Monday, August 20, 2012

Premier League: Insane Conclusions (And a Few Sane Ones) From Opening Weekend

The view outside Old Trafford moments ago
I love first match impressions because they're essentially worthless. Players are trying to find their feet and see where they fit in with their new teammates; new managers are discovering what they've gotten right and what they've gotten wrong in a live fire situation; and fans are a boiling, boisterous cauldron of unrestrained hope; rather than a whole season in a ninety minute microcosm, the first match of the campaign is the opening, frantic salvo is what is in actuality a protracted and unpredictable endurance event (see: Bolton, Swansea 2011-12)... but that doesn't seem to stop anyone from drawing ridiculous conclusions about each team/player/manager's fate over the coming nine months.

Fulham v. Norwich - As  a Fulham fan, I can hardly contain myself. We're on pace to score 190 goals en route to a 114 point season with a plus 190 goal differential. We'll have our first Premier League title sown up by Christmas. Of course, our many 5-0 wins in cup competition could necessarily result in a dip in league form, but I'll believe it when I see it. Clint who? It's heady days at Craven Cottage.

QPR v. Swansea - For QPR, this was a repeat of last season's opening home bloodletting against Bolton. What's alarming for Ranger's fans is that this season's hoops incarnation is, on paper, much better than the side that started the 2011-12 campaign. Whereas Fulham and Swansea will likely not score 190 goals and go undefeated in the league, QPR may really allow 190 goals and be relegated by Christmas if they can't find at least one functional defender. My playing days are well and truly over, but if anyone can get ahold of Mark Hughes, I'm available on a free transfer. Just let me know ASAP so I can arrange for someone to watch my dog while I'm gone.

The flip side of this coin is that Bolton, after throttling Rangers to open the season last year, were eventually relegated. What are the chances that a modest side from Wales can replace Joe Allen, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Brendan Rodgers and still stay up playing a similar fluid, attacking, possession oriented style? That's a rhetorical question that I'll answer with a not-so-rhetorical, "They can't." Trust me, Michu. It gets a lot, lot harder. Bonus points for Swansea though on the ridiculous Christmas themed uniforms.

Reading v. Stoke City - I confess, I didn't watch much of this match, mostly because this match was Reading v. Stoke City.

West Bromwich Albion v. Liverpool - I'm pretty sure everyone but The KOP understands that turning Liverpool back into a big four side is a multi-season project. They strike me as a side that hasn't really had an identity for a number of years (other than underachieving) and Brendan Rodgers is asking them to play a finesse game that isn't in keeping with their striking underachievement. Having said that, Saturday has to be a write off for The Reds. The match had that it-just-isn't-our-day feel to it as soon as Zoltan Gera swiveled and fired home what could be the goal of the season come May. And in case West Brom fans are getting ahead of themselves, pump the brakes. As a Fulham fan, I can tell you Zoltan Gera will make you want to punch a baby. He'll finish an impossible flying volley against Manchester United and then he'll lash those little side footed legs at a sitter and knock it out for a throw in. Romelu Lukaku looks a good bit of business however, and West Brom may be just the place to get his career back on track.

West Ham United v. Aston Villa - I didn't watch this match at all, but if I'm Aston Villa and I could find a way to fire Alex McLeish again, I'd do it.

Newcastle United v. Tottenham Hotspur - I've said it before and I'll say it again: AVB = 6th. I don't know what it is about the Portuguese. He has all of the style of Jose Mourinho - the fitted shirts, flawless hair, fashion stubble, unmitigated arrogance - but absolutely none of the charm. He looks the part but has none of the chops. I kind of hate him. Spurs need another striker as badly as QPR need a center back. Newcastle on the other hand? They have to be the front running dark horse for a Champion's League spot.

Arsenal v. Sunderland -  Arsenal fans went from, "We'll be fine without Van Persie," to ,"Jesus, we're going to miss Van Persie, I'm off to buy batteries and bottled water," in the length of time it took Olivier Giroud to blaze his potential winner ten yards wide of the Sunderland goal. You just cannot seamlessly replace thirty some odd goals with two guys who have never played in the league before.

I don't have much to say about Sunderland other than what the hell is up with their shirt sponsor? Invest In Africa? Over/under 60% chance someone in the Sunderland front office fell for a Nigerian Letter?

Dear Sir,

We are top officials of the Federal Government Contracts Review panel who are interested who are interested in the importation of goods into our country with funds which are presently confined in Nigeria. In order to commence this business, we solicit your assistance to enable us to transfer into your account the said trapped funds. We just need your account number, PIN, and permission.  

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Akeem Biobaku 

Dr. Biobaku,

This sounds like a cracking idea! We've enclosed the requested information and look forward to doing a fair bit of business in Nigeria! 


Sunderland Football Club

I imagine Dr. Biobaku and his coconspirators were so chuffed by this (and maybe a little shamed) that they got together and came up with an Invest In Africa logo. It was the least they could do.

Wigan v. Chelsea - Let's not shit ourselves just yet, Chelsea fans, this was Wigan and we all know Wigan are the worst side in the league until they absolutely cannot afford to be. Moreover, one of the goals came from a very savable Frank Lampard penalty and the other came from a guy who should have been serving a suspension.

Manchester City v. Southampton -  I can't believe I survived three months without this kind of stimulus. Even my girlfriend, who could be generously described as a casual football fan, was screaming Rickie Lambert's name and Googling him as soon as he made a game out of it. Hopefully, I never have to write again that my girlfriend was screaming Rickie Lambert's name [insert emasculated facial expression here]. City can't do this for a whole season and defend the trophy, can they? And what of Southampton? The next Blackpool or the next Swansea? And Rickie Lambert, stay away from my girlfriend!

Everton v. Manchester United - Everton looked every bit as good as they did at the end of the last campaign. Marouane Fellaini was a beast. Granted, Michael Carrick was forced into a center back berth, but neither he nor Vidic had an answer for the big man. Ian Darke made the Duncan Ferguson comparison, but I don't ever recall Big Dunc showing off the delicate touch and pinpoint control Fellaini had today. In fact, I mostly remember Ferguson looking likely to head butt someone and chew his face off so I'm not sure Darke's comparison was entirely flattering of Fellaini whose holdup play was world class tonight. Also, is there a better Premier League atmosphere than Goodison Park on a Monday night?

As for United, Kagawa and Cleverly looked the part, but the makeshift back four was a serious issue. Not only was much of the defending suspect, but Valencia was sorely missed on the wing and Nani's service was horrible. Even if he had gotten the ball in the area, you know...once, Jagielka, Distin, and Howard were dealing with everything. When Van Persie finally came on to put Nani out of his misery, he never found the game and looked a little confused as to how and where exactly he was supposed to play. I'll hold off on drawing any insane conclusions from this match. Everton away with a injury ravaged team is a tough match up for any team in the league. Having said that, David De Gea kept the score respectable with a number of stellar saves in spite of United's near monopoly of possession....

Wait! here's my insane prediction: Van Persie is a carrier of a rare, horrible, and highly contagious disease. It's called The Arsenals. It afflicts top Premier League sides and its symptoms are beautiful, fluid, possession oriented attacks combined with an inability to score against physically imposing opposition and a tendency to give up goal scoring opportunities due to injury afflicted back lines comprised of attack minded makeshift defenders.

Jesus. Robin Van Persie is Patient Zero. God help us all.

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