Football: Prem 2011 Week 4

Crash, Bang, Wallop! The Season Starts Here

So the moment finally arrives. The Transfer Window has slammed shut, the wheeler-dealering has been put on hold, the International Week is over and everyone can now focus entirely on club football. At least until the middle of October and the next International Week.  Now we can really begin to assess who’s going up, who’s going down and who’s simply trundling along making up the numbers.

Ahead In September, Rubbish In May – As Granny Used To Say

Admittedly having a lead at the start of September counts for very little. We still remember a time when no one bothered to publish a Prem table until at least half a dozen games had been played. This time in the season you traditionally see the likes of Bolton, Aston Villa, Everton or Goddamit Stoke sneaking gleefully into the Top Four for their momentary glimpse of life at the top table, before they hurridly sneak back out again once they face a decent team or two. Last year it was new boys Blackpool and Newcastle lobbing their way like yahooing handgrenades into the Top Six. This year it’s been not quite so new boys Bolton and European debutantes Stoke getting all vertiginous. Frankly the idea that these guys are going to be around the Top Four come season’s end is laughable. Mind you last year the Top Five after week 5 was the Top Five at the end of the season, albeit in a slightly different order, which might indicate that next weekend’s series of matches (not least Man U vs Chelski) will be critical.

Way In Front – The Manchesters

All of which bodes well for The Manchesters, who, like pug ugly siblings are matching each other spot for spot. A Chelski 2010-like unbeaten run, with gallons of goals and sparkling football to their credit, what could possibly go wrong for our friends in tut North? You have only to look at the cautionary tale that was Chelski last season, whose mysterious midwinter implosion cost them what looked like the most nailed on title for years and was matched only by Arsenal’s second half season of relegation form. Admittedly, both Manchesters are playing better than Chelski were this time last year (no mean feat), have faced better opposition (if you can call Spurs more challenging) and have greater strength in depth than the Londoners. So it would take two really spectacular falls from grace for the title to go anywhere but Manchester this season.

On The Pitch Action

And it’s desperately hard to put anything between them. Man U pretty much carried on from their 8-2 demolition of Arsenal with a 5-0 win away at Bolton. Once again they were impressive. They seem to have added a lethal element of movement to their game, breaking the ball upfield so much faster than they did last year. Rooney seems to have shrugged off whatever malaise he picked up in Germany 18 months ago. His second consecutive hattrick showing what a truly dangerous player he can be. You almost wonder how it is that Engerland can extract such poor returns from a player this good. Chicarito, too, was outstanding in his movement in front of goal. Bolton were dreadful and in Kevin Davies they have exactly the kind of cynical ‘hard tackling’ thug the Prem should be getting rid of.

So, was Man City‘s mere 3-0 thumping of Wigan, better or worse? Hard to say. Wigan were more open and slightly less defensively frail than Bolton, while City were once again fabulous. Silva again ruled the midfield, while Aguero was always threatening. So much so that almost no one noticed when Leetle Carlito slipped into oblivion, missed a penalty and was substituted. It’s amazing to think that City’s defining player, whose presence was essential to them last season, should seem so peripheral now. Nasri’s introduction (for Tevez) allowed City to step up a gear in both creativity and threat. Surrounded by strikers who are somewhat more clinical than Robin Van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner, he is another player who seems to be back to his best.  United vs City in October should be a genuinely big game.

After the kind of 6 months that would down most sides, Arsenal needed to find a little bit of luck. Fortunately they were playing Swansea, a team high on style but low on goals. And generous in the extreme. If fans thought that Liverpool’s first goal against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago was jammy (ricocheting as it did off Ramsey and over Szczesny into the net), then Arshavin’s goal here was jammy whipped cream with a cherry on top. Normally sane keeper Vorm collected the ball and threw it into his own defender, leaving Arshavin with an open goal. Fortunately for the Russian he didn’t miss. Arsenal, with a patched up team of the barely fit and the new boys, were admirable in the first half, in particular Arteta and Arshavin, but lost energy and confidence in the second. Swansea, who have maintained their footballing philosophy and their Championship players, couldn’t find a way through to score.

It’s been transfers ahoy at Sunderland or Man U Old Boys as Brucie has brought in nearly an entire new team. Sadly this doesn’t seem to have helped. The replacement of Gyan (lured overseas for a quadruple your wages, big fat paycheck) with Arsenal ego Bendtner is less of a loss than a double whammy as the Dane missed his customary sitter and failed to contribute for the rest of the match, ultimately being outshone by other new boy, Korean sub Ji Dong-Won. Chelski still haven’t found their mojo, but they were still a class above MUOBs. Their new boy, Mata, along with Sturridge and Meireles looks to have added a little bit of style, but they still seem too pedestrian to be really threatening.

Stoke vs Liverpool showed us all what two of the slowest English defenders in the league can do. Upson and Carragher are each so far off the pace that they can barely compete without bearhugging their opponents. And finally one of them was found out when Carragher dragged his opponent to the ground and conceded a penalty. Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish moaned away about refereeing decisions, but he’d be better off addressing the performance of players like Adam and Henderson, who didn’t seem able to hit a ball on target all day. Henderson particularly is having the kind of nightmare you expect fiddly foriegners to have, and managed a spectacular failure in front of goal despite having three attempts.  That said, Liverpool had all of the chances, with Stoke new boy Crouch not getting near the Liverpool goal all match.

Everton, shorn of Arteta, are looking under pressure. They still seem to have creativity and a wellspring of young players, but their  problem, as always, is goals and their inability to score them. Still they managed to lead Villa twice before being pegged back each time, suggesting that they may also be suffering in defence. Villa, shorn of Young and Downing, look less of a force than they were.

Wolves, like Stoke, have started well, so obviously it was not going to last. They fell to a Spurs team searching for their first win. Spurs’ fundamental problem, if not the solution, was clearly apparent here. They are an effective 4-4-2 team, playing with ‘Arry’s favourite Big Un, Little Un partnership, in this case Adebayor and Defoe, both of whom scored. They are far less effective when playing with Van Der Vaart, whose presence demands a tactical shift. This means more goals for Van Der Vaart, but completely neutralises whichever striker is picked to be his dupe, to the extent that the team actually suffers in the long run. With two outlets for goals, Spurs were far superior, cutting Wolves open at will. Their goals were both the result of outstanding pass and move workings around the box. Van Der Vaart’s return presents an interesting challenge for the team.

On Sunday we were given the dregs. New boys Narrich seem to have put too much trust in the team that were surprise runners up in the Championship and looked second best to everything against Uncle Wroy’s West Brom. And if they find West Brom hard, they are going to be found out all over the Prem. Meanwhile Fulham couldn’t summon up enough skill to beat a very poor Blackburn. Both those teams look like they’re in for a long struggle this season.

In contrast to both Swansea and Narrich, QPR have realised that winning the Championship and staying in the Prem are two very different things and have recruited appropriately. Their purchases of Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Armand Traoré (who was surprisingly good) have given them a little bit of Prem class and know-how and it showed against Newcastle. The extra pace and vision of the new boys meant that, not only were they less of the defensive catastrophe we saw against Bolton in Week 1, but they were incisive (if ultimately ineffective) in attack. It also meant that Tarabt is not their only source of creativity, enabling him to move more freely and become more of a genuine threat. On another day QPR would have had three or four, while Newcastle, who came in with a no score draw gameplan were very lucky to get nil.

Plus Ça Change Corner

Things that never change in the Prem

  • Johnathan Woodgate – failed a fitness test. That Stoke gamble is beginning to pay off
  • Kevin Davies King of Fouls – not booked for late, ankle breaking tackle from behind. Man U’s Cleverly will be out for at least a month. He really IS that kind of a player
  • Arsenal – still the masters of the disciplinary table although they didn’t have anyone sent off this week
  • Robert Huth – still unbooked

Comments are closed.