Predictable upsets; the Weekend Review (part one)

Manuel Almunia was at fault for two of West Brom's three goals.

The Premier League has officially gone mad! At least that’s what the pundits will have you believe in light of defeats for Arsenal and Chelsea while Manchester United could only draw at Bolton. Indeed, Michael Owen’s equaliser at the Reebok was the only thing that ensured that the modern big three didn’t all lose in the same weekend for the first time in 15 years.

But in reality these results shouldn’t have come as such a surprise when looked at individually. Chelsea couldn’t have asked for an easier set of opening fixtures and after sweeping aside last season’s cannon fodder they finally came up against a midfield as stern, if not sterner, than their own in Manchester City’s beastly trio of Nigel De Jong, Yaya Toure and, well… Gareth Barry.

The match was always going to be a cagey affair due to the amount of defensive-minded players in the middle of the pitch, especially with two of Chelsea’s midfield three sitting deep in order to, just like a rude owner of a two-star hotel, spoil any City breaks.

On the one occasion that Roberto Mancini’s side did catch the Chelsea ranks on the hop (when James Milner dispossessed Ramires just inside the Blues’ half) Carlos Tevez made it count with a great break-away goal, his fifth goal in five games against the Champions.

Arsenal, on the other hand, played a typically open game at the Emirates against West Brom but were undone by some sloppy errors, most notably by the increasingly hapless Manuel Almunia.

To his credit, he did save Peter Odemwingie’s penalty after the striker out-paced the yet-to-settle Laurent Koscielny but, against his credit, Almunia did bring him down in the first place.

But things quickly went from bad to worse to the very worst as the Spanish ‘keeper softly let in Gonzalo Jara’s near-post strike to give the visitors, who now sit in sixth place, a two-goal lead before going walk-about to gift them a third.

Arsenal fans have been saying for at least a year now that Arsene Wenger should dip into the transfer fund and buy a top-class keeper who won’t cost the side games that will, ultimately, lead to another trophyless campaign.

It was a disaster that seemingly everybody but Wenger saw coming, and no matter how impressive the balance sheets may have looked when published on Friday, at what point does £56m profit turn into just a pointless statistic as a number of capable, available goalkeepers are overlooked?

“You could single out many players. Overall it was a poor team performance and we have to analyse why and respond well.” Arsene Wenger refuses to lay the blame at Almunia’s door

With those two both losing it left Manchester United with the chance to go one point off top spot when they faced Bolton on Sunday. Twice this season United have travelled to teams with a strong physical presence up front, only to come away with a point after leading in stoppage time. And guess what happened when they met Kevin Davies and Johann Elmander’s Trotters. They drew.

This time, however, United were the ones clawing back a deficit, twice actually, but the fact that they went behind in a game they largely controlled will worry Sir Alex Ferguson just as much. First, Zat Knight got ahead of Johnny Evans from a corner and then Martin Petrov caught United on the break just as they seemed to be turning the screw.

In all three away draws this season Evans has had a rough ride from the likes of Bobby Zamora and Marouane Fellaini and he again struggled here. Rio Ferdinand, who has made two ‘comebacks’ from injury this month, was absent altogether once again. In United’s 65 games since the start of the 2009/10 season, Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have played together just 15 times (23%).

All things considered, the result, just like Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s, was not as surprising as the history books will suggest. Shock results indeed!

What’s that about hindsight?

Away from the title race, the league’s newest manager, Gerard Houllier, enjoyed a winning start to his Aston Villa tenure thanks to a giant header from a reinvigorated Emile Heskey against Wolves, while one of the top flight’s longest serving bosses came under fire as David Moyes’ Everton sunk to the bottom of the table after the stalest of all mates at Fulham.

Before we finally move abroad a quick word must go to Queens Park Rangers. Neil Warnock’s side disposed of Doncaster 3-0 at Loftus Road on one of Adel Taraabt’s quieter days: he only scored a penalty and set one up. The Rs side sit six points clear at the top of the Championship with a staggering +20 goal difference.

Over in Germany the biggest shock of the day, according to the bookmakers at least, came at the BayArena where 7/1 shot Mainz ran out 2-1 winners over a beleaguered Bayern Munich. The O-Fivers now sit top of the Bundesliga having won their first six matches and saw off Munich, who were without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. Not bad at that price.

Talk of a first title triumph is premature at such an early stage, but Christian Heidel’s tight-knit squad, which includes the talented Lewis Holtby, who this weekend chose not to make himself available for International selection by England and instead opted to stay with his native Germany, seem to have the foundations for a serious title push.

Man of the moment: Lewis Holtby celebrates Mainz 05's win at the BayArena

If they are to reach such dizzy heights they will have to see off the advances of a Borussia Dortmund side who are gathering momentum week on week. St. Pauli were the latest team put to the sword by Jürgen Klopp’s side in a 3-1 win as Shinji Kagawa’s fourth goal of the season was sandwiched by two Kevin Großkreutz strikes.

‘Die Schwarzgelben’ are three points behind Mainz after reacting brilliantly to an opening-day defeat to Bayer Leverkusen. Leverkusen themselves enjoyed a comfortable win away from home as they trounced a poor Stuttgart side 4-1 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. Goals from Sami Hyypia and Chile’s Arturo Vidal (a Pickles blog favourite) helped the visitors into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes before Stuttgart’s Mauro Camoranesi saw red for a last-man lunge.

“The players deserve these two days off; they were outstanding.” Mainz boss Thomas Tuchel gives his players a well-deserved rest

Elsewhere, Werder Bremen, the team who are ‘capable of utter brilliance one minute and utter foolishness the next’ beat Hamburg 3-2 after throwing away a two-goal lead.

Hugo Almeida and the ever-impressive Marko Marin saw the embodiment of inconsistency 2-0 up within half an hour before Ruud van Nistelrooy’s backheel and Jonathan Pitroipa’s great strike levelled it up.

Just as another game looked to be getting away from Bremen, Almeida pounced again to fire into the roof of the net five minutes from time.

Sadly, Hamburg fans, who were kept behind in the stadium after the final whistle, started to panic at being penned in and began pushing from the back. Nobody lost their life, but one supporter is in a coma.

Schalke couldn’t follow-up their midweek victory against Freiburg with another three points when they faced whipping boys Borussia Monchengladbach, but Raul did bag his first goal for the club in a 2-2 draw that Klass Jan Huntelaar also netted in.

Before we move away from Germany for another week a special mention should go to Papiss Demba Cisse who has scored six of Freiburg’s eight league goals this season. He was on target again on Sunday afternoon against Wolfsburg but two goals from Grafite handed Steve McClaren’s side their third win on the bounce (Cisse also missed a late sitter).

As was highlighted in Friday’s preview, Lyon have endured an appalling start to their Ligue 1 campaign and matters were only made worse when they hosted table-topping St. Etienne on Saturday night.

Claude Puel’s former champions went down 1-0 and the result leaves them with just five points from seven games, their second worst start to a season ever (their worst was in 1992/’93 when they garnered just four points from seven games). St. Etienne on the other hand retained top spot for the first time in 28 years. The last time? When they travelled to Lyon and won 1-0 in February 1982.

The whole country seems to be suffering a World Cup hangover with many of the big names struggling in the bottom half. Monaco lost 2-1 away at Lorient, last season’s runners up Auxerre drew 2-2 with Nancy and Lille saw out a 1-1 draw with Toulouse.

Arles, the smallest team in the league who offered refuge to Leicester City penalty villain Yan Kermogant, lost 3-1 at Montpellier and are still pointless. They haven’t won or drawn this season either, wahey!

Part two, including your Spanish and Italian round-ups, will follow…

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sammy Lee, Sammy Lee. Sammy Lee said: Predictable Upsets; the Weekend Review, part one is now live at #picklestheworldcupblog […]

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