English football’s biggest rivalry may have a pulse, Swansea and Leicester City could just be the real deal and the new, all-seeing, all-knowing off-side rule took two short weeks to officially slip into the category of “contentious”…
Two rounds into the new season and there are only four teams still with perfect records intact. Manchester City lead the way after they swatted aside Chelsea with surprising ease in the year’s first line-in-the-sand game between two expected contenders. Sergio Aguero was back in the starting line-up and back to his imperious best and if he can stay fit, which as we know is a humungous IF, City could well occupy these lofty heights all season long.
The fact that this column tipped City to struggle to remain in the top four this season is quickly and conveniently fading into the background, replaced by the resolute and commanding figure of Manuel Pellegrini and his well-deserved contract extension. Pep who?
It is a markedly different story for Pellegrini’s vanquished foe on Sunday night, Jose Mourinho, who over just 180 minutes of football finds himself in a most unexpected spotlight. Marching his Blues back to the top of the EPL mountain in 2014-15 enhanced his outstanding managerial reputation and you could not have found a boss under less pressure than the ‘Special One’ on season’s eve, maybe outside of the universally loved Eddie Howe over at Bournemouth.
But a draw and a defeat to commence the season, officially the worst start since Roman Abramovich bought his new toy 12 years ago, has meant the critics are suddenly jumping down the throat of a man who must surely have a trophy house these days, rather than just a trophy room.
Just as Mourinho was trying to recover from his bungled row with his club doctor, feebly insisting player welfare is the No.1 priority, he then unceremoniously threw John Terry under the proverbial bus he often likes to park in defence when attempting to scratch out those 1-0 wins.
Substituting his captain for the first time ever, yes ever, Mourinho would later state he was “proven right as we controlled the game in the second half”. If only it weren’t for those two pesky goals City managed to score, Chelsea may have only lost 1-0. Or something. No way Jose, you were thoroughly outplayed by a hungry rival and now find yourself 16th on the table, looking up at promoted teams Watford and Norwich City, among many others.
Anyway back to our undefeated teams and that rivalry we mentioned is the one between Manchester United and Liverpool. Sure they continue to have heated stoushes home and away each year amid huge television ratings and the odd barb in the press. But the fact remains the two most successful sides in English history haven’t fought out a decent Premiership battle in decades, outside of Rafa's ranting in 2009.
While Fergie’s Red Devils were accumulating trophies throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Liverpool were largely struggling to remain relevant. When Rodgers’ Reds, or more specifically Luis Suarez’s Reds, fell agonisingly short two seasons ago, United finished outside the top four.
We’re only two games in, but the two storied clubs are unbeaten and boast identical for-and-against records. Long-suffering Liverpool fans will take some solace by the fact their position one place ahead of Man U in the alphabet means it is they that occupy third place. The other undefeated team? Why mighty Leicester City of course! But you already knew that. More about those kings of England shortly…
The other big talking point to emerge this weekend was the off-side rule, or in fact the failure to enforce it during Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Howe’s Cherries at Anfield.
Rodgers took the tried and tested “I haven’t seen it” route immediately after the game. But in all of the pre-season videos used to explain the new rule, simply showing what Philippe Coutinho did in the lead-up to Christian Benteke’s goal would have been enough to satisfy anyone. An attacker in an off-side position can’t then get involved in the play. Well, the diminutive Brazilian couldn’t help himself, turning on his heels and chasing the ball just before Benteke bundled it home.
But much to Howe's consternation, no whistle was forthcoming and Liverpool's latest expensive forward was free to open his account nice and early.
Team of the Week – Leicester City
So, back to those flying Foxes. It would be hard to go past Manchester City for their dismantling of Chelsea as our team of the week. The fact it also led to some more Mourinho gold for us media types gives them extra points. But in a sign of our blatant immaturity, for which we make no apologies, they were our team of the week last week, so we wanted someone different this time around. So there. Come on down Claudio Ranieri. Largely dismissed as any type of managerial force, currently at his 16th club in a three-decade career that has yielded precious little silverware, he was tipped to be among the first managerial casualties. Instead, he has steered his side to a 4-2 victory over Sunderland and then this week’s 2-1 away win at West Ham. They're not quite giant-killers, and there is an eternity left in the season, but you can’t do much more than win your opening two games. Gary Monk's Swans have also been hugely impressive so far, picking up a point at Stamford Bridge and following that with a solid 2-0 home win over Newcastle to occupy sixth place.
Arsenal’s entertaining 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace ensured their stay in the bottom three was predictably brief. Dick Advocaat’s Black Cats are firmly in 20th position following two heavy defeats, with Bournemouth the only other club yet to record a point. West Brom’s 0-0 draw with Watford means they are third-from-bottom. Tottenham, Stoke, Newcastle and yes Chelsea are also on one point early in the new campaign.
Quote of the Week – Dick Advocaat
"We have to discuss with the players how we go on. It was the same in pre-season and you hoped it would change but it is not changing. Myself as well, I am responsible for that, no doubt."
An all-too-rare admission of culpability from a Premier League manager. Honesty is great, but unless he finds solutions swiftly, the decorated 67-year-old will be left wondering why on earth he decided to stay in the job for another year.