Chelsea was full of surprises on Saturday, but the final score was not one of them. After closing last season with an 8-0, title-clinching victory, Carlo Ancelotti’s men began the 2010-11 season with a 6-0, defense-starting romp. On the short-end was Roberto di Matteo, the former Chelsea midfielder whose newly promoted West Bromwich Albion was the sacrifice. Didier Drogba had three. Florent Malouda two. Frank Lampard, his customary one.
The surprises: formation, selection, and attitude. Ancelotti did not revert back to the 4-4-2-diamond he’d threatened Chelsea supporters with all preseason. Instead, he went with the 4-3-3 that won him the title. Spearing the attack was Didier Drogba, surprisingly fit after recent hernia surgery. Drogba now has six goals in his last two Premier League games. All this either led to or fed a confidence we’d failed to see from Chelsea a week ago, when their Community Shield performance was second best to Manchester United’s.
Chelsea’s arrogance was in mid-season form. I don’t mean arrogance in a ‘make it rain when it’s not my birthday’ kind of way. I mean it in terms of an oblivious attitude that keeps you from needlessly dropping points. The best teams in the league will be unfazed by this kind of attitude, but individual positions in leagues are often decided by the points you fail to claim against the bottom of the table (at least, that's one way to look at it). The arrogance gave West Brom no hope of competing on Saturday.
And then there’s the opposite of arrogance, which is this context is not fear or humility: it’s being clueless. If Chelsea’s arrogance can maximize their potential by steamrolling the league, then Wigan’s clueless play will take them down. The main exhibit, their defending during their 4-0 loss to Blackpool.
The Tangerines’ first match in the top flight in 41 years was featured an ambitious attack that passed its way through and around the Latics. But while it was nice to see Blackpool hold to their footballing ideals, Ian Holloway’s men weren’t particularly impressive. For a Premier League side, they were slow. Their passes lacked creativity or crispness. There was a deliberate quality to their play that raised more doubt of Wigan than confidence in Blackpool.
The Latics were the wrong kind of arrogant in starting Hendry Thomas on the bench. His inclusion could have broken-up some of Blackpool’s passing around the area. And there was more arrogance from the back line, too often too slow in closing-down the opposition, a factor in the second and fourth goals. As a result, Wigan sits 19th after one week. Blackpool’s second.
On Sunday, Liverpool’s Pepe Reina’s own goal in the 90th minute gave Arsenal a 1-1 draw at Anfield, where the Reds played 45 minutes down a man after Joe Cole’s dismissal. A great finish from David Ngog opened the second half, but it was Arsenal that looked the class team, even before the dismissal. Playing without Cesc Fabregas, the Gunners got a point at Anfield, always a good result, though Liverpool looked no better than last year’s seventh place finisher. The Hodgson effect has yet to be felt.
Back to Saturday, the first match of the year saw Tottenham Hotspur shutout by Joe Hart, who made strong saves on Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gareth Bale, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Roman Pavlyuchenko. Still, Roberto Mancini deserves a lot of credit. He never wanted more than a tie. He made it clear with his selection, formation, and tactics. Using Emmanuel Adebeyor, playing less then three defensive midfielders? Who needs that? There’s an art to a draw, especially when your lineup predicts the result. So sarcastic slow-claps for Roberto. Way to start your ambitious run to Champions League on the most positive note possible.
Typing of positive notes, a Martin O’Neill-less Aston Villa sits third after their 3-0 win over West Ham, though they may have created a lineup dilemma by playing Ashley Young behind John Carew, finding that both he and replacement winger Mark Albrighton played really well in their roles. And by "really," I mean post-ironic really, with a that whiny, nasally, drawn-out "e" sound - you know what I mean. Yes, I’m drinking out of a glass jar.
Sunderland and Birmingham City played an exciting 2-2 draw that told us nothing about how strong the teams are. Sunderland scored on an ill-awarded P.K. and an own goal. Birmingham’s goals were late, desperate, and executed while up a man. But in that man advantage we did learn one thing from the match: You can’t stop Lee Cattermole’s red cards. You can only hope to contain them.
Other matches this week:
- Wolverhampton scored twice, giving the impression that last year’s struggle to find goals may be behind them. However, the overarching story from their 2-1 win over Stoke City: New Potters’ striker Kenwyne Jones, just bought from Sunderland, left with a knee injury.
- Tim Howard gave Blackburn three points by mishandling a ball at the edge of his area, leading to an esay goal for Nikola Kalinic. Everton lost at Ewood Park, 1-0.
- David Stockdale was brilliant filling-in for the likely-departed Mark Schwarzer, allowing Fulham to get a point with a 0--0 draw at Bolton.