Week 1: Some Post-match Feuilleton
Liverpool is a bunch of signings who have all been given the same red shirt; Sunderland remind us that being stubborn won’t solve a problem (unfortunately); Arsenal and Joey Barton produce the most unconventional romantic comedy about rage and affection; Manchester United’s alchemy is a form of puppetmastery; Newcomers QPR and Swansea City need to understand when Ian Holloway’s Blackpool is an idol, idle, an idyll, and false idol; Chelsea is still an idea and Stoke is still Stoke
Sunderland 1—Liverpool 1
The new Liverpool lacks cohesion, while the new Sunderland remains stubborn and difficult to beat.
The first opening day match featured two aspiring table climbers. It was important to show off their many new faces to make the claim that they belong in Europe the proof of clubs with serious aims and expectations to play in Europe.
Liverpool continues restoration under their re-anointed king. As an expression of rightful place and desperation, Liverpool followed the 58m spent on Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez with another 51m, spread among four players, including the market-bending16m for Jordan Henderson, which may just be the highest premium paid for “Englishness” in some time. Henderson doesn’t look unmistakably English and his name doesn’t sound unmistakably English (initially he could appear more American) as compared to the very English looking Phil Jones who, the market determined, is valued at the same price. The premium paid for English players is no less perverse than the market of which it’s a part. If Ashley Young is somewhat of a bargain at 16m, then Man U got another one with Phil Jones simply on the value of Englishness.
Sunderland, falling from 6th to 17th by the end of last season, will attempt to find more than the momentary respect they arduously carved out before Darren Bent abandoned them for the browner pastures of Aston Villa. Sunderland’s preseason efforts look to have paid off. Taking advantage of Manchester United’s summer clearance, Steve Bruce solidified his back line with John O’shea and Wes Brown.
More than month’s time to prepare wasn’t sufficient to become accustomed to Brown in an unfamiliar jersey, having spent his entire career with Manchester United. Then again, most players now begin the season having something that’s just not quite right about them. Sometimes this is attributable to a hair accident—a bad phohawk, dye job, or Morrissey-inspired quiff—but largely this is due to the incessant seasonal launch of new kits, particularly the away kits with colors that have never been associated with the club. The attempt to boost revenue through merchandise is built upon a relationship and familiarity with players, as they are known through television. It’s odd that with each new kit, the identification process has to start all over.
Liverpool took the lead after 13 minutes off a smooth free kick and header produced by fresh talent. Charlie Adam played with the intensity he imported from Blackpool, driving a number of dangerous crosses into the box. His precision free kick to the near post was met by Luis Suarez, who gently redirected the cross with a header past Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The goal highlighted what both players can bring to the team. Charlie Adam, whether he starts or plays second to Steven Gerrard, will be well worth his £8m.
Liverpool’s first half domination was due in part to Sunderland inability to take possession and move the ball upfield. For all the reinforcements, Sunderland still lacks a formidable striker to match their ambitions. Asamoah Gyan was forsaken as the lone striker, despite the promising Stephane Sessegnon sitting behind him in support. The few times the ball found its way to Gyan’s feet were hardly advantageous. With his back to goal and with little support, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger quickly suffocated anything that Gyan could have made from his brief moments in possession.
Stuart Downing almost put Liverpool up 2-0. Lining up on the right side gave him the impetus to cut inside and shoot with his stronger left foot. This was one example of Liverpool’s repeated exploitation of Kieren Richardson in the back.
Liverpool was clearly converting the potential energy accumulated during this rebuilding process. Unfortunately, the lack of cohesion that produced a wan second half performance drained this energy from them. This is best summarized by the looming figure of potential energy—Andy Carroll, who had a quiet game at odds with a restless desire to hit his stride. Carroll looks saltier than last season, as if he’d spent the summer on Pitcairn Island instead of Ibiza, returning ready to ponytail whip defenders at every opportunity. This was the off-season for identity formation, to become Liverpool through and through. His cheeks and jaw are sharper, his face further chiseled, a result of fitness and the final molting of his Newcastle past or from pulling his hair back too tightly. Perhaps this is another small sign of ritual preparation for the new season having nothing to do with vanity.
The 1-1 draw was a disappointing home opener for Liverpool, but the tale of two halves is a reminder that Liverpool is still a work in progress. For Sunderland, the draw is a good away result, confirming their subtle steely and fibrous constitution. For opponents, Sunderland is like eating a piece of healthy whole grain bread with a dry mouth; choking is possible until one is forced to wash it down with a gulp of water. A less healthy leavening agent is in order and rumor has it Nicklas Bendtner may be the answer.
Newcastle 0—Arsenal 0
Newcastle secures a second straight draw against Arsenal, who must very quickly leave behind last year’s accumulating storm of peril and doom.
The last things Arsenal and its supporters want to see the repetition of same. The persistence and return of lingering old problems have begun to consume a team that is still one of the most dynamic in Europe. This has been nearly forgotten, but is understandable given that the preseason and now the match against Newcastle look like the run of games ending last season. In a brief time, anemic starts, blown leads, and unconvincing wins have made an appearance. It is a worrying thought to see a collective body lose sight of what lies beyond the enclosure of their neurosis. As the transfer deadline approaches, the cure of dramatic additions slowly fades as the means to breaking these repeated patterns and offering a vision beyond the enclosure into which they have so snugly sewn themselves. There is very little consolation to take from Cesc Fábregas’ departure, except that its severity may have the strength to initiate the changes, albeit from a negative impulse.
West Brom 1—Manchester United 2
To disempower the magic, disinvest belief.
Manchester United lose both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to injury, yet go on to win the match on the road. This finding-a-way to win has truly become myth. They have gotten us to believe that their will to win has expanded into the realm of the opponent scoring against themselves. Hmmmm…..
Manchester City 4—Swansea 0 and QPR 1—Bolton 4
Searching for a new role model.
QPR may have scored, but were overwhelmed by a post-op Bolton team. Surrendering four goals to a neutered offense is an ominous sign. Bolton can ride the high of their unexpected offensive might that has put them, however briefly, at the top of the table.
Swansea stayed in the match on the road for sixty minutes with a combination of hard work and excessive good fortune. Manchester City only needed thirty minutes to devour them, bones and all. Both promoted clubs going into the season have associated with and been compared to that distant orange dot that is the spirit of Blackpool, their default mentor and guide on this wild journey. The problem with this is Blackpool was relegated.
Stoke 0—Chelsea 0
Infection as means to lessen a burden.
Arsenal will watch Chelsea closely after this result. There is little Arsenal would like more in these trying times than to give Chelsea the virus called repeating the same thing over and over again from one season to the next.