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Deja vu all over again? Soccer romantics will hope so

August 20, 2010

SOCCER-ENGLAND/FULHAM-HUGHES‘Plus ca change’ was the defining refrain of the Premier League’s opening weekend, but football fans tired of the established order will hope déjà vu is lurking round the corner for Manchester United and Chelsea.

Neither the champions nor the runners-up broke sweat as they strolled to opening victories that pointed ominously to another two-horse race for the Premier League title.

But romantics, who no doubt jollied in Blackpool’s opening day success, will be praying for the footballing equivalent of lightning striking twice to prevent the ‘big two’, as it seems to have become, from putting an early marker down in the title race.

United face Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday, the scene of a 3-0 defeat for Alex Ferguson’s side last season, while Chelsea travel to the JJB Stadium on Saturday to play Wigan where they also came a cropper in a 3-1 reverse in 2009.

The chances of these two results being repeated are slim to non-existent. United’s old guard, led by indefatigable Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, looked as fresh as spring daisies as they tore into Newcastle on Monday. Meanwhile, Didier Drogba, another one who should be sliding down the slippery over-30 slope, scored a hat-trick as Chelsea dished out a 6-0 walloping of West Bromwich Albion.

There was little on show last weekend to suggest last season’s also-rans will be able to sustain a title tilt.

Manchester City, despite spending money like it is going out of fashion, still played three holding midfielders, Yaya Toure, Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry, as they held on for a draw at Tottenham Hotspur who themselves could not find the net despite innumerable chances.

Liverpool and Arsenal did not fare any better.

Joe Cole stumbled, Laurent Koscielny tumbled and Pepe Reina eventually fumbled the ball into his own net and neither side managed to silence the observing doubters.

This weekend Arsenal will have another chance to prove they are able to hit the heights without their captain Cesc Fabregas, who was absent at Liverpool and, by the latest accounts, is unlikely to start against Blackpool on Saturday.

Liverpool’s new manager Roy Hodgson has won three and drawn one of his opening four competitive matches, but his team still resemble Rafael Benitez’s defensively minded side.

With Italian Alberto Aquilani reportedly in danger of being considered surplus to requirements after an injury-ravaged first season and Joe Coe suspended following his red card against Arsenal for the trip to Manchester City on Monday, flair could again be in short supply.

Plus ca change indeed.

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