At long last, it has returned. No more ESPN Classic games, no more Premier League classic games and no more repeats of World Cup 2010 games. Real, live football across various leagues is back. To be fair, the Bundesliga started the first weekend in August and this past weekend saw the resumption of South Africa’s PSL, the English Premier League and the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.
So what have we learned?
Benni is still in the 18 area
Benni McCarthy has a point to prove. McCarthy improved 100% on his goal scoring record at previous club West Ham United by bagging a goal for Orlando Pirates against Black Leopards on his début. Coming off the bench, McCarthy appeared as if he’d shed some excess weight and displayed a sharp first touch and was generally lively during his cameo appearance. A promising start for the striker and let’s see if he can maintain consistent levels of performance during the season. Defending champions Pirates won the game and got their title defence off to the perfect start.
There was also a season opening win for arch rivals Kaizer Chiefs as they scraped to a 2-1 victory over promoted Jomo Cosmos. Chiefs created numerous scoring chances but were guilty of being profligate in front of goal, but they still managed to grind out the win with Josta Dladla nabbing the winner in the 89th minute.
Mamelodi Sundowns were held to a goalless draw by Amazulu in their season opener, and last season’s runners-up Ajax Cape Town fared even worse as they fell 0-2 to Platinum Stars in Rustenburg.
A mixed bag of results for the four main title hopefuls in the opening weekend for the PSL.
Great expectations at Liverpool
The feel-good factor at Liverpool has continued throughout the off-season with the supporters rallying behind the owners FSG and the manager, Kenny Dalglish. Although reactions have been mixed to some of the new signings which have predominantly bolstered an already lengthy number of midfielders, the overall feeling has been one of cautious (and not-so-cautious) optimism. As a result, Anfield was rocking on Saturday 13 August 2011 for the season opener against Sunderland – the atmosphere was so electric it almost rivalled that of a Champions League encounter.
The players, lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, seemed to feed off this energy and Liverpool started brightly with some great passing and excellent movement from the front pairing of Suarez and Carroll. The team pressed with urgency when they lost ball and maintained a high tempo to the play. Good hassling by Suarez resulted in him robbing Kieron Richardson of the ball and accelerating towards the goal, only to be brought down in the box by Richardson. Suarez stepped up and promptly blazed the penalty kick over the bar, but managed to atone for this error by glancing in a Charlie Adam free kick at the near post. The crowd roared their approval and Liverpool continued to press forward and Downing was unlucky to have a fierce shot ricochet off the crossbar after a good run down the right flank.
The second half was a completely different story, however, and a combination of Liverpool taking their foot off the gas and Sunderland emerging a reinvigorated team saw Sunderland equalise with a well-taken volley by Sebastian Larsson. Liverpool seemed to lack urgency and focus during the second period and were happy in the end not to concede further goals as Sunderland pressed forward.
In summary, Liverpool battled with a familiar problem – attempting to maintain a level of consistency throughout 90 minutes of football. Judgement is reserved.
Torres looking sharper
Chelsea huffed and puffed but failed to blow Stoke’s house down, but the one positive from that game was the re-appearance of the real Fernando Torres. The sulky, petulant striker from last season seems to have departed and been replaced with the energetic and hungry player who scored goals for fun at Liverpool. Torres was full of tricks and invention, albeit with no end product but the signs were encouraging.
The disappointing fact about Chelsea is that it difficult to pinpoint any change in strategy, formation or style of play since the departure of the Special One. The resolute defence spearheaded by JT, the defensive shield provided by Mikel, the goals banged in by Lamps from mid and Drogba-now-Torres is all the same. Playing against a defensively minded team like Stoke requires a certain level of guile, which was lacking in the Chelsea team on Saturday. Arguably one of the better unlockers of defence, Benayoun, was on the bench and was given a small cameo appearance.
Villas-Boas looked stylish off the pitch, pity Chelsea was not as stylish on the pitch.
United – business as usual
Manchester United won their opening game 2-1 against a spirited West Bromwich Albion team. For the second time in as many weeks, the man generating the back page headlines was David De Gea who gifted West Brom an easy goal that enabled them to equalise Rooney’s early goal. The spotlight is definitely on the young keeper for the next game, but United can take confidence from the early form of another recent signing, Ashley Young, who appears to have slotted seamlessly into the team thus far. Rio “Sicknote” Ferdinand’s struggles with injury continue, but the red half of Manchester has sufficient depth to cope with the loss of one of their first choice centre backs.
How does last season’s Golden Boot winner feel being fourth choice striker at United?
Aguero on target, but Silva pulls strings
Sergio Aguero came off the bench to bag two goals and provide an assist for David Silva in their 4-0 win over Swansea City on Monday night. The player who was pulling the strings and linking the play together in the middle of the park, though, was David Silva who rattled the bar in the first half before scoring a tap-in courtesy of Aguero’s work.
Still, it was only Swansea though wasn’t it?
The longest running saga since the episode in Dallas of “Who shot JR?” is finally over and Arsenal have lost a “world class player” in Saint Cesc of Fabregas, who returned to his boyhood club Barcelona to win trophies (note the plural Arsene). What he has left behind is a team that is at the cross roads – Nasri still looking to make a move oop north, disappointed supporters looking for a couple of (big?) experienced signings to indicate the club has ambitions, and a manager attempting to manage this crisis.
Arsenal managed a bore draw against Newcastle on the weekend, but the most disconcerting thing was that the players appeared devoid of energy and enthusiasm. That could partly be explained by having Tomas Rosicky occupying one of the central midfield players, as he tends to be half a second off the pace when he plays.
The good news for Arsenal is that it’s early in the season. The bad news is they have a Champions League qualifier against Udinese, Liverpool, Udinese and then Manchester United in their next four games.
May the Force be with you.
Spain’s big two do battle again
Real Madrid and Barcelona met in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at the Bernabeu which resulted in a 2-2 draw. Madrid came out all guns blazing with a high tempo pressing game which they matched with quick passing and fast counter attacks, aiming to take advantage of the makeshift centre back pairing of Mascherano and Abidal. Barcelona missed the steadying influence of the midfield axis of Xavi and Busquets, and combined with the harrying Madrid defence meant that they did not retain possession in their usual style. Madrid duly took the lead in the tie after some fine work down the right flank by Karin Benzema who looked sharp throughout the game.
Although Madrid were dominant, Barcelona managed to claw their way back into the game, and the tie, through two moments of brilliance – one from David Villa’s curled effort and one from Lionel Messi’s strength on and off the ball. Although the Barcelona goals were scored by two very talented individuals, both goals came about as a result of some excellent teamwork. Villa’s goal as a result of Messi drawing 3 defenders towards him, leaving Villa in a one-on-one with Sergio Ramos. Messi’s goal as a result of an inspired header by newbie Alexi Sanchez which created the space for Messi to run into.
The second leg at the Camp Nou will be interesting.