Chasing pack in Premier League hit by European hangover
Only one out of the six teams that played in the European fixtures claimed a domestic victory at the weekend.
LONDON - While the curse of "the ex" accounted for Chelsea's perfect start to the Premier League season, it was something more mundane, in the shape of a European hangover, that upset most of the chasing pack.
Of the six English teams that took part in Champions League and Europa League fixtures in midweek, only Arsenal, beaten 2-0 at Borussia Dortmund last Tuesday, claimed a league victory when they returned to domestic action at the weekend.
Arsene Wenger's team, bristling at criticism of their limp surrender in Germany, hit back with the same elan that Frank Lampard demonstrated in his goal-scoring cameo for Manchester City. The midfielder came on as a late substitute in the champions' 1-1 draw with Chelsea, the club Lampard left in June having scored a record 211 goals in 13 seasons.
After qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League for 17 consecutive seasons, Wenger knew well what kind of reaction was needed following his team's midweek defeat. But Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur failed to respond and slipped to unexpected defeats.
Liverpool, back among the European elite for the first time since December 2009, started their 3-1 defeat at West Ham with eight men who had played 90 minutes in a 2-1 win against Ludogorets on Tuesday, and they were blown apart by their hosts' hunger and speed on the counter-attack.
They conceded two goals in the first 10 minutes of a Premier League game for the first time since February 1994.
"Liverpool had an unusually difficult game beating the opposition they had on Tuesday," said West Ham manager Sam Allardyce." Maybe that left them a little jaded.
"When you get into the game as quickly as we did, it really caught them by surprise. They didn't expect it. The element of surprise was there."
West Ham climbed above Liverpool to eighth and Allardyce, who guided Bolton Wanderers into Europe for the first time in 2005, told reporters that clubs engaged in European football effectively needed two teams to meet the intensified demands.
"When you speak to the top man, which was Fergie (former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson), you have got to have two teams," he said. "You've got to have one for Europe and one for the Premier League, particularly the game after."
"It's not impossible to stop it, but when I spoke to Sir Alex, who is the master of it, he was the first man to start rotation 20 years ago, he just said you need two teams."
"We wouldn't play the same player on a Thursday night as we did on a Sunday ... For me, it was good to see that for Liverpool there was most of the team out there that played on Tuesday."
But Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers refused to use European exhaustion as an excuse, a stance also followed by Mauricio Pochettino, manager of Tottenham Hotspur, and Roberto Martinez of Everton, beaten 1-0 and 3-2 at home by West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace respectively.
Tottenham had drawn 0-0 at Partizan Belgrade on Thursday when Everton beat Wolfsburg 4-1, both in the Europa League.
Pochettino said: "History here says Tottenham have a problem after the Europa League. Today we repeat the same. It's not an excuse. We picked 10 different players, but we were uncomfortable on the pitch."
Last season, Spurs lost six of 12 Premier League games after playing in Europe and on Sunday they allowed West Brom to win at White Hart Lane for the first time in 30 years.
Martinez also rejected their European diversion as a reason for defeat. "Uncharacteristic errors," he said. "It shows this league is ruthless and you need to be perfect. It does not matter who you play, you need to be ready."
After a season of secure progress, Everton are wobbling in the bottom half after conceding 11 goals in three home Premier League games, a statistic that suggests they, like Liverpool and Spurs, have had their heads turned by their European forays.
The same cannot be said for Chelsea or Manchester City, clubs with big squads strengthened by expansive transfer policies and used to the strategic player rotation needed to balance home and European demands.
Their unrelenting focus on success in all competitions does not allow for distraction and the high quality of their game on Sunday showed their Champions League exertions against Schalke and Bayern Munich had left few marks.