FOX Soccer Exclusive
United, Chelsea fire warning shots
What an opening to the Barclays Premier League weekend! We saw some really good games, learned a few things about some of the new kids in the league, and revisited one team’s growing problem in the process.
But let’s start at the top, with Manchester United, who looked very impressive against a promising Swansea City team on the road. United has not skipped a beat since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, and David Moyes was right when he called the victory, simply a “Manchester United display.” They were clinical on the attack, smothering on defense, and save for a late bit of dallying on the ball by Danny Welbeck, might have had the clean sheet to boot.
Robin van Persie’s now scored nine goals in his last eight games, and if he keeps this up, he’ll be the season MVP and lead United to another Premier League title. He scored two superb goals on Saturday, taking that opener so well over his head that there was nothing Swansea’s goalkeeper Michael Vorm could do about it.
And of course, there’s the Wayne Rooney situation. Rooney got a late run-out, and bagged two assits, but the pressure is on him right now. Van Persie and Welbeck are scoring goals, and he’s got to make a case for starting over them. The club clearly isn’t going to sell him if they don’t want to, and that puts Rooney in a bind. Obviously, there’s a twist coming ahead: expect Rooney to leave Old Trafford allowing the Red Devils to buy a Gareth Bale or a Mesut Ozil. Shopping Rooney without getting a proper replacement will not work for United. That’s simple business.
“The Special Return”
Sunday, we all saw what Jose Mourinho wants at Chelsea: a fast, pass-first game that gives teams no time on the ball. Hull City simply couldn’t handle the speed and pressure, and in the end their match was a stroll. Mourinho also signaled that he’s going to lean on some old heads: John Terry, Ashley Cole and Fernando Torres all got the nod -- and of course it was Frank Lampard who stole the show.
Lampard’s 35, but you wouldn’t know it, would you? He’s such a professional and so classy on the ball that it’s hard to think of the Blues without him. Lampard wants to prove he can be the general for Chelsea this season, and if he plays like this, he will be. In the back of his mind, Lampard knows this is likely his last hoorah at Stamford Bridge. He wants to finish at the top, and look after his future, wherever that lies.
Reds show growing promise
Liverpool also got off to a very solid start against a tough Stoke City team on Saturday. Daniel Sturridge was really impressive on the ball, and youngsters Iago Aspas and Phillipe Coutinho gave them the movement and pace they lacked at times last year. Had it not been for a fine performance from Asmir Begovic, the scoreline might well have been wider. But the man of the hour turned out to be Simon Mignolet: the keeper looked very nervous early on, but when it came time, he made a superb penalty stop on Jon Walters to save Liverpool’s three points.
That’s a critical win for Liverpool, as they have had a lot of turmoil as well. Luis Suarez -- suspended of course from last season’s bite on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic -- was in the stands, but this result might finally put some of the transfer drama away for the club. Liverpool showed that they can be very solid without Suarez -- and if they can hold on to him, they’ll be even better. Liverpool had confidence, they have shape and they all looked like they knew what to do on and off the ball. Brendan Rodgers has improved this team, and they will be better this season than last.
Same old tale at Emirates
The news is grimmer for Arsenal, who looked like an absolute mess. Same old Arsenal, isn’t it? There’s no other way to put it: their 3-1 loss Saturday to Aston Villa was a tremendous blow to their confidence, and you have to wonder how this team will recover midweek for a very important Champions League fixture against Fenerbache ( live, Wednesday, FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m. ET)
To be blunt, the club has embarrassed themselves. They went out in the summer and linked the team to all sorts of players, and then couldn’t get a single one. The club lost all credibility when they went and sold van Persie to Manchester United last year -- that sent a message around the world, and it has badly damaged the club. Now, the fans have turned on Arsene Wenger and we could be seeing the end of it. It’s a shame, because we all want Arsenal to compete but the fans are rightly tired of this, and with good reason. Arsenal are heading towards a very slippery slope with a difficult week to come
As always, I love hearing from you guys, so do follow me on Twitter @WarrenBarton2 or tweet questions to @FOXSoccer. And as you know, we have a brand new home this year on FOX Sports 1 with a great new show: FOX Soccer Daily! Join us Aug. 19 for our debut, and stay tuned all season long. Thanks for reading and see you again soon!