Reuters Soccer Blog
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from Left field:
The NFL prides itself on ‘parity’, on the competitive balance between different clubs being close, ensuring that games are tightly-fought contests and that as many teams as possible start the season with some sort of chance of making the Super Bowl.
Looking at the start to this season, with surprise results and with unfancied teams such as Houston and Tampa making bright starts, the balance is very healthy.
There are a number of mechanisms in place in the NFL to ensure that an elite group of winners and a desperate group of losers do not form. The salary cap which makes sure that cash doesn’t talk too much and the draft, which gives the lowest ranked team the first pick of the best college talent, are the two most obvious means by which the NFL ensures that things stay interesting.
On the surface at least, it seems a remarkably socialist system for a profit-orientated American sports league to have in place. Money and talent is spread around equally to ensure that there is a healthy equality. It hardly seems appropriate for a society that prides itself, in theory at least, on being a free-market capitalist system, with choice and opportunity prioritized above fairness and equality.
Dimitar Berbatov chose the perfect moment to finally endear himself to the Old Trafford crowd on Sunday with a superb hat-trick that earned Manchester United a much-needed 3-2 victory over fierce rivals Liverpool.
The mercurial Bulgarian, whose Premier League career has been peppered with sporadic moments of brilliance at both United and former club Tottenham Hotspur, began the new season under pressure to find consistency and, most importantly, the back of the net.
In the heady days of Istanbul and Athens when Liverpool fans considered anything less than a trip to the Champions League final a disappointing campaign, the Kop would regularly belt out: “We have the best midfield in the world.”
It was the formidable midfield combination of Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard and later Javier Mascherano that spurred the Anfield faithful into song.
Wayne Rooney has been taking, and largely ignoring, abuse from Everton supporters for six years but Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson decided on Saturday that a garnish of tabloid tittle-tattle on top the traditional “Judas” fare was too much.
“He gets terrible abuse here and I’m not going to subject him to that,” Ferguson said when explaining his decision to leave the England striker out of the remarkable 3-3 draw.
A tricky start to the season in which manager Martin O’Neill left before a ball was kicked, midfielder James Milner joined Manchester City and the club limped out of the Europa League, Aston Villa were in need of steady hands. Gerard Houllier should be just the man.
The 63-year-old Frenchman, who won five trophies with Liverpool and three French league titles, has swapped his job as technical director of the French Football Federation (FFF) for the Villa hot seat and brings a wealth of experience with him.
Liverpool’s current plight was laid bare on Monday when they were humbled 3-0 by Manchester City — a result which left Roy Hodgson’s side fourth bottom of the Premier League.
After just two games it would be churlish to suggest Liverpool will spend too long down in the bottom half of the table, but the feeling that the 18-times English champions are in danger of losing touch with the top four was inescapable.
‘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.
August remains a time for cricket and athletics in many people’s minds but if we are going to have football then it was probably fitting that the most uplifting performance of the opening day of the Premier League season came from the country’s number one seaside holiday destination.
For a few heady hours Blackpool were top of the league after their remarkable 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic and though Chelsea later displaced them after thrashing West Brom 6-0 Blackpool’s fans will cherish memories of Saturday for as long as they live.
People can and will talk about Frank Lampard’s wrongly-disallowed goal all day long but to concentrate on that would miss the much bigger problems that contributed to one of England’s worst-ever World Cup performances.
Claims that their players play too many games, suffer from not having a winter break and that the national team is hurt by the number of foreign players in key positions at the Premier League’s major clubs are all valid.