August 19, 2014

Welcome back, EPL. We missed you

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

The World Cup ended just over a month ago, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been craving some good ol’ high-end football.

With the Premier League kicking off on Saturday morning, it felt like a return to normalcy.

The top teams of last year came out strong, we had some anxious moments, questionable refereeing and David Moyes’ Manchester United set another dubious record at Old Trafford.

What’s that you say? Moyes isn’t in charge of the Red Devils anymore? I honestly couldn’t tell.

It was in fact manager Louis Van Gaal’s regular-season debut for United, but didn’t do much to help fans forget about the Moyes era by making some very questionable selections for the match against Swansea.

Van Gaal – or David Moyes II, according a Wikipedia edit – trotted out youngsters Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard while also playing Javier Hernandez, Nani and Maraoune Fellaini – three players that have supposed been told by the manager that their time is done with the team.

The end result was a 2-1 loss and the first home-opener defeat for United since 1972.

Of course, the transfer window is still open and Argentine defender Marcos Rojo’s arrival is imminent, but this team has some more purchases to make if it wants to the contender that its fans demand.

KARMA POINTS

If you don’t believe that karma exists, listen to this story.

In my fantasy football league, we select draft order by picking the minute of the first goal from a group of games on EPL opening weekend.

Last year I had made a trade to acquire another player’s first-round pick.

So, instead of doing the honest thing and trying to make a reasonable selection, my Manchester United fan friend Mick picked the 91st minute, all but guaranteeing the last pick of the first round would come my way.

Of course, we all know what happened to Mick’s Red Devils after he made this karmic error.

EVERTON IN TROUBLE?

If the Toffees are going to finally get into a Champions League position, they’re going to have a tough road ahead getting there.

Before the game even started, reports came out that rising star midfielder Ross Barkley could miss up to five months with a knee injury. That’s the kind of blow that could scuttle a team’s European hopes.

Then, Everton struggled against Leicester City. While this is a team that dominated the Championship, the scouting report was that it didn’t really have the talent level to make much noise in the top-flight. Boy was that wrong. If you can scrape out a draw against a top-six team, chances are you’ll have a shot at reaching midtable through the season.

Sidenote: I was actually confused as which team was which when I flipped on to the game. It took me a second that it was Leicester wearing the blue shirts and Everton in the white. Also not helping, the fact that they were playing pretty evenly – which is a bit troubling for Everton.

TOP O’ THE TABLE

Sure, we’re only game in, but the contenders of last season are already back on top.

Chelsea and Manchester City lead the way, both winning their openers by two goals.

City looked efficient, yet unimpressive against a rebuilt Newcastle side that showed some promise against the defending champs. And its second goal came very late on, when substitute Sergio Aguero made a nice recovery of his own rebound and put it home.

The Blues actually trailed promoted Burnley before firing back with three of their own. The real star man was newcomer Cesc Fabregas, who had two assists including a beauty setup on Andre Schurrle’s goal.

Arsenal’s midfield played like they had just met, even though only one of the five of them was a new arrival. You would’ve figured it could’ve done better against a team that had just split with its manager early that week, after Tony Pulis left Crystal Palace citing “mutual contempt.”

Liverpool played like, well, Liverpool. A nice goal by Raheem Sterling and an opportunistic finish by Daniel Sturridge made up for a bit of lax defending on Nathaniel Clynne’s nice finish.

We’re still very early on, but it’s looking like each team has its flaws and its strengths again, would should make for a great race.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

The goal of the weekend competition was a close one, but I’ll give it to Everton’s Aiden McGeady for burying it in the top corner against Leicester with defenders on the line and the keeper charging out … While West Ham surely deserved a penalty for Kyle Naughton’s handball in the box, I don’t think the Spurs defender should’ve been sent off. His hands were up and blocked the ball, but it didn’t look deliberate at all. He was protecting his face is all … Dear Arsene Wenger, stop trying to make Yaya Sanogo happen. It’s going to happen … When was the last time you saw a central defender round the keeper on a breakaway to score a game-winner? That’s what Spurs’ Eric Dier did on a beauty feed from Harry Kane, much to many’s surprise, and grabbed the three points against West Ham … While watching Arsenal’s midfield struggle, I actually had to look up if Mesut Ozil was playing or not. It was tough to tell when you consider how invisible he usually is … Three red cards on opening day? Is that a record? … It was a tough loss for QPR in its return to the top tier. But when you ask aging Rio Ferdinand to mark someone on a corner, that’s the risk you run.

THE LAST WORD

We leave you with a fan that reminds us just how much English there is in the English Premier League.

https://twitter.com/FootballCliches/status/500674139523661826

That’s about everything you need to know about football fans in a six-second clip.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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