Now that the first week of league play has concluded, let’s look back at some of the best moments and biggest headlines from this week in the English Premier League. It was a week full of surprises, but in the interest of space, I want to look at just a few key matches that changed the landscape of the Premiership in a very big way, as well as a major signing by Liverpool and the trouble brewing in the halls of Crystal Palace.
Swansea City 2, Manchester United 1
Swansea City shocked the world by beating Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. The Swans seemed to have caught van Gaal’s Red Devils completely by surprise, since it seemed that no matter what strategy they used they just could not find a way to beat what is by all accounts an inferior team.
United’s only goal of the day came from Wayne Rooney in the second half after trailing the first half. Looking to next week. Swansea has an easy game coming up against Burnley, whereas United has to contend with Sunderland. Sunderland is on par with Swansea in terms of talent, so unless van Gaal has prepared the team adequately, then United could very well lose this next match.
I have serious doubts right now about United being able to break out of eighth place this season, and it is clear that the Sunderland match may prove to be the litmus test as to whether this week was a fluke or a sign of what is to come.
Leicester 2, Everton 2
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Leicester City’s manager made it very clear during interviews in the preseason that they would not go quietly this season, and his team proved it with a tie over Everton. As one of the giants of last season, the Toffeemen were expected to easily beat their opponents from Leicester, but instead, they found themselves in a tougher match than anyone expected.
It is very clear that Everton let its guard down a bit for this match, likely thinking that they would have an easy win. Leicester, on the other hand, feels as though it has something to prove, that it wants everyone to know that it can play with the big kids, and it can remain in the EPL, unlike its previous, short-lived runs in the Premiership.
Everton faces Arsenal next, and since both teams have had their share of problems this week, it is hard to say whether or not Everton will be able to redeem itself, or if they need to address core issues sooner rather than later.
Arsenal 2, Crystal Palace 1
Speaking of Arsenal, the Gunners scared millions of Gooners everywhere by almost tying with Crystal Palace, in a game that the Gunners seemed determined to lose in the first half. I saw flashes of Arsenal teams past this week, and not the trophy winning ones.
Wenger sat out Ozil and Mertesaker, a move that I am still baffled by. Yes, the returning German players had less practice than their teammates recently, but that does not mean they should not be trusted as substitutes at the very least.
Alexis Sanchez showed that he can make the necessary plays, but needs someone with talent to help him score. As good as Aaron Ramsey was that match (especially with the dramatic, last-minute game winning goal), he is no Ozil.
By all accounts, Crystal Palace should have tied with Arsenal, but sheer luck prevented this from happening. Luck does not win championships, talent does. Arsenal sat out its talent in favor of luck, and got an embarrassing performance in return. Let’s hope that next week is a bit better for the Gunners.
Welcome to Anfield, Mario Balotelli! The Reds made moves recently with the acquisition of the Italian striker from AC Milan, bringing in much-needed talent to fill the hole in the roster left by Luis Suarez.
Balotelli has continually performed well on the pitch, and clearly still has much of his career left to play. How much of it will be at Anfield, no one can be certain, but what is certain is that putting him with Steven Gerrard is dangerous to opposing defenses, and great for helping Liverpool carve out a top spot in the standings this season.
Signing Balotelli, however, does not come without risks. Mario Balotelli’s attitude problems are well-known all over the sports world, and while not quite as bad as Suarez’s biting problem, will provide an unnecessary distraction in the weeks ahead. It is quite possible that the Reds will have to find someone to fill in for him at some point during the season, since Balotelli has a habit of receiving suspensions for confrontations with other players on the pitch.
In addition, I can foresee some kind of conflict in the locker room as Balotelli adjusts to his new team. All Reds fans can do is hope that any potential incident between teammates is minor and can be quickly resolved, since prolonged fights are never good for a team.
Trouble at Crystal Palace
In light of recent revelations of his appalling conduct at former club Cardiff City, sporting director Iain Moody has resigned from his post at Crystal Palace. While this is likely not going to cause a noticeable change in play on the pitch this coming week, it is still a distraction that a team like Crystal Palace can ill afford.
Crystal Palace, having narrowly avoided relegation last season, is desperately trying to build its brand overseas through the now-global broadcasts of its games, much like the other “small” teams (think Hull City). Having a member of its front office resign after his very nasty, racist texts and emails with former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay came to light is not exactly good for the brand.
There’s also the distinct possibility that the drama in the front office will in some way spread to the locker room, potentially causing poor performance later down the road. Again, I must stress that a potential decline in performance is likely not to be seen for at least another week or so, but the damage to Crystal Palace’s brand (as well as Cardiff City’s) can be felt immediately.