Premiership Opening Weekend Review

August 12 2007

And so, after weeks of unprecedented hype – which, given the levels of hyperbole which have surrounded England’s top division since Sky invented exciting football in 1992, is an achievement in itself – the Premiership is back. Or, rather, the Premier League, for its name has now been officially changed as well.

The reason for all the hype is the hope that in the huge bucketfuls of TV cash which have been thrown at the league’s 20 clubs there lies the possibility that this season will be genuinely competitive. And the opening weekend’s results suggest that may well be the case.

All of the ‘big four’ were made to struggle, and – with the exception of Liverpool – made to struggle against teams they would have felt pretty confident about overcoming without too much fuss. Chelsea were made to look ragged by a resolute Birmingham City, Arsenal were minutes away from an underwhelming home draw with Fulham, and Reading struck a blow for fans of stubbornly unadventurous 4-5-1 football with their ‘gutsy’ 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

Of the teams harbouring serious ambitions of playing in Europe next season, Tottenham lost, Portsmouth were held to a draw by lowly Derby, Villa succumbed at home to Liverpool and only Everton, Blackburn and Newcastle recorded victories – and only Newcastle’s was comfortable. In The Battle of the Shiny New Squads at Upton Park, Sven Goran Eriksson’s team of strangers played with a cohesion seemingly at odds with the fact most of them were signed on the basis of video footage alone.

But most heartening of all were the performances of the three promoted teams. Birmingham may have lost, but they gave Chelsea some real scares along the way, Derby’s draw with Portsmouth proved they can tough it out with the Premier League’s established players and Sunderland’s last gasp win over Spurs suggests the Black Cats are already imbued with a doggedness and resilience that were the hallmarks of their illustrious manager.

Goal of the weekend was Steven Gerrard’s inch-perfect free kick to clinch victory at Villa Park, but Obafemi Martins’s overhead kick against Bolton and Matt Derbyshire’s sweet curling finish at the Riverside caught the eye as well.

So, twenty-eights goals, some truly competitive fixtures and signs that the big four have really got their work cut out if they wish to continue to lord it over their more fiscally challenged opponents. Things are shaping up nicely…

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