The first round of Premier League games is over and the hyperbole is in full flow. Manchester United and City’s unstoppable charge to the title began with comfortable wins while Chelsea imploded in a disciplinary mess. Resilient though, we’re informed, as they almost clawed back a three-goal deficit. Tottenham were ruthless while Liverpool and Arsenal’s defences, breached three times, are too soft-centred to sustain a charge for glory.
All that from one set of fixtures; quite where Huddersfield’s relegation fits into this has yet to be explained but I’m sure the first defeat when it happens is the first sign of the ‘rot’ setting in, as we see cliche drop in to make a combustible mix on the back pages.
For decades, the media resisted the temptation to publish tables after the first game of the season but no longer. The Football League, when they ran the top flight of football did so as well. Mind you, they only issue league tables once the season was over; everything in the back pages to that point was the property of whichever paper printed it.
The weekend threw up the usual mix of unexpected results and hammerings we’ve become accustomed to. Indeed, I can’t recall an opening weekend where the results didn’t reflect either outcome. You genuinely can’t read much into any result at the moment. Next weekend might tell us a bit more, particularly in the Spurs vs Chelsea and City vs Everton fixtures; our trip to Stoke as well but nothing can be read too deeply into anything at the moment.
In October, we’ll have a better idea of where title challenges lie and who we’re fighting for the final Champions League place. My guess at present, it’s Tottenham with Liverpool severely weakened by Philippe Coutinho’s exit to Barcelona.
Cash-Strapped or Bargaining Stance?
Away from the weekend’s action on the pitch came the subtle switch in focus from buying to strengthen to selling to strengthen. We know the players who are on the ‘hit list’ and it’s no surprise the club are finding them hard to move on. While the elite are paying eye-watering sums without a second thought. In doing so, they believe the market as a whole has moved to ridiculous sums.
Maybe it has but it doesn’t feel like much has changed below the top seven when they are signing from abroad. At home, it’s a different story. There was talk recently of Newcastle baulking at paying £20m for Lucas Perez; why anyone would value him so highly is beyond me. Maybe Arsenal didn’t and cash-strapped Mike Ashley put the story out to cover for the Barcodes lack of funds. It could be a double-bluff since they apparently want Jack Wilshere and Lucas now. You say toe-may-toe…
Arsenal face a dilemma over the sale of squad players. They want value for money but in ‘over-pricing’ them, it ends up costing more in continuing to pay their wages until the end of their lucrative contracts. Kieran Gibbs, it’s reported, is once again off Watford’s wanted list with his wage demands putting the kibosh on the deal.
Winston Bogarde isn’t a one-off, the exception which proves the rule; now quite a few players are content to train and not play while taking substantial coin for their efforts. But the party ends next summer and reality bites. Is that year – in some cases, longer – worthwhile when the top flight has moved on and the players are yesterday’s men, forced to take an option which means a definitive step down.
Is It Worth The Money?
There is a suggestion that Lucas could be loaned elsewhere but that isn’t the case with Jack; he, with one year on his deal, is leaving on a permanent basis for a fee of £20m. Which is a hell of a risk for a buying club. Such is his misfortune with injury that his loan spell with Bournemouth ended prematurely with him crocked at White Hart Lane.
With that kind of fee, you’d expect a proposal which was a low down-payment, say £5m, with £5m paid every time he passed 25 appearances. Would that be palatable to Arsenal? Better than nothing next summer? While the ruthlessness of holding on to Alexis makes sense with a return to the Champions League worth almost as much as we’d recoup in a transfer this summer. With a squad player, the same economics don’t apply or do they?
We’re not blessed with a great depth in midfield, particularly with no definite return date for Santi Cazorla. Jack may yet play a part this season if injuries and suspensions form a combustible mix. If’s, but’s and maybe’s; no-one said the manager’s job was easy but this is the balance he has to strike.
While failing to land Thomas Lemar is disappointing, the partnership of Ramsey and Xhaka has little competition for places. Elneny proved adept against Chelsea but some perspective was added by their capitulation against Burnley. At once, not strengthening is going to be a surprise but par for the course. We enter most seasons with a squad which might rather than one which you feel, will.
Aaah, welcome back football. I missed you.
Finally, keep an eye on the comments section and right sidebar for a new playlist on Dad’s Jukebox later today.