This week in: English Football – United Stand Alone

United fans offer "encouragement" to Torres

After both Manchester sides had won all four of their opening league games, last weekend Fulham became the first team to take points off either of them, as they came from behind to draw 2-2 with City at Craven Cottage.  Meanwhile, up at Old Trafford, United suffered no such slip up as they dispatched title rivals Chelsea 3-1.  Having been three down at the interval, Fernando Torres gave Chelsea some hope when he scored just his second goal for the club a minute after half time.  All of that good work was undone, however, when Torres later contrived to miss an opportunity that had to be seen to be believed.  The Spaniard did everything right to get into position, timing his run perfectly – he then went around Man United’s keeper de Gea with some great footwork, only to then blast the ball wide from 6 yards with an open goal in front of him.  With only 10 minutes left in the game, that miss effectively killed off any chance of Chelsea getting anything from the game.

Arsenal had suffered a bad start to the season, but scored five in their game against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park – unfortunately for Wenger’s team, two of those goals were into their own net and they slumped to a 4-3 defeat.  The North London club is suffering its worst start to a league season in almost 60 years and this week Arsene Wenger was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the board – usually a sure sign a manager is about to be replaced in English football.  This time, that is unlikely to be the case – Wenger has a good relationship with his employers and has developed enough goodwill during his tenure at the club to ensure he will have the opportunity to turn things around.  The win for Rovers was much-needed relief for their own under fire boss Steve Kean as some of Blackburn’s supporters had been protesting his position as manager prior to kick off.

In the other games last weekend, Tottenham dismantled Kenny Daglish’s Liverpool team 4-0 at White Hart Lane, the last three goals coming when the visitors had been reduced to 9 men following the sendings off of Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel.  All three of the promoted sides won, with QPR and Norwich winning away at Wolves and Bolton respectively, and Swansea taking care of business at home against West Bromwich Albion, scoring their first (and second, and third) Premiership goals in the process.  As predicted here, draw specialists and not yet beaten Aston Villa and Newcastle United shared the points, while Everton beat Wigan, and Sunderland got their first victory of the season in impression fashion, putting four past a previously unbeaten Stoke side.

This week’s fixtures sees Arsenal host Bolton, hoping to get their season back on track prior to next weekend’s North London derby with Tottenham; Spurs travel to Wigan looking for their third straight league win; Manchester City entertain Everton, while Manchester United face a tricky away game in Stoke.  There is an early bottom-of-the-table clash between 20th placed West Brom and winless Fulham; Blackburn hope to build on their win over Arsenal when they take on Newcastle at St. James’ park; and Torres will be watching as other strikers get the chance to put some goals past Swansea at Stamford Bridge.

Predictions

Last week, 4-6; overall 10-9

Man City vs Everton – Home win

Arsenal vs Bolton – Draw

Chelsea vs Swansea – Home win

Liverpool vs Wolves – Home win

Newcastle vs Blackburn – Home win

West Brom vs Fulham – Draw

Wigan vs Tottenham – Away win

Stoke vs Man United – Away win

QPR vs Aston Villa – Draw

Norwich vs Sunderland  – Away win

This week in: English Football – Man Utd vs Chelsea

I can't hear any booing...


This Sunday sees Manchester United take on Chelsea at Old Trafford, a matchup of the two sides who have won the last seven Premier League titles.  United have won all four of their league games thus far – winning 2-1 at West Brom in the opening match and then smashing Tottenham 3-0, Arsenal 8-2 and Bolton 5-0.  Chelsea have picked up 10 points out of 12 available to them, but have been overshadowed by both the Red Devils and Manchester City, who have been dominating the sports pages with their impressive performances.  Fernando Torres, bought by Chelsea for £50m in January, is still misfiring and has only scored once for the Blues.  He is looking a shadow of the player he was when he won Euro 2008 for Spain and was such a clinical finisher in his first two seasons at Liverpool.  It will be interesting to see if manager Andre Villas-Boas sticks with youngster Daniel Sturridge, who started and scored in the win against Sunderland last Saturday, rather than either Torres or Didier Drogba.

Also on Sunday, Tottenham host Liverpool, the away side having suffered their first defeat of the season away at Stoke last weekend.  Spurs picked up their first win of the campaign that same weekend against Wolves, but have also had a Thursday

Touchdown! Wait, wrong football...

Europa League fixture away in Northern Greece to contend with (which they drew 0-0).  While this would normally mean that a team would be fatigued, manager Harry Redknapp opted to leave many of the first choice players at home and played a very young team against PAOK Salonika.  The theory he subscribes to is that the Europa League is not worth trying to win and, thus, he is focusing his attention on getting back into the Champions League for next season – a decision which baffles me on several counts:

1) The Premier League is even stronger this year than last.  Manchesters United and City, and Chelsea are all beyond reach, so Tottenham look to be in a three-horse race for the final Champions League spot with Arsenal, who they last finished above in about 1961, and Liverpool, who strengthened their squad greatly from last season.

2) Even if they qualified for the Champions League, Spurs have little chance of winning it. Shouldn’t triumphing in the Europa League trump just being in the top European competition? When did trophies get devalued to a point that you would rather just be in another tournament than win the one you’re in?

3) If Spurs manage to finish fourth – next summer, after Euro 2012 when current national team boss Fabio Capello’s contact expires, Harry Redknapp will be ordained as the next England manager – so he would not be around for the Champions League campaign anyway.  The man has won one trophy in his whole career (the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008) – he should be doing his all to try to add to that total.

But Redknapp looks to be persisting with this policy in the Europa League – a tournament he referred to before the season as a “nuisance”.  I guess Sebastian was wrong – the seaweed is greener in somebody else’s lake.

Elsewhere this weekend…well there’s not a very good slate of games to be honest.  Arsenal, who won their first league game of the season against Swansea last weekend, will travel to Blackburn – who’s fans are planning a pre-game protest over their inept manager Steve Kean.  Draw specialists Aston Villa will be sharing the spoils with Newcastle; Bolton take on Norwich at the Reebok Stadium; Fulham will be the team beaten heavily by Manchester City this weekend; and Swansea try to score their first Premiership goal ever when they play West Brom in Wales.

Predictions

Last week I predicted 6 correct outcomes versus 3 wrong ones – having failed to notice there was a Monday night game and so totally missed QPR vs Newcastle.

Blackburn vs Arsenal – Away win

Aston Villa vs Newcastle – Draw

Bolton vs Norwich – Home win

Everton vs Wigan – Draw

Swansea vs West Brom – Home win

Wolves vs QPR – Draw

Spurs vs Liverpool – Home win

Fulham vs Man City – Away win

Sunderland vs Stoke – Away win

Manchester United vs Chelsea – Home win