The weekend where Chelsea became title contenders
We previewed every Premier League side ahead of the new season two weeks ago. See who we backed here and point out where we went wrong: Premier League Previews
There was a hint of back-pedalling from Alan Hansen on Saturday evening as he was asked to consider whether Chelsea, the Champions League winners no less, had to be considered as challengers for the Premier League title. The £40k a show man, wasn’t convinced but after three impressive showings Chelsea are sitting pretty at the leagues summit. Roman Abramovich has lavished more than £80 million on reinforcements this summer, his second biggest splurge since taking over in 2003, and few could argue against Chelsea boasting the most daunting midfield in the country. Eden Hazard has fortunately lived up to his own hype and fanfare, and for once Chelsea look to have spent according to a players worth. That Chelsea can afford to leave Gary Cahill on the bench indicates their depth in defence and only an injury to El Nino looks like derailing a serious Chelsea title bid. Roman Abramovich’s plaything are a massive 16/1 to win the Champions League this year; for a team which ground out the trophy last season and has invested £80 million in attacking flair, this looks a steal.
Arsene Wenger’s heavily scrutinised forward line once again failed to gel in their second match of the season, but new assistant, Steve Bould, will have been impressed with the defensive shape displayed in their first two encounters. Stoke away and a Martin O’Neil side have traditionally tested Arsenal post 2004, so the ease with which they kept a clean sheet are positives for Arsenal. In the absence of Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny, arguably the Gunners best defenders last campaign, they have looked untroubled at the back with Per Mertesacker playing like he did for the German national team. Santi Cazorla has shown he can create chances; once Arsenal start taking them they should push for a top four finish.
Big Sam might not be the most fashionable manager (an ensemble of a grey suit, black shirt and claret and blue tie indicative) but it was his West Ham side who were truly embarrassed this weekend. Michael Laudrup’s Swansea continue to impress and despite two defensive mix-ups setting West Ham back, Swansea outclassed Allardyce’s one dimensional outfit and could have bagged five again. Pundits and fans wear this cliché out: “Big Sam guarantees you survival in the Premier League”, but unless Allardyce sorts his porous defence out survival may not be so plain sailing. Remember, this is the manager who reckoned managing Barcelona and Real Madrid would be ‘easy’, and whose teams ape the Stoke style of play without doing a great job about it.
It’s almost become too easy to criticise pundits but the BBC’s Garth Crooks was at it again this weekend. After telling viewers that Brazil lined up with a 4-1-3-2-1 (yep, that’s 12 players) he decided to include Liverpool centre back, Martin Skrtel, in his team of the week despite the player playing the second worst back-pass of the weekend and almost certainly costing his team two points. Crooks then decided to play two of the Saturday’s most effervescent attacking players, Eden Hazard and Steven Pienaar as defensive midfielders in his ‘team of the week’. Unsurprisingly the former Tottenham player has no managerial or coaching experience, but feels confident enough to bluster through Final Score as if he owns the show. The BBC’s football coverage has plummeted in recent years, to the point where Gary Neville looks like the Cicero of punditry because he is prepared to do some research on football outside of Britain.