This week in: English Football – Premiership, Transfers and European Draws

Premiership Roundup and Weekend Preview

Last week in the Premiership, Chelsea secured two home wins over Reading and Newcastle to finish August at the top of the table,

Torres celebrates scoring Chelsea’s second goal against Newcastle

with 3 wins out of 3.  Their 4-2 win over Reading came after they have been 2-1 down at half-time, before goals from Gary Cahill (a cracking shot from distance), Torres (who was offside) and Ivanovic (into an empty net on a counter-attack, as the opposing keeper, Federici, had gone up for a corner in the final minute) secured the three points for Roberto DiMatteo’s men.  Chelsea’s victory over Alan Pardew’s Newcastle was much more routine – a penalty from Eden Hazard and a fantastic finish from Torres ensured a perfect start for the Blues and sent them into today’s European Super Cup full of confidence.

There are two other teams in the top flight with 100% records thus far, and neither of them hail from Manchester.  Swansea produced a dominant performance against newly-promoted West Ham, beating Sam Allardyce’s side 3-0 in South Wales.  Michael Laudrup, who replaced Liverpool-bound Brendan Rodgers in the summer, has seen his side win their opening two games with a record of scored 8, conceded 0.  Everton followed up their opening weekend victory over Manchester United by beating Aston Villa 3-1 at Villa Park; the home supporters will be concerned at the lack of improvement thus far under new boss, Paul Lambert, and their side sit bottom of the (very early) Premier League table.

Another new manager has made a less than impressive start – Andre Villas-Boas’ Tottenham have picked up just a solitary point from their opening two games.  Last Saturday, they dominated the first half against West Brom at White Hart Lane, but after the break they were outplayed when the visitors introduced Romelu Lukaku to their attack. Spurs did manage to take the lead against the run of play, when a long distance shot from Benoit Assou-Ekotto was deflected past Ben Foster in the Albion goal, but James Morrisson scored an equaliser in injury time to give Steve Clarke’s men a share of the points.  One other note on that match, Jan Vertonghen had made an impressive debut for Tottenham – including a fantastic block to prevent Lukaku from scoring when he was through on goal – but for the West Brom goal he was too busy having a wrestling contest (that could have given away a penalty) with Jonas Olsson to concentrate on defending.  The other team from North London are still unbeaten this season, but have also yet to record a goal – drawing 0-0 for the second weekend in a row, this time at the Brittannia Stadium against Stoke.  Arsenal are clearly missing Van Persie, but new signings Giroud and Podolski are likely to come good soon, especially with the creative Cazorla making so many opportunities for them.

Manchester United recorded their first points of the campaign with a 3-2 home win over Fulham, goals from home debutants Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa setting them on their way.  However, Sir Alex Ferguson will have to do without Wayne Rooney for the next month, as the England striker suffered a gashed thigh after he was introduced as a second-half substitute.  As they did last season, Manchester City came away from Anfield with just a point as they had to come from behind twice to force a 2-2 draw – their second equaliser came from a dreadful backpass from Martin Skrtel that put Carlos Tevez through to score easily.  City have not beaten Liverpool away from home since 2003 and will need to improve rapidly if they are to defend their title.

Two teams who probably wanted to escape to Hawaii after their opening-day five-oh defeats, Norwich and QPR instead met at Carrow Road and played out a 1-1 draw; Southampton are still looking for their first point back in the Premiership as they were beaten 2-0 by Wigan at St. Mary’s Stadium; and Sunderland vs Reading was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch from excessive rain.  In August.

This weekend, Swansea (home to Sunderland) and Everton (away at West Brom) have the chance to join Chelsea at the top of the table on 9 points, while the Blues are facing Atletico Madrid for the European Super Cup (Update: Chelsea currently trail 2-0 through two fantastic goals from Falcao…make that 3-0 and a hat-trick for the Colombian striker).  Martin Jol takes his Fulham side across London to take on West Ham – site of Tottenham’s final day defeat in 2006 that prevented the Dutchman from taking them into the European Cup for the first time since 1961/2; Spurs host Norwich; Stoke travel to Wigan; and QPR and Manchester City meet again at the Etihad, where they played out a thriller on the final day of last season.  Manchester United will be leaving their grey shirts behind when they travel to Southampton; Newcastle entertain Villa; and Liverpool play Arsenal, with both sides looking for their first victory of the campaign.

Transfer Deadline Day

Today is the final day for Premiership clubs to buy players before the window shuts until January, and there has been plenty of activity.  Reigning Champions Manchester City have bought Swansea’s Scott Sinclair, Maicon from Internazionale (though the Brazilian right-back may be circling April 20th as a good day to take off, as otherwise it would mean a return for him to White Hart Lane and another battle with Gareth Bale) and Mancini is also close to adding Javi Garcia to his squad.  Making way for the new signings are Adam Johnson, who has joined Sunderland, and Nigel de Jong, who is off to Milan.  Other deals have seen Dimitar Berbatov move to Fulham from Manchester United; Andy Caroll join West Ham on loan for the season; and Charlie Adam leave Anfield after just a year to sign for Stoke City.

My focus, of course, is on Tottenham’s dealings this summer.  Today, they have sold Rafael Van der Vaart to Hamburg, following on from Luka Modric’s transfer to Real Madrid earlier in the week; while Moussa Dembele was acquired from Fulham for a fee of £15m.  Spurs are also looking to add Joao Moutinho from Porto and Lyon’s French international goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris.  It has been a bizarre transfer window, even by Tottenham’s usual overactive standards, with the club now relying on just two senior strikers (Adebayor, brought in permanently from Manchester City, and Defoe, who was himself subject of transfer speculation) and having completely changed the midfield.  The departure of Van der Vaart is hard to comprehend, the Dutchman may have his injury problems, but he is a world-class player who scored crucial goals for the club, including 4 goals in 4 games against Arsenal.  Sigurdsson and Dembele are good purchases to strengthen the squad, but they should have been replacements for Krancjar and Dos Santos, who have also been sold this summer, but now look like they will form the heart of the midfield.  Villas-Boas is focusing his efforts in the last couple of hours on securing the deal for Lloris – adding a fourth goalkeeper to the ranks, joining Friedel, Gomez and Cudicini.  Prior to the season, I did not hold much hope for Spurs to be successful this season but, after this latest set of transfers, I may have been optimistic predicting they would finish seventh.

European Draws

Traveling United fans will get to see Braga’s mountain-side scoreboard

Over the last two days, the draws have been made for the group stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League.  Manchester City had the worst luck of the four English teams in Europe’s top club competition, as they will face Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund – all champions of their respective leagues.  United will have an easier time against Cluj, Galatasary and Braga; Arsenal will be confident to progress from a group containing Schalke 04, Olympiakos and Montpellier; and reigning champions, Chelsea (urgh, I am still not over that) face Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus and FC Nordsjaelland.

In the Europa League, Spurs got a tough draw as their have been pitted against Lazio, Panathinaikos, and Slovenia’s Maribor; Liverpool face Udinese, Young Boys and nouveau-riche Russian side, Anzhi; and Newcastle’s return to European competition sees them in a group with Bordeaux, Club Brugge and Maritimo.

Groups in Full:

Champions League groups:

Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb

Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier

Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga

Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund

Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland

Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov

Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic

Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj

Europa League Groups:

Group A: Liverpool, Udinese, Young Boys, Anzhi Makhachkala.

Group B: Atletico Madrid, Hapoel Tel-Aviv, Plzen, Academica.

Group C: Marseille, Fenerbache, Borussia Monchengladbach, AEL.

Group D: Bourdeaux, Club Brugge, Newcastle United, Maritimo.

Group E: Stuttgart, Copenhagen, Steaua Bucharest, Molde.

Group F: PSV Eindhoven, Napoli, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, AIK.

Group G: Sporting Lisbon, Basel, Genk, Videoton.

Group H: Internazionale, Rubin Kazan, Partizan, Nefti.

Group I: Lyon, Athletic Bilbao, Sparta Praha, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.

Group J: Tottenham Hotspur, Panathinaikos, Lazio, NK Maribor.

Group K: Bayer Leverkusen, Metalist Kharkiv, Rosenborg, Rapid Wien.

Group L: Twente, Hannover 96, Levante, Helsingborg.

Still with me?! Good.  Finally, this week’s Premiership predictions.

Weekly Predictions

Last week: 4-6; Season: 8-12

West Ham vs Fulham – Away win

Swansea vs Sunderland – Home win

Tottenham vs Norwich – Draw

West Brom vs Everton – Draw

Wigan vs Stoke – Home win

Manchester City vs QPR – Home win

Liverpool vs Arsenal – Away win

Newcastle vs Aston Villa – Home win

Southampton vs Manchester United – Away win

Final score of the European Super Cup: Chelsea 1 – 4 Atletico Madrid

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