Shipped from Abroad, England: Fifth-round reality

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An international break has passed. So has a European match day. Throw in an FA Cup weekend (maybe a League Cup day) and the full gauntlet of English soccer obstacles will be in place.

That’s when the schedule becomes just as difficult an opponent as most teams will face, but after a quick look at Saturday’s Premier League results, a number of clubs are already face-to-face with their 2012-13 realities – bad news for most:

  • Everton won the day’s opening match, 3-0 at the Liberty Stadium in Swansea. The game was over when Nathan Dyer saw red in the 58th minute. Swansea was already down two goals. At home against a team expected to compete for Europe, Swansea City should have been more competitive, especially if hopes of pushing on from last year are to come to fruition. But today’s result was a reminder. Just because the first matches of the season are most anticipated doesn’t make them the most important. Swansea beat Queens Park Rangers and West Ham by a combined 8-0. Since, they have one point in three matches.
  • Southampton had been the league’s worst team through four rounds, something which changed drastically with a 4-1 win over visiting Aston Villa. The Saints were without a point through four rounds, though their schedule had included Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal. Today was a reminder of the obvious: There are beatable teams in the league. The Saints failed in their first meeting with one, falling to Wigan, 2-0. Today they made amends, taking advantage of one of the Premier League’s weaker teams.
  • Aston Villa’s a very sad case. They’re a great club, one that should be dominating the space between London and Manchester. Right now, they’re not very good. Not only do they seem destined to fight relegation, but given the lack of fight we saw last year, this may be another huge club careening into the Championship. Their personnel is lacking, their new coach is still settling in, they’re coming off a horrid campaign, and there’s a growing sense of ennui emanating from the fan base and front office. It’s a recipe for a 4-1 loss at a newly promoted side.
  • Back to the Latics. Today they lost at home to Fulham, 2-1. For those of us bullish on the Cottagers, it’s not a surprising result, but it’s still a point of concern for Wigan fans hoping to avoid the pattern that’s defined the Roberto Martínez era. Under the current boss, Wigan’s seasons are defined by seven months of bad, two months of good, and barely enough points to stay up. That they do stay up (and they seem to have a formula for doing so) is the reason why Martínez is in frame when jobs like Liverpool’s and Aston Villa’s open up. But a home loss to Fulham is a reminder that Wigan’s likely in for another season of seven-and-two.
  • Sunderland has yet to trail this season. They’ve also yet to win, remarkable in a game where goals are so scarce and so important. But when you watch Sunderland, you’re left with the impression the team’s lucky to be undefeated, the Black Cats having been second best to their opponents for most of the season. Kevin Nolan’s 90th minute goal on Saturday came after West Ham had built a 23-5 advantage in shots. It wasn’t an unfortunate turn for Sunderland. It merely righted what would have been one team’s fortune.  If Sunderland’s course keeps correcting, their first loss will come soon.
  • And finally, Chelsea. They stay top of England thanks to Ashley Cole’s 85th minute goal against Stoke, giving the Blues a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge. With 13 points through five games, Chelsea’s taken advantage of a very easy opening schedule, something which will come back to hurt them in the long run. When all four competitions are in full swing, the Blues will wish one or two of their important, place-deciding fixtures were scheduled for less congested times. There’s nothing Roberto Di Matteo can do about that – let’s hope he didn’t pick this fixture list – but just as Southampton’s schedule exaggerated their problems, Chelsea’s exaggerates their quality.

Saturday results: Swansea City 0-3 Everton; Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City; Southampton 4-1 Aston Villa; West Brom 1-0 Reading; West Ham 1-1 Sunderland; Wigan 1-2 Fulham