Favourite Worst Nightmare

A return for the Football Column with a brief piece to start the 2013-14 domestic season on the opening weekend of top flight football in England and Spain.

Whereas the 2011/12 season had drama to the end with Man City snatching victory from another humiliation and Chelsea’s anti-football playing out like a realistic depressing thriller on the main stage in Munich, the following 2012/13 season was an anti-climax, with only Wigan and Swansea winning the domestic cups in England, Bayern Munich’s dominance of Europe and consistent sensational individual performances by Gareth Bale standing out.

It had the impossible act of following the Olympics and in England it didn’t even scratch the surface. The season ended notably though, with the well-kept secret of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure; and with managerial changes at most of the clubs in what is becoming an unspoken Monopoly sponsored mini-European League, including at Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Napoli as well as the clubs that finished as the top three in England, it is a case of all change like at a bus terminus.

Barca seem to have survived. Neymar joined Iniesta on the bench as they went six-up before the break in their opener to Levante yesterday, to further increase the psychological pressure on Real Madrid to spend money they haven’t got, primarily as a show of bravado. Madrid, defiant, have spent all summer trying to unsettle Bale, enticing his agent, ordering replica Number 11 shirts, all without, as yet, having the money to put where their Marca has been. While Carlo Ancelotti also got off to a winning start, eventually, yesterday was a close call for Madrid and in a league when all but the top two are weaker than last season, Barca are already ahead by more than their goal difference.

In England, Alan Pardew is now the second longest serving manager in England despite the second coming of Joe Kinnear at the world famous Sports Direct Stadium, a move that when it was realised wasn’t a hoax, may have been expected to unsettle him, perhaps even by his own Chairman. But the thought of half a generation worth of time still remaining on his contract may have acted as a sound barrier for Pardew’s ears to the public boasting of Kinnear, who proclaimed he could get on the phone to anyone in the game to make a signing. Despite the stadium being in the centre of the city, we can only assume the signal has been bad so far.

Against the new money of Manchester City, Newcastle were brushed aside easily tonight; City looked fluid, with sweeping passing moves not always evident from teams who have invested heavily and an early sign of a positive managerial change. Pardew made the point afterwards though that Arsenal making public their interest in Cabyae earlier in the day was not only unsettling but “disrespectful” and we can already look forward to his next touchline clash with Wenger, assuming that they still both remain the two longest serving managers in the division when the sides meet on the first weekend after Christmas.

Arsenal’s implosion at home to Aston Villa caused a wave of joy across the rest of the nation, setting social networks alive on Saturday afternoon, putting a smile on peoples face in workplaces throughout the country this morning and even uniting Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in laughter and derision on Monday Night Football.

For all the early positive differences at the start of the news season – BT’s innovative use of the inset box so the broadcast picture always shows play; AS Monaco attracting nearly 15,000 fans to a home game; Tottenham Hotspur actually being awarded a penalty – it is the old favourites that bring the house down and Arsenal obliged in style.


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