In 2016 I wrote a piece for The Roar entitled My ten greatest sporting reads.
A meagre four weeks after Paul Pogba took France to World Cup glory, the same Paul Pogba scored Manchester United’s opening goal in their 2-1 defeat of Leicester City. It was an offseason that wasn’t an offseason – and that’s even if you don’t count the high drama of the transfer window.
Every year the transfer window brings with it heightened anticipation and promise. It has been even more the case in the last couple of years, with clubs outside the top six hoping that they can replicate Leicester’s perfect storm of their championship 2015-16 season by bringing in just the right amount of seasoning, salt and spice to cook up something special.
But after one round – and it has only been one round, mind you – it seems a case of everything that’s old is new again. Five of last year’s top six, otherwise known as the top six, sit in the top eight places on the table. Only Arsenal – who were drawn to face champions Man City – failed to win their opening fixture.
Liverpool’s bully boys pressed their way to victory 4-0 over a West Ham side who had just put in place former Real Madrid and Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini as coach. Tottenham defeated Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle 2-1, with the one-time Champions League-winning manager complaining about a lack of funds and an inability to compete.
Chelsea, under new management, walloped Huddersfield 3-0, while Man Utd’s defeat of Leicester illustrated Jose Mourinho’s ability to turn a team featuring Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Radford and Jesse Lingard into a side of slow plodders content to grind their way to victory.
So is it a case of lather, rinse and repeat for the Premier League in 2018-19? Are we again to have two competitions, with the big boys fighting for the championship and the rest content to duke it out for seventh?
It’s early days, but when Man City complete literally the best Premier League season ever last year and are able to sign Leicester City’s best player to most probably sit on their bench for much of the season, it gives an indication as to the class structure we’re dealing with.
It is, of course, important to mention that the new riches of the Premier League has meant that not only the big six are able to splash the cash in the transfer market. This year’s three promoted clubs – Fulham, Cardiff City and Wolverhampton – spent unprecedentedly big this offseason.
How big? Between them they spent a cool £200 million ($AU350 million) since being promoted from the Championship. The total spend of every other promoted club in France, Spain, Italy and Germany? £40 million ($AU70 million). In total. Among ten teams.
Given that the scorelines from last weekend read 2-0, 2-0 and 2-2 respectively, it would seem that the spend hasn’t brought very much yet – although these teams are realistically only judged by their ability to stay up. This isn’t a cynical criticism – it’s the stated wish of each of their coaches and probably every realistic supporter.
Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This was the first of 38 matchdays, with plenty of permutations and surprises to come along. While Man City look like specials to go back-to-back, there’s a bit of movement among their contenders – which is something that couldn’t be said for most big European leagues. Across the pond, PSG, Bayern, Juve and Barca probably are already getting t-shirts made up.
Liverpool were stunning against West Ham, with the 4-0 scoreline perhaps a disappointment considering the amount of missed chances for the men in red.
Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea were impressive in their victory. They are perhaps set on continuing their very own ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ of sacking a coach and bringing in a new one only to win the Premiership before dropping back to the pack the following season. Hey, it worked two years ago and two years before that, so who says a team needs continuity and stability?
Leicester’s win a little while back was perhaps the best thing ever to happen to the Premier League, giving all teams hope that they might pull off something special, something historic, something memorable. That they won’t is perhaps the sting in the tail, but it still makes the Premier League the least predictable top league in world football.
On the continent…
Of the major Euro leagues, only France’s has begun so far. Much like in England it looks like more of the same on the other side of the channel. 2016-17 champions Monaco won 3-1 over a rusty-looking Nantes, while 2017-18 champs Paris won 3-0, starting the Thomas Tuchel era off with a bang.
For Tuchel, winning Ligue 1 is par for the course for any PSG manager – just ask the sacked Unai Emery – and his real worth will be determined in the Champions League.
Tuchel – a teetotaller who dresses like a jogger buying orange juice on his way home – was always a little too nerdy for the Bundesliga and Dortmund’s old boys club, but should be right at home in Paris.
It helps that he’s been given the keys to the world’s richest football club. And with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe next in line to be the best player not named Cristiano or Lionel, PSG look set to go deep this year.