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English Premier League Week 1: What We Learned
Last week I wrote a blog post previewing the 2015/16 Premier League, in which I offered some betting advice for the new season. I’m always a bit reluctant to make firm predictions before a season has kicked off, particularly when the transfer window is still open, but there were a couple of things I was confident about.
I was certain that the top four will end up consisting of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City (not necessarily in that order), and I felt pretty comfortable stating that Watford and Bournemouth will be relegated back to the Championship. Beyond that though, I was far from sure about anything. I preferred Chelsea for the title, but not enough to warrant placing a bet on them yet.
So, has anything changed now that the first round of fixtures has taken place? Not really, truth be told. With that being said, however, there are certainly a few things that we should take away from the games played last weekend. I’m going to take a look at them in this post, and summarize where I stand in regards to any possible bets.
The Chelsea Team Looks Far From Invincible
Chelsea was widely regarded as the team to beat this season, and just a few days ago there were plenty of people suggesting that they could win the league just as comfortably this season as they did last season. A 2-2 draw with Swansea, at Stamford Bridge, may well have caused them to think again though.
You can’t read too much into one game of course, and even league champions are allowed to have off days, but this Chelsea team really didn’t impress at all on Saturday. Swansea had already had some good chances to score when Chelsea took the lead, in slightly fortunate circumstances, and their equalizer was more than deserved. It then took an enormous amount of luck for Chelsea to regain the lead.
The Swansea players always seemed to sense that they could get something from the game though, and it didn’t really come as a surprise when they scored their second equalizer from the penalty line. The Chelsea goalkeeper (Courtois) was sent off for a challenge that led to the penalty, which obviously affected the game as a contest, but overall it was a very disappointing day for the champions. The simple fact that they conceded two at home will give other teams hope when they come to play here.
Mourinho is Still Up to His Tricks
As I just mentioned, Courtois was sent off during Saturday’s match. It seemed like an obvious red card offence to me, and to most others, but that hasn’t stopped Mourinho putting in an appeal. I don’t believe for one minute that he has any expectation of winning this appeal, and I’m certain that this is just another example of the mind games he loves to play.
I would put money on the fact that Mourinho will mention this incident at some point later in the season, to suggest that his team does not get fair treatment. It will all be part of his plan to put additional pressure on the referees, something he did last season despite getting plenty of favorable decisions.
Manchester United Can Still Win Ugly
Manchester United managed to scrape a 1-0 victory at home to Tottenham, courtesy of a Kyle Walker own goal. They were outplayed for large parts of the match though, and rarely looked dangerous when going forward. It was not an impressive victory by any means, but they did get the three points of course.
During Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford he was famed for getting his team to win when they weren’t at their best, and it’s just possible that the current manager is equally good at this. He won ugly a few times last season, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see more of the same. It’s something that most title winning teams do on occasion, but I still don’t believe that Manchester United are going to be challenging at the very top of the table this season.
De Gea Seems Increasingly Likely to Leave
The future of the Manchester United goalkeeper has been the subject of much discussion up to this season. De Gea is being actively courted by Real Madrid, and the Spaniard is said to be keen to make the move back to his home country. The fact that Van Gaal left him out of the side for Saturday’s match tells a story in my view. I wouldn’t say that it’s a done deal just yet, but it does seem increasingly likely that he’s on his way.
Arsenal is Still Arsenal
Many people were saying that this year would be the year that the Arsenal team finally matured and got back to challenging for the title. This includes me, as in last week’s blog post I wrote that they had been showing signs of getting back to their best. I’m not going to make a complete turnaround on this point based on one game, but this weekend they showed many of the weaknesses that have been hindering them for years.
Playing West Ham at home, Arsenal would have been considered one of the bankers of the first round of fixtures. They never really looked like winning though, and submitted calmly to a 0-2 defeat. The players just didn’t seem to get going, and that fact alone should be cause for concern for the manager. There’s plenty of time to turn things around of course, but it’s not the start that the club would have expected.
Petr Cech Might NOT Be Arsenal’s Savior
The signing of goalkeeper Petr Cech was one of the reasons why so many felt that Arsenal would push on this year. His assurance between the sticks, combined with his title winning experience, was expected to make a big difference. He did indeed make a difference, but it wasn’t the one he would have wanted. At fault for both of the goals Arsenal conceded, he’ll want to forget this game as soon as he can.
Cech has done enough in the past to be forgiven a mistake or two, and it may just have been a bad day. He is coming towards the latter part of his career though, so it’s just possible that his decline has already started. Arsenal fans will be hoping that’s not the case of course.
Manchester City Might Just Be Underrated
The Manchester City team started to look in need of some freshening up during last season, and their summer transfer business has not addressed all their weaknesses. Although they were not ruled out of title race before the season had even begun, there were quite a few pundits and commentators suggesting that they would struggle to achieve much this season. Such suggestions seem foolhardy now, as they convincingly dismantled West Bromwich Albion on their way to a three goal win.
Just as we shouldn’t assume that the stuttering starts of Chelsea and Arsenal mean much at all, we also shouldn’t get carried away by the much more promising start made by Manchester City. As impressive as they were, their main downfall last year was a lack of consistency. A single win does not yet prove that they are over that problem. Nonetheless, it’s a distinct possibility that they may have been underrated prior to the season starting.
Yaya Toure Looks Back to His Best
Yaya Toure came in for a lot of criticism last season, much of which was fully deserved. However, it appears that allegations of him being finished as a player are completely wide of the mark. He certainly didn’t look like the aging has-been that some people have painted him to be. His performance against West Bromwich was not his best ever, but he did look far more like the player that helped Manchester City to their previous two titles.
Preseason Games Mean Very Little
We knew this already really, but this weekend has helped to confirm it. Arsenal had a very impressive preseason campaign, which culminated with a victory over Chelsea in the Community Shield. Their first competitive game, however, was an entirely different story. By contrast, Manchester City’s performances for much of preseason were decidedly boring. When it really mattered though, they turned on the style.
The Promoted Teams Will have it Tough This Season
The three teams that were promoted to the Premier League for this season managed just one point between them last weekend. Bournemouth lost at home to Aston Villa, Norwich lost at home to Crystal Palace, and Watford got a point away at Everton. All three of these teams showed why they are the favorites to go down this season. Watford’s point at Everton was more than credible, but they did lose a two goal lead and that just goes to show how hard it will be for them to hang on to wins.
I should point out that these teams are by no means certain to go down. West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland both looked poor in their opening games, and they could easily be involved in a relegation scrap. I thought that Leicester would struggle this season, but they were surprisingly good when beating Sunderland. I wouldn’t rule them out just yet though.
There were plenty of talking points from the first round of Premier League fixtures, but I must stress again that we shouldn’t read too much into anything that happened. I still think that the top four will be as I predicted, and I still think that Watford and Bournemouth will be relegated. I also still think that Chelsea will be the team to beat this season, despite their poor start. The favorites are actually Manchester City now, following their win and Chelsea’s defeat, but the odds for the two teams were very close before and haven’t actually changed that much.
If you haven’t already placed any season long wagers then my best advice is to wait a little longer. There could still be some activity in the transfer market, and this alone is a good reason to hold on to your money for now. There is also a great deal of merit in waiting until the teams have played a few more games before betting on how the rest of season may turn out.