Just 2 weeks into the new Premier League season and already the fortunes of the three North-East clubs looks far brighter than the last campaign. In fact, they’ve all done well. Middlesbrough were desperately unlucky against Liverpool as were Sunderland.
The Rise of the North East
I’ve watched Middlesbrough twice now this season at home against Tottenham and away at Anfield and they are so much better than they were last year as they are certainly more compact. Boro are showing far more fight along with lots of quality. The average age of the team is young, they’re playing for eachother and it’s really impressive what Southgate has done. He’s assembled a squad of players that are young, energetic and possess a reasonable amount of quality. To be honest they should have at least 4 points out of 6 and are extremely unlucky not to have won both games. They deserve to have 6 really the way they played at Anfield.
Boro’s early season form has been terrific as the manager has been under a lot of pressure in his managerial career but has proved once again that Steve Gibson is the master chairman. He’s backed his manager to the hilt and it’s paid dividends for everybody concerned. The Middlesbrough faithful must be absolutely delighted.
In terms of Sunderland, Roy Keane consolidated last year, they stayed in the League which was the main priority and this year he has bought Premiership players. The line-up looks better, the squad looks better, it’s looking very good for them as well. They were massively unlucky last week against Liverpool and got a great result at White Hart Lane at the weekend.
Newcastle too, four points out of 6 with Manchester United away and Bolton at home. They played much better at Old Trafford than they did against Bolton, in fact they were relatively lucky against the Trotters. However, it’s been a great start for them. What you’ve got to have at this stage of the season is a foundation to work on and Keegan has given Newcastle fans just that. If they’d got beat in the first game and drawn the 2nd game then 1 point is a chasm of difference as 4 points brings optimism, everyone’s on a high, the confidence is there and it sweeps along with you and you’ve got to keep it going, so that win was very important.
Baggies May Need to Get Physical
Championship winners West Brom have lost both their matches which has got critics questioning their choice of style. After all, they are the one promoted side that you expect to go out and play football. We’ve seen it before with promoted teams that if you try that route of playing your way out of trouble then what might have been good enough for the Championship will not be good enough for the Premiership. This is because the quality of players are far above what promoted teams usually possess.
It’s going to be difficult for Tony Mowbray because he will have what he thinks is a way of playing and he’ll think that’s the way his players should play and to be fair nobody would argue against that. However, at the end of the day we all have principles in force but in terms of survival you have to get a balance between playing your football and being a bit more physical and winning matches. History tells us the longer this losing run goes on then everything and every body comes under pressure and that’s not a great feeling. Usually in that situation results go from bad to worse. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen for Tony Mowbray and West Brom because everybody is delighted with the way they’ve progressed but if they get beaten on Saturday, it’s going to be a long hard season for them.
I still think the ultimate title race will be between Chelsea and Manchester United. Chelsea played great the first game, Manchester United played great the second game. Whilst it’s still early in the season, the problem for the big teams is that they are all playing for fitness and they’ll all tell you that. In my opinion you can’t win the Premiership in the first two or three months but you can lose it. So what these teams have got to do is get themselves into a good early position.
Form Not Important, Results Are for the Big Four
The big four clubs will be making sure they don’t lose too many points and at the end of the day they’re not really that worried about how well they play. Obviously if they do play well then great but in 14 years at Liverpool I cannot remember in the first 6 to 8 matches when we played that impressively. That’s the way it’s done, you start off being functional so you get yourselves in a strong position as the medals are given out in April and May not August or September.
Arsenal didn’t show a lot of fight against Fulham on Saturday so the warning signs will be there. I personally can’t see them playing any better than they did last season and they couldn’t win anything then so I am not overly confident of their chances in this campaign. As far as the Premiership is concerned, I’ve not seen anything in the first two matches to convince me it won’t be Manchester United or Chelsea who will ultimately win the trophy.
Rafa Crying Out for Width
For my old club Liverpool 6 points out of 6 is fantastic. It’s well documented that they haven’t played well in either match but again I go back to the fact that I never played in one game that I thought we were performed great in early into the season. However, the warning signs are there for them too as it was noticeable in both matches that they were easy to defend against because of the way they play right through the middle. Both Sunderland and Middlesbrough defended relatively deep, got men behind the ball, so Liverpool have to either be incredibly good or incredibly lucky to get through that sort of defence.
You’ve got to have width if you are going to win the Premiership. You’ve got to have wide players that can get past defenders and make things happen. As a defender myself, the easiest thing in the world is to defend when the opposition come straight through the middle at you especially when you’ve got men behind the ball. The minute they start getting behind you and stretch the backline, then you can get dragged all over the place. If they can hit you in two, three different ways such as in the air, on the deck or around the back, then you’re in big trouble. That’s what Liverpool have to start doing if they want to be true contenders.
Finally, Steven Richardson from Leeds was our lucky winner as he scooped the £40,000 Premier 10 rollover jackpot this week and to be fair after predicting shock wins for Stoke and Sunderland he deserves it. The good news is there is even more to play for on Footy 15 this week with an estimated £150,000 to be won.
So good luck with your choices