, which has been unheard of in the era of Chelsea and the Manchester clubs’ domination over the past ten years. Something didn’t go right at the weekend tactically, and this, coupled with Cech’s mistake for the opener, has given a lot of people a reason to believe the hype around Arsenal in pre-season was indeed just that; hype.
However, Wenger’s men do have the right ingredients for a title push, if certain players live up to their potential. We’ve all seen what Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere can do and if they and players like Ozil have good seasons, this win may be but a blip in their campaign. Who knows, this could be the kick up the proverbial behind they desperately need.
Cause for Concern Rating: 6/10
Despite Arsenal’s recent surge of backers, Chelsea were still tipped by more pundits to win the league again. Mourinho has arguably strengthened slightly–only time will tell–but he has brought only a few squad players. Many agree with his philosophy not to have changed his first XI, especially with very little challenge to their title win last year but that may have been found out at the weekend. Chelsea looked poor, especially defensively, which is highly uncharacteristic for a José Mourinho team. Ivanovic was given the run around by Jefferson Montero–the Serbian full-back could get nowhere near the Swansea winger all game–and Gary Cahill also looked to have trouble against the Swansea frontline. Add this to Courtois’ red card and a difficult run of early fixtures, including a trip to the Etihad, and you might suggest Chelsea’s title retention will falter somewhat.
Having said that, the Blues arguably could have nicked a win had Courtois’ rush of blood not resulted in a red card or a penalty. Although the Swans would have been deserved winners and had more shots, the dismissal changed the dynamic of the game. Chelsea’s strength in-depth and tactical nouse of Mourinho should see them through and although they might not have an easy path to the league title this year, this draw won’t concern them as much as it could.
Cause for Concern rating: 5/10
West Bromwich Albion
The last fixture saw the Baggies take on another of the title contenders in Manchester City, who I will cover next. Tony Pulis’ side were all over the place defensively and looked scared of City, who looked more like the home side on the night. For most of the first half, in fact, West Brom were camped in their own half and had very little idea going forward.
But a Tony Pulis side is yet to be relegated and I’m almost certain that record will remain in tact. In a way, WBA can shrug this off as early nerves as they were effectively expected to lose. The signing of Solomon Rondon from Zenit St Petersburg and rumours of Jose Enrique arriving at the Hawthorns should improve the areas they were lacking in on Monday night.
Cause for Concern rating: 7/10
Perhaps the weight of expectation on the City players’ shoulders was somewhat lightened by talk mostly of Arsenal and Chelsea in contention for the title. Either way, Pelligrini’s men were awesome last night, taking control of the game from start to finish and dispatching of the home side excellently. Well worth their three goal margin, some performances from key players would have pleased City fans after last season’s forgettable campaign. If anything, the blue side of Manchester look the strongest shouts for the title after the first round of games.
Nevertheless, it was, like I say, one game and for everything positive said about City last night, you could say the opposite for their opponents. One might argue that the Etihad side had the easiest opener out of the projected top six too.
Cause for Celebration rating: 5/10
A lot has been said about this young man; a sixteen year-old with a bright future ahead of him if Sunday’s calm and collected performance is anything to go by. He has the stature of someone a lot older than him, both in technical ability and height. A future England talent he may be.
As we all know, though, some young players’ career trajectories can often be decisively different from early predictions. Oxford needs a few more games under his belt before we truly can profess his greatness.
Cause for Celebration rating: 7/10