Is the English Premier League a self-fulfilling prophecy? Often it feels that way if you’re waking up early every weekend to watch, as the same stories unfurl week after week. For instance this round of matches brought us:
- Manchester United grabbing three points after a desultory 1-0 away result at Aston Villa.
- Tottenham capitulating at home to Stoke City, throwing away a 2-0 lead in the final quarter of the game.
- Arsenal taking the lead at Crystal Palace, allowing an equalizer (watch for falling skies) and winning thanks to Alexis Sanchez rising up for a header that deflected off a defender.
- Manchester City making a statement 3-0 win against Chelsea … only for the headlines to be dominated by whatever Jose Mourinho babbled on about afterward.
These developments are so shocking you could knock me over with a feather. What’s next, you’re going to tell me Sunderland lost, too?
Given the off-the-field storm Mourinho created during the week by demoting team doctor Eva Carneiro from the bench, you almost knew whatever happened on the field at the Etihad Stadium would be an afterthought — so much as the defending league champions losing to last year’s runner-ups 3-0 can be an afterthought. Mourinho upped the ante declaring that 3-0 was a “completely fake” result and that his team was better in the second half. You wonder if he’d have said the same thing had Asmir Begovic not made a bunch of key saves in the first half that kept it only 1-0 at the break.
Of course, I’m not sure how Vincent Kompany out-muscling the Chelsea defense to score a header from a corner kick is “completely fake” … but let’s roll with it, right?
This is the Special One. He knows the English soccer media sops up whatever he says and uses it to fuel their headlines and coverage for the ensuing week. Mourinho’s me-first routine also diverts some attention or questions about Chelsea. This is tiresome, true, yet it’s a smart play because these two tweets from Opta don’t exactly scream out “fake result”, do they?
Odds are by Tuesday, once the “fake” result and John Terry halftime substitution speculation stops, the pendulum will swing in the other direction. That direction, being the EPL’s other fallback position, “crisis.” After one point from two games are the defending champions, who only made minor personnel changes in the offseason, in a crisis?
This is a telling quote from Manchester City’s rejuvenated captain, Kompany, via the Guardian:
"There was not one thing Chelsea threw at us that we didn’t know about."
Last summer, Chelsea did its business quick and plugged Cesc Fabregas, a cultured midfielder with EPL experience, and Diego Costa, the finisher the Blues lacked the previous season, and crushed the competition early. The Blues didn’t lose until December and players like Eden Hazard and Terry featured in all 38 matches.
The less said of Costa’s current form — where his tiresome petulance spills out (nonstop) for 90 minutes, the better. Sunday, Chelsea plays West Brom. If you want to have some fun, chart how many times Costa touches the ball and there isn’t a flashpoint or a foul or something other than the game of soccer.
Chelsea and Mourinho’s brief implosion to start the season is a juicier topic to talk about compared to City’s fantastic start. Negative outweighs the positive, duh. Mourinho is always going to trump, say, a solid job 90 minutes from someone like Aleksandar Kolarov, too.
In a sense, City followed Chelsea’s blueprint from 2014. Raheem Sterling is (so far) the only major addition to City’s squad. Given the wages they’ve handed out and the idea of Financial Fair Play, there wasn’t a lot City could do this summer, but the club also didn’t throw a ton of money at players who were available as they’ve previously done. Instead, City solidified and counted on Kompany, Yaya Toure and others to return more to their 2013-14 form, meaning less week-in, week-out dependance on the consistently excellent Sergio Agüero to bail them out all the time. (Isn’t it possible Agüero’s first-half performance contributed to Mourinho replacing Terry with Kurt Zouma?)
Although it didn’t matter much come May, City did pull level with Chelsea on New Year’s Day … only to go winless in its next four matches, which ended any vestige of a title race. Looking back it’s not too crazy to see why City faded. When you’re filling out a top-level, top-money club the roster will be filled with international players, who are called in for qualifiers and friendlies all across the globe. 2014 was a World Cup year, which eventually catches up with players. In January, Toure missed time leading the Ivory Coast to victory at the African Cup of Nations, too.
Admittedly I’m not a doctor or a sports trainer, but a brief three-week for somebody like David Silva in July after a long EPL season and then the World Cup doesn’t seem smart, especially considering the Premier League doesn’t take a break around the new year.
This summer City was judicious, easing Agüero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis back from the Copa America. City played only four preseason friendlies — two in Australia, one in Vietnam and one in Germany, perhaps realizing when your owners can basically print money, barnstorming around the globe doesn’t make a lot of sense, even to enhance your brand.
Now it’s Chelsea, rather than City, that’s being asked questions of its stalwart central defender/captain.
Two games don’t a season make, but adding Sterling to the already solid foundation appears to be the prudent move by City even if it’s not a wild, must-click headline generated by a sour Mourinho.
Before wrapping up, a couple thoughts on teams that don’t get much love in the United States.
* Leicester City is tied atop the table with six points. Only five percent of the season is done, but Leicester is already 15 percent of the way toward matching last year’s 41-point total. If you’re interested, here’s a quick read on how Leicester scouted Riyad Mahrez from semi-obscurity in Ligue 2. Japan international Shinji Okazaki also scored for Leicester, which plays Tottenham this weekend.
* The ceiling for a team like Swansea City in the EPL is limited. At best it can dream of finishing fourth if everything breaks right, but the Welsh club won’t mind since it was playing in the fourth tier of English soccer as recently as 2005. The Swans two goals on Saturday vs. Newcastle came from Bafétimbi Gomis and Andre Ayew — both free transfers, both internationals and both players who moved from Ligue 1. That’s smart business, aided by the money provided by the EPL’s television contracts.