Rich diet of 'bagels' bad for health of Premier League
IN TENNIS they call it a 'bagel' and, with so many 'six-love' scorelines already this season, it is a phrase that should perhaps also enter the lexicon of football.
During almost two decades of the Premier League, a 6-0 win had been recorded only 17 times. Yet within eight days of the beginning of the new campaign, it is a result that has already occurred four times.
Matches are averaging more than three goals a game, a ratio that far exceeds the record season when 1,060 goals were scored at a rate of 2.79 per game.
After a World Cup notable for negative tactics and defensive excellence, just what explains this extraordinary Premier League start and can we expect it to continue?
There has been no shortage of evidence so far this season for those who argue that the general standard of Premier League goalkeeping has never been lower.
Mistakes like Scott Carson's fumble against Chelsea might have been expected from a 'keeper in one of the less fashionable teams, but even a player of Pepe Reina's stature has already cost his team two points with a dreadful blunder. Bob Wilson, the former Arsenal goalkeeper, argues that there are few modern-day greats in England.
"Pepe Reina is the most consistent, but I don't think there are any 'keepers out there anymore who are like a Pat Jennings or Peter Shilton," he said.
"The last two who showed real consistency were Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman. I used to say that if you could count the number of serious mistakes over a season on more than one hand then you were below potential. Now you see two or three a game quite regularly."
widening gulf between
haves and have nots
Didier Drogba is arguably the best striker in the world and, along with the other stars at Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal, is paid the wages to match.
Weekly salaries in excess of £100,000 are no longer unusual at the top of the Premier League. Indeed, Yaya Toure is reputed to be on £220,000 at City.
Yet, further down, a club like Blackpool have a wage ceiling of around £10,000 a week. That means Toure is costing roughly the same as Blackpool's entire squad.
The recession, coupled with the examples of clubs like Leeds and Portsmouth, has ensured a new age of prudence among those clubs with smaller revenues.
As Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan said: "Supporters now understand that it's just not viable for some clubs to pay hundreds of millions of pounds to stay in the Premier League. It's better to be a yo-yo club than no club at all."
England's woeful World Cup defending against Germany has proved to be a prelude to the new season. From West Brom players jumping to leave gaping holes in defensive walls to Wigan's shambles against both Blackpool and Chelsea, there have already been enough inadequacies to keep Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon talking for months.
Hansen says English football is now paying the price for the lack of opportunities given to younger players. Dixon says the overall standard so far has been "pretty dire".
Former Wigan manager Paul Jewell agrees that the new generation of defenders are struggling to replace those who went before.
"There are still 'proper' centre-backs like John Terry, Nemanja Vidic and Jamie Carragher, but they seem a dying breed," he said.
Arsene Wenger, who had a budget big enough to afford any available centre-back in Europe, has eventually settled on Sebastien Squillaci, a 30-year-old generally kept out of the France team by Eric Abidal and William Gallas.
Every change to the rules or new instructions for referees, it seems, does something to aid the attackers. From lighter balls to better balls, the changes in equipment are also all in favour of the striker.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister has pinpointed lighter balls as a central cause for defensive problems. However, the new Nike Total 90 Tracer has proved marginally more popular among goalkeepers.
"The new ball is better, although there is movement in the air and seems to react differently according to the temperature," said West Ham goalkeeping coach David Coles.
"We used to train goalkeepers to deal with anything six yards out, but now it is three yards."
More than ever this season, it also appears that the benefit of doubt is with attackers, whether on offsides, penalty-decisions or sendings-off.
Wenger has noted there is often a willingness from the promoted clubs to attack and play football in the first half of the season when the fear of relegation is less obvious.
Among the teams expected to struggle, there are also an unusually high number renowned for a an expansive brand of football.
Wigan, West Brom and Blackpool all have managers committed to passing football. Their theory is that the occasional heavy beating is a price worth paying for the increased chance of scoring goals and getting wins.
Whether those refreshing philosophies will survive through the winter remains perhaps the $64,000 question. (© Daily Telegraph, London)