It was 20 years ago today (or thereabouts) that in response to Manchester United’s opening day defeat to Aston Villa, Alan Hansen infamously muttered the words ‘you can’t win anything with kids’.
He of course later backtracked, saying that he should have said that you can’t win everything with kids, but by then the damage was done, as over the next few seasons Fergie’s fledglings would go on to repeatedly win not just the Premier League pageant, but also the FA Cup musical statues (superbly statuesque in 2000) and also the pass the parcel of the Champions League.
That wonderful 1995-96 season was book-ended by another immortal quote. This time it came from kamikaze Kevin Keegan, after his Geordie globetrotters had seen their commanding lead eroded by the Manchester mob, and in response to a jibe from Alex Ferguson, left the words ‘I will love it if we beat them. LOVE IT’ perpetually hanging in the air like a cartoon speech bubble. And if that wasn’t enough, that season was also supplemented with the bonus beats of Euro 96 and all that.
One game into another long summer-tournament-at-the-end-season (hurray!), Villa found themselves hosting Manchester United once again, this time in a Friday night fixture, after both had scrambled victories in the opening round of fixtures. Villa started the season by whispering sweet nothings into the ears of the Premier League fresh-faced newbies, Bournemouth, but reverted to last season’s predictable type with a tepid display here, with Manchester United comfortably seeing off their lazy advances.
The winning goal resulted from a sumptuous through ball by Juan Mata which was finished off by Adnan Januzaj via a wayward Villa leg – Tim Sherwood needs to get back on the controls and get his team psyched up as only the ‘Headmaster’ can.
Two sides involved in 2-2 draws on the opening weekend also met in Saturday’s early kick-off. Southampton took on Everton in what proved to be a disaster for my fantasy football team (Maya Yoshida and Maarten Stekelenburg in + Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley overlooked = crisis). Southampton did not wake up until the second-half, by which time the game was very much in Everton’s hands, after two superb goals from the man mountain that is Romelu Lukaku.
A third goal, added by one of England’s current crop of highly talented, and therefore permanently under the media microscope, great hopes, namely Ross Barkley, sealed an impressive display for Bobby Martinez’s Toffeemen, who have started the season well. The same cannot be said of last season’s heroes, Southampton, who are currently symbolised by their lame legged leader, Ronnie Koeman, stricken as he is with Achilles injury.
At least Koeman’s misery does not compare to the world of pain where Dick Advocaat is currently residing. It is normally prudent not to pay too much attention to the league table after one game, but the clash at the Stadium of Light saw two teams who will likely be dancing on the relegation dance-floor for most of the season.
The Black Cats faced up to the Canaries (or Sylvester versus the annoying Tweety perhaps). Both teams were on the wrong end of a two goal margin defeat first time out, and Advocaat’s team would fall to the same margin of defeat in their first home game, in what can generously be described for them as a total shower of a performance. Taking nothing away from Alex Neil’s’ troops, who thoroughly deserved the victory, Advocaat will have to get back to the drawing board before the rot sets in, like it almost did with their North Easterly neighbours last season.
Talking of whom, Newcastle were in the second part of last week’s 2-2 troupe, where they were hosted by Swansea, managed by the moody but magnificent Garry Monk (a career in a gritty police drama awaits). For their part, Newcastle had hired the previously much maligned but actually now well-respected Steve McClaren, to hopefully lead them to greater glories than last season’s farces of the year.
It wasn’t to be at the Liberty Stadium though, where another goal apiece from Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew saw the home team ease to the win in the battle of the birds. The Swans task was made easier by the clumsy Daryl Janmaat getting himself sent off for twice having a nibble at the impressive Jefferson Montero. It’s still early days and Swansea are an impressive team, but McClaren’s Magpies might need their feathers fluffing (and fast).
Two teams that can count themselves very unlucky to lose last time out to North West opponents, while veering from the sublime (Philippe Coutinho’s classy strike for Liverpool against Stoke’s Jack Butland) to the ridiculous (Kyle Walker’s attempt to pick Wayne Rooney’s pocket, which ended up with him pea rolling the ball past the stationary Michel Vorm), clashed at White Hart Line.
Initially, it seemed that the spoils would be Spurs’ as they opened up a 2-0 lead against Stoke, and seemed well on their way to a good win. This was before some keystone cops defending from Toby Alderweireld led to a penalty that was emphatically dispatched past the suave Hugo Lloris by Marko Arnautovic. Just as it looked like Spurs may cling on to their first three points of the season, they were thwarted when super-sub Stephen Ireland’s dink into the box was brushed past Lloris by Mame Diouf’s dandruff. A draw was probably a fair result, as was the scoreline in the war of the W’s.
Watford and West Brom Albion had distinctly contrasting outcomes in their opening matches – Watford were highly impressive in grabbing a point at Everton in the first match back among the big boys, while the normally tight West Brom were torn apart by a marauding Manchester City side.
Both sides may regret missed headed chances from Odion Ighalo and Saido Berahino respectively, but the 0-0 draw would have suited Tony Pulis that much better than Quique Sanchez Flores. The good news for Pulis is that it’s champions Chelsea next for his non-scoring side. Watford remain unbeaten, as were two sides that occupied the Champions League places before they clashed at Upton Park.
Fans of these teams will have been delighted with their respective opening day battles, with a return of familiar faces as new gaffers – the more than mildly eccentric Claudio Ranieri’s didn’t need to tinker too much with his Foxes, as they won the four-legged scrape with the Black Cats while Slaven Bilic’s charges proved that all you need is not love, but hammers, as West Ham strode to an improbable victory against Arsenal at the Emirates.
Bilic’s boys soon came a cropper here though, as wily old Fox Ranieri oversaw a second successive victory, but they were also hindered in the clash of the keepers crassness – Kasper Schmeichel, in the sticks for Leicester, continues to prove he’s a chip off the old block, flailing his arms around at any given opportunity – this time at the onrushing Diafra Sakho. Lucky for him, he was not penalised by chief whistler, Anthony Taylor, who should have awarded West Ham a penalty and Schmeichel a possible red card.
West Ham were later to rue this refereeing faux pas as Schmeichel made a crucial save with the score 2-1, before West Ham’s own keeper, Adrian, saw red for cleaning his studs on Jamie Vardy’s chest – a slightly harsh red card nevertheless, possibly because he was aiming for Vardy’s head. Not that the Tinkerman will care, as he was too busy listening to Kasabian.
More refereeing shenanigans were on display at Selhurst Park, where old mukkas Alan Pardew and Arsene Wenger brought their teams together for a nice little Sunday lunch-time kick around. In this case it was Francis Coquelin who can more than count himself lucky to have avoided an early, ice-cold bath by Lee Mason, after persistently fouling Palace players. Pardew unashamedly harped on to anyone who would listen that Coquelin should have been a goner before the Gooner gaffer replaced him shortly after his 543rd foul, having already picked up a yellow card.
Wenger, however, will be delighted with the response, energy and intent shown by his side, particularly the grace and style that saw Mesut Ozil lead his sides attacking forays – a very good and hard-earned victory for Arsenal, who are now officially back in the title race.
Apparently ‘they’ say you can’t win the title at the start of the season, but you can lose it, and with Chelsea wobbling and a bobbling to a draw with Swansea, and mean Mr Mister Mourinho having a medical mishap of a week to forget, Manuel Pellegrini must have sensed that his ‘hungry and angry’ side would be in with a shout to put the boot into Chelsea, particularly after they comprehensively dispatched West Brom last time out.
This was very much the case, as City dominated proceedings. The 3-0 scoreline does more to flatter Chelsea than City – indeed, Asmir Begovic’s heroics in the first-half ensured it was still a contest by the time John Terry sat down for his half-time hamburger. Much has now been made of Mourinho’s substitution of HRH John Terry (he’s a football player, he’s allowed to be substituted!), but the perceived wisdom is that Jolly Jester Jose was making a statement to his paymasters that reinforcements are required (Hello John Stones!).
Nevertheless, first blood in the title race has clearly gone to Pellegrini, and it goes without saying that if there ever was a chance to stick it to Jose then he would love it, LOVE IT. And love it he surely did.
The final match of the week saw everyone’s new second team take on the side that would love to get anywhere near being the second placed team in the league if at all possible please. Bournemouth’s attractive passing game deservedly led to their victorious Championship success last season, but they came somewhat unstuck against Villa and hoped for a little help from their friends when they arrived at Anfield.
Liverpool, fresh from exercising the demons of that frankly farcical farewell gift for Steven Gerrard against Stoke, were looking to keep the momentum going, and this they did with marquee signing Christian Benteke scoring his first goal as a scouser Red. This Benteke goal was enough for both sides to attain the same result as their first match and leave them at opposite ends of the table.
So Bournemouth continue to await the popping of their Premier League cherry, but on the bench it was suggested that social media hero Tyrone Mings decided to fling some bling rings and things at Danny Ings, for flinging chicken wings. And if that is not enough to whet your appetite, then just wait until the end of the season and you can wash it all down with a drink in the dentist chair.