20 August 2012

Opening weekend reflections

After a thrilling opening to the new Premier League season, there are plenty of things to talk about. Today, The Daily Transfer Request looks back at some of them.

"We've won the title again! Er, we think."

Have City been here before?
Up until a few years ago, Sky Sports used to frequently ram 'Grand Slam Sunday' down our throats, and not a weekend went by without Richard Keys mentioning the 'Big Four' or saying that the Premier League is "the best league in the world". Now, Sky have a new toy to play with, and they aren't getting sick of it yet.

Yesterday marked 14 Sundays since Manchester City's incredible title-clinching 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers at the City of Manchester Stadium. Ahead of City's first league match since then, Sky presenter Ed Chamberlin mentioned that game more than a few times... although not as much as commentator Martin Tyler. I didn't count exactly how many times Tyler did so, but it was certainly in double figures.

There were more than a few similarities between those two games. The match was held at Eastlands, with City playing against a team in their first season back in the PL (in this case, Southampton). An Argentinean scored the only goal of the first half for City. For Pablo Zabaleta against QPR, read Carlos Tevez this time.

The plucky underdogs equalised early in the second half through their star striker, before taking a 2-1 lead midway through the half. One of those was scored because of a mistake by an Englishman in the Manchester City ranks.

The Citizens bagged an equaliser, and just like against QPR, the fourth goal was scored by Edin Dzeko. Then, the hosts won the game with a close-range strike from... no, not Sergio Aguero. He was injured. This time around, Samir Nasri was the hero.

A win is a win is a win, but I bet Manchester City fans are hoping that their next home game against... you've guessed it, Queens Park Rangers... is more routine than their last two!

Ivan Ramis sticks out his leg to bring down his nemesis Eden Hazard.

Warning: Hazard
If yesterday was anything to go by, the £32million that Chelsea paid for Belgium winger Eden Hazard seems to be justified.

The former Lille youngster needed less than 10 minutes to make his mark on the Premier League. In fact, make that less than three. In the third minute, Hazard neatly turned past Wigan Athletic defender Ivan Ramis, and then picked out, of all people, Branislav Ivanovic with the most perfectly-timed through-ball. The Serb charged forward and scored with complete ease.

Hazard's vision for that pass was so acute that Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp said that he literally had wing mirrors. I see what Redknapp is talking about, but if Hazard did literally have wing mirrors, he would literally be a Ferrari.

Four minutes later, the right-wing wonder stormed into the Wigan box, shaking off Maynor Figueroa before being brought down by the leg of Ramis. Instant penalty, and Frank Lampard duly put it away.

After his outstanding introduction to English football, Hazard's performance didn't reach those heady heights again, and did give the ball away more often than he should have. But the Belgian is a raw talent who, once his rough edges are smoothed down, can be one of the Premier League's true superstars.

Out of the two high-profile debutants on each side, Hazard and Ramis, it was obvious who had performed better. I won't be surprised if Ramis wishes he never sees Hazard again - at least not in this life!

"You're going down, QPR!" But might it be Swansea at the end of the season?

5-0s are not decisive
Ahead of the campaign, many people were predicting that second season syndrome would claim the Premier League lives of Norwich City and Swansea City, if not both. These two teams with avian nicknames would have very contrasting starts to the season.

Norwich were totally picked apart by a Fulham side, who showed that they aren't desperate to hold onto Clint Dempsey. Not if they have a striker as prolific as Mladen Petric, or a fast-improving left-winger in Alex Kacaniklic.

Petric scored the second and third goals of a 5-0 win for Martin Jol's free-flowing Cottagers, and brilliantly back-heeled the ball to Kacaniklic to create the fourth. Those goals were bookended by strikes from Damien Duff in the 26th minute, and Steven Sidwell from the spot three minutes from time.

Norwich's performance can be summed up by the match ratings given by Daily Mail reporter Sam Cunningham. The only Canary to get a rating higher than four was substitute Steve Morison, and centre-back Michael Turner got a score of 2 on his Norwich debut. It's enough to make Canaries fan Stephen Fry give up Twitter.

Things look much more positive for Swansea, now that they have a possible £2million bargain in Miguel Perez Cuesta, or as us football folk call him, Michu. The Spanish midfielder scored the opening goal of the PL season on eight minutes, giving Queens Park Rangers keeper Robert Green another nightmare to trouble his sleep.

That first goal was a bit of a fluke, but you can't say anything like that about Michu's second. Early in the second half, he brilliantly curled Wayne Routledge's pin-point pass into the top corner. Michu would also play a part in the Swans' third goal - the first of a double from Nathan Dyer. Scott Sinclair completed the rout for another 5-0 victory, this time in favour of the birds and not the Londoners.

But remember - at the start of last season, QPR lost 4-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers, and on the final day, Rangers survived at the Trotters' expense. Swansea themselves were beaten by the same scoreline against Manchester City, and they would finish comfortably in mid-table. So this weekend's results aren't a clear indication that Norwich and QPR will definitely be relegated, nor does it make certain that Swansea will stay up.

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