The upcoming international break provides a perfect opportunity to digest the opening exchanges in the English Premier League; with Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion standing taller than a Brazilian challenger to Oscar Pistorius while Liverpool and Spurs already find themselves under pressure after a poor start to the season, gazing wistfully upwards at the standings they believe they ought to be competing for….
Zillion-pound Chelsea stand as the only EPL side to have secured maximum points from their first three fixtures, with £32M Eden Hazard looking immediately at home in the EPL and benefiting from Fernando Torres re-emergence as a striker that Cosatu would be proud of! The inexplicable non-action from the English FA thus far regarding John Terry aside, opponents will take heart from the continued presence of defensive liability David Luiz in the Chelsea back-four. New boy Michael Laudrup has embraced Swansea’s attacking flair while managerial debutant Steve Clarke has brought a defensive solidity to WBA. Both will be delighted with their 7pt haul from their opening fixtures.
Defending champions Man City have been unusually sloppy in defence – conceding in each of their three matches and even managing to ship two against Liverpool!! – while Robin van Persie has confirmed accusations emanating from the fickle Emirates Stadium of his drastic demise with an abysmal return of just four goals in his first two EPL starts for his new club Man Utd. It is a wonder that Sir Alex Ferguson allowed the departure of perennial self-pity wallower Dimitar Berbatov with RVP’s dreadful impact at Old Trafford.
Aside from their woeful display against WBA, Everton will be delighted with their start to the season; David Moyes’ team adopting the revolutionary concept of beginning their campaign in August rather than their more usual awakening in mid-January. And despite being hindered by being EOTF’s prediction as a top-four finisher Everton have very much begun the season in the rich vein of form they finished in last year.
Although you cannot truly gauge anything from the first three matches of a 38-game season, Spurs and Liverpool will harbour deep concerns for the coming months. I would throw Arsenal into the mix too, but they benefited from deservedly taking maximum points from their trip to Anfield and so sit on a comfortable 5pts, albeit masking the many deficiencies in their depleted squad.
Both Spurs and Liverpool find themselves under new management and with both incumbents having something of a point to prove. Andre Villas Boas has to convince a sceptical EPL that he IS the real deal rather than being further exposed as more of the Emperor’s New Clothes character that was unveiled at Chelsea. Of course there is little doubt that his toppling at Stamford Bridge owed plenty to the scheming back-stabbing antics of John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole in the Chelsea Mafia, but AVB’s reputation was severely tarnished nonetheless. Luka Modric’s move to Real Madrid was drawn out to a point that it damaged Spurs’ preparations for the season ahead and despite Daniel Levy – surely a senior member of the Spanish Inquisition in a previous life – squeezing an inflated £33M from Spain for the Croatian luxury, the delay inhibited Spurs ability to strengthen in key areas. Emmanuel Adebayor is not a striker with sufficient quality, motivation and commitment to spearhead a top-four push and the signing of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris confirmed, for me, a confused transfer priority. To lose Rafael van der Vaart in addition to Modric has left Spurs short of creativity – a desperate move for Joao Moutinho was always destined to fail – while AVB has yet to call upon £10M Jan Vertonghen….presumably not-so-subtly suggesting he did not want to sign that particular player.
But key to my fears for AVB – my own tip to be the first EPL manager to leave his post – is that he seems to have learned precisely nothing from his torrid experience at Chelsea. On his appointment he was at pains to point out that he realised he had tried to change too much too quickly at Stamford Bridge and would not act so hastily this time around. But, although he had little choice with Modric, AVB has attempted to jettison the likes of Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Jermain Defoe alongside the surprise departure of Van der Vaart while trying, and failing, to sell fringe players Jermaine Jenas, Heurelho Gomes and David Bentley?!? And on top of the arrivals of Adebayor, Vertonghen and Lloris, Spurs have welcomed Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson to the club. In anyone’s books that is a severe player turnover….
But as transfer policies go there can be few more bizarre and misguided that the one in place at Anfield. Liverpool’s reaction to their lowest goal scoring season in recent history was to allow their misfiring attackers to leave. So Dirk Kuyt, Craig Bellamy and Maxi Rodriguez all sought pastures new, with Liverpool recouping a whopping combined £1M from those shrewd deals. Rumours persisted throughout the summer of a permanent departure for £35M misfit Andy Carroll, with the Anfield hierarchy grimly accepting the folly of their past splurges and bracing themselves for a significant hit on the £35M ludicrously spunked on acquiring Carroll. But why let him go for £17M when you can allow him to leave for £1.5M instead?!? West Ham’s colossal loan fee represents a shuddering £33.5M loss on a player over just 18mths….but there was more unbridled joy for long-suffering Kopites.
With the unheralded arrival of one-time Chelsea reserve Fabio Borini the only attacking addition to the shot-shy Reds – a ‘striker’ whose opening performances have achieved the impossible…namely making Arsenal import Olivier Giroud NOT look like the worst sharpshooter in the EPL – Liverpool’s board decided against committing a gargantuan £6M on acquiring a proven EPL performer in Clint Dempsey, leaving their beleaguered young manager Brendan Rodgers with even fewer striking options than he began the pre-season with?!?!? £16M on Jordan Henderson….£6M for Dempsey was presumably deemed silly money….
Liverpool’s desperate situation can be highlighted no clearer than in chill-the-bone speculation linking injury-prone mercenary Michael Owen with a dramatic and, in my eyes, totally implausible return to the club! Owen contributed a spectacular six EPL starts during his 3yr stay at Old Trafford and I would be deeply saddened if Liverpool stooped to the level of providing this disloyal has-been with any more exposure to a level of football that neither his form, his fitness, his motivation nor his long-declining powers warrant.
The EPL season is a mere fortnight old but already Spurs, and in particular Liverpool, must already be counting down the days to the January transfer window….