Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swansea side fun to watch

Michu putting on a great show in Wales

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These are early days in the European soccer season, but the international break's interruption of schedules this weekend provides an opportunity to pause, step back and reflect on the things we've learned about the campaign thus far.

No doubt there will be some teams that have failed to meet expectations and others that have far exceeded them.

Players we never expected to make an impact will have hit the ground running while others stumbled out of the gate. It may only be September, but these are the type of storylines that will bind together the story of the season.

Following is a glance at some of the things we've learned about three of Europe's biggest leagues in these final weeks of summer.


What we've learned about the English Premier League?

  • 1. Swansea is a bundle of fun, and also pretty darn good. A reprise of last season's 11th-place finish was always going to be difficult -- especially with the departure of manager Brendan Rodgers -- but under new boss Michael Laudrup the Welsh side have picked up right where they left off in their first Premier League campaign following promotion. Michu, Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez were astute summer acquisitions, and Michu, in particular, has hit the ground running with four goals in three matches.
  • 2. The Liverpool soap opera is far from over. The arrival of Brendan Rodgers from Swansea was supposed to signal a new period of stability at Anfield, and while that may still happen it's been anything but a smooth start to the season for the Reds and their new manager. Assuming he'd be given funds to buy a new striker, Rodgers loaned Andy Carroll to West Ham -- a mix-up that suggested there may be tension between the 39-year-old and the board. After three matches Liverpool have yet to win, have scored just twice and conceded seven goals.
  • 3. Robin van Persie's still got it. Not that there was ever much doubt that he'd lost it. But more than a few eyebrows were raised when Manchester United paid £24 million last month for a 29-year-old player with a history of injuries. The Dutchman, however, has already silenced his critics by doing what he does best: scoring goals. His hat trick against Southampton last weekend helped United to three points they didn't in any way deserve.


What we've learned about the Spanish Primera Division?

  • 1. Ronaldo is sad. He admitted as much following Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Granada on Sunday and his remarks have unleashed a torrent of speculation. Why is he upset with the club? Is it a personal matter, or does it concern money? Is there a chance he'll leave? Watch this space.
  • 2. Barcelona mean business. It may be Real Madrid's title, but Barcelona have served notice that they're out to regain it with a blistering start to the season. Lionel Messi has already bagged six goals on the campaign and in left-back Jordi Alba the Catalan giants acquired a player over the summer who will address the closest thing the team has to a weak spot in the lineup.
  • 3. That other Madrid side. Club Atletico de Madrid have played only two league matches due to their participation in the UEFA Super Cup and have the look of a team that could make a push for a Champions League spot this season. Colombian marksman Radamel Falcao has already scored six goals, three of which came in Atletico's 4-1 thumping of Chelsea in the Super Cup.

What we've learned about the Italian Serie A?

Two games in and there's no reason to remove the "favourites" tag from Scudetto holders Juventus. The Milan teams, meanwhile, have plenty of issues to sort out and will face serious competition from Napoli, Lazio, Roma and Udinese for two of the three available Champions League berths. Fiorentina, who completely remade their squad over the summer with 18 new signings (including Matias Fernandez, Borja Valero, Facundo Roncaglia and Luca Toni), will be a side to watch out for if it all comes together. Twitter@peterssoccer

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2012 C7

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