CAPE TOWN – It’s football time -and we’re loving it.
Nine days ago, the PSL kicked off and we were treated to some sizzling action, including a few delightful goals from Roland Putsche (Cape Town City), Knox Mutizwa (Golden Arrows) and Luckyboy Mokoena (Highlands Park).
At the weekend, it was the turn of the English Premier League - and, again, we weren’t disappointed: goals, action, drama and talking points galore. And that’s not all, we’re still awaiting the start of La Liga, Serie A and the German Bundesliga.
Football, man, it just doesn’t get any better.
But, life-long, long-suffering Liverpool fan that I am, let me immediately temper any exaggerated euphoria around the team this season. I’ve been here before - on many, many occasions. Season after season, it’s the same old story: this is going to be Liverpool’s year and then, invariably, disappointment sets in. So I’m not getting carried away. I’m keeping my feet firmly on terra firma.
The expectation is huge, especially after Liverpool considerably beefed up the squad with some expensive new players. Yesterday, they breezed past West Ham United, with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane continuing where they left off last season and new midfield man Naby Keita looking a really good buy indeed.
Manager Jurgen Klopp, like me, is certainly staying calm too. In fact, he equated his approach to this season to a Rocky movie: “We are still Rocky Balboa, not Ivan Drago.” In making the point that Liverpool are still behind champions Manchester City, he was stressing that, despite all the quality and class in his squad, he believes it’s only through hard work, mental strength, resilience and perseverance that Liverpool can achieve their dream of winning the Premier League title.
As Klopp went on to say: “It’s not about being the underdog, not one little bit. I don’t want to be the underdog. I want to win, and Rocky won.”
To put the Liverpool manager’s attitude in the words of Rocky, from the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa: “If this is something you wanna do, and if this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight.”
This is, without doubt, the best Liverpool squad in recent memory - but, as Klopp suggests, winning the title will take more than big names, it’s going to come down to the fight. This season will tell whether Liverpool have that inner mongrel or not.
Already, after the opening weekend’s games, the sheer competitiveness of the Premier League is already on show. Manchester United may have defeated Leicester City, but they were second-best for large parts of the game; Tottenham Hotspur edged Newcastle, but the Magpies were desperately unlucky, in that they had numerous opportunities to get something from the game.
Chelsea, under new manager Maurizio Sarri, looked impressive in sweeping aside Huddersfield, demonstrating, in no uncertain terms, they will be a team to be reckoned with this season. And, in new signing Jorginho, they unleashed a player who is set to take the English game by storm. Calm and composed, he dominated the central midfield area with authority; and that impishly-constructed penalty kick?
Man, that required balls of steel. Jorginho’s presence also takes some of the weight off the shoulders of N'Golo Kante, who can now even bomb forward on occasion: hence, France’s World Cup winner netting a goal too.
But a nostalgic moment, for me, at the weekend was the return of Wolves to the Premier League. If you’re of my generation, you’ll remember the great Molineux sides of old, including stars like Steve Bull, Andy Gray and Kenny Hibbitt. Now, with a strong Portuguese connection, Wolves have lofty ambitions - and they showed enough in their opening game to prove they are a team to be respected.
Two things to note after the opening weekend: there will be surprise results because the competitiveness of the Premier League demands it; lower-ranked clubs are more organised and have been able to considerably beef up their squads. And secondly, I guess you can call it the Leicester syndrome, it’s going to be very difficult for any of the other teams to break into the top six: City, United, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Leicester winning the title in 2015-16 was the injection against complacency that was needed: England’s best won’t get caught out again.