Friday 23 August 2019

United won the battle, who will win the war?

Weird Wide World of Sport

Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s opening goal against West Ham
Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s opening goal against West Ham

Dave Devereux

So the Premier League is back. After nine months of watching mediocre, yet exciting, football we'll eventually find out which franchise spent their multi millions the most wisely.

The Beatles once proclaimed that 'money can't buy me love', although it surely helps, and wads of cash could be crucial when it comes to collecting silverware.

It's never wise to make too many sweeping judgements after the opening weekend of a Premier League season, but there are one or two things that we learned.

Liverpool, despite looking better on the ball under Jurgen Klopp, still haven't a clue how to defend set-pieces, and will find it nigh on impossible to challenge for honours with a rearguard that's as porous as a rusty colander.

Arsenal continue to blow as hot and cold as the Irish summer, although without the thrill of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League to look forward to they could be capable of making a more prolonged title challenge.

They might even make it to April this year before capitulating.

Speaking of buckling under pressure, their north London rivals Tottenham have got themselves into decent positions the past couple of seasons before falling away at the end like a distressed marathon runner.

Spurs certainly have a starting eleven to match anyone in the league and Harry Kane will continue to bang in the goals once he gets into his stride, but their reluctance to splash the cash will most likely mean they'll flatter to deceive yet again.

Champions Chelsea showed worse discipline than the schoolyard bully in their season opener against Burnley, but rumours of their demise are greatly exaggerated. Manager Antonio Conte is a shrewd operator and despite losing a player or two they won't be too far away come the end of the season.

Manchester City started the campaign with the sort of poise and panache you'd expect from a team managed by Pep Guardiola, but after they fell back into the pack like an unsuccessful Tour de France breakaway last season it's hard to be over-confident about their ability to maintain their challenge this term.

Although they plundered a couple of cups their fans would have scoffed at a few seasons back, Manchester United seriously underachieved in the league and surely will show some modicum of improvement this time around.

The addition of Romelu Lukaku gives them a real focal point and cutting edge, so supporters may not be bored to within an inch of their lives by so many 0-0 stalemates at Old Trafford.

Nemanja Matic will also bring an extra degree of steel and skill to the midfield, which should help to coax the best out of a previously underwhelming Paul Pogba.

The Red Devils were probably the most impressive side on the opening weekend, but they were only playing West Ham, and some of the over-the-top reactions would have you believing the title was already there's for the taking.

That said, you can't blame United fans for getting a bit overexcited considering the turgid fare they've been served up in recent seasons.

Despite all the ridiculous transfer fees, lack of loyalty and play acting that Daniel Day Lewis would be proud of, the uncertainly surrounding which club will come out on top next May makes for an interesting season ahead.

Many would try to convince you that it's between the Manchester clubs, and the bookies have them as first and second favourites.

However, they were fancied to dominate this time last year as well. The reigns of Mourinho and, in particular, Guardiola began in a blaze of glory last term and we all know how that worked out.

Chelsea, on the other hand, stuttered through the opening weeks, but once they found their feet, Conte's men won the crown at a canter.

The likely destination of the title is very much up in the air, but there's one thing that can be predicted with a high degree of certainty: English clubs will again flop in the Champions League.

The Premier League can rightfully be dubbed the most exciting league in the world, with Friday night's season opener between Arsenal and Leicester City being a case in point.

However, it still remains a long way from being the best.

Wexford People