Energised England Hopefuls Return to Premier League Action
From the moment England completed an unbeaten record in eight games across all age groups, I knew this was no ordinary international break. I’ve since been forced to use my fake Thai student card twice in as many days, seen two transsexuals in one day without visiting Bangkok and was even given an extra cappuccino in Borough Market as the lady behind me in the queue had mistakenly been given two shots of espresso. Lesson of the fortnight: Things come in pairs.
And like a leftover cappuccino, Tom Cleverley has belatedly arrived in the lap of Paul Lambert at Aston Villa just when the Midlands club appear to be showing shoots of recovery after several years in the doldrums. Cleverley will begin his own road to redemption against Liverpool this weekend, and befitting the luck of a man who was the subject of a 10,000-strong online petition against his inclusion in England manager Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, his new teammate Fabian Delph marked joining the pantheon of Villa players to represent the Three Lions with as much passion in 20 minutes as the former Manchester United midfielder showed in his 13 full international caps.
With former midfield generals Lambert and assistant manager Roy Keane unlikely to put up with any of his crab-like credentials and Delph brimming with confidence alongside him, Cleverley’s credibility may yet avoid the coffee plunge. Such a fate would have been unavoidable had his move down the M6 not received Premier League ratification the day after the transfer deadline had passed, so obsessive has the media scrutiny been of the side Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal shall field against QPR this Sunday. None would have included Cleverley. Everyone from the Telegraph’s Chief Football writer to the bear cub caught playing around with a golf pin seems to have spent the past fortnight hypothesizing on the starting eleven for United. Why not go the whole hog and name the starting line-ups for all Championship teams and the England side to face Scotland in Summer 2022?
Without meaning to ignore the fantasy football that makes this Sunday even more Super than it has ever been before, when it would otherwise be one side that has flattered to deceive so far facing another at Old Trafford, the stand-out fixture of gameweek 4 is most certainly the very first, when United’s neighbours Manchester City travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in what their manager Manuel Pellegrini has labelled a ‘six-pointer’. Granted, neither side have been overly convincing themselves until now, with City humbled by Stoke last time out, and the Gunners stumbling to five points from three games.
Swansea deserve credit for making their trip to face Chelsea a top-of-the-table clash, but there is only really one ticket in town. England’s Danny Welbeck is in line to wear the red and white of Arsenal for the first time, fresh from his two-goal salute to van Gaal but as significant to the game’s outcome may be the absence of Aaron Ramsey, after the Welshman’s ankle succumbed to Andorra’s artificial pitch on Tuesday night. Pellegrini’s side have not lost two consecutive league matches since October 2010, while Arsenal last lost a home league fixture 13 months ago. Throw in the annual return of former players in City sky blue bolstered by the addition of Bacary Sagna and there are more sub plots than an episode of Prison Break to herald the resumption of domestic football in one fixture.
Neil Warnock is another man returning to familiar surroundings. His second spell as Crystal Palace manager got off to a breathtaking start away to Newcastle with Wilfried Zaha rescuing a point late on in the 3-3 draw at St James’ Park, and the mad trolley-dash which ensued means Saturday’s visit of Burnley to Selhurst Park is unlikely to buck the trend of an eventful month for Palace supporters. There are debuts galore elsewhere, with Mohamed Diame doubling up as chief scout when his new side Hull City face his former employers West Ham United on Monday night.
The manner in which Delph grasped the opportunity to impress in England white will no doubt transcend to many others who are currently not even on the cusp of an international call, so expect Lee Cattermole to transform overnight into the latest midfielder to apparently resemble Andrea Pirlo. Those Cleverley online petitioners may be in need of a strong coffee every morning for the next nine months.