The premier league season began with a bang once more containing all the drama with which it signed off 98 days ago when Sergio Aguero’s last gasp goal decided the most dramatic title race for decades. Having a league table after the first round of fixtures may appear to be pointless, after all there are still 37 more league games for each to play but the opening weekend does give some early signs about what sort of season plenty of teams will have. So which of the perhaps lesser teams will exceed expectation this term and which ones will want to make it a campaign to forget?
Set for Success?
Under Michael Laudrup Swansea already look to be a more threatening outfit than the one that achieved an unexpected 11th place finish 11 points off the relegation zone under new Liverpool boss Brendan Rogers. Their game last season was based on intricate passing, patience and a lightning fast breakaway. This season Laudrup is following those same principles except already looks to have improved the speed and directness of their play and coupled with some shrewd signings such as Michu who arrived from Spanish outfit Rayo and scored a brace in their opening 5-0 win over QPR they look destined for a top half finish this year and a possible challenge for a Europa League spot.
Another team looking to have a positive campaign is Sam Allardyce’s West Ham. Gaining promotion through the play-offs last season they started with a solid if unspectacular win over Aston Villa. Led by experienced captain Kevin Nolan and having also made some positive summer signings the aim for West Ham should to do more than simply survive. Jussi Jaaskelainen looks less eratic than Rob Green did between the posts last season and the capture of the talented Alou Diarra from Marseille is a real transfer coup. Key to the success will be whether the likes of Carlton Cole can find the net in a regular basis but Allardyce’s traditionally Direct style is proven at this level after he led Bolton to European Football around eight years ago. If they can keep injury free I believe West Ham are set for a comfortable mid-table finish.
A final team that will be hoping for a vast improvement to last season’s performance is Aston Villa who were dragged into a Relegation fight that they had never previously experienced. That time the key reason to their poor form may well have been coupled with the loss of talismanic striker Darren Bent who was ruled out with an ankle injury. If he is to stay fit this season and consistently find the net there is no doubt that a significant improvement in final league position is likely. They opened their campaign with a disappointing defeat to West ham but it will take Lambert time to make is mark on his squad. Fans should not read into the weekend result too much. Last season Lambert shaped Norwich into a team that was very difficult to beat and led them to a very respectable 12th place finish in their first season back in the premier league. He will do the same to Aston Villa, make them difficult to beat and guide them close to the top half again.
Destined for Disappointment?
Having won the championship last season and splashed the cash on the likes of striker Pavel Pogrebnyak, who hit form whilst on loan at Fulham last year is would appear that reading are set for a good crack at the premier league. However I believe that this experience may be too much for them. Last season none of the newly promoted sides went down but this year it will not be the case. The Royals opened with a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke, a last gasp Adam Le Fondre penalty saving a point. The fact that they are relying on a player who this time last season was leading the line for Rotherham United in League two shows that their squad lacks considerable strength in depth, a factor that may come back to bite them later on in the grueling season. Brian Mcdermott is a great manager and will do his best to keep Reading up but there home form will need to be strong and I believe that they will go down.
Last season Norwich City finished in 12th with 47 points after back-to-back promotions. That feat was down to current Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert and the way he shaped them into a great team by making Carrow Road a formidable place to come. This season they are under the guidance of Chris Hughton, the ex Birmingham boss with no top-flight experience as the Manager. Their opening day 5-0 defeat to Fulham was worrying not just because of the margin of victory but also because the team looked so far away from being the side that Lambert made so solid. Their was no communication between defenders and they were led a merry dance by Fulham front man Mladen Petric who bagged a brace. The team needs to gel quickly or it could be too late but early signs say that Norwich may be leaving the top flight come may next year.
So the first round of matches gave us 26 goals, 7 clean sheets, 27 yellow cards, 2 red cards, 107 shots on target and 50 nationalities. It also gave us a feel for how the league table might shape up. There may be 37 games to go but already the teams not likely to feature in the title race are setting themselves up for potential success in exceeding their expectations or potential failure and a return to the football league. The next eight months will decide all of their fates.
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