Heroes & Villains: A tale of two Joes

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We take a look at the best and the worst of the action from the opening round of Premier League matches (bar the one that hasn't been played yet, obviously...)

Heroes of Round 1

Joe Hart, Manchester City

Hooray, pip and huzzah - an Englishman who is actually capable of this goalkeeping lark. Shay Given looked helplessly on as the rookie stopper denied Spurs their traditional three point ‘haul’ against the men from Eastlands, giving credence to Roberto Mancini’s decision to drop the Irishman.

His trio of brilliant saves from Defoe, Huddlestone and Assou-Ekotto showed the kind of quick reflexes, tidy footwork and great athleticism required to keep goal at the very highest level. But Match of the Day commentator Jonathan Pearce’s assertion that Hart was “surely England’s No.1 for many years to come” is probably still a tad premature. Have we not been here before (see Scott Carson, Robert Green and Chris Kirland in the villains section…)?

Didier Drogba, Chelsea

According to the Ivorian, he’s now fully fit for the first time in the six years he’s been playing in England, having undergone groin surgery over the summer. Pre-surgery Premier League goalscoring record: one goal every 1.976 games; Post-surgery Premier League goalscoring record: three goals every one game. You can’t argue with the stats…some of the pre-surgery games may not have been against West Brom, though.

Marc Albrighton, Aston Villa

James who? Oh, James Milner - the bloke who scored Villa’s third goal, was the club’s Player of the Year last season and is subject of ongoing interest from Manchester City...

Well, anyway, Albrighton will go a long way to appeasing Villa’s presumably concerned fans if he can continue to put in the kind of energetic and dynamic display that saw him take all the plaudits after Saturday’s timely win.

The 20-year-old winger was a nuisance on both flanks, was involved in Villa’s first two goals and teed up the first for Milner to slot home. Not bad for a first Premier League start.

Samir Nasri, Arsenal

With Cesc Fabregas missing, albeit only through illness for the time being, the French playmaker really stepped up to the plate at Anfield, and was constantly involved as the Gunners looked largely in control of proceedings, despite trailing for most of the second half.

Nasri completed more passes than any other player on the pitch, and also showed some nimble footwork and a willingness to take on defenders when one or two of those around him (mentioning no names - Andre Arshavin) didn’t look too keen to get involved.

Marlon Harewood, Blackpool

Considering he‘s generally considered a low-rent Emile Heskey, right down to his sorrowful, doe-eyed and slightly perplexed expression - some might think Harewood has done well just to find a Premier League club to pay his wages for 12 months.

Granted, Stan Mortensen, Stanley Matthews or Jimmy Armfield he aint, but two goals and an assist in the first 45 minutes of the Seasiders’ Premier League debut will probably secure his place in the club’s folklore for time immemorial.

Ian Holloway, Blackpool

Oh, don’t pretend you’re not happy for him! He worked a near miracle in getting Blackpool promoted and deserves to be taken seriously as a manager, rather than as a wacky sideshow to the ‘serious business’ of the Premier League.

Perhaps unexpectedly understated in the wake of his team’s victory, Holloway made it clear that there is a long way to go before they can even begin to ponder safety. Arsenal away next week is likely to be a much sterner test.

Mark Halsey, Referee (Wigan v Blackpool)

With football losing Exeter’s Adam Stansfield to cancer this week, referee Mark Halsey’s return to the game after a prolonged fight with the same disease was both welcome and timely.

Ian Holloway probably put it best: "To me, this [football] is not stress, this is not pressure, this is not anything. I'm lucky to do it. And I keep stressing that to my players. They are privileged to be on that grass and if I can keep their feet on the ground then anything is possible. What have we got to moan about? Mark's challenges are real. They are totally and utterly real and as long as I can keep [the players] focused on that, that is more important than anything. I'm delighted for him because that's what real struggle is. Realising you might not be here soon and needing treatment to make you better – that is real."

Villains of Round 1

Joe Cole, Liverpool

Many expected Cole to make an immediate impact at Anfield, although few could have expected that impact to be on Laurent Koscielny‘s shin.

“He’s not that kind of player” testified anybody within mumbling distance of a microphone, defending the England midfielder against non-existent accusations of malice.

In any case, it’s irrelevant. It was reckless and poorly timed and Martin Atkinson made the right call, despite Liverpool fans’ protestations.

Lee Cattermole, Sunderland

There’s a semi-popular theory that, if he can keep playing regular Premier League football, Cattermole will be an England player sooner rather than later. Well his red card against Birmingham - his fourth in his last 53 Premier League outings - will deny him of at least 135 minutes of the stuff.

His unpunished elbow on Garry O’Conner in the early stages left the Scotsman needing half his skull glued back on, before a petulant tug on Cameron Jerome and rash challenge on Lee Bowyer saw the Sunderland scrapper deservedly sent to the naughty step to think about what he’d done.

Sadly, the problem with Cattermole is that thinking is something he doesn’t do enough of…

Stephen Carr, Birmingham City

If you rock up to the Stadium of Light as a former Newcastle United player, you know you’re going to be in for a rough time of it, but the Irish right back couldn’t have imagined what a torrid afternoon he’d have.

The former Spurs man clumsily brought down Frazer Campbell to hand Sunderland an early penalty - despatched by Darren Bent - before scoring a not entirely un-hilarious own goal, looping a 20-yard header back over the top of his own keeper, Ben Foster.

Carr’s calamitous double saw him become only the second player in the last seven seasons to score an own goal and concede a penalty in the same Premier League match - Kamil Zayatte was the other against Everton last season (thanks to OptaJoe for that one!).

(Most) Premier League goalkeepers

This was honestly easier than listing them all individually. Bar one or two exceptions (most notably Joe Hart, as mentioned above), it was a rotten weekend for the league’s net tenders.

Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland,  Manuel Almunia, Robert Green and perhaps most surprisingly Tim Howard and Pepe Reina were all culpable for goals conceded by their respective teams over the weekend. Must be the altitude, or something…

Howard let the ball squirm out of his arms like a bar of soap in the shower (calm down, that’s not where this is going…), with Blackburn’s Nikola Kalanic reacting quickest to poke home.

His Merseyside rival’s error was even more bizarre, with Reina seemingly collecting a Marouane Chamakh header via the crossbar, only to bundle it over the line himself under the power of his own steam. The word ‘karma’ has been used heavily by Arsenal fans still seething from the little Spaniard’s Cesc Fabregas/Barca shirt shenanigans. Although presumably not before the word ‘lol’.

Jamie Redknapp, Sky Sports

This could fast become a common theme in this blog.

The tight-trousered tyke was quick to warn any over-expectant Liverpool fans that Roy Hodgson literally isn’t a miracle worker, and literally won’t be able to quickly alleviate the gloom at Anfield overnight.

Fair enough, you might think, except Redknapp literally went on to literally explain that “Roy won’t have worked with top players before.”

This is the same Roy Hodgson who literally managed the likes of Javier Zanetti, Ivan Zamorano and Youri Djorkaeff during his two years in charge of Inter. More to read...
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