Game Of The Week: Manchester City 4, Swansea City 0
The opening weekend of the Premier League season lacked a little magic, with a fair amount of low-scoring draws, own goals, and dudes disagreeing with one another, a few head injuries, and a bunch of new faces on new teams trying to find their way.
And even one hour into the Monday night football match between Premier League debutantes Swansea City and Manchester City's Sheikh's ransom of talent, we had only one Edin Dzeko "Look What I Found" goal to show for our troubles. It looked like an equally magic-free night in East Manchester.
Then Sergio "Kun" Aguero walked onto the field as a sub and promptly said, "Poof! Vamoose, son of a bitch."
Yes, reaction to Aguero's performance should be tempered with the knowledge that Swansea looked completely fried by the time he came on the pitch. Only the athletic heroics of its new keeper, Michel Vorm, were keeping it afloat at that point. But that doesn't change the fact that in just one half hour — in which Aguero produced two goals and a table-flipping assist — the Argentinian forward, playing his first match in City colors since his big-money move from Atletico Madrid, gave a mouthwatering preview of the kind of wizardry he is capable of.
Before Aguero came on, the match took place in a decidedly wizard-free zone. Swansea bravely attempted to play the style of football that got it to the Premier League in the first place. In the face of dogged Man City defensive pressure, the Swans kept possession of the ball and kept it on the ground. Manchester City also stuck to a well-established, if far less aesthetically pleasing, template. Despite the presence of Spanish international David Silva and the inclusion of English wing whiz kid Adam Johnson, manager Roberto Mancini's men still played football more or less like the way Lennie played with puppies in Of Mice and Men. Aside from midfielder Yaya Toure's rampaging runs into the box, there was little there to enjoy.
A goal in the 57th minute from Dzeko gave City some separation, putting it up, 1-0. This is usually enough for defensive-minded Mancini, who tends to lock the back door once he gets even the slightest of leads. But with more than 46,000 fans in the building and Aguero on the bench, Mancini, for perhaps the first time since he became City boss in 2009, had a little fun.
With Aguero's entrance, City went to a 4-4-2 formation, pairing the Argentine with Dzeko and giving Johnson and Silva license to cut inside and create. Immediately the team looked more fluid and inventive. The results were almost immediate; Aguero scored in the 68th, getting on the end of a perfect, low cross from Micah Richards. However, the magic was still to come.
Three minutes later and it was fantasy football time: an Adam Johnson back heel, a Dzeko flick into the box, an Aguero chip shot that turned into a kind of self-alley-oop that he chased down and lobbed backwards, over his shoulder, for Silva to volley in. And among the behemoths on the field, giants like Richards and Toure, there were Silva and Aguero, broadly smiling with "You see that!?" expressions on their faces.
Aguero would cement his place in the hearts of City fans by lashing an injury-time rocket into the upper-left deck of Vorm's goal. And, again, while grains of salt should be doled out in light of Swansea's absolute-beginner status and its not-particularly-defensive style of play, you can be sure that other top Premier League clubs felt the rattle of Swansea's net, as far away as London and as close by as the other side of Manchester.
One blink-and-you-miss-it moment worth noting occurred when Aguero came on for defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong in the 59th minute: As soon as he entered the game, he immediately jogged out to Silva and began a dialogue.
The pair would continue this discussion, with their feet, for the next 20 minutes. Mancini would later say that Aguero and Silva "play in the same language." This might have been the Italian's broken-English way of saying that Aguero and Silva communicate in Spanish, but The Reducer would like to believe that this was evidence of Mancini's newfound poetic streak. Because Silva and Aguero do play in the same language, a playful, imaginative language with accents full of invention and style. Seeing them speak it is enough to move even the defensive-minded manager to poetry.
Off The Pitch: Bye-bye, sayonara, AUF WIEDERSEHEN!
Aguero's dazzling debut was the on-field highlight of a weekend that was dominated by off-the-field transactions and rumors. The large takeaway from the first round of Premier League matches was that many of these teams are not playing like "teams" yet. They're just a collection of players on their way in or out of their clubs.
This is what happens with the summer transfer window. Because the market tends to shift in favor from seller1 to buyer as summer turns to fall, teams often begin the season with holes in their rosters and players in limbo. They sacrifice early cohesion on the field for better deals in the transfer market.
Nowhere was this more on display than the match between Newcastle and Arsenal, a dull 0-0 draw, in which neither team particularly deserved a point.2
Arsenal was without its two best players. Captain Cesc Fabregas was on his way to completing a long-desired move to Barcelona, while midfielder Samir Nasri was left out while the protracted negotiation for either a new contract or a move to Manchester City was worked out. This left Arsenal fans in a bit of a mood, and it left Arsene Wenger with the ghost of Tomas Rosicky3 playing a key creative role. The thing is, Wenger has nobody to blame but himself:
Season after season, Wenger has shopped for players with about as much success as when John Cleese shops for cheese.
Now, after years of Gunners fans doing everything short of self-immolation in the hopes of convincing their manager to shore up his defense, Wenger's shopping list just got much longer, with a glaring need for a creative midfielder and, after the toothless display in front of goal on Saturday, another striker.
In Newcastle, fans are equally infuriated. Owner Mike Ashley continues to pocket money on sales of players (Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique), while only bringing in unproven talent like Gabriel Obertan and injury risks like Demba Ba.
Other big teams showed signs of not quite being ready for prime time. Chelsea played to a grinding 0-0 draw with Stoke in a match that probably raised Spurs midfielder (and Chelsea transfer target) Luka Modric's price tag a few million Euros. Their midfield could certainly use some of Modric's decision-making and delivery.
Meanwhile the question facing Liverpool — namely, "where will you play all these central midfielders in one team?" — was answered by manager Kenny Dalglish with a resounding, "I'll get back to you on that one." Charlie Adam looked feisty and unafraid of the jump from Blackpool to Liverpool, but Jordan Henderson seemed anonymous and ready to curl up with some biscuits and a Top Gear rerun.
Dalglish and Wenger can at least take heart in the fact that they're not in Blackburn manager Steve Kean's predicament. First of all, unlike Kean, they are allowed to drive, and second, their transfer prospects are much better. As Kean put it after Rovers' opening day loss to Wolves, "Eleven players have left the club, and we've had three in. We need to strengthen in different areas and make sure we have a competitive squad."
It's telling that Manchester United was among the most cohesive sides of the weekend. Alex Ferguson went in early and he went in big, buying a keeper, a winger, and a defender (David De Gea, Ashley Young, Phil Jones) and giving them a full training camp to get acclimated. Whoever winds up coming into Arsenal, Newcastle, or anywhere else will have to learn on the fly.
Goal Of The Week: Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson, against Liverpool
Sebastian Larsson has always kind of rubbed The Reducer the wrong way. Not unlike fellow Arsenal Academy dropout/reject David Bentley — last seen hoofing soccer balls off the roof of a building and into trashcans — Larsson always seemed anonymous on the field, until it was time to take a free kick. Then, in those dead-ball situations, he would make a real "QUIET! MASTER AT WORK!" face as if he was taking into consideration the rotation of Jupiter before he kicked the damn thing. Sometimes it would go in, sometimes he skied it over the goal, into the stands, and into the face of a fat guy from the Midlands. Point is he wasn't in The Reducer's cool book.
After watching Larsson against Liverpool, though, The Reducer must put Stetson in hand and admit he was wrong. Larsson has just the kind of sense of invention Steve Bruce's side needed; that little bit of brilliance that can change a game with one kick. And brilliant is pretty much the only thing you can say about Larsson's falling-away, far-post equalizer volley.
- The hits keep on coming for Arsenal. The Gunners allowed themselves to be jerked by their repeated tormentor, Joey Barton. The Newcastle midfielder and Smiths enthusiast, no doubt egged on by the cleat-stomp he received from Arsenal's Alex Song, found himself exactly where he likes to be: in the center of a controversy. In the 75th minute, reacting to what he thought was a dive, Barton grabbed Arsenal's new winger, Gervinho, by the collar and started screaming in his face. When Gervinho took a pretty halfhearted slap at Barton, Shelia took a bow, with the Newcastle tough guy writhing on the ground as if Manny Pacquiao just blew up his eardrum.
Now Song and Gervinho face three-game suspensions in the league, meaning they will miss crucial matches against Liverpool and Manchester United.
- Of the promoted teams, Norwich had the most promising weekend. There wasn't really stiff competition for that title, seeing as how QPR and Swansea both got dogged, 4-0. The Swans can at least look themselves in the mirror; losing 4-0 to Man City is nothing to cry about. But QPR, which is in the process of being taken over by AirAsia mogul Tony Fernandes, is going to need some help, like, yesterday. Losing 4-0 to Bolton? That's a sob story.
- Fernando Torres, fresh from a concussion on international duty, turned in the liveliest performance of his Chelsea career. Or at least as lively as anyone can be after getting elbowed and drooled on by Stoke's defenders. The major question hovering over Chelsea remains whether or not it can play Torres with longtime striker Didier Drogba. It certainly doesn't look like it.
- Quote of the week comes from Arsene Wenger, who, as the Fabregas transfer cloud finally lifted, seemed to find his sense of humor. When asked about Joey Barton, the suddenly wise-cracking Frenchman responded, "Maybe the way to sort Barton out is to sign him. Maybe that's the solution."
Chris Ryan is a staff writer for Grantland.
Previously from Chris Ryan:
The Reducer: Premier League Preview
Anthony Gonzalez Has Something To Say About HGH and Limitless
The Neverending Story OR How Brett Almost Got His Groove Back
The Peyton Whisperer
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