On a weekend where José Mourinho was left searching for answers in Spain, two of his former associates diverged in England. Previously, Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas and Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers had been sprinting hastily down the same pothole-ridden road, winless starts with new clubs leaving supporters checking their gardening supplies, looking for the crumbled paper pouch holding rashly discarded seeds of doubt.
Villas-Boas gave Spurs supporters reason to abandon the search. Thanks to two goals from Jermain Defoe, Tottenham posted their first victory of the season, a 3-1 win over Reading. Given the Royals are newly promoted (and yet to win on their return), Spurs’ win might be seen as obligatory, given their top four aspirations. But the three points were also just deserts for a squad that had performed better than their 0-1-2 (W-D-L) record. Beguiling swoons late in matches had undermined Villas-Boas’s first games, but after Tottenham scored twice in the final 20 minutes at the Madejski, the biggest qualm with the new manager’s regime was obliterated. Spurs can move on.
Liverpool, however, can not. A late Luis Suárez goal earned the Reds a good point at Sunderland, but the accomplishment is overshadowed by Liverpool’s record: 0-2-2. Their 17th place standing is Hodgsonian, even if their soccer is not. Showing continued (if subtle) progress in Rodgers’ system and style, Liverpool outshot Sunderland 23-7 (6-1 in shots on target), dominating the Opta possession, 66-34. Those numbers mean nothing as they concern Saturday’s final score, but they are hints – clues in the mystery that is Brendan Rodgers’ start. Results have eluded him, but there’s reason to believe they’ll come.
Just like Villas-Boas had his boogeyman, Rodgers has his. Spurs’ boss lifted The Curse of the Late Match Swoon (which would have been the title of the eighth Harry Potter book), but Rodgers can’t seem to find a non-Suárez scorer. Of Liverpool’s three goals on the season, Suárez has two, with nobody looking likely to join him. Raheem Sterling continues to enthrall with his pace and skill, but he’s lacking in final product. At 17, he can’t be expected to become the complete package overnight. Liverpool’s other attacker, Fabio Borini is a more worrisome case. Productive in Italy after being sold by Chelsea, Borini (21) is now scoreless in eight Premier League appearances, which wouldn’t be so troublesome if there were signs the drought would end.
After a Thursday trip to Switzerland to face Young Boys, Liverpool returns home for the season’s first North West Derby. It’s a game for which Steven Gerrard has typically stepped up, though Rodgers’ team doesn’t need Gerrard heroics. They need the plan to click. They need to start getting goals from the people who are supposed to score them. A few from Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen would be nice, but Liverpool needs long term, consistent help for Suárez. That would be more valuable than an veteran inspiration.
Mixed starts for Premier League’s promoted sides
Of the three clubs that sit below Liverpool in the table, two were in the Championship last season. Reading’s opening day draw at home to Stoke is their only point, while Southampton has had to play Manchester City, Manchester United, and Arsenal (losing 6-1 on Saturday) en route to four straight losses.
A season after all three promoted teams stayed up, this year’s trio are off to a 2-7-2 start. If it wasn’t for West Ham United, it’d be much worse. Their point at Norwich on Saturday pushed them to 2-1-1 on the season, though the Hammers were always bound to be a special case.
Like Newcastle three years ago, West Ham should have never one down. They were too big, too well-resourced – too talented. Left to the guidance of Avram Grant, new owners David Gold and David Sullivan saw the tactics of neglect sink the team into 20th place despite.
West Ham had the talent to be a decent Premier League side, and although Scott Parker has since moved on, they still do. That they had to go through a promotion playoff this spring to get back to the Premiership shows how much they’d taken the second division for granted. Now that they’re back in the top tier, there’s no reason West Ham can’t finish mid-table.
Elsewhere in England
- See that top our to the right? Boy, that didn’t take long.
- Despite their first blemish, Chelsea stay on top of the league after their 0-0 draw with Queens Park Rangers, a team that gave up five the last time they played a Loftus Road. Most disappointing for Chelsea: The nil-nil was a fair result.
- Roberto Mancini decried Peter Crouch’s handball, but unfortunate goals happen to everybody. It’s not fair, but it’s something millions-approaching-billions in player expenditures could theoretically overcome. Instead, Manchester City was held to a 1-1 at Stoke.
- Manchester United was shutout by Everton to begin the season. Since, they’ve scored a league-leading 10 goals, four of which came against Wigan on Saturday. Wayne Rooney is not missed.
- Aston Villa got a highlight reel shot from Matthew Lowton and a late insurance tally from Christian Bentenke to post the first win of the Paul Lambert era. The bigger story: The Swansea goal machine was held under two for the first time this season.