Welcome back to the Premier league! Although the dreaded no-football gap between May and August was filled by that random –insignificant-competition-that-England-don’t-care-about, there is nothing like the start of a Premiership season. Hope is in the air, expectations are high and new players analysed from YouTube videos. It’s been a painful footballing summer but the memories have been pushed to the back of our minds, we are back to the league we have learnt to love so much and the first 6 weeks have certainly not disappointed…
The top four has already taken on a typical shape, comprising of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City but the former have far and away been the outstanding team of the season. The stats speak for themselves: 21 goals and 1 conceded from 5 games. This run of form was only halted by a dogged 1-0 defeat to Man City last week. But not only have they scored goals, they have played extremely attractive football and Carlo Ancelotti seems to have found a winning formula. Drogba has been deadly in front of goal, Florent Malouda has become a new player under his manager’s watchful eye, and even an injury to the ever consistent Frank Lampard did little to halt proceedings as new signing Ramires has settled in well. Long gone are the defensive – but successful – methods of a certain Special One and instead the Stamford Bridge faithful are being treated to Italian Carlo Ancelotti’s brand of Football.
The question is however; will we ever learn to love Chelsea? Despite this all aforementioned, they are still arguably the nation’s most hated club. Maybe it is difficult to appreciate a club with players like John Terry and Ashley Cole, whose off the field antics leave little to admire. Maybe people just don’t like teams that win a lot but is this reputation changing? Chelsea’s spending spree has died down over recent years and Man City seem to have seized the mantle as transfer market bullies. Furthermore, they are no longer buying players, not playing them, and then ruining their careers(Steve Sidwell, Shaun Wright-Phillips etc). However for Chelsea, the real test is yet to come and three difficult games over the next month, Arsenal (H), Aston Villa (A) and Liverpool (A) will really showcase whether they are a serious force to be reckoned with. Even if they win the league with 32 games of beautiful football, will the tide turn? As a Spurs fan, I will always find it difficult to appreciate Chelsea but the more attractive football they play, the harder it is to hate them. Love them? Certainly not, but respect them? Perhaps.
Meanwhile Man Utd have had a relatively easy start to the season and have not really got out of first gear. Rooney’s World Cup hangover has continued (1 goal in 6 games) but Berbatov has stepped up to the plate, producing a superb display against Liverpool as he netted a hat-trick, including a stunning bicycle kick. Arguably the most exciting game of the season came at Goodison Park in early September as the home team recovered from 3-1 down to score two(Arteta and Cahill) in stoppage time. Arsenal are keeping up with their fellow title challengers, despite a number of crucial injuries. New striker Chamakh has looked lively whilst the 18-year-old Wilshere has produced a series of mature and controlled displays. Cesc Fabregas, despite the Barcelona transfer saga over the summer has continued to show why his manager tried so desperately to keep him. For Liverpool however, the future does not look so bright. Languishing in 16th with 1 win from 6 games under Roy Hodgson’s new stewardship, the future looks bleak. Clearly affected by the absence of a Mascherano/Alonso-esque defensive midfield partership, Hodgson is forced to rely on mediocre players like Lucas Leiva to propel them up the table but with little success. Their over-reliance on the talismanic Gerrard and Torres partnership is becoming more evident and surely mounting a serious title challenge and adding to their impressive haul of 18 Premier league titles is out of the question. Add to this, impending talk of administration, receivership, board room tussles and even more American Owners? The Anfield faithful have seen better days.
The newly promoted teams, on the contrary, have had a surprisingly bright start to the season. West Brom have continued in the same vein as last season, playing attractive football. Despite a 6-0 drubbing on the opening day of the season to Chelsea, they have beaten Birmingham, Man City, Sunderland and even Arsenal at the Emirates. Peter Odemwingie, their new Nigerian-Russian striker has been a particularly impressive acquisition, netting 3 goals in 5 games . Newcastle, with a squad very similar to the one they got relegated with 2 years ago, have also exceeded expectations. They thrashed Aston Villa 6-0 with lone striker Andy Carroll scoring a hattrick and beat Everton away thanks to a stunning strike from Hatem Ben Arfa. But defeats at home to Blackpool and Stoke raise questions about whether they will face a relegation battle come the end of the season. Yet it is perhaps Blackpool that have exceeded the most expectations so far. Championship promotion outsiders last season, they have not been frightened off by the prospect of Premiership football and have grasped it with both hands. Fine victories and clean sheets away at Wigan and Newcastle show that these apparent ‘minnow’s should not be considered lightly. As we saw at Burnley last season though, a good start does not necessarily mean survival.
Tottenham, led by the lethal Gareth Bale and £8m transfer coup Rafael van der Vaart have recorded 8 points from their first 6 games. However questions are being raised as to whether Harry Redknapp has the squad depth to play star-studded teams two times a week. Now that they are in the Champions league their squad will be stretched and this showed in a sloppy 1-0 defeat at home to Wigan earlier in the season. Man City, probably the most talked about club during the summer have similarly performed well, but not brilliantly and despite their £100m+ spent on players in the transfer window, it has been the old-timers such as Tevez, Johnson and de Jong, who have helped to propel the team forward. Joe Hart in goal has performed at a particularly high level, staking his claim further as England’s no.1 keeper. It was indeed Tevez et al. that managed to end Chelsea’s superb run of form with a goal from their captain. Aston Villa, despite a shaky start to the season with the unexpected departure of manager Martin O’Neill have done well under predecessor Gerrard Houllier. Stewart Downing has been solid on the left wing while veteran Emile Heskey has also hit a run of form in recent weeks. Particular attention, however, must be paid to winger Marc Albrighton who has come through the youth system and has now cemented a position in the first XI. A pacy youngster with great skill, vision and crossing, this boy is certainly one to look out for in the future.
Stoke, after 3 losses from 3 games have turned round the tables and now find themselves comfortably positioned in mid-table. Record £8m signing striker Kenywne Jones netted three in as many games whilst Matthew Etherington has been supplying the attack with superb creativity and crossing. Fulham have perhaps been the most boring team in the Premiership thus far, with 5 draws from 6 games. The most exciting item of news came in the shape of an injury as Bobby Zamora halted a fine few games with a possible season-ending broken leg. However, new striker Moussa Dembele has filled his shoes adequately, netting a brace(including a last-minute winner) to record his team’s only win of the season so far against Wolves. Sunderland, despite their low position, have managed respectable draws against Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool with Bent consistently in and amongst the goals. Steve Bruce seems to have put together a cohesive side and with an easy run of fixtures ahead of them, relegation at the moment seems unlikely.
Elsewhere in the league there have been mediocre starts for the likes of Bolton, Wigan, Wolves and Birmingham. The latter continuing their unbeaten home record but their form away from home has let them down once again. One of the biggest disappointments of the season so far has been West Ham, delicately poised at the root of the table. Despite the courageous lone effort of captain Scott Parker, they were unable to win any of their first 5 games, before a 1-0 victory at home to Spurs. This was not enough to move up the table however and if they continue the way they are playing, they might just return to the Championship football they left many years ago.