There is always something to enjoy about a World Cup, and South Africa was no exception. But the verdict this summer was that we'd all seen better. So much of the soccer was mind-numbingly defensive and the final was so teeth-grindingly short of the occasion. We emerged from the tournament nursing something like a hangover, squinting and groggy, with a bit of a thirst on.
Happily, the opening two rounds of the Premier League, featuring four --
Now, before you shout "philistine" and double-check the spelling of
It's hardly become anybody-can-beat-anybody stuff (Chelsea and Arsenal were responsible for three of the four six-nils), but it seems that more teams than is customary have embraced a play-to-win policy. Even Wigan, which surrendered four to Blackpool in a haphazard opening display and chalked up a minus-10 goal difference by the end of the weekend, went after Chelsea on Saturday -- at least until
Blackpool was two goals and a man down by that stage of its encounter with Arsenal, but
Item No. 1 in the Premiership manager's stock of phrases reads: "You've got to take your chances in this league." It's adaptable to winning or losing situations, though it tends to get more mileage from managers who've watched their side squander several opportunities before being hit on the break. This weekend offered a striking lesson (no pun intended) in its importance, and from unexpected quarters: newly promoted Newcastle was as deadly as Manchester United was profligate.
Aston Villa arrived at Newcastle's St James' Park having started the season surprisingly well in the wake of
But after just more than half an hour, Villa had done most of the threatening and Newcastle was up 3-0. First
Manchester United and Fulham each created enough chances in their meeting at Craven Cottage to have given Newcastle a run for its money, but only converted enough to earn a 2-2 draw.
Without a second goal, United couldn't sap Fulham's faith as Newcastle had done to Villa. Instead, each misplaced blow galvanized the home side, which succumbed to a late United onslaught only when a corner pinged straight off Hangeland's shin and past everybody on the line. By the time the same player had powered home Fulham's second equalizer of the day, both teams had shot on target eight times, and tried as many times again.
Sumptuous as Scholes' goal was -- you won't see many first-time shots from this kind of distance
By contrast, Newcastle's central midfield pairing of Barton and
Newcastle won't always be so ruthless, and United almost certainly will be on occasions to come. Though Chelsea will probably try, it can't win every game 6-0, and Arsenal probably won't come up against a more accommodating defense this season, at least until it visits Blackpool in April. But the opening two weeks bode well for how entertaining the Premier League could be this season.
Though the results have thrown up the same old names as title contenders, the performances have suggested that even at the clubs picked to struggle, negative soccer is just so last year.