While it is far too early to make any sort of valid title predictions based on the limited premier league action served up thus far, it is fair to say that of the so called title contenders (I’ll include Man City in the equation), I am somewhat surprised at the start made by Chelsea.
It is not so much their 100% record, which means little at this stage, but the manner of their performances which have caught the eye. Drogba and Anelka are dovetailing superbly upfront and look to be on the brink of forming a formidable partnership. The midfield diamond/christmas tree/inverted trapezium (or whatever you care to call it!) is functioning well regardless of the interchange in personnel.
Although for me, the most impressive factor of Chelsea’s performances to date has been not on the pitch but the touchline. Many, myself included, expressed reservations at the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti. Certainly a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League, but with only a basic command of English, just one Italian title to his name and a reputation for somewhat inflexible tactics. Would this fit the cosmopolitan, entertaining and above all winning mentality demanded by Abramovich?
Well, it’s early days of course and come season’s end he may yet prove to be more Avram Grant than Jose Mourinho, but credit where credit is due; he’s off to a good start.
So what of the other usual suspects? Well prior to the game at Old Trafford, I would certainly have said that this has been Arsenal’s season thus far and in all honesty, despite the result, I have seen little to dissuade me from that opinion. Given the same chances and balance of play, Arsenal would win that game eight times out of ten. However, ultimately they only had themselves to blame for two costly and decisive errors.
There was no need whatsoever for Almunia to make the challenge on Rooney as by simply covering his near post the angle would have been decidedly against the striker. Similarly, Diaby had no cause to head the ball, although Almunia should clearly have called for it and taken command of the situation and so must share equal blame.
Still, Arsenal have every reason to be proud of their performance and the flowing football they have produced in their opening matches. True, United was their early acid test and they emerged without a point, but if they play to the same standard for the remainder of the season they will win more games than not, including against big five opposition. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them bounce back with three points against Manchester City after the international break.
Manchester United are a different kettle of fish entirely. They will undoubtedly be buoyed by a massive three points against a leading contender but their performances so far, including the 90 minutes against Arsenal have for large parts been insipid, devoid of creativity and over reliant on the energy and battling qualities of Wayne Rooney. Even though they eventually ran up a cricket score against Wigan they were frustrated for long periods and looked shorn of ideas until the flood gates opened.
It is far too easy and obvious to blame all of this on the departure of the ‘big ego’ but suffice to say those remaining need to stand up and be counted. I also believe United will need even more from the full backs this season, pushing forward to provide more support in wide areas, which puts an even greater emphasis on Evra, an already excellent player to deliver the goods. Valencia and Nani may yet emerge as real stars at United, but their time has not yet arrived.
As for Liverpool, were it not for a disgraceful decision by referee Alan Wiley in sending off Sean Davis for an entirely non-descript challenge, they may have been staring an absolutely calamitous start to the season in the face. There is no arguing with the quality of Gerrard’s winner but with eleven against eleven it may just have been a different story.
I read little into the home defeat against Villa in which Liverpool actually played well but made basic errors and found Friedel in inspired form. What does concern me is their obvious lack of depth, particularly in central defence where new signing Kyrgiakos looked less than certain. As it is, with a home game against Burnley on the horizon they now have the chance to re-group and re-establish their title credentials. Liverpool’s season starts now.
Other than Chelsea, Manchester City are the only other ‘big 5’ team to have made an unblemished start. Unlike Chelsea their results have been impressive more for the way in which they have ground them out. Four goals scored and none conceded make for solid workmanlike statistics but let’s also face facts; the opposition have hardly been of the highest calibre.
Mark Hughes team will face far sterner tests in the coming weeks and despite the defence having yet to be breached this has been as much down to the profligate finishing of the opposition as the form of their own back four. Against both Wolves and Portsmouth they have looked in complete control only to cede ascendency to their opponents and end the game grateful to preserve 3 points. So all in all, a solid start but I remain to be convinced. The game against Arsenal will be the true test for them.
An honourable mention must also go to Tottenham for an impressive start to the campaign. I look forward to watching the table really begin to take shape in the coming weeks.