Putting numbers behind the ball offers no safety

Roberto Martinez sent out his Wigan team 4-2-3-1 - the vogue formation of the World Cup - in their opening two Premier League games, much to his and the team's cost.

It is appropriate that the cricket season is continuing. Thus far, the Premier League sides are showing a new-found enthusiasm for hitting each other for six. It is a bizarre statistic that one third of the weekend's nine games finished 6-0.

In the division's 19-season history, there have only been 20 such scorelines; four have come already this campaign. In the process, the English League is setting itself up as the antidote to the World Cup, where the first round of fixtures dealt almost exclusively in binary: 1-0, 0-0, 1-1. The glut of goals has ensured entertainment in abundance although each of the four games has been too one-sided to be a classic.

As Chris Hughton noted, such results tend to be the preserve of the most successful sides, which makes Newcastle United's thrashing of Aston Villa the anomaly. Indeed, it is in more ways than one; Newcastle embarrassed a team with three consecutive top-six finishes. In comparison, Arsenal ran riot, albeit elegantly, against Blackpool and Chelsea completed demolition jobs of West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic, the three clubs many tip for relegation.

Each has a familiar tale of mistakes and misfortune, though the broader picture is of mismatches. Once opened, the floodgates could not be shut again. Wigan's official website rather exaggerated their efforts and fooled few when it declared: "Latics unlucky not to come away with result after brave performance," but Roberto Martinez's side played reasonably well in the first half. The breakthrough came when Florent Malouda's powers of anticipation were greater than Maynor Figueroa's. Wigan were unlucky that Nicolas Anelka's second goal was not ruled offside, but the subsequent lack of marking was damning and the high defensive line ruthlessly exploited by a side with speed.

Indeed, it was the second successive game that Chelsea scored six without needing to reach their formidable best. It is a sign of ruthlessness, as though Frank Lampard's perennial quest for goals is now shared by each of his teammates. Yet, once again, they benefited from the generosity of opponents against Albion; two free-kicks, one spilled by Scott Carson and one which went through an inadequate wall, led to the first two goals. It can be noted that the vogue formation of the World Cup, 4-2-3-1, was used by both West Brom and Wigan.

In each match, there were plenty of players behind the ball but safety in numbers appeared obsolete as a concept. Too many marked space rather than tracking runners; the movement of the best exposed footballers accustomed to operating in lower or lesser leagues. The system alone did not enable either team to replicate the caution shown in South Africa. Then there is the case of Blackpool: 4-0 winners one week, 6-0 losers the next, theirs has been a start of extremes. Their complaints about Ian Evatt's red card at the Emirates Stadium were not justified, but it made their match against Arsenal utterly one-sided. But a crippling lack of pace accounts for Evatt's exit and was especially apparent in the duel between Theo Walcott and Stephen Crainey. In terms of acceleration, it was a Ferrari against a Robin Reliant. But as nine Championship sides boasted better defensive records than Blackpool last season, it felt like the sign of things to come for the Seasiders. Routs could become commonplace. Aston Villa, however, only let in 39 goals last season, seven of them at Stamford Bridge, which reinforces how extraordinary events at St James' Park on Sunday where Andy Carroll's terrific treble came against a reputable rearguard. It is rather unusual to rank 6-0 wins but Newcastle top this particular table.

Just to add to the many statistics the first fortnight has generated, Chelsea's is mathematically the best start in Premier League history. Wigan's, not surprisingly, is the worst. Carry on at this rate and Carlo Ancelotti's side will score 228 goals this season and Roberto Martinez's team will let in 190.

England's history in World Cups and European Championships shows the perils of missing from 12 yards, but there were further illustrations over the weekend. Blackburn Rovers' Morten Gamst Pedersen and West Ham United's Carlton Cole erred on Saturday, both at 0-0, in games their sides went on to lose. John Carew's wayward effort meant Aston Villa did not take the lead at Newcastle and provided a crucial shift in momentum in the 6-0 loss. Then Nani squandered the opportunity to put Manchester United 3-1 up at Fulham and, within minutes, it was 2-2. The phrase "paying the penalty" has rarely been more apt.

In his time at Portsmouth, Harry Redknapp practically turned the words "down to the bare bones" into his catchphrase. Occasionally, however, he may acknowledge that injuries have a benefit. With Peter Crouch, the England striker, the only one of his four forwards fit to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, Redknapp handed more advanced roles on the flanks to Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale. And while the Welshman Bale's second goal, a superlative volley, has been touted as an early goal-of-the-season contender, it is tempting to wonder if Lennon, the supplier, or Bale himself would have been as far up the field but for the absences of the injured trio of Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Roman Pavlyuchenko.

sports@thenational.ae

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS