Nine weeks into the Premier League and still there’s no favourites for title-contender race. It was another weekend of raw emotion and lazy defending, sprinkled with some fine goals and a feisty derby. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks five talking points from the weekend.
Arsenal are still at the top of the Premier League log after a scratchy win away to Crystal Palace. Chelsea and Liverpool remain hot on their heels, just two points adrift as the Premier League machine continues to rumble for in ferocious fashion. Manchester United managed a win, but remains mid-table while Southampton, Everton and Tottenham are all elbowing their way into a congested top five.
Sunderland fans had a reason to celebrate as they picked up their first win of the season under their new manager and six clubs remain in the single-digits at the bottom half of the table. Things are getting pretty serious now and the next few weeks all consist of feisty contests which will see all title challengers square off against each other. Here are five talking points from this week.
Arsenal can win ugly, but they aren’t title contenders yet
Arsenal crossed to Crystal Palace on Saturday where a win would secure their stay at the top of the Premier League table for a little while longer. The Gunners managed a 2-0 win, but it wasn’t achieved with style and flair. Palace were on top of Arsenal for most of the first half, constantly pushing them, making the league-leaders look out of their depth. Their passing style struggled and Palace were irksome and Arsenal had a player sent off at just 1-0 up. Palace should have equalised a few times, but Arsenal managed to hold on, somehow. They are yet to face some of their bigger challengers this season, but the win at Selhurst Park is another one of those wins that could come to define their season. Winning ugly and winning despite struggling is the hallmark of a good and gritty side. Arsenal proved that they have the grit to come through tough situations and while there will be bad times, like the loss against Dortmund in the Champions League, bouncing back from those is crucial. But scraping three points against Palace Arsenal have taken another step in the right direction. Before Christmas, they have to face Liverpool, Manchester United, Southampton, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea; if they can make it to through those games relatively unscathed, maybe, just maybe, the words “title contenders” can finally be uttered.
Some light relief for David Moyes
It’s been over a month since Manchester United won at home in the Premier League, but David Moyes managed a small victory on Saturday when United beat Stoke 3-2. Despite falling behind twice in the match, United squeezed out a win. Thanks to a stunning effort from Robin van Persie, United managed to equalise to get back in the game early on. There are rumours that van Persie and Moyes aren’t getting along, apparently over training. There were never such issues when the Dutch star was at Arsenal, so perhaps it’s nothing but hot air. When Van Persie is playing for United, though, they look a different team and overall, they still have plenty of grit to grind out results when their backs are against the wall. United were 2-1 down, with 12 minutes left on the clock, and the players found some oomph to eke out a win. This all despite some dodgy defending from Jonny Evans and Phil Jones; United have not kept a clean sheet for five Premier League games. That might improve once the first choice pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand return, but for now, Moyes is probably just happy he got a positive result. This win alone is unlikely to revitalise their chances, though. Now would be a great time for United to start one of their mid-season all-win runs that so defined their Premier League domination.
Spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful goals
After a slow start to the Premier League, the season is now spoiling all its connoisseurs with some of the finest footballing performances in recent memory. Last week it was Jack Wilshere and Pajtim Kasami who took everyone’s breath away and this week it was Daniel Sturridge. Liverpool claimed a 4-1 win over West Brom and Sturridge’s effort was the final nail in that very shut coffin, but what a goal it was! Sturridge has been in outstanding form this season, with eight goals in nine PL games under his belt and an overall tally of 21 in 27 games he played for Liverpool. Both Chelsea and Manchester City let this fine forward escape. Not only will he kick sand in your face, he pull put the empty sand-bucket on your head afterwards. At just 24-years old, a fine future awaits a fine player and a revitalised Liverpool is just the team for him to reach his full potential, for the time being anyway.
Is Berbatov actually still alive?
Comparisons of Dimitar Berbatov to Count Dracula are nothing new: they’re mostly there for his looks, but in the last few weeks, they might be there for his lack of footballing prowess, too. During Fulham’s loss against Southampton on Saturday, Berbatov was astoundingly inept. Ricky Lambert, crafty as he is, was left completely unmarked in the box to find the back of the net. When the troops were commandeered to defend, Berbatov was taking by his arm, dragged to the man he was supposed to mark, plonked down and told to watch Lambert. Instead, Berbatov watched the ball and lazily forgot that he needs to get his backside moving. He was similarly apathetic during Fulham’s game against Crystal Palace last week and, at one stage, was playing in central midfield instead of up front, presumably because he can’t be bothered to actually push forward. If Fulham hope to find some fight, Berbatov might need a good talking to.
There’s no derby like a Tyne and Wear derby
Sunderland fans haven’t had anything to cheer about this season, but there’s nothing like a derby to lift you to new heights. With Gus Poyet now in the manager seat, Sunderland had a chance to make amends. A 2-1 victory over Newcastle was how Poyet announced his arrival at the club, a result which sent the fans and the players into rapture. When the Uruguayan played in the Premier League, he was dubbed as the “Scourge of Newcastle” by Bobby Robson for his ability to always break Newcastle’s hearts. He did that again on Sunday and although it’s far too early to get up in arms about it, his influence is already seeping through. During his time at lower league clubs, the passing game was the hallmark of Poyet’s tactics. Sunderland’s pass accuracy in this game was lower than their previous games, but they did seem to know that patience is key and they took their time to string together pieces of play. The side still needs a lot of work, but for now they have something to smile about. DM
Premier League weekend results:
Chelsea 2-1 Manchester City
Tottenham 1-0 Hull
Swansea 0-0 West Ham
Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle
Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal
Aston Villa 0-2 Everton
Liverpool 4-1 West Brom
Manchester United 3-2 Stoke
Norwich 0-0 Cardiff
Southampton 2-0 Fulham
Photo: Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge (2nd R) runs through the defence of West Bromwich Albion during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England October 26, 2013. REUTERS/Phil Noble
Some firing squads are all issued with blank cartridges with the exception of one person. This helps alleviate personal responsibility for the execution squad.