Football Returns – And Not Before Time

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (August 21st 2014)

The Morning After

Segun at Wembley

It is the morning after. I am counting the number of the victors and the vanquished! I am quite aware that the premiership is a marathon race and not a sprints event. In a sprint a fractional faulty start would have a catastrophic consequence. Not so in a marathon.

Arsenal clearly illustrate this from the marathon race of the EPL last season when they started off disastrously with a loss at the Emirates to Aston Villa. Many did not think they could recover from it but a few matches down the line they not only recovered but began a sensational climb that would see them come within touching distance of winning the league trophy but for some injuries to key players and a dip in form (probably due to fatigue) to their talisman – the man that anchored that resurgence – Mesut Özil.

The Missing Elixir

After last Saturday, Manchester United FC must now be taking some consolation and lessons from Arsenalʼs experience. They have also started the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League on the worst possible note – losing their first match on home ground, under the tutelage of a manager whose credentials were considered good enough to succeed the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

To the horror and consternation of their supporters Manchester United FC put up an ordinary performance that left their millions of global fans wondering where Sir Alex kept the concoction that made Manchester United FC a fighting machine throughout his time as manager! This used to be a team whose cutting edge was fighting until the last second. The number of matches won in the last few seconds, or minutes of many of their matches, is innumerable.

Last Saturday night the team looked like a wandering ghost of its past. Ok, so, it is still only the morning after the first round of the league. It may be premature to start to draw conclusions, even though the twilight of dawn may already be revealing the faint outlines of what the rest of the season may look like. 

So, Manchester United must be looking at the script of the Gunnersʼ formula last season. Doubt, fear and worry have crept into their pre-season excitement and the magical turn-around promised by Louis Van Gaal’s entry.

What happens this weekend when they face Sunderland FC away from home is going to be critical. Will the great Manchester United recover? That is the million-Dollar question that has everyone of their millions of supporters worldwide tottering on the edge of anxiety.

I have only one comment to make from my observatory. Manchester United may consider looking closer at the performances of David De Gea Quintana since he joined the team last season from Atlético de Madrid. Every team that will win the championship must have a very safe pair of hands in their goal! De Gea has been ‘leaking’ at the wrong times. I need not say more!

Quick off the blocks – Manchester City and Chelsea

On the other hand their city rivals, Manchester City FC came off the blocks steaming! Their two-goal margin against Newcastle United was emphatic. It sent a clear message to the rest of the league and testified to their current status as defending champions. They simply took off from where they left off the last season, with an even stronger and more confident squad.

But Chelsea look impressive too. With the introduction of Diego Costa at the head of the attacking pyramid Chelsea have injected pace, sharpness and very intelligent movements off the ball in attack that will drastically alter the style of the team. We saw it already in the first match. They played masterfully like champions!

The Blues change their style!

Only José Mourinho’s Chelsea FC bettered the start of Manchester City FC with a highly entertaining performance in the match against Burnley FC that had everything including some beautiful goals.

One goal, in particular, will resonate for the rest of the season – a beauty that came off the boots of André Schürrle from a series of quick interchange of passes from midfield involving Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard,  seamless movements and a final superb visionary lob that tore apart the helpless and hapless defence of Burnley FC, the German striker was left clear to deliver a low cross from the right flank to the far side of goal beyond a bewildered Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul. It was a superb goal signalling Chelsea’s intent to be serious contenders again for the title.

My only comment on Chelsea is their refreshingly different style this time around. Far from their usual boringly defensive system that had typified Mourinho’s philosophy in past years, we saw an uncharacteristically freely attacking Chelsea playing at an incredibly delightful fast pace.

Beyond that, Mourinho has typically again commenced his mind games. He delivered the first salvo at a recent press conference with some snide remarks aimed at his greatest threat to the league title this season – Arsène Wenger!

Wenger has not responded. I guess his players will do the replying for him on the field when both their teams meet.

The Gunners on course!

Arsenal FC played well last weekend. But they were lucky to have won their first after struggling against a hard-fighting Crystal Palace FC until the dying seconds of the match.

The presence of Alexis Sánchez to compliment the array of attacking options (Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud) has added an exciting new dimension to the front-line. Alexis’ dazzling pace, dribbling skills, superb vision and finishing power up front will pose plenty of trouble for most opposing defenders.

When Mesut Özil finally returns to form and gets back into the team, the full potency of the new Arsenal FCʼs attacking arsenal will be revealed for all to see.

Liverpool FC – again?

I have deliberately not written anything about Liverpool FC so far this season because I do not see them, still, as possible champions. They won their first match at home against Southampton FC but did not look really convincing.

One of the most successful teams in the history of English football have had their ups and downs in past seasons. In 2012 crept like thieves to win the League Cup but have not maintained that sparkle until last season again when with the mercurial Luis Suárez they could have stolen the championship title at the tail end.

They have joined Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the league table as day breaks on the championship.

Segun at Wembley

So far, so good, the EPL has lived to expectations!

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