Editor’s Note: Guy Bailey will write columns for The Yanks Are Coming throughout the Barclay’s Premier League season where he discusses the happenings overseas in the world’s most popular sports league. Guy offers a unique perspective on the league as a Brit who lived for a long while in the United States before moving back to Teeside in the past year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter all EPL season at@guyrbailey.
It’s been a couple of weeks so we thought we’d start with the international fixture date, where England yawned, shook his head, collected its points and went to bed still as of yet not qualified for Brazil, unlike the unruly colonies across the ocean…
The EPL took a break in early September as World Cup Fever broke out all over England for the two qualifiers. Well, not quite fever but a definite warm and groggy feeling and a sore throat to go with it.
England made short work of stereotypical hard working yet dour Eastern European stalwarts Moldova ($10 you can’t find it first time on a map). Steven Gerrard relaxed everybody early on with a typical edge of the box strike and man-of-the-moment Ricky Lambert helped himself to a tap in ten minutes later.
Meanwhile, energetic striker Danny Welbeck who looks for all the world like he’s on a solo mission to bring the Hi Fade back into fashion went from Villain to Hero quicker than Doc Ock in Spiderman. Running on after an offside whistle to stick the ball into the net, he received a harsh but legally correct yellow card to rule himself out of the far-more important qualifier in the Ukraine a few days later, but only moments had passed to deal with that disappointment when he trotted after a hopeful punt from Lambert which the onrushing keeper completely missed leaving Arsenio with a legitimate tap in this time. Five minutes after the break, Wellbeck added another and that’s all she wrote. The old adage that you can only beat what’s in front of you applies because they were no great shakes and you don’t get points for style. With three games left to go and no margin for error for England’s part – points mean prizes. Or one prize anyway.
A far tougher proposition came in Kiev early the following week with England shorn of options up front with Wayne Rooney seemingly auditioning for a reboot of the Harry Potter movies with a new lightning shaped scar on his head and Wellbeck’s suspension. Ricky Lambert picked himself and he was supported eventually by a square peg in James Milner (in the States, he’s known as “Cherundolo’s girl”) on the left and pace but not much else merchant Theo Walcott on the right.
England survived a penalty appeal in the first minute when dangerous striker and even better Words with Friends score Zozulya went tumbling over Joe Hart’s outstretched foot a milisecond before the ball. I’ve seen them given, especially to home teams but the referee waved play on and England survived. Ukraine huffed and puffed for the remainder of the game with a couple of half chances and England truly laboured especially in the second half with Ashley Young and Kyle Walker having possibly career-ending performances but they survived and England got the point that took them to the top of Group H with two home games against Montenegro and Poland to come. It’s still in their own hands which is probably the most this talented but limited group can hope for at this stage of their transition.
One week later, it was back the business in the Barclay’s Premier league with Mezut Ozil making his debut for Arsenal at the Stadium of Light, and Chelsea’s visit to Everton the other eye-catching fixture. The seasons first six-pointer sees Hull host fellow promoted team Cardiff but slow starting Fulham hosting West Brom takes on added significance.
A small legal story was also worth noting, as two 12-year-old boys become the youngest recipients of a three year football banning order – for throwing stones during trouble after last seasons Newcastle v Sunderland game – famous for one Barry Rogerson allegedly punched a police horse -The judge warned the boys not to get into any more trouble or else he’d reduce it to a year. It seems these bad eggs were cooked.
Speaking of bad eggs, the following week’s fixtures showed us…
Crisis Club Chelsea – words you don’t normally see together do you? And what a crisis! Level on points in the EPL with Man City & Man Utd; daring to lose away to a consistent top 10 club in Everton and losing despite laying siege to a resilient Basle in midweek. Yep, it’s a crisis for the Special One alright. He prefaced the Basle defeat with a curious speech about eggs and nurturing them during his previous time at the club. Well, I could have told him he had a couple of rotten ones in there but he perseveres with John Terry who, no shorn of Carvalho, now appears to be like my old D reg Merc, a once classy ride now heading inexorably for the knackers yard. Meanwhile, he’s hell bent on changing Mata for no reason other than he wants to and he keeps the team’s soul, Frank Lampard and the team’s bulldog, Michael Essien, locked away on the bench. Confusing times at the Bridge but Chelsea seem to figure things out and will here, I think.
Man Utd, who have avoided the title crisis club despite having the same points total, courted controversy of their own as Ashley Young decided to star in a solo remake of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The butterfly in question being the lightest of touches administered by the Palace defender which required Young to tumble with all the force of a Diving Bell hitting the ocean floor. It did put the ref in a pickle as he had previously booked Young for diving in the match, and also displaying the new fashion in this dark art of kicking out your own leg to make contact with the defender to make it look even more like he had kicked you in the first place! Now, imagine you are the ref, you’re at Old Trafford, they are drawing 0-0, their main striker has just gone down on the edge of the box yet is on a yellow for diving previously. If you turn down this very dubious penalty, you have no option but to send him off, your linesman has just said to you ‘no help here’ – despite it being the only thing he has to do all day apart from carry a flag, so the ref made the only logical choice. Play to the crowd, give them a homers penalty and for extra insult, send off the hapless defender to ensure their win. Rio Ferdinand, never a man known for outrageous understatement, then went out after the match calling for retroactive action against divers!
On solo theatrical revivals, JonJo Shelvey turned in a great Jekyll and Hyde rendition, scoring one and making one for his new club Swansea and returning the favour with two Olympic standard howlers to gift his old club Liverpool two goals in an entertaining 2-2 draw. Swansea going on to wallop Valencia on Thursday night in their own backyard to prove that maybe this taffy tikki takka is the real deal.
I know I said the season’s first six pointer occurred last week with Hull City definitely NOT Tigers and Cardiff’s 1-1 draw but I admit that this was a tad premature. The season’s first six pointer occurred the following weekend as rock bottom Sunderland (I do get a small sexual frisson typing that phrase) travel to next to bottom West Brom both displaying the critical relegation trifecta of disinterested, out of form big names, Marx Brothers defending and just rank bad luck that could doom more talented sides. Neither of which are brimming with out and out superstar talent but West Brom have survived and thrived these past few years with incremental gains, ruthless teamwork and efficiency. Now pieces of the engine are starting to fray and fizzle and the spares and replacements don’t look adequate. A cautionary tale any Boro fan can tell you – in our fateful last EPL season, Gareth Southgate decided to replace 18 goal Mark Viduka with 5 goal Jeremie Aliadiere and a granite midfield trifecta of George Boateng, Lee Cattermole and Fabio Rochemback with a single Frenchman made of Balsa wood, Didier Digard and then had the temerity to look surprised when we got relegated. The damage one bad season can do is incalculable.
In oddball events, this seven man attacking kickoff happened. And it worked.
Speaking of oddballs..
The only surprising thing about Paolo Di Canio’s immolation at the circus of light was the swiftness. As exclusively forecast in this here column, that they would catch fire but hindenburg style but even I’m surprised how swiftly the contagion spread. Despite sanctioning the signing of 14 new players in the summer, the board have lost patience after one draw in five games but what actually forced their hands was a case of good old fashioned mutiny.
Hurt from individual public criticism and banning alcoholic drinks, excess ice, sugary food including candy and ketchup, the players also didn’t like being fined for other day-to-day infractions including talking to club staff on a match day and photographing yourself lying on a casino floor covered in £50 notes while playing for a team from one of the most poverty stricken areas of the country.
A couple of senior players led a delegation to the board to complain about their harsh treatment, the board listened and Di Canio was dispatched leaving his backroom team and a bunch of new players, over half of whom can’t speak the same language as each other. The new manager also faces a daunting start – Liverpool (H), Man Utd (H), Swansea (A) and arch-enemies Newcastle (H) nearly six months to the day since Sunderland won 3-0 at St James’ Park to herald Di Canio’s arrival in style.
Here’s the thing – he was appointed to be Di Canio. His style was no secret, in fact it worked at Swindon, getting them promoted from Div 3 to Div 2. He was brought in to help discipline an unfit, underachieving, overpromoted bunch and he can argue, with some conviction, that he was doing his job. The fans now have to look at the same bunch of players who have now seen off three managers within three years and ask what is the constant? It gives me no pleasure, alright, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Sunderland will go down and that we are playing for two other relegation spots.
Despite media hype and overreaction, one of these will not be filled by Manchester United. Roundly gubbed on Sunday by a rampant Man City, who seem to reserve their very best displays for this fixtures, even at 4-0 down, they still looked a threat and they got back on track very quickly on Wednesday night, beating Liverpool 1-0 in the league cup and denying Luis Suarez a fairytale return, although the only fairy tales he is likely to feature in involve him ambushing young girls in the woods disguised as their grandmother.
Crisis club Chelsea went top of the league and progressed to the next round of the league cup where Arsenal await, so I’d hate to see them when they hit a purple patch although nouveau riche Tottenham could find out when the Blues go to the Lane on Saturday lunchtime. Teams are still making their own identity at this stage of the season so this derby is more important to Tottenham’s credentials than Chelsea’s. The other stand out fixture from a footballing point of view this weekend is Arsenal’s trip to Swansea. A treat in store for fans of on-the-deck, incisive tiki taka coached by two of the more cerebral managers in the game. Although that honour in the EPL is akin to being named the best groomed man at a Korn gig. Meanwhile, perennial “at least we didn’t get relegated” gaffer Roberto Martinez’s Everton finally lost, falling to Fulham in the Capital One Cup midweek. Martinez’s group will look to stay unbeaten in the league Monday night at Goodison against Newcastle.
As noted, Guy Bailey writes on the Barclay’s Premier League for The Yanks Are Coming. Want more Guy Bailey? We highly recommend his new book, Blessay From America, a collection of writings made while living in America, where he married a southern belle and saw his son born, which you can purchase here.