The opening day of the 2009/2010 Premier League season felt like a roller coaster ride especially for viewers in the United States — most of whom were more exhausted than usual on Saturday morning after getting little sleep from the night before after hearing about the eleventh hour decision by ESPN to acquire the TV rights to the Premier League’s early Saturday kickoff as well as Monday game for the upcoming season.
For TV viewers in the United States, the opening game of the 2009/2010 Premier League season on ESPN was a game-changer. The Premier League experience in America has made the giant leap from being a niche cult success to a mainstream entertainment destination. There’s still a long way to go, but ESPN joining the Premier League club will forever change the popularity of the league, and I believe the sport, in this country.
There’ll be plenty more opportunities to dissect and analyze ESPN’s coverage during the entire season, but here are my observations from a very satisfying first day of the new season:
ESPN’s Opening Coverage Of Premier League Season
Seeing the face of Adrian Healey as he opened up the first few seconds of ESPN’s pre-game show was a welcoming and reassuring image. And having him hand it over to Paul Mariner and Shaka Hislop for their analysis was a surprising delight (I didn’t think ESPN would have time to put together any studio coverage). Worryingly for Fox Soccer Channel, the first few minutes of ESPN’s pre-game analysis was far better than FSC’s — and ESPN literally had only hours to plan it. Instead of Fox’s typical line-up of one presenter and one announcer, ESPN had one presenter and two analysts — which allows for more banter and livelier conversation.
Perhaps we were spoiled because ESPN hadn’t had a chance to get advertisers at last minute notice, but I LOVED the fact that ESPN picked up the IMG (formerly known as TWI) feed straight from England and kept it going — with no commercial breaks — through to after the half-time whistle. There was no quick breaking in to the game after commercial just seconds before the kick-off started. The slow and gradual build-up to kick-off — from seeing the players in the tunnel and hearing the calming commentary of Bill Leslie — was perfect and added far more suspense and gravitas to the situation than the typical Fox Soccer Channel or Setanta Sports opening.
The first ten to 15 minutes of the ESPN coverage of the game was beautiful from the subtle ESPN2 logo in the bottom right corner, to the clean graphics PLP (Premier League Productions)/IMG added to the top left (the scoreline). When the ticker started at around the 15 minute mark, I was disappointed but it wasn’t as obtrusive as I thought it would be.
Sir Bobby Robson Tribute
Some of the many things that the English do well are moments of silence, which are so well honored that you can literally hear a pin drop in a stadium of 40,000 people, and moments of applause, which was the way that Sir Bobby Robson’s life was celebrated before the beginning of each Premier League match on this Saturday. I had tears in my eyes the morning I learned that Robson died, and I had tears in my eyes again when I watched the 60 seconds of applause before each game on Saturday.
I was also touched by the way that fans from around the country sang “One Bobby Robson, there’s only one Bobby Robson” in the different stadiums even though many of the clubs had no connection with the man. Of course, he managed their national team, but it just goes to show what a legend Robson is and was, and how we’ll never forget the man.
Chelsea 2-1 Hull City
The actual Chelsea against Hull City game was not the greatest, but by far not the worst opening game of previous Premier League seasons — although I did catch a few people yawning during the game, in the crowd as well as one of Chelsea’s staff members sitting behind Carlo Ancelotti.
Phil Brown’s side had a game-plan and stuck to it very well, and definitely made Chelsea work hard to break down the Tigers defense. Fittingly it was Hull City’s Stephen Hunt who scored the opening goal of the game, against the run of play. Carlo Ancelotti won’t be too pleased when watching the replay of the game to see how unmarked Hunt was in the penalty area. To me, Jose Bosingwa should have done better to close Hunt down and prevent him from scoring the goal.
After Didier Drogba tied up the game with his cleanly taken free-kick, I felt it was only a matter of time near the end of the game when Chelsea would score. We’ve seen the scenario played out time after time again. Chelsea needed a bit of luck in the end, but it was a deserving victory against a Hull City side who were far more impressive than I would have predicted, but who still have a long season ahead of them.
Aston Villa 0-2 Wigan Athletic
To me, this was clearly the best match of the day played by two teams who — especially in the first half — were both were very competitive in a see-saw match with plenty of pace and end-to-end action.
In my poll of who will be the most surprising team of the 2009/2010 Premier League season, I picked Wigan Athletic. Many of you may know I’m a Swansea City supporter, so I know Roberto Martinez’s track-record very well and have been mesmerized by his managerial talent as well as how his teams play and the incredible insight he has in the transfer window where he continually picks up incredible talent at unbelievably low transfer fees.
So in the game at Villa Park, I wasn’t surprised at all at how impressive Wigan Athletic came out. After watching this match, I’m convinced that Wigan Athletic are the real deal this season and will open many people’s eyes to how football should be played as well as how relative minnows in the Premier League will give the Big Four a run for their money. As an aside, next week’s game between Wigan and Manchester United is perfect timing for the Wigan non-believers. I don’t think Martinez’s side can win, but they won’t be a pushover and could give Ferguson’s team some nervy moments.
Back to the game at Villa Park, the first 20 minutes were some of the best football you’ll see this season. Aston Villa were confident and played with a bravado equal to that of Wigan, but after the long-range rifle-of-a-shot from Hugo Rodallega went in, the energy and confidence was sucked out of Aston Villa. Part of the problem for Villa was that Wigan refused to back down and were, at times, quite physical.
To me, Villa looked like a boxer who received a knock-down punch in the first round and tried to fight back, but the longer the fight went on, the more Villa cowered back and eventually lost complete confidence that they could turn things around.
The most surprising and alarming situation of the match for me was when Ashley Young ran into Henry Thomas, who had an excellent Premier League debut. After taking a few minutes to get back up, Young was still completely dazed and I couldn’t believe that Martin O’Neill didn’t take his pacey winger out of the match.
Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Manchester City
I saw everything I needed to see about this match in the first five minutes. The pace from Manchester City from the midfield to the attack was blistering and a joy to watch. So it wasn’t surprising to see Emmanuel Adebayor score after Shaun Wright-Phillips tore up the right wing and placed a pass into the former Arsenal player’s path to make it one-nil after three minutes.
To be completely honest, the most impressive thing for me from this match was seeing a near sold-out Ewood Park. In a ground which is traditionally one of the worst attended in the league, 29,584 people witnessed the Manchester City fans practically take over the ground by packing the away end and filling the stadium with the sounds of Blue Moon and other City anthems.
On the pitch, the scoreline reflects a one-sided affair but what actually happened was quite different. Richard Dunne had to make a goal-line clearance early in the game and Blackburn had several chances to equalize in this game. What prevented Blackburn from scoring was the impressive saves by Shay Given and the poor chances taken by Blackburn (Jason Roberts, for example, had a couple of golden chances in front of goal to score).
Sorry Gunners fans but I’m still making my way through watching the other games and haven’t had a chance to witness Arsenal’s impressive beginning to the season.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable first day of football. Feel free to post your observations about the games or any of the TV coverage. Oh yes, and it was wonderful to watch the Chelsea versus Hull City game in HD!