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A Small Minority of Idiots

Five Things We Learned from This Weekend's Soccer Matches

Chelsea is depressingly great, the Scottish league is surprisingly competitive, and a couple managers could stand to be fired.
October 6, 2014, 11:30am

Chelsea Is Depressingly Dominant
Cesc Fabregas’s return to Arsenal wasn’t a typically explosive one, despite the efforts of Arsenal fans before kickoff. That’s perhaps to be expected—we were never going to get our Adebayor moment, because that’s not the man Fabregas is. And, in retrospect, the idea of there ever being a winning goal looks dumb—it was clear that Chelsea would win at a relative canter.

So it proved, with a mildly amusing subplot that summed up the folly of Arsene Wenger’s “we don’t need Fabregas, we have Mesut Ozil” logic, which had until recently seemed to make perfect sense. But that was the only amusing part. It was depressing fare otherwise, with Jose Mourinho’s side needlessly bullying their way to a narrow victory over a worse team.

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At this point, it looks like only a lengthy injury to Diego Costa will stop Chelsea. This is what it's come to—already, we’re pinning our hopes on a serious injury to one man to make the season an entertaining one. Mourinho is well and truly back. Hopefully it won’t take everybody else quite as long to catch up this time around.

Pardew Lives Another Day
It never ends. Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew should have been a goner several times by now, but he’s still there, still clinging on and just about getting by. His position seems untenable, and while we may think it’s only a matter of time, this is a club that sacked professional nice guy Chris Hughton for basically no reason. If Pardew’s fate really were ultimately sealed, he’d be gone. Yet here he is. He was hated before, sure, but he had the backing of his pals in the boardroom, and his players still appeared to be playing for him.

Now that’s changed. Owner Mike Ashley appears to have lost patience, his old heroes are either sold, frozen out, or past it, and his new signings have taken to the Premier League like a brick to water. He is now all alone, one man raging against the establishment, a doomed pariah on a suicide mission. Well, almost alone. The weirdest buddy movie this year features a narcissistic Silver Fox and a devout Senegalese Muslim—because while all his other friends in the world have deserted him, he still has Papiss Cissé.

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Cissé’s remarkable debut season in the Premier League, where he was one of the most feared strikers in the country and scored a preposterous classic for the ages, seemed a million miles away. He’d been totally forgotten, just another butterfly Pardew had broken on the wheel. His renaissance is weird, and for Newcastle fans, probably deeply annoying.

He has not, however, been in such illustrious form that Newcastle have emerged as a credible force again. With Ashley seemingly determined to bin Pardew at the next bad result, he’s done just enough to keep his boss in a job, turning cataclysmic defeats into slightly disappointing draws with late equalizers, the high note of coming from behind making it just too difficult to use the result as justification for a sacking. Like a merciless jailer who has calculated the minimum number of calories needed to keep his prisoner alive, Cissé is drip-feeding Pardew with just enough goals to keep him, the club, and the fans in purgatory.

Celtic Park. Photo by James Turner

The Scottish Premiership Is Competitive Because Every Team Is Shit
Who would've predicted that the Premier League and Bundesliga would be looking won by October, but it was still all to play for in the Scottish Prem? The Premiership is currently topped by Hamilton Academical after they pulled off a 1–0 win at Parkhead. The last time Hamilton beat Celtic was in 1938. Oh, and they’re also a promoted team, having come up through the playoffs at the end of last season.

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Celtic are currently trailing in sixth place—behind big teams like Dundee United and Aberdeen, but also behind Inverness, a town whose entire population is only slightly more than the capacity of Celtic Park. England has long prided itself on competitiveness in its top league, and claimed to maximize it by improving the standard and bringing in vast quantities of cash. But there’s another lesson being taught this year in Scotland: If you really want a competition, just take all of the money away so that every team consists of teenagers and an ever-rotating cast of old pros. In short, make everybody a pile of wank—it’s the only true leveler.

Great pic of press officer's facepalm during #OM coach Bielsa's extraordinary outburst yesterday (via @MMaestracci) pic.twitter.com/BwvU358E5x

— Daniella Matar (@DaniellaMatar) September 5, 2014

It Looks Like Another Vintage Year for the Cult of Bielsa 
Another country that has thrown up a surprisingly tight race so far is France, a league that appeared to be reduced from a two horse race to showjumping after Monaco’s billionaire owner got fed up and went through the most expensive divorce in history. Yet Paris Saint-German are already seven points off the pace behind Bordeaux and Marseille, the latter of whom are managed by Marcelo Bielsa.

Praising Bielsa should be done with caution—he’s a hip phenomenon due to his South American roots and fondness for bizarre formations. He’s a man who seems to be continually over-hyped—has anyone else ever had a fucking stadium named after them just for winning one title at a pretty big club? He also hasn't generally been a model of consistency, but he’s working out well at Marseille.

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So far, his gig there has consisted of welcoming his new signings by stating in a press conference that he didn’t want to sign them, and this weekend he celebrated his team’s late winner by getting into a fight with the man who scored it. It looks like being a great story. Hopefully we’ll get a proper title race once PSG wakes up.

Harry Redknapp Is Finally Past It
In recent times, soccer has lost alcohol, hard men, strike partnerships, and proper wingers. The latest victim of its ongoing gentrification looks set to be Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp, who currently resembles the last old greasy spoon on a street full of overpriced coffee shops.

It’s an open secret in football that Redknapp doesn’t really do tactics. Now, anyone who hasn't played the game professionally might as well admit to having no idea how much of what happens on the pitch is rehearsed in advance. Only former pros really know if soccer is just a series of connected set-piece routines and, thankfully, they’re not keen to reveal the truth. It’s soccer's version of kayfabe, and long may it continue.

But however much work is done on shape, formations, routines, etc., it is generally acknowledged that Redknapp does a lot less of it than the average manager. And now it looks like that's finally caught up with him. QPR look disjointed, clueless, an embodiment of Redknapp’s own obsolescence. Feel free to enjoy Redknapp’s demise, but don’t think about it too much. It’ll only make you upset.

Follow Callum Hamilton on Twitter.