It’s difficult for teams at the start of the season. They’ve had a break from the game, a tough preseason (no doubt still involving tedious laps of the pitch amid the sports science) and then have to juggle new personnel instantly into an efficient footballing machine.
Obviously that’s easier said than done, as Liverpool are currently finding out. Whereas we can gain much laughter from their patchy start it would take a plucky soul to write off their chances of the title a mere three games in. If they were six points off top spot with three games to go, they would still have an outside chance, never mind that it’s still August. Weirdly though that’s what much of the press have done, happy to pile the pressure on Rafa in the hope he loses his marbles with another paranoid press conference rant. Here’s hoping. It’s a similar scenario to United’s blip in Burnley, the write-offs for a Ronaldo-less team quickly forgotten by the time they had thumped the Latics over the weekend. Nothing has changed too much over the opening weeks, if we finish above those two teams there’s a massive chance we’ll be champions.
Since Arsenal’s invincible season it’s taken an impressive points total to clinch the championship, with generally only a few defeats permitted over the season. Even then, too many draws may mean you miss out, as Chelsea and Liverpool have unluckily found out in recent seasons. The margin for error is tiny and the pressure to view each game as a ‘must-win’ borders on the ridiculous. United are notoriously slow starters in the league but that hasn’t ever stopped them scooping a glut of titles. Hence the storm in a teacup over Man U and Liverpool’s starts. The table can often look weird only three games in, as many a joke team has sat pretty at the top of the tree, just like Spurs. Clichés abound about the league being a marathon and not a race but in this season that hold more relevance. Not just table-topping Spurs, with City spending like Brewter’s millions, Arsenal currently scoring for fun and Villa quickly turning the corner there is real quality behind the preseason favourites. Add the tricky away games on a cold winter’s night, the park-the-bus attitude of relegation scrappers and the inevitable patch of shaky form to slip on and it’s fair to say it’s getting tougher to win the league. That’s why this season we may see a change in the number of ‘shock’ defeats or draws for the top four brigade and a lot more competition at the top of the table. It’s might not be too early to say we look strong but it’s way too early to rule a top side out of the running. Except Spurs as, let’s be fair, Harry’s got more chance of lifting the moon with his jowls than lifting the league.
A sunny afternoon at Craven Cottage turned into a bit of stroll. Ancelotti’s tinkered diamond impressively controlled the game and the Drogba/Anelka tandem smoothly clicked into a top gear. The lack of ambition from Fulham was worrying but patience appears to be the key for the possession-based tactics and we were justly rewarded with two classy finishes. Drogba has carried on his form from Guus’s reign and will take some stopping, he looks in the kind of goal-scoring form that could see him break his season’s best. Once again the main talking point is on the midfield, with Michael Ballack in particular enjoying a majestic game in the centre. It seems whoever starts fits into the system effortlessly and it bodes well for when key players are in the African Cup next year. With Joe Cole and Yuri Zhirkov still to return to the first team fold there is more to look forward to as well. The diamond still needs polishing but as long we keep calmly picking up the points we should be looking to hit full stride by October. If we’re playing this well now it might not matter how our rivals get on in the finish.