Ok, I know I should be writing previews rather than retrospectives, but bear with me, because last weekend actually showed a number of key things that will shape the rest of the season in all countries.
In England, the chances of Chelsea maintaining the title look slim. Yeah, they’re in first but so what? They don’t look good. Meanwhile, at Old Trafford, Sir Alex has gone all Ponce de Leon what with Giggs and Scholes, nearly the last of the class of ’92, leading the team to a deserved 7-1-1 record. The Human Hairdryer’s squad is still a bit thin – they’ll never be more than one midfield injury away from disaster this year – but the squad has resiliance and togetherness and that counts for a lot. As for Arsenal – anyone who watched the Reading game knows that they are back to their absolute best and that their new-look 4-1-4-1 formation allows any number of runs into the box from a posse of outrageously talented forwards and attacking midfielders. So, even though a few of the pre-season favourites seem to be in states of advanced disarray (Tottenham, Liverpool) This season will go to the wire.
(Speaking of England, one of the best articles on tactics I’ve seen in some time came out a few days ago, courtesy of Rob Smyth of the Guardian. It’s excellent – read it here.)
The season also looks interesting in Spain, where Real went from plumbing the depths of awfulness against Getafe to reaching sublime heights against Barcelona in a single week. The key? Helguera is back and looking sharp, Emerson and Robinho finally had decent matches and Raul is playing like its 1999 and he isn’t the world’s most overrated player. Barca, meanwhile, are learning that for all their stars – decaying ones, in Deco’s case – they are as painfully reliant on Eto’o as Arsenal are on Henry. Without his hard edge leading the line, Ronnie looks – well, like he did this summer with Brazil – out of place and out of ideas. Throw a newly coherent Valencia into the mix, along with Sevilla – who may be hard pressed to survive a month without injured Luis Fabiano – and you have the potential of an interesting 4-way race.
Italy is harder to call, but intriguing nonetheless. Inter are tied for the league lead even though they look awful on the pitch. Their Sunday match against Udinese was possibly the best 90-minute summary ever made of why sentient human beings should avoid Italian football. On the other hand, co-leaders Palermo managed to look both efficient and exciting as they demolished a seriously tired-looking Milan who really should have tried to replace Shevchenko in the summer. Roma might still make a challenge and it’s not impossible that Milan could get their act together – but the Sicilians are for real and anyone who is sick at the thought of Inter winning a scudetto needs to get behind the boys in pink.