Last week it was all about the excitement of getting back to business. This week, the Premier League for me was all about the class and performances that make the English game the best in the world to watch.
We’re seeing signs already that we are going to see a very serious and strong chase for the title. There’s great play coming out of Wales in Swansea; a perfect record in London with Chelsea; and one or two stumbles along the way for teams like City, United and Arsenal. That’s what makes the season so much fun — this is really a tough league to predict each week.
I want to start with Wayne Rooney, who suffered that really nasty cut to his leg this weekend. It’s unfortunate, but that is part and parcel of the game. Rooney knows it wasn’t intentional — I hope all the fans do, as well — and it’s a real blow to have him out for 3-4 weeks.
I say that as an Englishman, because with World Cup qualifying coming up, I think Rooney’s absence really hurts Roy Hodgson and my national team more than it does Manchester United. Sir Alex never wants to lose a player like that, but he has some backups. England really needs Rooney healthy and fit. He’s got a lot of character and it would not surprise me if Rooney were back sooner than predicted, but I fear it won’t be before we kick off against Ukraine.
That injury took a lot of the shine off what I think had been a pretty impressive game in many respects. There are very few players who can score a goal like the one Robin van Persie put in; and I really liked seeing Shinji Kagawa’s play. He is a real find and I think United fans have to be delighted with him.
But I do think there is a problem with United’s back line. Fulham was very determined, but those were two stupid goals for United to give away. Obviously, they have injuries, but the heart of that defense is a worry, and the numbers back it up: they only kept three clean sheets in their first 10 games last year and haven’t recorded one this year. I still question David De Gea in the net. He’s a good shot stopper and good with his feet, but I see him as being deficient in the other parts of the Premier League game. A good physical attack and balls coming through the box can beat him.
Chelsea looks very solid, and the man to talk about is Eden Hazard. I think the team was smart to also bring in his brother, Thorgan, because it gives a key player an anchor to settle off the field in new surroundings. I spoke with John Terry and he told me Hazard is very confident and isn’t shy, but you see how quickly Hazard settled and I see smart man-management on the part of Roberto Di Matteo and Chelsea. Hazard’s got great movement, good passing and his presence is taking pressure off Juan Mata while freeing Fernando Torres. You cannot argue with the results.
Over at Anfield, I think we started to see what Brendan Rodgers is trying to accomplish. Joe Allen was excellent in midfield, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez looked very focused, and I think the style and tempo is something their fans should be happy with. They got a nice point against the reigning champs, and that’s no small feat.
City raised a couple concerns for me. The first is that it conceded a set-piece header to a team with only one target man. The second was when it set up the wall — I was always told as a defender that the second man in the wall had to be in line with the post. City didn’t do that, they gave Suarez that little channel, and he scores. That’s sloppy, and that’s a team issue. Mancini will have to get some focus there.
Arsenal fans won’t be happy this week, but I think there were some real positives. Steve Bould has done a good job getting the defense organized, which the Gunners needed. Lukas Podolski looked very lively and I think Santi Carloza is a real player. But they miss Alex Song and van Persie — how could they not? And while fans have to be patient, the Gunners are already seven points off the pace. I think it’s a new era there and I’m afraid the fans that have already shown seven years of patience might need to show a little more.
Finally, I just want to highlight Swansea under Michael Laudrup. He is showing the world how good this team is and how good a coach he is. The Swans have a real cutting edge and they are a joy to watch. Michael was a world-class player and I think he has brought a lot of the confidence to this side. Long may it continue for them!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @warrenbarton2 and ask a question at any time over @FOXSoccer. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you here next week for all the Premier League action.