Friday, August 24, 2012

The Premier League is back in town

England's Premier League has kicked off with some unfamiliar faces hogging the limelight and some intriguing storylines to follow.

It is traditional that the early exchanges of the season see some lesser lights have their day and the first weekend saw Fulham, Swansea and West Brom in the top three positions.

Martin Jol's team sat atop the tree courtesy of a 5-0 thumping of Norwich City at Craven Cottage. West Brom welcomed Brendan Rodgers to the Liverpool helm by beating the Reds 3-0 at the Hawthorns but Swansea produced the day's most eye-opening scoreline winning 5-0 at QPR.

Michael Laudrup's first game in charge of the Swans could not have gone much better, and the Great Dane's exodus in English football promises much. Mark Hughes' side, however, must recover from this knock-out blow. Rangers are still following a dream with the Mittal family, the country's richest and one of the world's top ten wealthiest families, owning a third of the club.

QPR have acquired ten players for this campaign and are pressing ahead with their bid to build a 45,000-seat arena on a new site in West London.

West Ham returned to the top flight with a 1-0 home win over Aston Villa, though this season should be more about goings-on off-field as they resume their fight to take over London's Olympic Stadium after the Paralympic Games have finished.

Newcastle handed defeat to Andre Villas-Boas in his first match as Tottenham boss but their own manager Alan Pardew will face the F.A. music having pushed a linesman in anger during the game.

Arsenal, minus the Man Utd-bound Robin Van Persie, could only draw 0-0 at home to Sunderland and another season in the wilderness for London's biggest team beckons. The angst was evident on Arsene Wenger's face as the barren spell of the past few seasons continues.

United themselves lost their opening game 1-0 at Everton and a goal from Marouane Fellaini.

Another Belgian, Eden Hazard, has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water and is already a prospect for player of the season. European champions Chelsea, whose win last night against Reading takes them temporarily to the top, look an interesting proposition with Fernando Torres now top dog following Didier Drogba's departure, and Hazard, Juan Mata and new signing Oscar promising a formidable attacking triangle behind him.

Reigning champions Manchester City began their title defence with a narrow 3-2 win at home to new boys Southampton, and their awesome squad still has the deepest reserves of talent to call upon.

How City will fare with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules is another matter. The FFP allows for a £35.5m operating loss over two seasons beginning next campaign, but in 2010-11 City posted a deficit of around seven times that. Will this be the last time a spending-spree buys the title?

England is still recovering from its Olympics hangover and football has yet to catch the imagination again. London 2012 was still on when the Community Shield kicked off the season to a less than sold-out crowd at Villa Park.

With talented players like Clint Dempsey and Luka Modric moping on the sidelines while their agents and clubs squabble over big-money moves, the contrast with the clean-living Olympians and the universally happy and positive atmosphere engendered by other sports taking place has been noticed by everyone.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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