Day 1 of the new Barclays Premier League was excellent, I’m sure you’ll agree. Some very entertaining games and even better goals. So what would Day 2 on this first weekend going to throw up, would they continue in the same vein? I certainly hoped so as I sat down to watch.
There were three games on offer involving two of the major contenders for this season’s crown, Man Utd and Chelsea. I have heard a lotof pundits recently pretty much all going for Chelsea to win the League. I was looking forward to see which of the two would kick-off their new campaign the better.
Man Utd were at home against a team the usual defeat without breaking sweat. Last year Newcastle arrived at Old Trafford just after the disasterous reign of Sam Allardyce had come to an end. They left Old Trafford on the back of a 6 – 0 drubbing. Hope constantly springs eternal for The Toon Army but even they must have made their way south with some anxiety.
Chelsea on the other hand were entertaining the FA Cup holders Portsmouth, with their new attacking partnership of little and large, Defoe and Crouch. It was “Big Phil” Scolari’s first competitive game at home at the Bridge, so who would come out of the first weekend of the Barclays Premier League with the early advantage?
Manchester United v Newcastle United
Of course the big talking point during the summer at Old Trafford has not been who Ferguson has bought but who he persuaded, by whatever means, to stay. He may not be fit yet, reports suggest he will be out for another 6 weeks after that incredibly quickly arranged operation, but the fact that Ronaldo is still a United player at the start of this season will presumably be a bonus as the season progresses. The only question that remains is did Ferguson win Ronaldo’s heart and mind as well as his agreement to postpone his eventual and inevitable departure.
The travelling Black and White Army must have feared the worst early on as Utd pressuried and also had a shout for a penalty after Milner looked to handle the ball directly from a Giggs free-kick taken from about 20 yards out. Replays showed it actually rebounded off both Milner’s arms. Perhaps it was more ball to hand? At least Mike Riley the referee thought so.
Shortly after Rooney produced a lovely cross from the left with the outside of his right boot. It was inch perfect for the new boy Campbell to meet with a driving header from 6 yards out only for Given to pull off what looked like an absolutely stunning save. It wasn’t until I and everyone else saw the replay that you realised Given knew absolutely nothing about the header until it hit him squarely on the forehead. At least I suppose you can say he got his positioning exactly right! But in real time, it looked fantastic!
At that point you could sense that the fans were expecting a break through to happen very soon. But instead Newcastle stormed up the other end and if Man Utd perhaps had a decent call for a penalty then Newcastle had an even better shout for one when their new defender Jonas Gutierrez was blantantly bodychecked of Vidic. When I watched the reply the foul was even more blatant but it also revealed that the fould was perhaps just outside the box, but a foul it most certainly was!
If Given didn’t know anything about the save he made from Campbell earlier in the half than he certainly did about his next. He pulled off a fabulous double save, first from Rooney low down to his right and then from Scholes on the follow-up.
At this point, apart from that charging run by Gutierrez, Newcastle were virtually under seige from Man Utd. But Newcaslte did managed to get forward and forced a throw-in deep in Utd territory. The throw resulting in a corner from which Martins rose above everyone to power a header past a helpless Scholes standing on the line guarding the far post. Out of nothing, Newcastle Utd had taken the lead at Old Trafford, almost unchartered territory in the last 10 years. The Toon Army could hardly have known what to do. But as Martins ran away to perform his customary double back flip, they of course went wild as the realisation that they were suddenly 1 – 0 up sank in.
But you don’t become Champions by just sitting back and accepting defeat, they bounce back and within two minutes Man Utd had struck through Darren Fletcher. The TV at that point focused in on one Ronaldo sat in the stands. Without a smile or any expression on his face, he simply clapped, politely, for a few seconds then directed his attention bacl to his mobile. A picture is worth a 1000 words and all that!
The Toon Army were in Dreamland for about two minutes and with Utd scoring so quickly they must surely have feared that the flood gates were about to burst open.
But no, Given was having one of those days, he was pulling off some great saves. And as the half progressed you could feel that the Newcastle fans were starting to believe they come leave Old Trafford with at worst a point. And it might have been all three if Martins had kept a free header from 6 yards out down, because if he had, it was 2 – 1 to Newcastle.
Newcastle still had to ride their luck a little though as the game came to an end. Vidic hit the bar with a header that bounced up off the ground and over Milner who was on the line. Then Rooney with nearly the last kick of the game took a free-kick just outside the box. When it was awarded everyone thought it was a penalty but from the replay the referee had made a brilliant decision. The foul had in deed been comitted just outside the box. The equation was simple. Rooney scores Utd win and Newcastle would yet again leave Old Trafford with nothing. Miss and all Newcastle’s hard work would be rewarded with a point and a great confidence boost going forward.
Newcastle got their reward and to all intents and purposes, it must have felt like a victory to all those in the Toon Army. No one at Old Trafford should be worried that they lost a couple of points from their first game. Look at the start they had last season, didn’t seem to do them any harm, did it? But Newcastle will definitely take more away from this game and all will be hoping it will be a springboard to better things to come.
The one slight worry perhaps Utd could have to to look at their next three games in the League. Because of the Super Cup, they are all away games at Portsmouth, Liverpool and Chelsea and most likely will all be without Ronaldo. I’m certainly looking forward to those games!
Chelsea v Portsmouth
Big Phil Scolari is of course the third manager at Stamford Bridge in the last 11 months and if he wants to continue being the boss next season you would have to think that Abramovich has given him a fairly short Job Description: Win the League, the Champions League or best, both!
The FA Cup holders Portsmouth arrived at Stamford Bridge without a win on the opening day of the season for the last 20 years! An amazing statistic. When I saw the Chelsea teamsheet I’m afraid all I could think of was that record was going to increase to 21. My second thought was I immediately understood why so many pundits are saying it will be Chelsea’s year. If Scolari can get his players to produce the “Samba / Brazilian” football he has promised, it could actually be fun watching Chelsea play.
Here’s another amazing static, do you know how much Abramovich has personally invested into Chelsea? £580m (approx $1000m). No wonder he wants a return on that kind of investment!
Ok, one more amazing statistic. Do you know how much it cost Abramovich to ensure that Lampard signed a new deal to stay at Chelsea? £150,000 (approx $290,000) per WEEK!! Yes, that is Lampard’s wage per week. It’s a £34m (approx $70m) 5 year contract. Obsense quite frankly. Click on the following link to read what I think about Money In Football.
It didn’t take long for Scolari to see his first goal as manager, just 12 minutes as Joe Cole scored. It was all they deserved as Portsmouth simply couldn’t get in the game, it was totally one sided and Anelka made sure it got worse for Harry Redknapp as he headed in from about a yard to make it 2 – 0. Portsmouth simply hadn’t turned up at this point. Their defence that looked so self-assured last season was, at this point, being ripped to shreds. It was full of hesitancy, errors and the score could have, perhaps should have been 4 – 0 by this time.
Then it got even worse for Portsmouth as Distin handled the box and Lampard started to repay a little of that huge wage by by cooly slotting the penalty wide of David James. It was a first half romp for Chelsea and James looked a dejected man. The only question was how much worse could it get in the second half?
It started with Chelsea still looking full of goals whilst Portsmouth still looked full of holes. As the camera panned to Redknapp on the bench, that FA Cup victory back in May was looking a very distant memory in deed. It was as if Chelsea were just toying with Portsmouth, like a cruel cat with a trapped mouse.
Then the new signing Deco stepped up and simply put the icing on the cake for a perfect Chelsea afternoon stroll at the Bridge. From about 25 yards out he unleashed a swerving shot that had James totally beaten.
If you see the game, look out for Petr Cech’s goalkeeping outfit. Well, I’ll be frank, you simply can’t miss it. Bright orange, in factso bright it almost gave me a headache looking at it. Awful! What’s wrong with good old fashioned green?
Aston Villa v Manchester City
Of course the main issue during the summer for Villa was the baffling Barry saga but whilst all that was going on Martin O’Neil did sign 7 new players to strength the squad that produced the highest points total for a Villa team for 11 years last season.
Meanwhile the new Man City boss Mark Hughes hasn’t been so lucky in the transfer market, not surprisingly when you’re Chairman has all his assests frozen and is technically “on the run” in London whilst the Thai Authorities want him back in his homeland. All that and the awful performance in the UEFA Cup last week to Danish minnows FC Midtjyland at Eastlands must have put a dampener on the usual pre-season optimisim. Then they had one of their new signings carried off, during the pre-game warm-up! When the luck is against you…..
The man at the centre of the transfer saga had a couple of good chances in the first half could couldn’t make either count. You just wonder what state of mind Gareth Barry is in at the moment. Plus, with him playing in Europe last week, it he were to finally move to Liverpool it means he could play in the Champions League until and if Liverpool get through to the knock-out stages. I just can’t see why Liverpool, or as if turns out Benitez, want to him. I’m not saying he isn’t a good player, he is but I just don’t see him adding to Liverpool and definitely not at £18m.
The first goal of the game came just after half time and was courtesy of a lazy pass by Man City. They gave the ball away far too cheaply and within seconds Carew had a simple header after an lovely cross by Ashley Young.
Man City’s Johnson then took the game by the cruff of the neck and surged forward from his own half. After playing a nice one-two with Petrov he charged into the box and was rewarded for his efforts with a penalty after being brought down by Luke Young. The penalty was taken by Elano and it was very well taken. He slowly jogged up to the ball then stroked it powerfully into the bottom right corner.
But Villa didn’t take long to regain the lead and it was the type of goal that will have managers like Mark Hughes pulling their hair out. City gave away a needless corner. They simple can’t have been away communication by the keeper and the defender who didn’t have a Villa player within 10 yards of him, yet he put the ball out presumingly thinking that an attacker was right behind him. From the resulting corner Agbonlahor latched onto the knock-down header from Carew and O’Neil was dancing n the touchline whilst Hughes must have had his head in his hands.
Then it got even worse for Hughes and City as Barry overlapped down the left and put in a beautiful cross for Agbonlahor. Barry put the ball on a plate for him to head his second totally unmarked.
But he wasn’t finished at just two, oh no. Villa broke quickly, so quickly thatat first Agbonlahor was offside and he had to check down a couple of times. But when the pass was released he timed his run perfectly and he was away. He charged into the City area and placed the ball perfectly past the on rushing goalie. It was a great hat-trick and Agbonlahor had simply ripped Man City apart in the space of 8 minutes. That Elano penalty was already looking a far distant memory.
To be fair to City they did keep going as best they could and did make Freidel pull off a great save from a really powerful strike.
The last goal of the game did go to City, scored by Corluka in the 89th minute. But by that time neither he nor the City fans raised a cheer. The game was well and truly over thanks to Agbonlahor and to be fair most of the City fans were already on their way back home by then. Not a great start for City and Hughes.
That said though, I relly think City have got the best man in Hughes at the helm. I’ve writen elsewhere that I believe Hughes is a winner and a fighter and he will be able to separate what is going on off the pitch, which let’s face it, is a joke at the moment and makes Liverpool’s behind the scenes turmoil look normal, with what has to be done on the training ground and in the games ahead.
Great first weekend of Premier League football. Looking forward to the rest of the season? I know I am!
The Soccer Blogger