Premier League Insider: Views On Opening Weekend For Chelsea, Spurs, City, Villa, WBA, Stoke & QPR
Cesc Fabregas has taken the Premier League by storm once again with a stunning first half performance in his official Chelsea debut on Monday night. The case of Fabregas is curious, as many had written him off as someone who peaked early in his career and had lost his way. But perhaps the reason Fabregas tailed off in his final Arsenal season and in his three years at Barcelona was that he was not being given the luxury to play as deep as he would like in midfield.
Playing as a deep-lying playmaker Fabregas can dictate tempo and the pace of a game. Towards the end of his Arsenal career and throughout his most recent stay in Catalonia, Fabregas was used as almost a supporting attacker — a role he might have been suited for but was far from his most natural position. At Stamford Bridge, with the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard, André Schürrle and Willian capable of playing in an advanced central role, Fabregas has been placed in position where he can truly command the match. Having stamped his influence on this Chelsea side so quickly, he will no doubt leave many doubters in North London questioning the transfer policies of Arsene Wenger.
One of Chelsea’s faults in recent years is that they have not had a clear policy or plan to develop some of the best young talent at the club. Romelu Lukaku comes to mind as a player that the Blues had no plan for in his first season with the club as he rotted away on the Chelsea bench. More recently, it seems Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake and Tomáš Kalas stalled in their long-term development thanks to the Blues mismanagement. Perhaps having a manager with an enduring vision for the future will help. Jose Mourinho has never been wild about youth promotion and development but if he does in fact plan to stay around Stamford Bridge for many years as he has claimed he might want to revisit the policy.
Much has been made of Aston Villa’s ownership and off the pitch woes this summer. Many in the English press derided the signing of Joe Cole as a clear sign that the club had lost its way and that relegation beckoned. While many consider Manchester United losing at home to Swansea the biggest surprise of the opening weekend, for me Paul Lambert’s side pulled the shock of the weekend with a triumph at the Britannia against a Stoke team that some, myself included have tipped to compete for a European place this season. We often forget that despite the rocky road of the past two seasons, Villa still has a young side that is developing and that Lambert’s work at Norwich put him among the best managers in the country for honing talent. It is very possible that Villa will be a surprise package this season.
Villa’s neighbors West Brom started life decently enough under new manager Alan Irvine. Tipped for relegation by most pundits, the Baggies appear — based on the early returns — to have enough quality in the side, particularly in the attacking end to make a real go of survival this season.
Manchester City has now eleven straight in all competitions against Newcastle (that includes ten straight in the Premier League). The Magpies have not defeated the Blues in any competition since 2005. That is why, despite the professional performance given by Manuel Pellegrini’s men in the opening of their title defense, it is impossible to assess the side after this match. The most recent Newcastle-Manchester City matches at St James Park have followed a familiar script. Early Blues domination that gives way to a frenzy of Magpie quality and attacking prowess in the second half ended by a late City goal. That’s been the script in each of the last four league matches City have won in Newcastle, all by a two goal margin.
The one tangible takeaway from City’s performance was the strong debut of Fernando. The Brazilian Midfielder who has never been capped at the full international level for his country looked a strong addition to the Blues side. His positioning sense, tackling ability and distribution were all excellent on Sunday and one has to wonder why Brazil who showed so much defensive frailty this summer at the World Cup have never capped what appears to be a scrappy and strong defensive-minded player.
Tottenham‘s opening performance under Mauricio Pochettino showed a grit and a determination that often seemed lacking in adverse situations a year ago. The Argentine manager used his midfield to great effect, with Nabil Bentaleb, a surprise starter, and Etienne Capoue controlling midfield play and exerting a powerful influence over the proceedings. Last season, Spurs’ central midfield situation was a mess at times despite having a deep and talented group on paper. Lewis Holtby, who was discarded by Tim Sherwood and sent out on loan to Fulham, made an outstanding impact when he came on for the later stages of the game linking up well with Capoue, Bentaleb and the wide players.
QPR’s opening match performance against Hull City may simply prompt Harry Redknapp into another spending spree. While it took Spurs several seasons after sacking Redknapp to find the right manager, they have the right one in Pochettino now and can be rest assured that after years of tumult, things now are likely to progress positively for the club.
From an American perspective, the potential move of Geoff Cameron from Stoke is a bit worrying. His game developed and evolved in his time at the Britannia though he is certainly more a Tony Pulis-styled player than a Mark Hughes one. Still I personally think it would be better for Cameron to stay at Stoke and fight for his spot this season.
Unlike past season opening weekends, this year we did not have any of the one-sided skewed results that we have had in prior seasons. The stunning 4-0 and 5-0 scorelines we have become accustomed to early in the season were lacking this past weekend, perhaps indicating this will be the most competitive Premier League campaign in recent memory.