ESPN commentator Jon Champion on the Premier League
ESPN's man with the mic Jon Champion looks ahead to
the weekend's Premier League action, as Week Three throws up a Mancester
vs North London double header. Watch ESPN’s live and exclusive coverage
vs Man City on Sunday 28 August from 12:45pm
This weekend will be dominated by two clashes between Manchester against North London, and will give us another chance to try and gauge who is the better of the two title-chasing Manchester sides.
Each time one or other takes to the field, there are claims of them being the best in the Premier League, but then the other side play and promptly deliver a performance that trumps that of their rival.
Wes saw this with Manchester United on Monday evening, when they disposed of Tottenham with relative ease the day after Manchester City won at Bolton.
I was really impressed by United’s performance, especially given it was the second youngest Premier League side Sir Alex Ferguson has ever fielded, with an average age of 23 years and 191 days.
I see one or two parallels with the young side of the mid-90s, but I don’t see it being the same story all over again. It’s just another example of Sir Alex Ferguson’s talent for regeneration, which he’s displayed several times over the last 25 seasons.
There’s an air of evolution about Manchester United, whereas Manchester City’s recruitment policy is more revolution.
Manchester City have arguably the tougher task of the two this weekend in traveling to a Tottenham side against whom they have a wretched record – winning just four of 28 in the Premier League.
But this is the new City, and their biggest problem at the moment seems to be if and how they can accommodate all the stellar players that are arriving at the club.
They have two strong players for every position. I think the safest at the moment, in terms of nailing down a permanent first-team place, is David Silva – who has been superb this season, and indeed was last season too. The next safest, on the evidence of this season, has to be Edin Dzeko. He’s fairly unique at City in that he’s a big line-leading striker, and there isn’t so much competition for that role at the club.
At the moment it seems the likes of James Milner, Adam Johnson and – if he stays - Carlos Tevez may be struggling for a start. You could say that competition for places is healthy – and to a point it is, but it’ll be interesting to see how these huge names who all expect to feature regularly react to being in and out of the team. Whether their first XI is yet strong enough to knock Manchester United off their perch remains to be seen.
City have played well this season, but haven’t quite set the pulse racing in the way that United have. We’re looking for City to step forward in what is certain to be a very tough game at White Hart Lane, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they approach the game.
Roberto Mancini sent his team to White Hart Lane with the handbrake on last season, but there are now one or two suspicions that with the addition of a few new attacking players, they may be a little more flamboyant. That was certainly the case at Bolton last weekend.
We’re still waiting to see whether they continue to play in the manner you might expect of a leading side, or revert to exercising that typically Italian caution.
Caution was certainly something Arsenal needed on their trip to Italy this week, and their win against Udinese not only sealed a berth in this season’s Champions League, but also bought Arsene Wenger and the club some time to deal with the frustrations of the fans.
Wenger has shown that the players he has got – even with injuries to the likes of Jack Wilshere – are still a very good group.
They made a mockery of the notion of a ‘crisis’ at Arsenal. Of course there are causes for concern, but still they have time and money to address them.
I expect Wenger will spend relatively big by his standards over the next few days. The kind of players he is said to be keen on – Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Edin Hazard and Yann M’Vila - won’t come cheap.
The major challenges will lie ahead, the first of which is at Old Trafford on Sunday. Arsenal will be a bit weary after their tense trip to Udine in midweek, while Manchester United have been able to put their feet up since Monday evening.
For that reason Manchester United should have the edge, however much Arsenal have been boosted by that massive win.
There are still issues to be resolved across North London, too. Interesting tensions are developing at Tottenham between the manager and the board. Harry Redknapp’s comments following the defeat at Old Trafford were fairly revealing, he portrayed a certain agitation and frustration with the dealings of his chairman Daniel Levy and the speed with which players are being brought in.
Harry is clearly keen to see some transfer action before the close of the window, and their performance on Monday suggests they could certainly do with a bit of tinkering. Whether Levy will allow him that movement remains to be seen.
Regardless of the quality of the opposition, Spurs have every chance at White Hart Lane. They have a tremendous home record and lost just once at White Hart Lane in the Premier League last term.
They’ll provide a really stern test for Manchester City, but given the way Mancini’s side have started the season with such swashbuckling swagger, they probably start as favourites.
Elsewhere, Aston Villa host Wolves in a managerial meeting of two redoubtable centre-backs who would never take a backwards step. Wolves have made a really impressive start to the season - everything Mick McCarthy touches turns to old gold right now.
It’s nice to see Wolves rewarded for a very sensible approach to team building. They have spent steadily, but there’s no way Steve Morgan is going to endanger the club. He has also pressed the button on stadium redevelopment, so obviously feels they’re in the Premier League for the long haul.
They will certainly be brimming with confidence, while Villa are still finding their feet under Alex McLeish. For that reason I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Saturday’s derby ended all-square.
Like Wolves, Wigan avoided the drop on the final day of last season. On Saturday they travel to QPR for what looks likely to be a significant game at the bottom this time around. QPR had the huge boost of a win at Goodison last weekend, but then came back down to earth with a League Cup defeat at home to Rochdale. The big issue in the coming days for them will be who they can bring in with Tony Fernandes’ money. Wigan, on the other hand, are just trying to hold on to what they’ve got. It appears they may have seen of interest in Hugo Rodallega, while they’re also trying to tie Ben Watson and James McCarthy down to new long term deals.
I think, even this early on in the season, Saturday’s meeting could be a rather tense bottom-of-the-table game, and I’m not sure it’ll be wildly attractive.
At first glance Everton against Blackburn looks like a meeting of a team with money but no sense, and a team with plenty of sense, but no money.
The other difference between the two at the moment is that Everton are a team, while Blackburn still look merely a collection of players. Despite their surprise defeat to QPR last week, I still expect Everton to have a solid season and finish no lower than eighth, starting with a positive result at Ewood Park.
Chelsea were insipid against West Brom last weekend, and Andre Villas-Boas’ team have really seemed to lack creativity. So he’ll be looking for his latest signing Juan Mata make his mark as quick as possible, and of course to sign Luka Modric.
The Blues will this weekend face a Norwich side damaged by a League Cup thumping at home to MK Dons on Tuesday. There were enough of the Canaries’ first team in the side that night to worry Paul Lambert. So although Chelsea were disappointing last week, I’d still expect Norwich to be beaten at Stamford Bridge.
Swansea need to learn that it’s no good looking pretty in the Premier League but losing. So many teams have done that before and paid the price, so they’ll need to find some backbone quickly. If they have any aspirations of staying in the Premier League, they need to win home matches against struggling sides, and Saturday’s meeting with Sunderland falls into that category.
Steve Bruce has brought in a fair few players, but there isn’t a proven goal scorer among them. They’ve got an untried Korean – Ji-Dong Won, an untested youngster in Connor Wickham and Asamoah Gyan, and I wonder how long the latter will be enthused for if he isn’t getting the support. I don’t see a lot of goals in them, which is naturally a worry.
One man who won’t be worried is Kenny Dalglish - everything is going swimmingly for Liverpool at present. At home they look, if not an unstoppable force then certainly a fairly unmovable object. They have started the season very encouragingly and I don’t see much getting in their way right now.
Saturday evening’s opponents Bolton are a solid team and could potentially do better than last season, and were only a Jussi Jaaskelainen error away from a point against Manchester City last week. But I don’t see them having much joy at Anfield, however well they performed against City last time out.
It’s been a fairly non-descript start to the season from Fulham and a particularly good start from Newcastle. The early signs for Alan Pardew’s side are encouraging; they’ve gone about their transfer business quietly, bringing in the likes of Yoann Cabeye from Lille, and I’d be quietly encouraged – if not shouting from the rooftops – were I a Newcastle fan at this stage. They’ll certainly be expecting to win a home game against Fulham.
West Brom have been probably the unluckiest team in the Premier League so far this season – they’ve put in two good performances against Chelsea and Manchester United, yet taken no points. But there are plenty of good signs for them, most notably Shane Long, who looks a very good player and will continue to hassle and harry defenders all season long. Stoke haven’t moved on that much since last season, but are still a much more refined team than the one that first arrived in the Premier League three years ago.
This will be a very hard-fought Midlands derby and I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended as a draw.
Jon Champion is a football commentator on ESPN, broadcaster of Barclays Premier League, FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Premier League, UEFA Europa League and more.
LATEST FOOTBALL NEWS
Spain seal major tournament treble
UEFA dishes out dosh to clubs for Euro 2012
Russia win appeal against Euro 2012 sanction
Nasri banned over behaviour at Euro 2012
Van der Wiel critical of compatriot Robben
75% of all TV is Bale
On the road to ruin
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010