English Premier League: First Impressions

At times, the pre-season shenanigans in England have seemed less like preparations for a footballing campaign, and more like a spend-fest for gazillionaires. The usual (and understandable) outcry that accompanies a world record transfer fee was loud when Kaka moved to Spain, but the decibel level when Cristiano Ronaldo did the same was so high-pitched that only dogs could hear it. The good news for Manchester United fans is that, should they choose to buy him back one day, the buy-out clause is a snip at only one billion euros.

The will he-won’t he saga involving the Prince of Portugal has been superseded by the yes-no-maybe-never soap opera that is John Terry. The possibility of Mr. Chelsea becoming Mr. Manchester City, via the deed poll office, of course, goes up and down with the tide at Chelsea Bridge. If the press are to be believed, the Sky Blues are offering the England captain the opportunity to afford a new NASA space rocket every week from now to the day he retires.

After all the to-ing and fro-ing of the summer, the action finally got under way on August 15, and already there are plenty of talking points. Last year’s champions, the ever-dominant Manchester United, have struggled in their opening matches. A stuttering performance at home to Birmingham brought United a close-fought 1-0 victory. The Red Devils followed that up with a disastrous defeat at newly-promoted Burnley. One week into the season, the most surprising result may have already happened. United steadied their nerves in their third game however, when they hammered Wigan 5-0. New signing Michael Owen opened his account with a lovely finish, and United fans will be especially pleased to see Wayne Rooney among the goals.

Chelsea are expected to be United’s closest challenger for the title this year, and they’ve started with three wins in three. However, in their first two games, against Hull City and Sunderland, the Blues found themselves a goal down. Barnstorming performances in the latter parts of the games brought victories, but Chelsea have perhaps shown a little weakness, at least. However, their dynamic duo of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka look to have plenty of goals in them this season.

Last season Liverpool led the league on several occasions, and there are many in England who think they’ll be challenging for honours this time round. However, their opening game ended in defeat against a rejuvenated Tottenham Hotspur. A 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane was definitely not the kind of start that Rafa Benitez and his men wanted. They recovered a few days later with a 4-0 hammering of Stoke City, which gave them some comfort, at least.

The finest performance on the opening day was by Arsenal, who faced a tough fixture away to Everton. The Gunners romped to a highly impressive 6-1 victory in front of a stunned Goodison Park crowd. Arsene Wenger’s men had issued a strong statement of intent. They followed that up with a 4-1 victory over a hapless Portsmouth, who are already looking like a team in trouble. For Arsenal, their midfield genius Cesc Fabregas is a vital cog in the well-oiled machine.

New boys Wolverhampton Wanderers lost to West Ham, but recovered in their second game with a fine win at Wigan Athletic. Wigan themselves had started with an unexpected, but impressive, victory at Aston Villa. Tottenham followed their win against Liverpool with a 5-1 drubbing of Hull City and a 2-1 win at West Ham to set the early pace at the top of the table.

Birmingham and Stoke City served up the Premier League’s first 0-0 draw of the season, a truly dreadful match that is in stark contrast to the wonderful games we’ve seen so far. Burnley followed up their extraordinary win against Manchester United with an impressive 1-0 defeat of much-fancied Everton, while Sunderland overcame a hard-working Blackburn Rovers with a 2-1 victory. Steve Bruce has moved into the manager’s office at Sunderland, and this promises to be an interesting season for the Black Cats.

Fulham enjoyed an excellent campaign last season, and are going to be difficult and tough opponents again this time round. They opened their account with a win at Portsmouth, but lost at home to Chelsea in their next match. A good result for the Blues, because most clubs will be happy to take points off Fulham, especially at Craven Cottage.

Big-spending Manchester City have started the new season with two wins out of two, against Blackburn and Wolves. Their expensive stable of new signings – Barry, Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Toure and Tevez – have given hope to their long-suffering supporters that this could be a new blue dawn for them.

The top four last season, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Arsenal, all qualify for the lucrative Champions League matches in Europe. In the coming season it’s hard to see beyond these four being at the top again. Everton, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Aston Villa will all be trying to break into this select band, and time will tell if they’ll manage it. As the cliché says, ‘it’s a marathon not a sprint’. Watch this space.

Image credit: RAWKU5

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