Five Things We Learned from a Barnstorming Return to Action in the Barclay's Premier League
1.Manchester City Are Still Firm Candidates for The Title
Manchester City may be last season’s champions but ahead of their kick-off against Newcastle, all the smart money seemed to be on Chelsea usurping them to claim the EPL title this term. Their lackluster performance against Arsenal in the Community shield may have raised a few eyebrows and prompted a few whisperings of uncertainty about their readiness to defend their perch on the BPL’s summit, but on the evidence of their hard fought, physically demanding victory over Newcastle, any suggestions that they will meekly surrender their crown to the Abramovitch’s expensively assembled team can be swiftly banished. Against an industrious Newcastle team who’s only failing was a lack of cohesion when playing the final ball, a City side that’s yet to fully hit its stride still purred efficiently enough to comfortably fend off the robust Geordie challenge. The overriding impression one got from watching City’s one touch passing when building from the back before exploding with more variation from the likes of Jovetic and Silva in the final third was that UEFA’s FFP restrictions on City may as yet prove an unintended boon for the Citizens. That, in the sense that in restraining the natural inclination of Sheikh Mansour’s outfit to always flex it’s financial muscles, the enforced relative frugality City find themselves confronted with, may lend itself to a Manchester City playing with the greater cohesion and understanding that is a natural consequence of players who are completely familiar and comfortable with their teammates and a familiar style of play.
Liverpool may have won their game against Southampton with the aid of two brilliantly taken goals from Sturridge and Sterling (the new SAS?), but at times they completely rode their luck on a sunny day in Anfield. With the bulldozers outside the iconic stadium signalling the promise of regeneration off the pitch, their performance on it (if not the result), showed that a similar rebuilding operation will be required by Brendan Rodgers if he is to attempt a repeat of last season’s heroics albeit without their talismanic Uruguayan. Prior to Suarez’s explosive burst of form coinciding with Liverpool’s amazing run to almost nick the title from under the noses of Manchester City and Chelsea last season, all the emphasis by Rodgers was on finding an identity for this Liverpool side and firmly entrenching a style of play based on passing and midfield mobility. Watching Liverpool get overrun in midfield by a Southampton side expected to be reeling from the upheaval of the numerous summer departures was slightly troubling as reflected by an Anfield crowd that was at times uncharacteristically quiet. Liverpool did show enough strength of character to hold out for the win, which bodes well for Rodgers’ attempts to rebuild a side which though shorn of the brilliance of Suarez which was a source of constant trepidation for visitors to Anfield last term, has witnessed an influx of promising additions this transfer window. Seeing how well the team from Merseyside is able to build on their success of last season without the mercurial Uruguayan will be one of the more intriguing things to watch out for this term.
3. Manchester United’s problems will take time to address
It’s been rather amusing to witness the English Press fall under the spell of LVG-mania over the summer. Every single gesture of the highly decorated Dutchman was acclaimed as being inspired of genius and his overachieving with a limited Dutch side at the world cup viewed as being indicative of how he would simply turn up at Old Trafford, fix his arrogant gaze upon his underperforming charges and with a brilliant tactical formation here, a couple of masterful substitutions there, instantly restore United to their lofty perch as Masters of the Universe. The task, as Van Gaal rightly determined as soon as he took the job, will be rather more difficult than that. Every indication now points to what the fawning media failed to realize at the start of last season; that Ferguson left his successors with an ageing, weakened team from which he had managed to wring out the last dregs of success before its flaws became too apparent. The problems ran deep and United require more serious surgical reconstruction than the quick fixes which have hitherto been touted. If there is a silver lining, it is that in Van Gaal they possess a manager who is more than capable of carrying out the kind of detailed, long term revamp that is needed. All that’s needed now is a dose of realism and some more astute backing in the transfer market.
4. Predictions of Southampton’s demise were wildly exaggerated
Considering that they were the undoubted surprise package last term it was always to be expected that the Southampton’s coterie of young, exciting talent would be aggressively courted by more illustrious clubs. What was unexpected was that the exodus would be so extensive that new manager Ronald Koeman, himself initially sanguine concerning the club’s future despite the outgoings, would be constrained to utilize dark humour send a subtle message to his board about just how threadbare their resources were becoming. The expectation therefore was that we were more likely to see a much more inhibited, uncertain and significantly weakened Southampton side at the kick off of hostilities. Not so, if their performance against Liverpool provided any indication of how they would fare this term. Koeman’s shrewd acquisitions such as Tadic and Shane Long, coupled with more exemplars of the club’s excellent development work like the hardworking James Ward Prowse and marauding Nathaniel Clyne, as well as the tough tackling pair of Schneirderlin and Wanyama all showed that the team is still capable of being competitive. A continued emphasis on keeping the faith in a cultured, intelligent style with inventive passing and movement also provided the clearest indication that even though the relentless pressing of the Pochettino era may be a thing of the past, the South Coast club is still well equipped to provide a stern challenge to even the strongest clubs in the premiership on their day.
5. The Premier League is still The Most Competitive in the World
The nature of the hard won victories for team’s like Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham as well as Manchester United’s reversal against Swansea provided more evidence(if any was needed) that this remains the most competitive league in the world. Arsenal and Liverpool in particular, rode their luck in coming out victorious and this shows that the oft repeated maxim that there are no ‘gimmes’ in this league continues to hold true. Of course there also appears to be a schism between the top six or seven teams and the rest of the league, but if the games we witnessed at the weekend are anything to go by, this season will witness as many upsets and surprises as we have by now become accustomed to.
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