The English Premier League is back, and not a minute too soon. After months of transfers and coaches hirings and firings and rumors and speculation on how the new EPL season would eventually shake out, we are finally into the season. No more wondering, the games are on and we will find out soon enough who the real contenders and fake pretenders are.
Since the EPL is clearly the most popular league among SBI readers I decided to not only create a Fantasy EPL League (which kicked off with more than 300 members), but also to add an EPL correspondent to the SBI stable. That correspondent will be James Tyler of The Unprofessional Foul, who will bring us his weekly musings on the world of the English Premier League.
Now, without further ado, here is James to give us his take on the first week of the EPL season:
Christmas in August as the EPL returns
By JAMES TYLER
Welcome back EPL, we’re so glad to have you back.
The droop between Euro ’08 and the beginning of the EPL season was, for me, the break-out-the-Tums time. The wait was full of angst and agony, seeing big-name players arrive at clubs who didn’t need them while the middle-of-the-table sides scrapped for each other’s leftovers. Barry stayed put at Villa, Ronaldo backed down, and Ronaldinho laughed at Manchester City’s attempted courtship.
However, the opening weekend of the EPL season is my Christmas, as all the gossip is set aside and we get our first look at the contenders and pretenders.
So how did it all shake out?
While most would focus on the big 4’s fortunes this weekend (including Chelsea’s easy 4-0 win over UEFA Cup hopefuls Pompey and Man U’s surprising 1-1 at home to Newcastle), the biggest story comes from Yorkshire. Hull City is in English football’s highest division for the first time in their history, and they capped the crowning achievement with a well-deserved, come-from-behind win over last year’s basement dwellers, Fulham.
The London side that barely avoided relegation last year made the long trip up north and were outclassed by the newcomers, who deserved that 81st minute smash-and-grab by Caleb Folan, started by Craig Fagan’s pickpocketing of Paul Konchesky on the edge of the box. Fagan’s square pass across the area left goalie Schwarzer way out of position and Folan had a simple tap-in to send the crowd at KC Stadium into delirium.
These flashes of theft and robbery might be exactly what Hull City need to stay in the Premier League, but for one week, they’re on Cloud 9. It’s always nice to get off to a good start, but they’ll need another 40 points this season to stay up, and it’s a lot easier to get them early.
Robbery was the theme of the weekend; Blackburn stole 3 points at Goodison Park from an Everton side that never knows when to quit, Liverpool nicked a win at Sunderland thanks to a moment of brilliance from Torres, arguably the world’s best striker, Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor grabbed 3 opportunistic goals in 8 minutes against Man City in a 4-2 home win, and ‘Boro took 3 from Spurs, arguably the off-season’s biggest bandwagon.
Tottenham made the biggest splashes in the transfer market, selling off their iconic striker Robbie Keane (who made a name for himself in the worst way this weekend, blocking his own strike-mate’s certain goal when the game was still tied at 0-0) and spending big on Croatian midfielder Luka Modric and Blackburn’s best young asset, winger David Bentley.
And yet, all the pomp and optimism wasn’t enough. After an impressive pre-season with tons of goals, ‘Boro were far more awake and scored two well-deserved goals in the last 20 minutes after having a clear goal waved off in the first-half. An injury-time own goal gave them some jitters, but they held on for a 2-1 win.
The other big story of the weekend involved financial robbery of a different kind. Former Chelsea striker and Romanian international Adrian Mutu was ordered to repay 13.68 million pounds in damages to the club after FIFA ruled him in breach of contract. In 2003, Chelsea paid 15 million for him, only to sack him a year later after he tested positive for cocaine and was given a seven-month worldwide ban from the beautiful game.
There will be an appeal, but it brings home the gravity of this game we love so much. For all the on-field drama, there is plenty that takes place off it (Barton, Di Canio, and now Mutu), and while some of it is especially unsavory, I’m just glad to have it back. Adrian will probably not be forced to pay all of the damages upon appeal, but it’s refreshing to see players getting punished for their transgressions.
Welcome back, EPL. May all your weekends be this eventful.