In recent seasons, it’s become customary for us to reach the first international break of the season and see a league table with United sitting a few points off the pace. We’d bemoan the lack of investment (which remains a net figure of ‘minimal’ since the Glazers took over), Fergie would say ‘it’s all about staying within reach’ and remind us that we never get going until after Christmas anyway – a fair point I suppose. Not this year though. Nine points out of nine and a goal difference of +10…and it was us who had the difficult start apparently.
West Brom was pretty much last seasons’ away performances encapsulated within 90 minutes. United start brightly, go a goal ahead and look like adding to it…the opposition equalise and then it all…sort of…fizzles…out. Except this time we managed to sneak one and fortunately got away with an undeserved 3 points.
The story during the aftermath of course, predictably, was David De Gea’s error. It was obvious the kid was going to make gaffes during the course of the season, but the relish with which pundits and commentators lined up to pen his obituary after one game was laughable. It’s good he’s subjected to this level of scrutiny early in his United career and gets these mistakes out of his system – get the realities of the job ahead and a bit of ‘siege mentality’ instilled in him early and he’ll be fine.
Next it was the visit of florid-faced fuckwit Harry Redknapp’s expensively assembled underachievers. Spurs’ downward trajectory looks set to continue given the evidence on view, with European footballer of the decade (November 2010 award) Gareth Bale especially quiet. It’s perhaps unfair to judge Spurs on their early season showings, as Harry’s mind has been no doubt been elsewhere during the summer. He’s had his ongoing (and strangely, largely unpublicised) tussles with HMRC to contend with as well as gearing himself up for the real highlight of Harry’s year: briefing that toothy SSN reporter on deadline day whilst hanging out of his Merc. “Yeah ee’s a smashin’ player innee…ooo wouldn’t be interested?” etc, etc…
That Spurs game, particularly the 2nd half, hopefully give us a glimpse of what we might expect this season. Pace all over our team now, particularly in defence. Phil Jones looking anything but a 19 year old taking his nascent steps as a United player and Chris Smalling filling in effortlessly at right back. With Nani and Anderson having good days, Bratfud Tom buzzing around like the anti-Gibson, Young looking instantly comfortable on the OT stage and Rooney back to his imperious best…well, it’s hard not to sound giddy.
Arsenal arrived as a team in crisis, albeit one slightly buoyed by a decent midweek showing vs Udinese in their CL qualifier. Pre-match talk was still of ‘by how many?’ though, as opposed to the usual ‘will we win?’ No-one could have predicted what lay ahead of course, 8 goals and the kind of walloping we’ve seen on very odd occasions in the past vs relegation fodder is simply not what one expects to see in a United-Arsenal game.
The signs of Wenger’s increasing fragility have been there for some time, though this season he’s taken to frantically scratching his head as opposed to wildly launching water bottles about the dugout. Le Prof has clearly lost it at present – his refusal to accept the inevitable departures of Fabregas and Nasri, even as the former was aboard a Barca-bound aircraft showed the extent of his desperation. You could tell Fergie sensed what lay ahead last season, as all hostilities were ceased and he began talking about the guy in complimentary terms for once.
Wenger doesn’t look a well man at the moment – his team’s spectacular implosion over Easter has clearly taken a heavy toll. Yes, he has numerous annoying traits, (the best usually do) – but I can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy with his current plight. Although they’ve finished potless in recent years, to my mind he’s done a decent job in keeping Arsenal in contention, in spite of the financial constraints placed on him since the Emirates move. Much like Ferguson, he’s single-mindedly carried on with the job in hand, working within a budget of sorts and (publicly at least) claiming to be happy with his lot. Unlike Ferguson though, his recent buys haven’t been the most astute…they’ve been pretty shit in fact.
Growing discontent led to the shackles coming off on deadline day which lead to an uncharacteristic scramble for much needed reinforcements – the unfortunately monikered Mertesacker (sub-editors will have some fun with that name) and another typically Arsenal-esque, inconsistent lightweight in the form of Benayoun. Mikel Arteta might prove a relative steal at £10M, however.
Chelsea have enjoyed a decent start, and in Mata and Meireles look to have addressed the problems posed by the aging Lampard and perma-crocked Essien. Even if Torres returns to the player he was 2 years ago, I still expect them to ship goals this season. Terry has got by on a wing and a prayer for years now and despite winning plaudits last season, Sideshow Bob looked like an accident waiting to happen on numerous occasions. Comfortably top four again, but off the pace as regards the title.
A similarly bright start has been witnessed over on Merseyside, adding fuel to the collective state of delusional euphoria that’s been in place since King Kenny returned to reclaim his rightful throne…la. Last seasons splurging on Carroll and Suarez continued with the arrivals of Adam, Downing, Henderson, Enrique, Bellendamy, Doni and someone called Sebastian Coates from Nacional for another €8M. All of these and he’s managed to get rid of Meireles to Chelsea, who was by some distance their best player last season.
Dalglish has clearly decided to go shit or bust as that’s £100M or so he’s done in since taking over. In preparation for the moment the realisation dawns they’ve spent £35M on Peter Crouch MkII and Adam can’t last 90 mins, they’ve devised a genius way to deny they’re still not good enough: if you’ve not heard of it already, please acquaint yourself with the website www.rawkprof.blogspot.com, the home of ‘The Alternative Premier League Table’.
The seeds of this lunacy were sown on the RAWK forum, a place that makes Bluemoon or similar United forums look like MENSA gatherings. ‘Prof’, to much appreciation, came up with the priceless theory that league tables don’t tell the accurate picture of teams’ standings during a season as ‘they don’t take into account the teams played so far neither do they illustrate whether the fixtures were home or away’. In other words, when they are nine points off the pace at Christmas, Liverpool will still be top. I can only urge you to investigate, get the site bookmarked and check it regularly. As far as I can make out they’re being entirely serious.
Unfortunately our nouveau riche, idiot neighbours do look like challenging this season – a glance at their early subs benches was confirmation of the strength in depth they’ve now amassed. One only hopes that Mancini remains a precautionary pussy when the pressure’s on, Tevez and Balotelli take their fall down the pecking order with the good grace one might expect of them and they collectively struggle to cope with the raised expectations CL football provides.
Talking of the Champions League, a massive ‘cap doffed’ to the monkeys off the Red Issue forum who recently spent an afternoon registering on the official SSC Napoli fans forum threatening all kinds under the guise of being rabid Berties. “Your knives are no match for our bananas. We’ll be doing the Poznan over your corpses.” Heheh. Childish and immature? Most certainly – but very entertaining nonetheless.
A sobering thought in conclusion, though: City’s overall prospects? Top two and our main rivals. I know, I never thought I’d see the day either.
Copyright Red News – September 2011