The 2008/09 season has given us one of the best and closest starts to a season in many years. With Liverpool beginning to prove themselves as a consistent force, the prospect of a tight title race is mouth watering to say the least. Last weekend’s 2-1 win to Arsenal has well and truly brought them back into calculations, even at this early stage in the Premier League season. With Manchester United expected to win their game in hand, it brings the big 4 that much closer together.
This weekend’s clashes throw up some intriguing games, as per usual. Bolton Wanderers have had somewhat of a resurgence under Gary Megson and are looking to extend their unbeaten record to 3 at the Reebok against a Liverpool side who bounced back emphatically against West Brom after suffering their first loss of the season against a newborn Tottenham side. Liverpool sit atop of the table with Chelsea, and will be very difficult to overcome with a fit Torres back and an in-form Robbie Keane.
Fulham host Tottenham in a clash which should see a fiercely contested tussle. Fulham continued their unpredictable form, beating an improved Newcastle side 2-1 courtesy of a 66th minute Danny Murphy penalty which proved to be enough. Tottenham continued their resurgence under Harry Redknapp beating Manchester City 1-2 on away turf. The turn around at White Hart Lane has been drastic, and somewhat remarkable. Momentum and confidence is a wonderful thing in football, and Tottenham, with Darren Bent scoring freely and finally justifying his 16m pound move are very hard to stop at present.
Manchester United will look to bounce straight back against a defiant Stoke City, who seem to have adapted to life at the top level quite well. Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will no doubt have been stung by the loss to Arsenal and will be attacking with vengeance against a Stoke side who is capable of causing an upset on their day.
Newcastle, under Joe Kinnear seem to have found the passion and competitiveness required at Premier League level, yet still lack polish in several areas on the park. The return of Shola Ameobi seems to have provided them with a target man they so dearly craved early on, and with Obafemi Martins as the perfect foil, Newcastle have the firepower to overcome a Wigan side who has stutters as of late. Amr Zaki has provided 8 world class goals for the Latics, and the Egyptian has formed a partnership with born again England International Emile Heskey. Both sides have defensive queries, which could lead to a high scoring encounter.
Arsenal Football Club continue to defy the critics. After losing to Stoke 2-1, the Gunners bounced back beating the defending champions 2-1 in a pulsating match that had fans on the edge of their seats. Arsene Wenger has the side 6 points off leaders Chelsea and Liverpool and more importantly, has instilled some confidence in his squad. Arsenal must back up their big win with another strong performance against Aston Villa, who continue to threaten to push the top 4 early in the season. Martin O’Neill, so staunch in his stance on Gareth Barry and his summer transfer saga with Liverpool is now being vindicated through Barry’s form and his sides seemingly constant progression. With European ambitions still very much alive, Aston Villa are proving to be one of the better sides. A hiccup last week against Middlesbrough has put a dampener on expectations, however any result at the Emirates will be a big plus.
Blackburn has been the disappointment of the season for me so far. The Rovers lie 1 point off relegation, having conceded a whopping 22 goals in 12 matchs of football to date, equal to only West Ham who sit one spot above them. With players in the ilk of Benni McCarthy and Roque Santa Cruz, the side should be sitting much further up the table. The loss of Mark Hughes clearly has destabilised the club, but Paul Ince will settle and hopefully bring some much needed wins to Ewood Park. Their opponents, Sunderland have spent well over the transfer period. Manager Roy Keane has brought in the likes of Djibril Cisse, Teemu Tainio and El Hadj Diouf to strengthen his squad. Unfortunately, things haven’t started well, with Sunderland sitting only 1 point off the bottom of the table. This clash is crucial to both sides, so look out for some fireworks here.
Another club who seem to be in managerial transition is West Ham. Gianfranco Zola has inherited a side capable of winning games, but has seen his early tenure become increasing difficult. With 13 points, West Ham need to win at home against a side who has been gradually improving since the departure of Harry Redknapp. Tony Adams (ex Arsenal player) has stepped in after assisting under Redknapp and has steered the side to within 4 points of Manchester United in 4th spot. A win here will see them come right back into European calculations.
To complete Saturday’s games, West Brom will face the tough task of playing Chelsea, the league leaders. West Brom seem to be struggling, lieing at the bottom of the table and coming off a 3-0 thumping at Anfield. West Brom should see a more favourable draw once the Chelsea clash is over, and will be looking to pick up some points against Wigan the following match. Chelsea seem to be clicking over nicely, defeating Blackburn 0-2 to regain top spot off Liverpool. The side boasts a goal difference of +25, which is 13 goals clear of the next best in Arsenal. Scolari has turned Chelsea into a free flowing, attacking force, with a solid and organised defence to boot.
On Sunday, a resurgent Everton and Luis Saha host Middlesbrough, who stunned Aston Villa away from home. This clash looks good on paper, but it is hard to look past Everton’s recent climb up the table into 7th. David Moyes has the Evertonians cheering again, and no doubt the Toffees will hard to beat here.
To round off the week, Hull City host a frustrating Manchester City. The unbelievable run of Hull City’s seems to have ended, with a home loss to Bolton slipping them down to 6th. However, the early points are on the board for Hull, and a this clash is winnable on home turf against a Manchester City side who boast Robinho, Jo, Elano, Wright-Phillips and a host of other big name players. Despite these names, the side continues to frustrate supporters with inconsistency both home and away. An interesting clash ahead and a perfect way to round off a big week in the English Premier League.