Opening Weekend in English Premier League a Big Opportunity for Underdogs

COMMENTARY
By Rahul Vaidyanath, Epoch Times

Try not to read too much into the first weekend of the English Premier League season. The season is a marathon, not a sprint. This is what Manchester United should realize, although it must be harder to do so after going through the David Moyes experience. United could even think of their rival Arsenal and how the Gunners opened last season disastrously but then recovered strongly.

Due to the World Cup, the bigger clubs were missing some key first team players so less-heralded sides had one of their best opportunities to pick up a valuable scalp.

The football wasn’t particularly pleasing to the eye, with most teams appearing laborious in attack. For what it’s worth, two out of three penalty kicks awarded were missed. But it’s the first game of the season.

Aside from its global marketing, the Premier League is known for its drama and fast-paced, physical brand of football featuring many of the best players in the world. It’s also a league where home field tends to be a big advantage, especially for the top clubs.

But a home team didn’t win until the seventh match of season when Arsenal barely managed to do so against a Crystal Palace side that had lost their manager just two days prior.

It was a weekend in which road teams won five of nine games and drew two.

It was a weekend where the only team to win by more than one goal was last year’s champion—Manchester City.

Squads that underwent significant changes in the offseason are still getting used to playing together and are not cohesive units yet. In this weekend’s case, underdog teams had a better chance at beating favored opposition that may be in a transition phase by being organized in defense and opportunistic in attack.

Debut Disaster

The biggest news of opening weekend was United losing at Old Trafford on opening day for the first time in the Premier League (and first time since 1972) to Swansea who got their first ever win at the hallowed ground. Needless to say, it was not the debut Dutch manager Louis van Gaal wanted, but an outstanding preseason and his own excellent managerial track record mask a very ordinary squad bereft of the types of players that have led United to glory in seasons past.

United looked flat, although missing a striker of Robin van Persie’s quality will make a team look toothless up front. But United also lacked experience on defense without the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Van Gaal employed a seldom-used 3–4–1–2 formation in the first half but then changed tactics for the second half.

“We didn’t play as a team,” van Gaal said after the match. “We were nervous in the first half…pity.” This should not come as a surprise to him when going with a new formation including youngsters Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard (replaced with Adnan Januzaj during the first half due to injury.)

Swansea, a mid-table side last season, made the most of their opportunities by taking advantage of United’s defense giving them too much space in key shooting areas in the 2–1 win.

Gunners, Reds Leave It Late

Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez was the biggest signing of the offseason in the EPL, but he is used to playing alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona. Now, Alexis is with new teammates and the Gunners were missing their trio of Germans due to World Cup exertions.

The Gunners looked to be doomed to a draw until Crystal Palace’s Jason Puncheon foolishly picked up a second booking and was sent off. In second half stoppage time, just two minutes after the Palace midfielder was sent off, Aaron Ramsey banged home a ball from in close.

Like United, Arsenal with three new faces in the squad were unable to make much of an impact on a Palace squad that played exactly how their former boss Tony Pulis would have wanted them to play.

Liverpool’s match with Southampton followed a similar pattern to Arsenal’s in that the Reds got a late winner from Daniel Sturridge. Both Liverpool and Southampton have to do things differently from last year with the Reds missing out on 31-goal scorer Luis Suarez and the Saints needing to restock almost half their first team.

Burnley and Chelsea play their first match of the season on Monday to round out Week 1. While many expect newly promoted Burnley to be relegated at season’s end, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea is a title contender after improving a squad that finished third last year.

It remains to be seen if Chelsea struggles against theoretically weaker opposition as many of the favored sides did earlier in the weekend.

Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports

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