PAT NEVIN: CERTAINLY UNCERTAIN
The opening month of the league season has seen its fair share of less expected results throughout the bigger clubs, which is a subject ripe for study by Pat Nevin in his column this week…
The weekend's match at Goodison Park can only be described as infuriatingly frustrating. There is little or no doubt that Chelsea deserved to be out of sight before the break, but unfortunately we didn't get the breaks.
There were certainly enough gilt-edged chances but on this occasion none were taken. The manager could have spoken all evening afterwards about tactics, but he didn't need to say more than the simplest sentences, we didn't take the chances when they presented themselves.
After the Toffees scored with what amounted to a breakaway, there slowly but surely seemed to be a desperation taking hold of our play. It is not uncommon when you are chasing a game, but even with a multitude of attacking players on the pitch by the end, it all became too frantic and too forced.
Oddly enough I was at a game the day before that was not dissimilar for a time. At Sunderland, Arsenal thrashed the locals in the first half and although it should have been 4 or 5-0 by the break, amazingly it was only 1-0. Sunderland scored an early equaliser after the restart and you could see Wenger's side struggle to get their heads round the ridiculous unfairness of the situation. Even when they regained the lead it could still have gone pear-shaped had the referee not been extremely helpful on their behalf.
Anything other than three points for Arsenal would have been a travesty, but that is exactly what can happen in the Premier League if you do not finish off sides when you have the chance. It would have been a bigger concern for Chelsea at Everton had we not played pretty well for large parts, but as all the top clubs have discovered already, this is not going to be a season were every game goes as expected.
Arsenal have lost at home to Villa, Man United blew against a Liverpool side without Suarez and Man City have managed only one point from their visits to Cardiff and Stoke. The league hasn't quite settled down yet and maybe the extreme late movements in the transfer window have been partly to blame. I was at Spurs to see them destroy Swansea one week and the next minute they looked clueless against Arsenal. There is little sense and I for one would hate to be gambling on Premier League scores right now. As it happens my fantasy football league scoring has been something approaching a disaster so far.
Is this a bad thing? Actually probably not. For all that I expect the usual suspects to be there or thereabouts come May, there will be plenty of ups and downs on the way which will make it an entertaining league this season, certainly compared with the comparative stroll United had last time.
So why is this happening? Well there could be a number of reasons. United, Chelsea and City each have new managers, so that might have an effect early on. I suspect however much more important is that some of the other sides may have benefited from the larger sums of money that have come in through the new TV deals.
Take Everton for example, I reckon they are a far stronger outfit than they were last season even if they have lost Fellaini. The Belgian's power has transferred along the M62, but with James McCarthy, Arouna Kone, Gareth Barry, Antolin Alcaraz and Romelu Lukaku coming in, they certainly have much more strength and more depth. Also having a quickly maturing Ross Barkley to call on has certainly helped. They will be nobody's fools this season under Roberto Martinez and with that depth they will be able to sustain a good level even when they have injuries, form dips and suspensions, certainly far better than they have done before.
Have a look at our next league opponents at the Bridge as a further example, our neighbours Fulham. As an attacking force they can now call on Bent, Berbatov, Ruiz, Taarabt, Rodellega, Kasami, Duff and Kacaniklic. This is more depth than Martin Jol or his predecessors have probably ever enjoyed. I suspect there will be more upsets than the Premier League is used to and it will be about holding nerve when these happen. Fortunately I reckon we have a manager who is not likely to panic.
Similarly in the Champions League group stage, don't expect an easy passage. Our group is not the most difficult but complacency could be fatal for our chances of progression. First up, Basel at home tomorrow looks straightforward at first glance, but anyone at the Bridge for the Europa League semi-final last season will know that the Swiss side fear no one. It may have been 5-2 on aggregate in the end but it was nothing like as easy as it sounds.
Cast your mind back a few seasons and they put Manchester United to the sword in the Champions League, so this is yet another occasion when early chances should not be spurned unless we want to endure another very uncomfortable 90 minutes. Time to get the shooting boots back on lads!
Last week's quiz was obviously a little too easy, I wanted to know who Frank Lampard didn't score against in an international match when his shot hit the bar and clearly went over the line. Many painful memories came flooding back for England fans and of course the answer was Germany in the World Cup finals in South Africa. I also accepted the answer Manuel Neuer who was between the sticks that day.
So from a record number of correct answers the one chosen at random as the winner is Henry Mhara from Harare in Zimbabwe
This week to have a chance of winning a Season Review DVD signed by one of the players, could you tell me what club side did our new striker Samuel Eto'o score the most goals for in his career before coming to the Bridge?
Answers as ever to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck and thanks to the huge number of entrants for trying each week. I do read them all myself even if I cannot answer them all!