The football season is back, and I don’t know what to think. On the one hand it is one of the few things that give my sorry life meaning, while on the other it is the source of much frustration and tension, not to mention the primary reason for my receding hairline. I will, however, say this: through all the media sensationalism and talk of hyper-inflated wages, it’s wonderful to see some actual on-field action in the Premier League once more.
Today’s opening game against Chelsea inevitably evoked memories of 2005 and that highly memorable encounter between the very same two teams. I remember getting there extra early and having to wait, along with hundreds of others, for the turnstiles to open. As I began to soak in the atmosphere of Wigan’s first game in the Premier League, I felt a tap on my shoulder followed by a gentle ‘excuse me’. I barely had time to turn around before Pascal Chimbonda brushed past me in his suit and tie! Apparently not even players get preferential treatment, and have to force their way through the crowds like the rest of us.
It’s worth glossing briefly over just how far both clubs have progressed in the subsequent seven years. Chelsea now stand proudly as the Champions of Europe, having ground their way to a win over Bayern Munich just three months ago. Though Wigan haven’t quite matched the magnificent performance of their début season, to stay in the Premier League and slug it out with the big boys on a shoestring budget, year after year, is an admirable achievement.
Where is Chimbonda now? Truth be known, I haven’t a clue. Last time I checked he was at Doncaster Rovers, but nobody has seen him since. But life at Wigan goes on, and there’s no time for sentiment when the Euro champs are in your back yard, pinching yer carrots.
And nick our veg exactly what Chelsea did, going 2-0 ahead in the space of about six minutes thanks to a couple of Ivan Ramis brainfreezes. Yeah, blame it on the new boy… but Latics hardly had time to get going before they were dealt two debilitating punches to the stomach. They spent the rest of the half trying to repair the damage, and enjoyed much of the game in their quest for a first Prem goal of the season. Franco Di Santo had the best chances, once heading over from a superb Emmerson Boyce cross, then taking a poor touch when one-on-one with Petr Cech.
It seemed Chelsea were happy to let Wigan do what they liked. You know that old cliché, ‘playing the long game’? Sometimes it’s best to conserve your energy than pointlessly push for more goals – it’s what all the best teams do. But that can be a dangerous tactic, especially against this Wigan side. Indeed, Latics worked more opportunities than their opponents in the second stanza, most notably through Victor Moses. The Nigerian picked up his game for the second 45 and was a real threat on the left wing – hopefully we’ll see a lot more of that this season.
Ivan Ramis, too, settled into a rhythm. Though he was outrun by the fresh legs of young Oscar on a couple of occasions, the Spanish débutante went some way toward atoning for his misdemeanours, clearing a Fernando Torres shot off the line. Better stuff all round, then, but the question remained: could Wigan score?
The statistics will show that the hosts had more shots on goal than their opponents, but converting them into goals was proving decidedly tricky. Arouna Kone had a couple of late attempts as Petr Cech’s goalmouth became increasingly populated, and a final 10-minute push could also have yielded goals from Jordi Gomez and Victor Moses. This was more like the Wigan of late last season, and hopefully will set us in good stead for challenges to come.
The game was lost in the first seven minutes and the other 83 were a mixture of enterprise and drudgery. One can’t be too critical, however, as it’s only the first game of the season and, don’t forget, these are the European Champions. Despite this fact, Latics were never outplayed and were always in the game, even at 2-0 down.
So has the return of the Premier League convinced me football is greater entertainment than the Olympic Games? Not necessarily, but we’ll see what happens as the inevitable Premier League media saturation kicks into full gear. I wouldn’t hold your breath, but once we get a win on the board you can bet we’ll all be fully engrossed once more. Funny how football has a strange control of us like that.