With the season underway minus supporters like Giles Smith present at games, he gives his fan’s-eye view of the opening week which had an exquisite goal to enjoy and a suggestion to dismiss…
Off we go again, then. Played one, won one. Not the 90 minutes of sparkly, grass-scorching and possibly even era-defining football which some of us, casting fondly glazed eyes over our newly enhanced squad list, had perhaps dared to imagine in the run-up. Nevertheless, if you can win 3-1 away from home even while showing some of the natural disjointedness that comes with a freshly assembled team, then you can legitimately be said to have hit the ground running.And if, in the process, you can contrive to bring the 2020/21 Goal of the Season competition to a premature close, then, again, the evening’s work will not have been entirely in vain.Steaming the ball into the top corner from an adjacent political constituency isn’t, I suppose, fundamentally what Reece James is on the pitch to do, but people would have said more or less the same about Fikayo Tomori last season at Wolves and it never hurts to see it happen. And, in Monday’s case, it particularly doesn’t hurt to see it happen from the camera at the opposite end of the pitch, an angle on this exquisite moment which is the one to go to in order to appreciate the explosiveness and utter unreachability of James’s shot in its full majesty.
That was the take-away memory, then, along, perhaps, with all that work from Jorginho and all those dangerously darting runs from Timo Werner, both with and without the ball, at least two of which would more than likely have yielded goals if the seemingly simple pass had been steered to him at the right moment.And I guess that if one had expected the spectacle in general to have more of a zing about it, then one had been partly forgetting the conditions of the behind-closed-doors format which has inevitably bundled the game in bubble wrap for now, leaving you feeling as though what you are watching is not so much football as football in storage.One forgets how hard it must be for the players to generate energy in these still surreal conditions. Just a couple of weeks ago they were in this same stadium playing a pre-season friendly – but on that occasion with a few hundred fans experimentally in place. Now here they were, back again for the real thing, but this time in front of nobody who had paid to be there. So much for building up to the big moment.
In the re-start phase in the summer, the consistency of our team’s ability to ignore that hollowed-out backdrop and play with tempo and discipline as though there was a full stadium breathing down their necks was (one could easily have failed to notice) very much the exception, not the rule, and should, in my opinion, rank very high among the greatest managerial achievements of Frank Lampard’s first season. So on Monday it was both admirable and promising to sense that attitude still applying, even in the moments when the oil wasn’t getting all the way around the engine.Elsewhere, Spurs got off to the kind of start which one can only describe as Spursy, and West Ham contrived to hand Newcastle an opening-day victory, something which the history books suggest hasn’t happened since the game stopped being played on horseback. And if the 2020/21 Goal of the Season competition has already been foreclosed, then so, clearly, has the Astonishing Contention of the Season competition, which has been seized without ceremony by Laura Woods and Ally McCoist in conversation on TalkSport.The prize-winning contention in question is that newly promoted Leeds United, currently figuring in the Premier League for the first time since London’s streets rang to the rattle of the trolley buses, have ‘almost become people’s second team.’No, seriously. This was not only suggested, but earnestly discussed. Something to do with the ‘Bielsa factor’, apparently, or so McCoist concluded. Well, clearly Bielsa is a very good manager, and I’m sure that people love to see a coach atop a plastic tub, and that the sight of such a thing can change a nation’s minds about all kinds of stuff. However, I don’t know about you, but even if I were in the market for a second team (which I’m not, not really believing in such things), it would take a little more than a manager sitting on a bucket to bring Leeds into the running for me.
Indeed, even if they were managed by Liberace from the top of a swinging gold piano, I’m fairly sure Leeds would not be my second team. In fact, if there were only two teams in the world, Leeds would not be my second team, and I cannot be alone here. I know it’s early in the season, and people, especially in the punditocracy, are excited, but let’s try and cling on to some perspective here.Ditto with the week’s other big contention (a glorious one, this) that Kylian Mbappe wants to leave PSG at the end of this season and that the club most likely to move for him are… our next opponents, Liverpool.
But, of course, that won’t happen, because Liverpool don’t spend any money on players. They are, in the words of their manager, a ‘different kind of club.’ Rather than sully their hands with grubby financial transactions, the reigning champions raise their players organically, at zero cost, from the soil, using only rainwater and sunlight. You know – the likes of Alisson, Van Dijk, Keita, Salah and Fabinho, all of whom came free, if you don’t count the £282.15 million it cost to buy them, which, apparently, Jurgen Klopp doesn’t, although he may just be conveniently forgetting.Either way, we look forward to welcoming those organic stars, and their loveable manager, in all their naturally occurring glory on Sunday afternoon. Or, at least, we would look forward to welcoming them if we could be there. As it is, we’ll just have to be content to welcome them from the comfort of our homes. Frustrating times, then, But still, in their own way, exciting ones.Read: Chelsea vs Leeds - anatomy of a rivalry