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Serie A season preview: AS Roma

AS Roma 3 hours ago
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Aug 15, 2011

David Oh Dear, Barton goes Bickle

Given the lavish three-month build up and incessant hype I expected myself to be near-catatonic by this point on Sunday night, gently frothing at the mouth due to the frantic, awe-inspiring quality offered up by the league that isn't shy in declaring itself the best in the world.

Yet the best league in the known universe - better even than The Human League or The League of Gentlemen - served up a whopping 13 goals, three 0-0 draws and two red cards. In fact, all it did do was reinforce a raft of long-held stereotypes: that Joey Barton possesses a brain that functions a little differently to yours and mine, that Arsenal play pretty little passes but generally get nowhere and that Liverpool can overspend all they want on English players but it won't propel them into the top four.

So, after Manchester United's streaky win at West Brom and underwhelming draws for the other members of the league's 'moneybags' cartel, the stage is set for Manchester City to blow us away with a pure, unadulterated example of attacking football delivered in swashbuckling style by a dazzling array of the world's finest talent. What's that? Roberto Mancini is still their manager? Oh, well stuff that idea then.

David All De Gea No Idea

Given the tedium of Saturday's fixtures I half expected the most exciting element of Manchester United's visit to the Hawthorns to come from discovering how many more millimetres of hairline 50 grand had bought Wayne Rooney. If anything, the extra wisp of fringe makes him look older and a darn sight creepier. But Fergie's new goalkeeper David Oh Dear quickly became the focus of my attention.

With 37 minutes on the clock and Manchester United enjoying 90% possession against a dispirited Baggies, Shane Long turned in the sort of weak effort that probably wouldn't even set off a car alarm if it hit the bonnet square on. But the young Spaniard, perhaps having studied videos of David James and Rob Green to further understand the culture of goalkeeping in this country, promptly dived over the ball in a shameless bid to ingratiate himself to our nation of sympathisers.

Not only did De Gea prove he has trouble dealing with any moving ball, but both of United's centre-back lynchpins hobbled off with injuries, minutes after news that their premier right-back, Rafael, had dislocated his shoulder filtered through to the media. Fear not though, because as is the case with Manchester United, a pre-ordained force ensured they limped out of the Black Country with all three points thanks to the dodgiest double deflection you will ever see.

Joey Barton's brain

Yet again it fell to Joey Barton to inject a bit of spice into the opening weekend, and yet again it was against Arsenal. The mere thought of coming face-to-face with the Morrissey-obsessed Travis Bickle-a-like was clearly too much for Arsene Wenger, who insisted on Friday with a straight face that Cesc Fabregas wasn't leaving despite the Arsenal captain drinking Rioja and chowing down on gambas al ajillo in a tapas bar just off La Ramblas.

Even though most of his brain has been splattered over Twitter since May, a team of top scientists working round the clock would struggle to discover what fluids coarse through Barton's cerebral veins. In one breath he attacks Gervinho for diving, the next he defends his own plummet to the turf under the force of a weak, open-handed slap by an Ivorian who seems to fit the Arsenal mould perfectly in that he turns potentially dangerous opportunities into dead ends. And how ironic, given that he is the only A-list signing the Gunners have made this summer that he'll now sit out the next three games.

Barton may lay claim to a level of intelligence beyond his reach but at least he knows what an open-handed slap looks like, something beyond the grasp of Steven 'Platoon' Taylor who was convinced Gervinho managed to launch an elbow into Barton's face, despite the pair being face-to-face and locked in a stiff embrace. Then in his post-match interview, Taylor became one of the first footballers in history to offer a series of "no comments" before adopting a line from lesson one of Wenger's interview rules and insist: "I didn't see it."

Barton later retracted his "cheat" allegation while Wenger labelled Barton a "great player". They couldn't could they? Could they?

AVB, you ain't no VIP in Stoke

He patrolled the technical area like he was auditioning for the new series of Portugal's Next Top Model, but this was the day Andre Villas-Boas realised there is little to zero romance left in the English game. If he looked reasonably horrified by deepest darkest Staffordshire and its vociferous yokels in the stands on a bright August afternoon; just wait until his team draw Morecambe away in the third round of the FA Cup.

It doesn't get more gritty and real than Stoke away on your first afternoon in the Premier League. Having watched Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth try to head-butt Fernando Torres' skull into dust, and Rory Delap hurl his quarterback bombs into the penalty area, the suave metrosexual probably wondered if he'd made the right decision to leave Portugal while he was supping a bitter-shandy opposite a towel-clad Tony Pulis in the manager's office after the game.

But that's not to say AVB won't have learnt a few things from Chelsea's bore draw, far from it. He's probably surmised that given how old his squad is he may as well bring himself on in the latter stages to freshen things up a bit, he will have seen how much contempt the rest of the country has for his left-back and marvelled at Fernando Torres - the £50 million man who can't score.

Welcome to strife - you're here to stay

QPR's enjoyment of the Promised Land lasted precisely two minutes, the length of time it took for Kieron Dyer to prove what a laughable punt he has become and sustain a potentially serious injury. For a team whose owners have enough reserves of cash to build an eight-storey mansion on Mars, their approach to football is a curious one: bleed their fans dry with insatiable ticket prices and lay on such red-letter signings as Dyer, Jay Bothroyd and Danny Gabbidon.

Fellow new-boys Norwich fared slightly better in their first top flight game for a stretch with a creditable 1-1 draw at Wigan, whose death-defying esc ape from the trapdoor on the final day of last season compelled a whopping 17,000 fans to pitch up for the big kick-off. As well as Norwich did, don't forget Blackpool won 4-0 here a year ago and still went down so perhaps it's time for another few rounds of "let's be having you" from Delia.

But the chap with an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet full of problems this morning is none other than Steve Kean - the man who claimed his only summer signing David Goodwillie was a young Wayne Rooney. Given this piece of hyper-spin came from the same gob that deemed it sensible to utter the words "Champions League" and "Ronaldinho" in relation to his team not that long ago perhaps we should take it with the same pinch of salt it takes to produce one of Venky's finest chicken drumsticks.

Don't forget, you can help The Fifth Official's bid to attract more followers on Twitter than Leon Knight at www.twitter.com/fifthofficial

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