With the world of European football now in one of those annoying international breaks it is time to reflect on the biggest story of the season so far. Namely the truly awful uniforms that have been rolled out this season. It is as if the person in charge of this year’s Nike effort saw some old rugby league footage and thought “that looks snazzy, just what Manchester United have been missing all these years, a V on their chest.”
Then down the road at Puma they had a similar thought for Spurs and to further ruin a classic white strip decided that there is not enough fluoro yellow around these days, not even with Wigan’s away tops. The true travesty though is what Adidas have inflicted on Chelsea. Square pec defining patches and little zips! Maybe not surprising that a German company would reference mid ’90s rave wear. How are players supposed to come onto the pitch in a dominating frame of mind when their final action in the locker room is a wee vvvvvvvpppp? All of which gives me a chance to run a picture of one of my favourite football shirts, that of Sport Boys in Peru. For some incongruous reason it features a famous Puerto Rican salsa star by the name of Hector Lavoe who has no relationship with the club except to have maybe visited their home town of Callao.
Perversely these ugly uniforms seem to be inspiring a quality of play hoped for in the past few seasons but rarely achieved. Take Tottenham who have earned the maximum 12 points from their first four games, a total it took them until November 23rd and fourteen season killing games to earn last year. The change cannot even be put down to transfers as looking at the summer transactions they are all in the ‘players out’ column apart from the acquisition of Newcastle defender Sebastien Bassong.
Spurs have always been a club to play an attractive brand of football only now they seem to be able to defend as well as win those soul crushing games against lesser opposition that was their previous specialty at losing. Lennon’s smart 90th minute winner on Saturday a case in point. Hopefully they can keep it going now that their little Croatian playmaker, Luca Modric is out for six weeks with a broken leg.
Across town it is little surprise to see Roman Abramovich taking renewed interest in his team. After churning through five managers in a little over two years he is finally seeing the free flowing, attacking play he seemingly preferred over winning things with Mourinho. Somehow making four central midfielders work and still play a possession game, they have defied their stupid tops and look in dominant form especially when both Cole and Bosingwa at fullback play so dynamically.
It seems both Spurs and Chelsea are benefiting from settled squads who now play with even more confidence through greater familiarity. The other week against Sunderland was most unusual with the northern team having outspent the formerly free spending Blues by some £30 million. In other Chelsea transfer news, was anyone even aware that Andriy Shevchenko was still with the club when it was announced this week that he was free to leave?
At 5am on Sunday morning the plan of watching football through the night seemed like the right one. Arsenal B (any time Eboue is a starter it is a second rate team) was 1-0 up at Old Trafford and a splendid start to the season was looking likely, mostly thanks to the vibrant Arshavin. There were so many questions about how he would cope in the English game when he arrived at the club in February but apart from some lingering murmurs about his fitness the quality of his play is a real treat to watch. Pace, guile, simple and elegant footwork, and a shot of such power and simplicity from an instantaneous trigger make any moment when he collects the ball close to the box an attacking one.
While he may have been beaten by one of these masterstrokes, United keeper Ben Foster sure made up for it in the second half instinctively saving a van Persie snapped shot from six yards that left the Dutchman standing with a look of incredulity frozen on his face. Similar to the look on mine moments later when Howard Dean awarded England’s favourite pig dog a simply laughable penalty. How can you call a player impeded when just before falling over the diving keeper they have already booted the ball out closer to the corner flag than the upright? Feeling left out, the fourth official decided to make the game’s end a farce by trying to eject Wenger which achieved little beyond creating a nice photo opportunity.
For such an early stage in the season this weekend’s games were of an incredibly high billing. Not only Man U – Arsenal in England but the Milan Derby as well in only the second week of Serie A action. With the Chosen One looking more like Bob the Tomato from Vegetales it only took a half to reverse Internazionale’s previous poor away form in their home stadium. As the away team at the San Siro they had only won one of their last six meetings with AC Milan. New manager Leonardo has a lot of work to do with the three Nerazzurri Ms in Motta, Milito, and Maicon making his team look very ordinary to go into halftime 3-0 and a player up aswell. There is €65m from the sale of Kaka that needs to be spent pronto as the two ducks, one by name one by nature in Pato and Ronaldinho, look like nothing without his creativity enabling them.
As if to prove this, in his opening La Liga game for Real Madrid Kaka was the standout of all the new signings on show. At least in the moments you could pick him out from the blurry mist that ESPN calls an image. The first goal for los meringues featured one of those passes from the Brazilian that seems to freeze time through to an equally as impressive debutant Benzema who was unlucky not to open his account for the club with his shot deflected onto the post. Fittingly the rebound fell to Raul to slot home from his customary five yards. However, just as with the original Galacticos in Florentino Perez’s first go as club president, the success of all this money spent is still going to rest on the overlooked defence.
With many people still bringing their half time Estrella’s back to their seats, Deportivo’s Valeron received an innocuous ball at the top of the box and calmly stroked it past Casillas while four Real defenders simply watched him do it. So a game they looked dominant in became a nervy 3-2 win. There was a saying about Liverpool last year that you cannot win titles with players like Arbeloa, Aurelio, N’Gog or Lucas. The former of that quartet is Perez’s only contribution to counter all of the spending up front.
With the Milan derby a foregone conclusion at the half time break it was over to see how that other title pretender would handle the always scrappy Bolton, n ow managed by former Anfield favourite Gary Megson. The softly spoken ginge has never beaten his old club as manager in seven, now eight, attempts although most of these can be excused due to his former charges being West Bromich Albion.
One all at half time, the Trotters somehow held the lead twice despite only having 20% of the ball and of course it was Stephen Gerrard who scored the winner in the 83rd minute. Someone in the promotions department at the NHS should really formulate some sort of healthy living campaign around the Liverpool team. Surely their supporters suffer more heart problems than those of any other club due to their teams seeming inability to win matches without dramatic late game winners.
It is a shame that there is a break in league play for World Cup qualifiers this weekend. At the beginning of a season it is hard to develop any sort of comprehensive picture as we wait for storylines to develop and transfers to settle in. It felt this weekend that we were on the cusp of this happening. Take Burnley, a team I have now watched play twice both times looking embarrassingly ordinary and incapable of even stringing three passes together.
Yet they have already inflicted an early loss on the defending champions and caused Toffee’s fans to wonder whether they are in for a Newcastle-like season before Sunday’s win over Wigan. Fans at the Turf Moor Stadium should hope their team follows the model Hull set last year of accumulating home points before Christmas and then grimly hanging on as the wear and tear of the season catches up with an outmatched squad after New Year. Here is someone who will not be contributing anything further to Belgian team RSC Anderlecht’s season. Thanks to Kim K for the link which is even more gruesome than Eduardo’s in Birmingham in 2008.
Marcin Wasilewski’s Horror Break.
– Teeth Benitez