Despite largely not going the way we would’ve hoped, offering yet more evidence that this looks set to be a frustrating opening month or so for the defending champions, at least there was also evidence from the opening weekend that this Premier League could, and almost definitely will be, a more interesting competition than its previous edition. Our failings and stuttering aside, this has been a fascinating transfer window, if not for the ways in which our rivals have chosen to strengthen, then for the quality of additions made by almost every single mid-table side…
Andre Ayew (Swansea), Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Georgino Wijnaldum (Newcastle), Solomon Rondon (West Brom), Dmitri Payet (West Ham) and now Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) all represent fantastic coups for their new clubs; I think that collectively, their arrival is great news for the Premier League for two reasons: first it should mean genuine mid-table competition, with as many as seven sides capable of finishing seventh (and potentially winning European football); it also means that these sides should take more points off the title contenders over the duration of the season, meaning closer competition for the title and the top four places until the final few game-weeks.
That the division as a whole should make for better viewing is little consolation at the moment however, given what miserable viewing our own games have been so far, as our evident problems from pre-season continue to persist. Despite looking good for a while and deserving our (admittedly fortunate) goals, we failed at any point to look convincing, with the two most worrying individual performances being those of the full-backs. Ivanovic seems to have lost all the form he regained over last season as he was given hell by the impressive Jefferson Montero, while Cesar Azpilicueta is playing as badly as he ever has done for the club, with the Swans’ tactic of doubling up on the Spaniard annoyingly effective in its almost crude simplicity. Prospective new signing Baba Rahman might get a chance sooner than he anticipates.
Of course the game was turned (and ruined from our perspective) with the red card. Though both aspects of the decision – whether the contact was inside the box, whether the goal scoring opportunity was ‘clear’ – were borderline, it’s tough to feel too hard done by with either of the calls. Either way, Courtois’ run out was so uncharacteristically poorly timed, and his tackle was almost amateurish it was so clumsy; he deserved his punishment. The club’s appeal of the decision is a waste of time, which means Asmir Begovic will get an early chance at The Etihad next week to prove the quality and importance of his signing.
In a game of genuinely few highlights for ourselves, the two which stood out the most were Oscar’s performance, this being the second time he’s scored on the opening day of the season; it’s good he looks set to have his customary strong start to the campaign and it’s a shame he was sacrificed following the red card. The other positive note I thought was the way we managed the final half hour of the game, with Zouma coming on to play a mature role and Diego Costa battling hard – we were easily good enough to deserve the point.
It’s clear things aren’t going as well as they could be though and it’s clear that it is bothering Mourinho. The difficulty the club is having in securing its transfer targets, compared with previous seasons, seems to be giving the entire operation the appearance of being behind schedule. Jose’s deeply unappreciated, and frankly strange, criticism of the medical team was beyond unfortunate; whether he was trying to deflect from the result, or from what he thought was Eden Hazard’s play acting, or whether he was just cross, this quite surely was not the way to vent his feelings. Plainly there is no need to panic as of yet, hopefully we’ll soon return to a position where everything is settled, everything is running smoothly and where nobody ever says anything mean about Dr Eva. There is a line.
Things took a much appreciated turn for the better the following afternoon however, when we learned that their impressive pre-season treble hasn’t done much to hinder Arsenal’s ability to screw up when it matters. Stat of the weekend is surely that after just one game, Wenger has already lost more home league matches with Cech in goal, than Jose lost in over four full seasons. Naturally, having been on the bench for a season and with new colleagues to get used to, the Czech will likely need a while to reach his best levels. Hopefully it might take a little bit longer yet. I’m sure it won’t take him much longer to realise that keeping in this division is rather more difficult when you haven’t got JT in front of you.
Despite seeing our other rivals pick up victories I think we also saw reasons not to be too scared at this stage. Man Utd looked more solid and ordered in midfield with Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger making their debuts, but they looked blunt in attack with Rooney having perhaps reached the end of his prime and with only Javier Hernandez for back up, their front line doesn’t look great. The unorthodox pairing of Daley Blind and Luke Shaw makes the left side of their defence look vulnerable also. As the David De Gea saga continues, the possibility of being stuck for a year with Sergio Romero in goal has to be a worry also.
Liverpool’s win was reasonably impressive though their performance was very flat and the game was very boring. It doesn’t look as though the new Henderson/Milner partnership will be the most electrifying in recent memory. Philippe Coutinho’s wondergoal rather typically for him came at the end of an average display. The Brazilian is a great talent but is not yet the calibre of player to lead Liverpool to any kind of title challenge, and probably not even to the top four. Man City meanwhile also won well at West Brom, but a list of questions as to their title winning pedigree still remains to be answered.
Naturally, it makes sense to wait until after the City game next Sunday to truly assess our standing. British sports writer Martin Samuel I think is half right when he says Chelsea have gone backwards for having stood still in relation to our rivals. But I also agree with Oliver Holt who explained that any notion that Chelsea will regress, must be predicated on our hunger being diminished and by any of the side’s younger players failing to develop their games. I wouldn’t bet on either of those assumptions being vindicated. I think we still can improve, individually and collectively. And if there is anyone that can push these players to get better, then it’s that miserable physio abusing nutcase that we all love so much