Surprises galore in EPL

The 2012-13 EPL season has already thrown in a few shockers. More will surely follow, writes Brian Glanville.

Just as it seemed that the Premier League, still for me with its imbalanced and ruthless FA helped beginnings “The Greed is Good League” — looked set for another season’s monopoly by the plutocratic clubs — it began with an extraordinary series of unpredictable results. Thus, after buying no fewer than eight new players, Queens Park Ranger, at home to a Swansea City team deprived of its much lauded manager, Brendan Rodgers, and two key players in the shape of the ebullient young Welsh midfielder Joe Allen and the clever Icelandic attacker, Gylfi Sigurdsson, waltzed through the afternoon, with a devastating 5-0 success.

This, with a side hastily constituted by their once fabled, new manager Michael Laudrup, the supreme Danish footballer, acquiring at bargain prices three of the players he had once coached at Malaga. I saw and could but marvel at what happened; at the abject collapse of QPR in an embarrassing second half in which four goals were conceded; and the Spanish midfielder Michu, scorer of two of them, bestrode the pitch. Then Swansea, thrashed West Ham.

Meanwhile, what was happening to Rodgers, the manager who had so ably built up a Swansea side with delightful inter passing tactics, and some famous victories against the likes of Arsenal? Taking over at Liverpool, he was quick to make it clear that in his sophisticated strategy, there was no time or place for Andy Carroll, far and away the most expensive player Liverpool had ever bought, at GBP35 million from Newcastle who have cheekily and unsuccessfully tried to take him back on loan. Yet hot on the heels of a humiliating 3-0 defeat at West Bromwich where Liverpool had lost only once in decades, Carroll was brought back for a Europa game at Hearts; where Liverpool, in fact, fielded an under strength team, with Rodgers somewhat belatedly announcing that he wanted to buy more players.

How many more, you might ask, and what prospect is there of remotely getting this Liverpool side to play the Swansea way or to get Uruguay’s star attacker, Luis Suarez — plainly ill at ease as lone striker — scoring goals instead of continually missing chances. Yet they outplayed Manchester City and deserved to win.

Then, what of the paradox of Fulham? At the start of the season they had been snubbed by their chief marksman of the previous campaign, the highly effective American attacker Clint Dempsey, deadly from the left flank or from whatever other more central position he decided to strike. Dempsey had made it known that he wanted to join Liverpool, who abruptly seemed to lose interest. Against Norwich City at Craven Cottage, therefore, Fulham deployed a newly bought striker in Mladen Petric, a Croatian born in Bosnia, who responded with two well taken goals in a 5-0 annihilation of Norwich. Who, in the event, needed Dempsey?

Manchester United: All that summer expenditure, crowned by the GBP24 million acquisition from an embittered Arsenal of that prolific Dutch striker, though he was a blunt instrument in the recent EUROs — Robin van Persie. At Goodison Park he was surprisingly used only as a latish substitute, and he couldn’t save United from a comprehensive defeat by an Everton team in which they totally failed to master that towering Belgian international, Marouane Fellaini, utterly dominant on the ground and especially in the air, soaring above a hapless defence to head a decisive and spectacular goal.

Needless to say we had the customary one-eyed whinging from the United manager Alex Ferguson, complaining that the refereeing decisions had gone against United. But that was par for the course. David Moyes, with strictly limited funds, has worked small wonders with Everton and this was a glorious beginning to the season for which he’s welcomed back, for the second time the clever South African Steven Pienaar.

United, meanwhile, seem top heavy with talent upfront, so much so that you wonder what future there be even for Wayne Rooney. A dismal figure in the Everton debacle, just as he was in his two dull appearances for England at the EUROs. An increasingly un-endearing figure, liable all to often to petulant outbursts on the pitch — such as that which got him his suspension for expulsion in Montenegro — greedily guilty of bringing still higher wages out of United, the arrival of van Persie and the talented Japanese, Shinji Kagawa, the availability of Danny Welbeck and Mexico’s Chicharito, plus Ferguson’s continuing quest to buy up young stars all over the world, do make you think.

Chelsea have, to my mind, foolishly let Didier Drogba go and have spent a vast fortune on the exciting, elusive Eden Hazard, the Belgian from Lille, not to mention Oscar the bright young Brazilian. Yet watching their erratic performance at home to promoted, far less bright Reading, a 4-2 win which hugely flattered them, you wonder about their prospects. Reading were actually 2-1 ahead after going behind to a penalty. A shocking error by goalkeeper Petr Cech gave Reading their second goal, though, fortunately for Chelsea Reading’s goalie, Adam Federici was just as unreliable. But Chelsea’s third by Fernando Torres, still wholly to convince as spearhead, was palpably offside, while the fourth arrived when Federici dashed suicidally up-field during a Reading corner.

Talking of shaky keeper QPR’s newly acquired Rob Green, on a free transfer, evoked bleak memories of his error with England against USA in South Africa, when he conceded Swansea’s first goal. At least Ferguson can console himself that young Spanish keeper David De Gea who started so fallibly, last season, has judging by his form at Everton, found confidence and splendid reactions. Manchester City meanwhile, made surprisingly hard work of defeating promoted Southampton and Roberto Mancini may not be guilty of false modesty when he declared they’ll find it hard to keep that title won at the last, lucky gasp against depleted QPR.