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All Things Footie | Monday, August 16 | Jordan

The waiting is over

To paraphrase the mighty Barney Rubble: Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Oh Boy! Ain’t it great to have real football back? And isn’t it just as great to have Match of the day back? No Matt Smith. No Andy Townsend. No Clive Allen. No Robbie sodding Earle. If it wasn’t for Mark Lawrenson it’d be just heavenly. It’s so refreshing to just have match highlights and a bit of discussion—no adverts, no ‘tactics-truck’, no ‘Champange Moment’, no gimmicky rubbish designed to cover up just how little the presenter and the panel know about football and how poor they are at expressing the one or two vaguely insightful thoughts they do have to offer.

I caught a bit of Sunday night’s ‘Match of the Day 2’ last night as well, and I think Adrian Chiles is my new favourite sports presenter. He asked Gordon Strachan and Gerard Houllier some really interesting and (in the case of Houllier) probing questions while staying interesting, on-topic and entertaining. I may even have warmed a little to old boggly-eyes after his honesty and humility talking about going back to Liverpool as a pundit. Nice work BBC, I’m looking forward to more of the same.

What about the actual football? Normally, a raft of 1-1 draws would bore me to tears, but I think I was just so glad to see it back I didn’t mind. Jay-Jay Okocha gave everyone a masterclass in how to celebrate your birthday, with two goals and an assist in Bolton’s 4-1 demolition of Charlton. I was surprised how poor Charlton were actually, and Alan Curbishley’s honesty in admitting they were lucky to only concede four should be commended. He’s going to have to work double-time to pull the team around now.

I wasn’t surprised with Aston Villa’s excellent 2-0 win over Southampton, nor was I surprised that Carlton Cole got his name on the scoresheet, he’s a really top player as far as I’m concerned. A good team performance, a good result, some fine individual performances (including Gareth Barry, who must be wondering why—as a talented, hard-working and creative left-footed player—he’s having so much trouble getting into the England squad when no-mark never-were’s like Jamie Carragher and bench warmers like Scott Parker and Joe Cole waltz in). Sven’s an idiot. Have I said that before?

I don’t know what to say about Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink’s scandalous handballed goal, the first time I saw it I was convinced it was a good header. After seeing a replay it was blindingly obvious (even at full speed) that he handballed it in. I can understand how the ref didn’t spot it, but the linesman must just have been asleep. It was quite funny really, unless you’re Bobby Robson.

Only one team managed an away win, but it was no surprise to see the Champions take apart a sorry looking Everton side. If there was a surprise, it was in how assuredly seventeen year-old Francesc Fabregas handled himself in a … shall we say ‘combative’ ... midfield of Thomas Gravesen and Lee Carsley. Confident, crisp, economical and intelligent distribution, tough-tackling, great awareness intercepting opposition balls and great positional sense. He was unlucky not to come away with two goals too. Did I mention he was seventeen? Ljungberg looked sharp and far more like his former danger-man self than he looked last season; Reyes seems to simply not tire; Touré has simply picked up where he left off last season; and I simply refuse to believe that Dennis Bergkamp is 35 and in the last year of his contract, a magnificent performance from the veteran. People say Henry was poor/quiet, but bearing in mind he’s nowhere near match fit (this is only his second game after the summer, including the Community Shield) he still did well to get himself two assists and one semi-assist (his shot parried by Martyn that led to Arsenal’s fourth). Having a striker who contributes so much when he’s not scoring goals is such an underappreciated plus-point.

It’s so difficult to judge how good Everton are after that match—great sides always make their opponents look rubbish. Given that nugget of knowledge, you have to concede that both Manchester United and Chelsea are great sides, as they both looked rubbish yesterday. There was an awful lot of long-balls, an awful lot of wasted posession, and an awful lack of sharpness from the attacking players. If United have ever had a full-back who’s worse than Quinton Fortune, it passed me by, and Liam Miller looked like a child playing a man’s game. I have no-idea what’s happened to John O’Shea, who just two seasons ago was awesome for United, and a key player as they snatched the title from Arsenal, but now seems to have forgotton how to play with the assurance he demonstrated in 02/03. Djemba-Djemba, Bellion, Forlan, Fortune—not good enough I’m afraid.

The poorness wasn’t all one-sided though. Chelsea, while they grafted and ran a lot, looked very uninspiring as an attacking force. Lonely dribbles from the half way line and big punts for Drogba to knock down seemed to be all they had to offer. Makelele, Lampard, Geremi and Smertin simply didn’t seem to have any ideas how to break down a pretty toothless United resistance; either that, or they couldn’t be bothered. I wasn’t impressed. Gudjonsen is a good striker, he’s dangerous in and around the box, and he scores goals; but he has no guile, no nous. So many times Chelsea tried to break, two on one, two on two, staring with Gudjonsen. But when he had to make his decision, pick his pass, he hesitated or misjudged the ball. Drogba and Kezman play higher up the pitch, and can’t fill this much needed role for Chelsea. They need a Zola, a Bergkamp; someone to pick the lock and release the talents of Drogba and Kezman (who, when on the pitch, made some smart runs and looked potentially dangerous). After Chelsea scored, the game degenerated into two back lines hoofing and heading the ball into midfield, where a couple of misplaced passes and crunching challenges later is popped out and scurried towards one or the other of the goals. Very nearly sent me to sleep.

You can’t read too much into anything this early in the season of course, a lot of players are injured, and most players are not match fit. I have to say though that—a little lack of sharpness aside—I think Arsenal and Aston Villa have prepared for the season very well, the teams looked fit, fired up, and ready fo action, whereas every other team looked as though they were struggling to get out of first gear.

One thing before I go, Jose Mourinho. What a guy. If you didn’t see Saturday’s interview, where a journalist dared to offer the opinion that he had an easier job preparing for Sunday than Ferguson as his opponent had nine key players out, then you missed a treat.

“NINE. KEY. PLAYERS? Nine? Is Howard playing? Is Gary Neville playing? How about Silvestre? O’Shea? Keane? Giggs? Smith? ... How can they have nine key players and those seven? So they have SIXTEEN key players do they? How do they all play? ... Heinze? What? A key player? He’s never played for them, how can he be a key player? Come on! tell me! TELL ME!”

Cracked me up.

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