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English Premier Talk: Parity is the Name of the Game

Does anyone know when the last time in the same weekend Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United(*) failed to win in the Premier League era?

Couple that with Liverpool drawing Sunderland and Tottenham losing to West Ham -- the Irons first win of the season no less -- and either it's a massive statistical quirk, aided by the fact Chelsea played Manchester City, (which we might have to include in the "New Big Four" until Liverpool gets its act together) or the sign of things to come.

(*) Was Sir Alex Ferguson able to sleep Saturday night with what was likely raging, old Scottish stiffy in light of Chelsea and Arsenal losing. Naturally, Manchester United has to rally late to draw at Bolton the next day.

You almost have to wonder, are the EPL and NFL crossing over a little too much?

The NFL is certainly trying to take a page from across the Atlantic, as it attempts to market itself across the globe despite the fact few people outside the States actually play Futbol Americano.

The Premier League, if the first six rounds of the 2010-11 campaign mean anything, must have been drinking some of the Roger Goodell/Paul Taglibue parity-flavored Kool Aid. Remarkably, it's come with any artificially imposed salary caps, too.

It's only six games, but 11 of the league's 20 clubs are sitting between 7 to 10 points. Chelsea, even with the limp loss at City, still appear the cream of the league and are the only club with more than three wins. The best manifestation of this muddled start might be Fulham, which has scored seven goals and allowed six on its way to a 1-5-0, eight-point start. Oddly enough, at the bottom we've yet to pinpoint a three-point ATM, such as the Derby County/Portsmouth/Watford types. Everton is last on three points, but are the Toffees really going to spend the either year as relegation fodder?

Better question, are people across the globe ready to accept a Premier League where anyone can beat anybody, well not at Stamford Bridge at least, on any given Saturday (or Sunday)? It's open for debate. Some people love a level playing field like we see in the NFL -- though in England we're still years away from anyone breaking up the Chelsea/Manchester United/Arsenal cabal. Others prefer dominant teams, who produce sublime quality on the field/court, more like where the NBA is heading with four or five power teams.

Maybe the EPL is actually trending more like Major League Baseball, as in the new century teams have been wiser about spending money resulting in teams like the Phillies, Rays, Tigers, Rockies and Astros all reaching the World Series. You'll always have a Yankees/Chelsea/Man City team, but an endless bankroll hasn't automatically meant results like it used to do.

Either way, it's probably easy to pinpoint the big reason for the EPL's evolution toward a more parity-like state -- money.

Manchester United and Liverpool have ownership issues and aren't spending big. Arsenal doesn't want to open up the change purse for a big-time forward, defender or goalie.

Meanwhile, the rest of the league is spending wisely. The days of a club like Newcastle breaking the bank to spend on guys like Albert Luque appear over.

As a result Birmingham, Stoke, Sunderland, Wolves, Fulham, Bolton and West Brom all seem to be fairly solid teams, or at least have a mentality with 10-15 committed guys on the same page. Teams that believe their XI can hold their own against anyone else in the league.

More than that though, perhaps teams are realizing that you're better off trying to stand up to the assumed better teams and going for a win, rather than playing defensively and eventually being overwhelmed. One point isn't all that much better than zero, so you're better off shooting for three. With the league so evenly bunch, wins not draws, will break up that early-season congestion.

Sure we have shock results every season, but West Brom winning 3-2 at the Emirates against Arsenal, a game the Baggies lead 3-0?

Let that sink in for a little bit.

And the way the game was played, it wasn't an unfair or fluke result. Roberto di Matteo's club thoroughly deserved what it got, even with the Manuel Almunia Traveling Comedy show in full effect.

For whatever reason Saturday, for me, was a total veg-out day and without a noon Premier League match, I became a little more cultured, watching some continental soccer offerings.

What did I see?

How about unheralded Mainz beating Bayern 2-1 at the Allainz Arena, maintaining its 6-0-0 first place first in the Bundesliga. Here's a clip of game-winner from Adam Szalai. (Also love that Mainz's full name is the Teuton-eriffic 1.FSV Mainz 05, so not to be confused with 2.FSV Mainz 05.) One more link, Raphael Honigstein's always hilarious Guardian Bundesliga recap.

What about in Spain, where promoted Levante held mighty Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw in La Liga.

And the shock result of it all, AS Saint-Etienne shocking blood rival Lyon 1-0 at the Stade Gerland, to move to the top of Ligue 1. (Enjoy the winner by Dmitri Payet. Class.) Les Verts, who added Carlos Bocanegra in the summer, were 17th last season.

In Serie A Roma even beat defending champion Inter 1-0.

For what it's worth, to gauge how wacky the 2010-11 seasons have begun around Europe, let's look at the major leagues and it's current representatives in the Champions League.

Bundesliga -- Leader: Mainz (18 points); Bayern Munich 9th place, 8 points; Werder Bremen 12th, 7; Schalke 17th, 4 points.

Ligue 1 -- Leader: Saint-Etienne (16 points); Olympique Marseille 5th place 11 points; Auxurre 17th place five points; Lyon 19th place, five points. (OL broke the French transfer record buying Yohann Gourcouff from Bourdeaux this summer, too.)

La Liga -- Leader: Valencia (13 points); Barcelona 2nd 12 points; Real Madrid 3rd 11 points. (Status quo, except Valencia did sell David Villa and David Silva in the offseason, as you'd expect Real and Barca to run away from the rest of the league already.)

Serie A -- Leaders: Inter/Lazio (10 points); AC Milan 5th eight points, Roma 17th 5 points. Also note: Juventus (the Liverpool of Italy) is 19th.

Also worth pointing out, last year's Portuguese champions -- Benfica -- are fifth in the Portuguese Liga, sharing a Champions League group with Schalke and Lyon.

* * *
About that Manchester City/Chelsea game -- Strange, isn't it that City seem better suited tactically to play against the heavyweights than the also-rans? The troika of Gareth Barry, Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure left Chelsea with little room to operate. Didn't help either that Didier Drogba picked the wrong week to stop sniffing the proverbial glue.

There wasn't a lot of room for either team, but Carlos Tevez -- and his shockingly normal-looking shoe polish infused new haircut -- took the one glimmer of daylight he got all day and made Chelsea pay, catching Petr Cech in quicksand. His post-game interviews still leave a little bit to be desired as it's frankly amazing he's been in England over five years and still doesn't speak English. Even Kenny Powers picked up Spanish during Odyssey to Mexico quicker. (Anyone else notice Kenny rocking some Tevez-esque "Hulk Hair" during the end of "Chapter 7"?)

Chelsea's best chances were headers by Alex and Branislav Ivanovic on corner kicks, which about sums up the day for the Blues. Chelsea get Arsenal next week in the late Sunday match, which I'm guessing might be a pretty important showdown.

Nice win for City. A setback for Chelsea that was mitigated by the rest of the weekend. If you want a declarative statement from it, based on City's prowess against the top tier clubs, it has no excuse to finish lower than fourth, where the team Roberto Mancini is putting together would be well-suited for the Champions League. Yet as unexplainable as Tevez's failure to grasp the English language, City still remains super shaky when it has the onus to take it to the rest of the league.

About that Arsenal/WBA game -- Not too much to say about the Baggies. Why? I'm guessing the ration of Arsenal fans to West Brom fans in the United States might hover around 1,000-to-1, if not higher.

Hand it to di Matteo from plucking Peter Odemwingie off the Russian scrap heap, the Uzbek-born Nigerian has already scored three goals.

Now it's easy from an Arsenal standpoint to blame the loss totally on Almunia. It's probably easier than looking at the lineup that Arsene Wenger fielded and realize it wasn't all that fierce. Setting aside the defense, Alex Song, Abou Diaby, Emmanuel Eboue, Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin and Maroune Chamakh are a hell of a Carling Cup lineup, but not exactly an automatic win against a Premier League opponent "up" for the match.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Arshavin, the one player Wenger paid big money for recently, and the Russian hasn't exactly be a dominant force. A nice, solid pro, but not a game changer on a consistent basis. At least Nasri appears he could be that kind of player if he stays healthy.

The way Arsenal lost, yes, was stunning. Perhaps judging by who was out there, it shouldn't have been coupled with the fact nearly every Arsenal fan on the planet was realized in the summer that Almunia the defense Wenger assembled were going to have failures like the one put forth Saturday afternoon.

Four thoughts on Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Anfield -- 1. The Dirk Kuyt backpass goal was karmatic justice for the beachball goal last year. 2. With Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Raul Meireles, the Reds lead the Prem in guys rocking full-arm sleeve tattoos. It's something. 3. Christian Poulsen has replaced Lucas as the target of Anfield vitriol. 4. Fortunately Titus Bramble didn't rape Fernando Torres.

Otherwise, my sympathies are with you.

About that Bolton/Manchester United game -- Missed the 7 a.m. kickoff. Called up a reader, Colin Sebastian, to fill me in. Here's his thoughts. Good stuff here about the 2-2 draw at the Reebok. He just started a blog, so give him some traffic love.

From a United perspective, the defensive fragilities are worrying. United are allowing a half goal more, per game, this year as opposed to last. Johnny Evans and once superb Patrice Evra are struggling mightily at the moment and everyone knows it. Look at the Guardian Chalkboard of clearances by Johnny Evans as compared to those by Nemanja Vidic yesterday.

Almost double the attempts to Evans’ left side – 15 to 8. Stating the obvious here, but Rio Ferdinand’s seemingly impending return could mean big news for United’s title challenge.

For United, Michael Owen once again proved his worth – despite what you’ll read in the press. 90 minutes in the League Cup, 19 minutes today, but a total of three goals (36 minutes per goal). However, the return of Anderson and Michael Carrick (and Owen Hargreaves?) can’t come soon enough. United’s central midfield are looking worn down already and there’s a daunting mid-week trip to Valencia in the cards.

Between them, Nani and Dimitar Berbatov have scored or assisted 12 of United’s 16 goals this season. Not bad for two players United fans had doubt about coming into the season.

In the end, the result isn’t horrible, but after saying that following the Fulham and Everton draws, how long ‘till United are out of the race based on missed opportunities?

While Bolton are holding true to their age-old abrasiveness, albeit with a bit more flair under Owen Coyle, a trip to the Reebok nonetheless continues to present many physical tests of a defender's mettle, mainly from Kevin Davies. However, their play should be applauded. They started in 4-4-2 with the promising and developing central partnership of Stu Holden and Fabrice Muamba and they grew into the game after United started brightly. However, Johan Elmander, the seemingly rejuvenated striker, was Man of the Match. He linked up well with Kevin Davies and ran at the United defense (mainly Evans) endlessly.

Around the League:

Emile Heskey? Really? For all the drama at Villa Park, Aston Villa is sitting fifth. ... Using my scientific powers of deduction, I've determined the best crude, third-grade level analogy for Everton's woes is that the Toffees, "couldn't score in a monkey whorehouse with a banana hanging out their pocket." ... Good news U.S. fans, Eddie Johnson isn't a total disaster for Fulham. In fact he looks to have evolved into Brian Ching 2.0, as in he does everything you'd want a forward to do except score. With Fulham in a striking crisis, Johnson can't afford to be so deferential. ... So John Obi Mikel just wants to be called "Mikel" now? Nice for him. Ironic this news came during a match with Toure Yaya/Yaya Toure. ... Good, not great, job by Ian Darke Saturday morning. Enjoy the impromptu geography lesson of where Manchester is located in England.

Maybe some U.S. viewers wanted a "Go-Go/Gold Goal U-S-A" moment, but to Darke's credit unlike, say, Kevin Harlan or Thom Brennaman, he doesn't force it. Did enjoy ESPN using a UK-based pregame show with Steve McManaman. No offense, but I can take or leave Robbie Mustoe in Bristol. ESPN catches a break, ditching Saturday's early Wigan/Wolves match for Sunderland/Manchester United on ESPN2 at 10 a.m. ... James Perch is a yellow-card machine for Newcastle, and now an own-goal to give Stoke a late win at St. James Park. Oof. ... Tottenham never got much going vs. West Ham with Robert Green, yes, that Robert Green making two great first-half saves.

Fantasy Team O' the Week:

Matt Mangriotis's "Mango Madness" -- rooted on the third page of the league standings -- put up a huge 78 points thanks to captaining Nani, Darren Bent, Tim Howard and Breda Hangeland. Great job!

Basically all the top teams suffered with Didier Drogba and Flourent Malouda laying eggs at Eastlands.

One other thing:

How many readers broke their DVRs last night trying to simultaneously watch the Jets/Dolphins game then trying to record "Boardwalk Empire," "Mad Men" and the return of "Eastbound & Down"? What a night of television.

For all the universal hipster-ish praise for "Eastbound" is receiving -- has anyone read one negative review? -- it's worth revisiting Jody Hill's second feature film, "Observe & Report." I've praised it plenty on this site, but if you're endlessly quoting Kenny Powers give Ronnie Barnhardt another look.

It's hard to exactly put a finger on Hill's comedic point-of-view. Calling it "dark" doesn't do it justice. It's not warm-and-fuzzy with happy endings, that's for sure.

Finally, how's this for juxaposition in the year 2010:

Michael Vick is back in a star role for the Philadelphia Eagles leading to a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, and later on the same night we're getting laughs from two roosters clawing each other-- fairly graphically -- to death in a cockfight on "Eastbound."


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