You might have noticed Sky’s gadget-laden football behemoth has returned to our screens this season. Monday Night Football is a preposterously entertaining as ever and not much has changed. Andy Gray still pisses about with a complex computer tactics screen whenever the need does or doesn’t arise, highlighting incidents and cross examining them like a footballing Colombo. Whether these features blow each incident out of all context, relevance or importance is a mute point, it’s enjoyable to have some insight. Compare this with the dumb formats of Goals on Sunday (Loose Women for blokes) or the consistently poor MOTD2 and it’s nice to have MNF back. (Although they can shove their kick-off times somewhere else but that’s another story). It does make you think which cretins are putting some of these highlights shows together? Don’t they know that all fans want is the key action from the game, replays of the goals, anything controversial and a word from the gaffer? This is then followed by some tactical analysis of what we just saw and roll on to the next game, repeat till credits. Not cringe worthy features following fans on a bus or inane chat about the glory days. It’s not the One Show, it’s football highlights – someone please sort it.
This week on MNF (I’m trying not to gag every time I have to type that) it gave us a chance to have a look at two apparent title contenders, Manchester City and Liverpool. There’s no point drawing conclusions two games into a season, it would be ridiculous and grossly unfair. I’m a firm believer that only after ten games the table begins to hold any significance. That said I’ll stick my neck out and say these two sides aren’t winning the league. Let’s start with Liverpool. Woy has yet to get his head around his best formation or line up so far. Liverpool opted for two up front in this game which proved to be fool hardy idea when City flood the centre. The losses of Mascherano, Aquillani and Benayoun will impact heavily. Poulsen has none of the drive or aggression of the adorable little Argintine never mind the ability and Yossi’s goal threat will be sorely missed. Joe Cole has looked strangely lost so far in the free hole but better out wide. There’s still no replacement for when Torres gets injured. Already their ambitions will be for a Champions League place and, perhaps harshly judging them off Monday’s game, will have a fight on their hands for that.
City on the other hand remind me of Roman’s first season. Claudio blew his wedge of cash on a list of players he liked perhaps without thinking through how it was all going to work out on the pitch. (Contrast that to Mourinho who infamously listed which positions were ‘open’ for transfers in an early press conference.) The Tinkerman had an embarrassment of riches and so decided to use them all at the same time. We often wouldn’t have a clue what the eleven was going to be from one half to the next. That’s unsettling if you’re playing well. It’s very similar to what’s happening at Eastlands with Mancini swapping players from game to game to keep them all happy, thus allowing for no consistency or rhythm. The tinkering is the managerial equivalent of trying to keep each plate spinning before it smashes to the floor. I don’t think that this has ever worked in the past and I’ve seen little to suggest it’ll work for the blue half of Manchester this year. Added to this are Mancini’s curiously cautious tactics of having three holding midfielders swamping the centre and Tevez as a lone target man. The opposite wingers look dangerous cutting inside but this just makes the centre more cramped. If I was manager facing Adam Johnson I’d put a right footed player at left back and null the threat. Overall City looked solid and difficult to break down but then so do Stoke City and their squad wasn’t amassed for over two hundred million. This lack of adventure will no doubt see them come unstuck, either against a stubborn side or any of the title contenders who attack from the get go.
Objectively, looking at the first couple of games, Chelsea look a class apart. Sadly none of us are remotely objective so I’m still fretting that we’ll somehow manage to balls up this perfect start to the season despite being the greatest, free-flowing, highest-scoring, record-breaking Chelsea side I’ve probably ever seen. I firmly believe that midfield is the key to the top trophies this year. Arsenal still lack bite and presence in the centre, City have too much of it. Man Utd’s are relying heavily on Scholes who fades fast during games and can get overrun. Liverpool and Spurs are going for four across the middle which, as Man City showed, can be easily outnumbered and outplayed with a central three. The fact that so many of our midfielders are capable of goals, quickly breaking on the counter and, with the addition of Ramires, box-to-box running should make it very difficult for the title to be going anywhere else in May.