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Premier League Weekly: Burnley The Giant Killers

Burnley celebrates another upset

Each season in the English Premier League a newly promoted team takes down a couple of the big boys early on and shocks the football establishment. Last season, Hull City had a remarkable start to the season, beating the likes of Arsenal early on before coming back to Earth and they nearly got relegated. This season, Burnley has donned the glass slipper and is tearing apart some of the EPL’s best teams from a year ago.

After an opening day defeat at the hands of Stoke City, Burnley returned home to it’s fortress at Turf Moor on Wednesday and faced the task of playing the three-time defending champions, Manchester United. So what did they do? Went out and beat them, 1-0, off a Robbie Blake volley in the 19th minute. The win shocked the champions and gave Burnley it’s first top flight points in 33 years. Fast forward to Sunday when, again at Turf Moor, Burnley used a first half goal from Wade Elliot to down Everton, 1-0, sending the blues to their second EPL defeat on the bounce. Burnley has made their mark on the young season but it certainly doesn’t get any easier. After a Carling Cup clash against Hartlepool, they face back to back road trips, one to Stamford Bridge and one to Anfield. If they can secure any sort of points from either of those matchups, they could already be well on their way to staying the EPL.

Speaking of Anfield, life is not looking good so far on Merseyside for neither Everton nor Liverpool. Between the two sides they have three points from five games and rest near the bottom of the Premier League. Last night Liverpool crashed to their second defeat of the young season, losing 3-1 to Aston Villa. Liverpool lost only two matches all of last season and hadn’t faced defeat in the Premier League at Anfield since late 2007, but an own goal, a header off a corner and a penalty spelled doom for the reds. It’s tough to place the blame squarely on one party, but so far it’s been a mess at Anfield. Many people will point to the sale of midfielder Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid as a part of the problem. My point is, it’s alright to sell a player for the right price (which in my mind £30 million was the right price) but when you replace him with a player who isn’t going to be ready for at least a month due to injury – as Roma replacement Alberto Aquilani won’t be – you are just asking for trouble. It’s early yet, but it’s already looking like another lost EPL season at Anfield.

Five Things We Learned

  1. Chelsea are the early title favorites. Despite strong showings thus far from Arsenal and Tottenham there seems to be little doubt that Carlos Ancelotti’s Chelsea are the team to beat in the EPL. Wins over Hull City, Sunderland and Fulham may not seem like massive results, but just watch the blues for half a match and you can see the quality oozing from each position. Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka have finally seemed to form a strong striking partnership and once Ancelotti figures out how to best utilize the rest of the squad, Chelsea are going to be tough to beat.
  2. It’s going to be a wide open EPL in 09-10. After just a few weeks of play there have already been surprises up and down the table and now only four teams hold a perfect record. Chelsea and Tottenham both have nine points from three games while Arsenal and Manchester City carry six points from two. The most likely to drop points this weekend (sorry Burnley, lightnin won’t strike three times) is Arsenal, who face a massive trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on Saturday (live on FSC). With Man U and Liverpool having already lost three matches between them this season, all signs indicate this could be the year that the Big 4 finally are breached by one of the wannabes.
  3. Hull City are a different team with Jozy Altidore in the squad. The long awaited debut of American striker Jozy Altidore for Hull City did not disappoint. In Saturday’s match against Bolton the teams were deadlocked in the second half when manager Phil Brown brought on the burly 19-year-old, who immediately made an impact. Just seconds after entering the game in the 60th minute, on his first touch no less, Altidore made a ridiculous move by looping the ball over a defender into the path of fellow newcomer Kamel Fathi Ghilas who buried the shot and gave Hull a 1-0 lead. Moments later Jozy should have had his first goal as a wonderful pass found him 1-on-1 with the keeper but his flick over went agonizingly wide and nearly caused a massive head injury when I jumped off my couch towards the ceiling. Jozy brought a different dimension to the Hull City attack and should see a lot of playing time at the KC Stadium.
  4. The strange absence of draws continue. I pointed this out last week but it seems that we need to have a “draw watch.” After 26 games played in the EPL this season there has only been one draw, that being Birmingham and Stoke drawing 0-0 on Saturday. There have also been five instances where teams have scored four goals or more in a match. Looks like there’s no need for an NHL style shootout to decide ties in the EPL this year.
  5. Fox Soccer Channel has their work cut out for them. Last week I mentioned the excitement surrounding the inclusion of ESPN showing EPL games this season. Yesterday, I finally was able to watch an entire broadcast of an ESPN game and was blown away. Yes, my beloved Reds were slaughtered by Aston Villa but the presentation was suburb. From the high definition signal to the studio commentary at halftime, ESPN is doing it right. I’ve been watching the EPL for a few years on FSC and very rarely have they showed extended video coverage of players in the tunnel followed by a few minutes of the natural sounds of the crowd. ESPN commentators stayed silent for the entirety of the Kop singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and it certainly was a sight to see, even for non-Reds fans I imagine. FSC, take notice.

Three Up

  1. Tottenham Hotspur: Most of us remember how dreadful Spurs started last season and looked primed for a relegation battle. What a difference a year (and an new manager) makes. Harry Redknapp has come in and changed the culture around White Hart Lane as Spurs now sit atop the EPL with nine points. Wins over Liverpool, Hull City and West Ham have Spurs fans dreaming of European football and maybe even a Champions League spot. Their attack of Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Gio Dos Santos is deep and strong.
  2. Big Spenders: Manchester City and Chelsea are considered the best teams money can buy and so far both are living up to their bank accounts. Chelsea didn’t make any major signings in the summer but still have a squad loaded with foreign mercenaries and now seem primed for another run at a title. In the northwest, Manchester City went on a spending spree and it’s paying dividends as Arsenal castoff Emmanuel Adebayor scored again this weekend and has Man City sporting a perfect record so far. With Everton defender Joleon Lescott close to a switch to the Eastlands, City look ready to make a serious run at the Big 4.
  3. Michael Owen: The much-aligned England striker played very well in the pre-season with Manchester United and finally netted his first goal for the Red Devils this past weekend against Wigan. After a deadlocked first half, United exploded for five goals in the second with Owen netting the fourth in the 85th minute as his finesse shot hit the post and bounced in. Without Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo in attack this season, Owen is going to need to score some goals for United to keep up with Chelsea.

Three Down

  1. Lucas Leiva: The young Brazilian midfielder has been given the tall task of replacing Xabi Alonso in the Liverpool midfield and so far has yet to make a positive impact. Though improved from his previous seasons at Anfield the 22-year-old had a dreadful game against Aston Villa. With the game scoreless in the 33rd minute Lucas committed a silly foul outside the penalty area and then proceeded to head the ball into his own net on the resulting free kick. Despite receiving public words of support from Rafa Benitez, Lucas’ inconsistent play at times has a lot of fans and pundits scratching their heads on his continued inclusion in the starting XI.
  2. David Moyes: It’s just been a disastrous few weeks for the Everton manager. Embarrassing losses to Arsenal (6-1 home) and Burnley (1-0 away) have the blues at the bottom of the EPL. Compound that with the ridiculous back and forth news of the Lescott transfer to Manchester City and you have a toxic situation. I feel Moyes is right to complain about the open recruitment of Lescott by City, but at this point he seems to be whining a little too much. The fact is that Everton are going to receive an above market value bid for their central defender and if Moyes would have accepted it a few weeks ago they wouldn’t have to scramble to find a replacement.
  3. Portsmouth: Yikes, what a mess. Most experts predicted Portsmouth to be relegated this season due to a mess in ownership and a roster which is pitiful; so far Pompey haven’t disappointed. Portsmouth have zero points from three matches and have scored just a single goal this season. A team which last year boasted Harry Redknapp as manager with Peter Crouch and David James on the squad may be on the fast track to the Championship.

Americans in the EPL

  • Jozy Altidore (Hull City): As I said before, Altidore made a dream debut for Hull City as the Tigers beat Bolton, 1-0. Altidore had an assist and a few chances for his first goal. Look for some starts coming very soon. Grade: A
  • Clint Dempsey (Fulham): Dempsey saw a lot of action this past week, going the full 90 minutes in both the mid-week Europa League match against Amkar (a 3-1 victory) and the Saturday contest against Chelsea (a 2-0 defeat). Deuce scored Fulham’s second goal against Amkar and has shown some incredible attacking prowess in the young season. Grade: B+
  • Tim Howard (Everton): Though life at Everton has been tough this season, not much of the blame can be placed on Howard. After a clean sheet in mid-week Europa League action against Sigma Olomouc, Everton crashed to a 1-0 defeat against Burnley as Howard’s outstretched dive couldn’t save Wade Elliot’s shot. A tough few weeks for Howard. Grade: B-
  • Jonathan Spector (West Ham): Spector started at left back and played the full 90 minutes against Spurs on Sunday. Spector twice found Carlton Cole with seeing-eye passes but the England striker couldn’t finish either of them. Spector was turned on the second Tottenham goal, however, and West Ham lost 2-1. Grade: B

Another big week coming up as the Carling Cup commences and make sure to catch the big EPL matchup between Manchester United and Arsenal this weekend!

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