Monday 18 August 2008

English Premier League kicks off for Season 2008/2009

The English Premier League kicked off over the weekend and this night owl managed to catch the Arsenal-West Brom and Chelsea-Portsmouth games in full and used Fox Sports’ magical ‘Viewers Choice’ program to watch significant chunks of the Middlesbrough-Tottenham, West Ham-Wigan, Bolton-Stoke City, Everton-Blackburn and Hull City-Fulham. In short it was a Football smorgasbord. You’ll notice there wasn’t a predictions article on the site before the weekend and that quite simply is because when it comes to the English Premier League you know the champion will come from one of the Big Four – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Although truth be told Liverpool haven’t had a serious run at the title in quite a while despite promising plenty at the start of each season. What you do learn after the first week of the season is that pre-season predictions can go out the window in relation to the other 16 clubs who are either trying to crack the Top 4 or avoid the Bottom 3. How the Big Four fared: FA Cup holders Portsmouth were blown away by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and never looked like utilising their new strike force of Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe effectively. Pompey have Top 4 aspirations, so it was a quite a reality check that last season’s runners up gave them Sunday afternoon in the 4-0 drubbing. For Chelsea Joe Cole and Deco were the standouts supporting Anelka up front. Deco’s long range goal was the icing on the cake as the Blues stormed to the top of the table. Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at home by visiting Newcastle United in a stuttering start to their title defence. Injuries to Ryan Giggs (hamstring), Michael Carrick (ankle) and the pre-game withdrawal of strike Carlos Tevez didn’t help the Red Devils who find themselves chasing Chelsea from the very start of the 2008/2009 season. The Toon Army can take a lot out of the result as they have a number of key additions to return to their line-up over the next few weeks. Plus they were torn apart by Man United last year in their two meetings so a draw is a gigantic boost to the side’s confidence. Arsenal dominated much of their clash with newly promoted West Bromwich Albion but couldn’t put the visitors away and eventually hung on for a 1-0 victory. Emmanuel Adebayor butchered a number of quality scoring chances following new signing Nasri’s 4th minute goal. Gunners left wing back Gael Clichy was brilliant but striker Robin van Persie started from the bench and made little impression when he did come on the field. Admittedly he was more dangerous than the man who started Nicklas Bendtner, but that wasn’t going to be too difficult as the Danish striker was a non-factor in his 68 minutes on the pitch. The sooner midfield general Cesc Fabregas returns the better for Arsenal who really should’ve dusted the Baggies by at least 2 or 3 goals. The last of the Big Four – Liverpool relied upon star striker Fernando Torres to get them the 3 points against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Torres scored in the 82nd minute as the Reds managed to start the season winning the kind of away game they simply have to take out if they have any aspirations of challenging for the title. That’s the Big Four – other teams to impress and unimpress in Week One were: Tottenham were beaten 2-1 away to Middlesbrough in a game that spoke volumes for the false hopes that a pre-season cane induce, as the Spurs were awful in their first performance of the campaign. While the White Heart Lane faithful wonder if they were duped into thinking their side was a Top 4 challenger, the Boro fans would be ecstatic with their side’s effort in an all important home fixture. Middlesbrough forwards Tuncay Sanli and Afonso Alves were a constant menace for the Tottenham defence. The other two newly promoted clubs Hull City and Stoke City had vastly different debuts in the top flight as the Tigers defeated a new look Fulham side 2-1 and Stoke were crushed 3-1 by Bolton Wanderers. Hull were impressive coming back from a goal down after just 8 minutes to take the lead on substitute Caleb Folan’s 81st minute goal and seal a key home victory. The less said about Stoke’s performance the better as the new boys looked outclassed by a Bolton team that avoided relegation by a single point last season. West Ham United had a 2-0 lead after 9 minutes on Dean Ashton’s double strike but from then on it was all Wigan Athletic who could only manage to get back one goal to Amir Zaki on 47 minutes. The 2-1 loss away would have Wigan boss Steve Bruce feeling a little unlucky as his side made all the running after a poor start. Everton and Blackburn Rovers turned on a beauty at Goodison Park with the visitors snatching a vital away win with a goal to defender Andre Oijder after a Ryan Nelsen header hit the post and fell to the Rovers defender for the 90th minute winner. Both sides finished in the top half of the table in 2007/2008 and the honours went to new Blackburn manager Paul Ince in his Premiership debut. Meanwhile while Manchester United and Chelsea took the headlines on Sunday, Aston Villa staked their claim as the best of the rest with a 4-2 disposal of a disappointing Manchester City at Villa Park. Just days after signing a contract extension striker Gabriel Agbonlahor pulled off a natural hat-trick with goals in the 68th, 73rd and 75th minute to break a 1-1 tie and start Villa’s campaign in the right way. Of all the challengers for a Top 4 spot this season not amongst the Big Four – Aston Villa made the biggest statement in Week One. Results Week One: ARS 1-0 WBA BOL 3-1 SC EVE 2-3 BLA HUL 2-1 FUL MID 2-1 TOT WHU 2-1 WIG SUN 0-1 LIV CHE 4-0 POR AV 4-2 MC MU 1-1 NEW Ladder Week One: CHE, BOL, AV, BLA, HUL, MID, WHU, ARS, LIV (All 3 Points) MU, NEW (1 Point) EVE, FUL, TOT, WIG, SUN, WBA, MC, SC, POR (0 Points) Leading Scorers Week One: Gabriel Agbonlahor (AV) 3 Goals Dean Ashton (WHU) 2 Goals