Arsenal suddenly firing goals not blanks. Chelsea utterly humiliated in Monaco, ridiculed by a splendid Colombian striker named Falcao – after the once-famed Brazilian midfielder – who now seems eager to join them. Spurs failing yet again to win a Premiership match despite the expensive late arrival from Fulham of the talented Moussa Dembele and the usually prolific Clint Dempsey. Villas-Boas was booed by Tottenham fans after the uneasy draw with a Norwich team, which on its previous visit to London had been thrashed 5-0 at Fulham. Watching Fulham crash at West Ham, one wondered how they had ever got all those goals.
It was inevitable that Tottenham would find it nigh on impossible to replace Luka Modric with his playmaking inventions in central midfield and for all their undoubted abilities, neither Dembele nor Dempsey is that kind of player. Moreover, I still believe Spurs and their dominating chairman, Daniel Levy, were wrong to get rid of Harry Redknapp and were taking a risk when appointing Villas-Boas who had failed at Chelsea and for all his previous success at Porto, remains somewhat inexperienced.
But what of Chelsea, whose display in Monaco was abysmal? It surely confirmed the essential importance to the team of John Terry, obliged to watch things from the stand, suspended after his absurd burst of ill-temper in Barcelona. Though injury would have prevented him from playing in any case. At least Ashley Cole was honest enough to admit that his team’s display had been inept. Huge holes appeared in the defence, to be ruthlessly exploited by the pace and thrust of Falcao. A flaccid midfield, a negligible attack, especially frustrating for Villas-Boas’ once favoured Fernando Torres, playing against the club where he had once found fame.
Chelsea’s problem, one suspects, is that having so unexpectedly won the Champions League through dogged mass defence and sporadic breakaways, to the huge credit of Roberto Di Matteo, who stepped on to the deck of a sinking ship, they have changed tack under the impetus of their demanding owner the oligarch Roman Abramovich to a more open and adventurous style. Which renders them vulnerable. All very well to spend colossal sums of money on the gifted likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar. Glittering entertainers both, but alas, defence will always be a salient part of football.
Liverpool seem set for a wretched season under the new aegis of Brendan Rodgers. Arsenal, who hadn’t scored in their first two Premiership matches, took them apart at Anfield after a shaky start in which question marks appeared against the big German centre-back Per Mertesacker, who still seems to me wholly effective only when he is facing the ball. On this occasion, he found it difficult at first to pass it.
There can clearly be no substitute for the prolific Robin Van Persie, who duly got a hat-trick after missing a penalty at Southampton: whose lively promoted team cast doubts on the efficiency of United’s defence. But, though the versatile Alex Song has been lost in the somewhat puzzling transfer to Barcelona, Arsenal’s midfield is plainly thriving thanks both to the arrival of the effervescent Spaniard Santi Cazorla, who would surely walk into any international team but Spain’s, and the lanky French international Abou Diaby, back again at last after a plethora of injuries which last season saw him play a mere four times as a substitute. France have already recalled him to the colours.
As for Liverpool, they look sadly toothless. All very well for Rodgers to lament that he wasn’t allowed by the American owners to bring in Clint Dempsey. Surely common sense should have dictated he hang on to Andy Carroll, even if the big centre forward didn’t fit in with his short passing Swansea tactics, till he knew for certain that Dempsey would be coming.
As it was, Carroll, on loan to West Ham, made an embarrassingly effective debut at Upton Park. Perhaps Rodgers deserves credit for sticking to his football philosophy but in football, pragmatism rules and his desperate reported attempt to resurrect Michael Owen at Anfield, testifies to the chance he took in waving Carroll on his way. Now who will score goals for Liverpool? Owen, alas, seems a blast from the past, however distinguished and productive.
Meanwhile, watching Fulham at Upton Park, you wonder how they can make up for the loss of both Dempsey and Dembele. With Dimitar Berbatov? At West Ham, where he came on at half-time, he had frequent moments of elegant effect but he hasn’t the supreme energy of Dembele nor the deadly marksmanship of Dempsey. And I still wonder why Fulham let the fulcrum of midfield, Danny Murphy, leave for Blackburn and why he himself should want to go there.