In the wake of the first round of Premier League fixtures, it’s been made difficult not to read too much into results, but the simple facts are that: Cesc Fabregas looks to be the most influential signing of the transfer window, Liverpool don’t look quite as secure as they did last season without a constant threat up front, Manchester City look every inch the reigning League Champions, and Manchester United appear to be haunted by the ghost of season past.
One need not look much further than Fabregas’s deft touch to put Andre Schurrle in on goal for Chelsea’s second against Burnley on Monday night to reaffirm my earlier statement about the midfield genius. In fact, he had a hand in each of Chelsea’s three goals on the night, and when his creativity is coupled with that of Edin Hazard and Oscar alongside him, and with Diego Costa’s power up front, Chelsea looks a certainty to run Manchester City very close indeed for the league title.
Judging by this first outing of a new-look Chelsea team, and I realize it may be a premature conclusion especially considering who Chelsea faced on Monday, they do look a more balanced outfit than last season. In the previous campaign, Jose Mourinho often took a defensive approach, especially against the bigger teams, but this season will surely see a Chelsea team on the front foot.
Liverpool meanwhile look a lot less certain of their role, though Brendan Rodgers will want to add more assertiveness in games to come. Considering that Southampton allowed six of their brightest stars to leave the club in the summer, the largest contingent of which (3) went to Liverpool , should have seen The Reds romp to victory over The Saints.
But that it was a much closer affair than anticipated, and perhaps more so that it was at Anfield, should cause some concern in the red half of Merseyside.
On the other hand, Liverpool have much to be optimistic about as Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge seem to work well together up front. Both have pace to burn with on-the-ball skill to match. Philipe Coutinho is already a proven quality in terms of providing scoring opportunities, but will want to appear on score sheets more often himself.
Jordan Henderson is as tireless as ever, and while he played a key role in a vast number of goals last season, his slide-rule pass to set up Sterling for Liverpool’s first was thing of beauty. However, Liverpool still need another strong finisher to partner either Sterling or Sturridge up front, even though Ricky Lambert will no doubt score a few key goals for his new employers.
What can be said about Manchester City that has not already been said? Their relentless pursuit of goals saw them take the lion’s share of possession against Newcastle at Saint Jame’s Park, which translated into more shots at goal, five of which were on target. Newcastle, in contrast, failed to record a single shot on target over ninety minutes, providing further testament to City’s imperious passing game and delicate balance between defense and attack.
Edin Dzeko’s cheeky back heel to put David Silva through on goal was sublime, and Sergio Aguero simply insisted on being amongst the goals as he bullied the Newcastle defense into submission.
And it’s this sort of guile and strength that, in my opinion, makes Chelsea and Man City this season’s front-runners, leaving the rest of the league sprawling in their wake.
Manchester United, meanwhile, are yet recapture the form enjoyed under Alex Ferguson. They may have had more of the possession and took more shots at goal than Swansea in Saturday’s opener at Old Trafford, but failed to make the most of the opportunities presented to them. United also tried to exert pressure on the visitors’ defense after trailing and with the clock winding down, but one never really got the sense that the home side would score to level matters.
That said, the one thing that may have been brought back to the present from the Fergie era is the extra time afforded to Man United. Close to five minutes of added time were played after the fourth official awarded a minimum of four, but be that as it may, United still fell short against unfancied opposition in the shape of Swansea.
Arsenal too made heavy weather of beating Crystal Palace as goals from set pieces allowed Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey to win the day for The Gunners at The Emirates. Palace themselves scored from a set piece when Brede Hangeland made the most of a Jason Puncheon corner just after the half-hour mark to put concerned looks on much of the home crowd’s faces.
Ramsey ensured Arsenal would have the final say in stoppage time however, and as stubborn as Palace were for the duration of the match, The Gunners simply had the quality to overcome.
Arsene Wenger and his men will be more concerned this weekend when they face Everton at Goodison Park, while Chelsea should ease past Leicester City at Stamford Bridge amidst hopes of leaving the other title protagonists behind.
As Manchester City play host to Liverpool on Monday night, The Blues will be thrilled at the prospect of one, if not both of those teams, falling behind with the league still in its infancy.
Gus Poyet’s Sunderland take on Manchester United on Sunday and will hope to inflict more damage on the Red Devils’ confidence and hopes of regaining a Champions League berth.
And this is what makes the Barclays Premier League the most riveting of football spectacles to watch – there are no foregone conclusions, and nearly every week poses ‘must-watch’ event.
I love this game.