The Premier League season is only two games old, but already there’s been more drama and high-jinx than in your average episode of Eldorado.
From champions-elect to the very real possibility of relegation, the new campaign may only be 180 minutes deep but a few elephants in the room have already reared their heads.
The Chelsea Blues
August has been a month to forget thus far for Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea side. After losing the Community Shield shootout with his nemesis Arsene Wenger, the paper over the cracks was already starting to peel away. Conceding two goals against Swansea, at Stamford Bridge of all places, is unheard of and even when down to ten men, the Blues were favourites to take three points.
That match heralded ‘Physiogate’, with Eva Carneiro’s dismissal a sure sign that Jose Mourinho has, perhaps temporarily, lost the plot.
Yet, most alarming of all was Sunday’s demolition at the hands of Manchester City. It took 70 mins for Mourinho’s men to even muster a shot at goal, and the half-time substitution of captain John Terry was either a very brash and very public statement from the ‘Special One’ or perhaps a sign that the Chelsea centre back is past his best.
The signing of Pedro will help to alleviate the worries of Blues fans in the short term, but it could be a case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.
As much as Chelsea were poor in that 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini’s men deserve a lot of credit for the way they played too. A lot of column inches will continue to go to Raheem Sterling – £49 million for a player who makes so many basic errors is self-explanatory – but it’s some of the more unheralded players in the City side who deserve respect.
The man of the match award went to Fernandinho, a player who was so anonymous last season it led many of the Etihad faithful to question whether he wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations. Bacary Sagna came in and put the shackles on Eden Hazard; one of the most exquisite attacking talents in the top flight. Kompany and Mangala were rock solid; at times last season they looked as porous as a pound shop sponge.
The signs are good for City fans, and their newly-held position as favourites for the Premier League title is fully justified.
Saints or Sinners
Southampton took many plaudits for the way they managed to recover from having their squad ransacked during pre-season and still finish seventh in England’s top flight during the last campaign. Much of that was due to the manager, Ronald Koeman, who fashioned a squad capable of competing at the highest level seemingly out of nothing.
But once again the vultures circled in the summer and picked off Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne. And, so far, it seems that Koeman has yet to replace them effectively; as highlighted by the gaping holes in the midfield and defence in their two games thus far.
And then there is always that worry that players who perform so admirably in their first season can often struggle in their second: Saints fans will be hoping that Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic come up trumps once again. If they don’t, a sink into lower mid-table obscurity could be on the cards.
‘Doing a Southampton’
Courtesy of their efforts, ‘doing a Southampton’ has entered the unofficial footballing lexicon. It refers to a team who perhaps punches above their weight on their way to a top eight finish.
Two teams have so far thrust their hands into the air as candidates for this role. Crystal Palace, revitalised under the stewardship of Alan Pardew, have kicked on this season; the signing of Yohan Cabaye a real statement of intent. The opening day win over a confident Norwich side buzzing from their promotion heroics was expected but no less impressive for it, and defeat against Arsenal – whom the Eagles gave a really good game – not a disaster. With pace and guile meshing neatly with power and good old-fashioned hard work, Palace could do big things this season.
And then there’s Leicester City, with six points from six, who could offer an unlikely challenge. Their signings of Gokhan Inler, Shinji Okazaki and N’Golo Kante suggest another relegation dogfight can be avoided, and if they maintain this form – they have one of the best records in Europe right now – who knows what is achievable.
Coming Up, Going Down
It hasn’t been a catastrophic start to life for any of the three promoted sides by any means, but what happens when the confidence and buzz of last season wears off?
Watford have shown signs of promise in their two stalemates, Norwich ran rings around Sunderland last time out, and Bournemouth, despite two losses in two outings, have shown glimpses that they should be able to compete at this level once they’ve familiarised themselves with the pace of play.
But three must go down, and so this trio will be looking to put points on the board sooner rather than later.
There’s a real sense of panic around the Stadium of Light at the minute, and little wonder: Sunderland fans have seen their side completely outclassed by two sides who might be in and around the relegation zone come April next year. It’s not a bad team on paper, but good players can still get relegated as we’ve seen countless times in the past.
And for West Brom, times are equally as hard. Yet to score in 2015/6, the Baggies lack a genuine cutting edge, and with Saido Berahino seemingly on the way out, Tony Pulis will need to invest and invest well. If he doesn’t, his side could be scrapping it out with the Mackems at the wrong end of the table.