I’ll be honest, I had thought it was a bit of a lost weekend. With only eleven goals in the back of the net – total – when Sunday rolled around, I was worried that this was going to be one of those weekends. I shouldn’t have worried, should I?
The Premier League’s beauty is in its power to surprise, and we saw two great games Sunday – and one legendary result. If Monday’s big game between Manchester United and Chelsea is as good as what we saw in Wales, then we’ll have had a real feast of football.
Let’s start at the top: with Cardiff City. I didn’t think I’d be writing those words this weekend! Full credit to the Welsh side in their home debut today. Right from the outset, they pressed and they harassed and didn’t let Manchester City get into their rhythm. Kim Bo-Kyung was superb down the right flank and I think Malkay Mackay had the game-plan dead on. He attacked the heart of City’s makeshift defense with big Fraizer Campbell, and it paid off.
We’ll talk about City’s problems back there in a second, but I want to stress that fans who think that the title race isn’t going to go through the Etihad need to take a step back. A game against a newly-promoted team – particularly one that had waited so long to get here – is always a potential banana skin. City made some of their own problems, to be sure, but Cardiff played with adrenaline and passion for the full 90 minutes. That’s what got them the win, and we need to compliment them for it.
Now, Manuel Pellegrini needs to step up his search for reinforcements in the back. With Vincent Kompany out for a month, City lack leadership and stability back there. Javi Garcia is not the answer, and Joleon Lescott was very suspect as well today. And then there’s Joe Hart: he made a bad error on Campbell’s first goal, and I’m afraid Roy Hodgson was right to warn him. England and City need him to get his focus back.
Over in London, both Tottenham and Arsenal got solid wins to help dispel some of last week’s drama. And next Sunday of course, these two come head-to-head – that’s a must-see.
Arsenal got as solid win in Turkey against what has to be said was a poor Fenerbahce side, and I was encouraged to see them follow on in the driving rain against Fulham. Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere have to be kept healthy – I would ask Mr. Wenger to put them in bubble-wrap! – but it was a good response to the critics. That said, these two wins cannot distract Arsenal from going out and getting reinforcements. Wojciech Szczesny is not a number one for me; I also think that, like City, they have too many questions at the back. If they cannot get some depth, they will be found out as this season grinds on.
Now, by the time you read this, I expect Gareth Bale will have been unveiled at Real Madrid. But Spurs’ plans to replace him took a hit when Jose Mourinho hijacked their bid for Anzhi’s Willian. That’s a clever move by the Special One, but it certainly will infuriate Andre Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy. If it affected them, they didn’t show it on the field getting a well-deserved win against Swansea that I thought were overwhelmed. Spurs are sharp and fast and I think that if they can get one more piece, they will challenge for the title. But, as with Arsenal, they need one more piece. Willian might have been it. This final week of the transfer window is going to be interesting indeed.
We also have to look at Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge is in fantastic form and his individual skill is what helped Liverpool win their first two matches. Liverpool also now have a quality keeper in Simon Mignolet, and his clarity and skill have deservedly made him the man of the match for two games running. But I am most impressed with the showings of Iago Aspas and Phillipe Coutinho: for the first half on Saturday, they were tireless and creative. If they can keep this up, I do think the Reds have a shot at the top three this year.
Monday’s game, for me, is a title showdown. Let’s make no mistake, the title is in Manchester and everyone else is going to have to take it away from United. But this is a real test for David Moyes: a tough game against a slick, sharp Chelsea side with a very special new manager. With the Wayne Rooney question hanging over this match – and Chelsea reportedly ready to make a third bid after the match – this is loaded with intrigue. It’s a marathon, this league, but I think Monday, if we see a winner, we’ll find out how well Chelsea or United can take a punch.
I just want to end by saying how gratifying it was to hear from you about our new show, FOX Soccer Daily on FOX Sports 1. Julie, Eric, Brian and I have all been blown away by the response, and it’s very humbling. We’re proud to able to give the beautiful game such a good home, and we’re all thrilled that you’re enjoying it so much.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter @WarrenBarton2 or tweet questions to @FOXSoccer – and you know I love the banter! Join us Monday for FOX Soccer Daily at 4 ET, and then Tuesday and Wednesday, we’ve got some critical Champions League games. Rob will join us and we’ll have all the action from 2 ET. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you again soon!