Joe Hart’s reinstatement as starter in goal was surely among the prevailing subplots today as Manchester City scooped up three valuable road points, upending Fulham along the Thames in West London.
This was Hart’s first Premier League start since late October, after which City manager Manuel Pellegrini made Costel Pantilimon his first choice between the sticks.
The Romanian’s performance in City’s 6-3 win over Arsenal opened the door for conversation of a change, however. Pantilimon’s wobbles simply didn’t look befitting of a No. 1 for a true Premier League challenger.
(Of course, neither did Hart back when he looked so oddly out of sorts, especially on a notable Fernando Torres goal for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the proverbial final straw for Pellegrini.)
Since then, Hart has found himself in goal only three times, but none in matches that City would consider highly important. The subplot of the subplot here is that Hart, 26, was in the awkward position of being England’s No. 1 while not being the starter for his club. That surely would not last – which is why the 26-year-old getting back into City goal was so important.
So, how did he do?
Hart wasn’t at fault on either City goal conceded – most certainly not for the freakish own goal off Vincent Kompany, a very bad moment for a man who manufactures so few of them.
On a windy and rainy day, Hart produced a couple of swell saves off Adel Taarabt. Both came within the game’s first 30 minutes, when the home team really did press the visitors, making the title contenders work very hard to achieve their road success.
His very best was in the 13th minute, when a fierce Taarabt shot took a deflection and needed not just the best of reflexes, but a very strong left hand to push the screamer well away from danger.
There’s still something for Hart to prove, but it looks like England’s No. 1 will get his chance during City’s busy holiday spell ahead.
Liverpool were less than 10 minutes from going top of the league — ahead of Arsenal on goals scored, the second tiebreaker — but Gareth McAuley grabbed a consolation goal in the 81st minute to upset the Reds’ pursuit of the PL summit. Instead, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho‘s first-half goals were only enough to send Liverpool second in the league — behind the Gunners on goal differential.
The door was left wide open by Arsenal, thanks to the Gunners’ disappointing draw with previously-18th-place Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium a couple hours earlier in the day. Arsenal enjoyed a whopping 75 percent of possession, but were nullified in the final third by a dogged defensive performance by Boro. The one time Arsenal found the back of the net, through Mesut Ozil in the final few minutes, the German playmaker’s goal was (correctly) ruled out as offside.
Speaking of underwhelming 0-0 draws featuring a side from north London with title aspirations, let’s talk about Tottenham. If not for back-to-back draws with West Brom and now Bournemouth, Spurs would be top of the league. Alas, the unbeaten start has reached nine games, though Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has been blunted since Harry Kane was lost to injury on Sept. 18. Fortunately for Spurs, Kane is back in full training and expected to return to action in the near future.
That’s more like it from Leicester. The defending champions had won just one point from their last three league games before racing out to a 3-0 lead against Palace. Ahmed Musa, Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs bagged the goals for Claudio Ranieri‘s side before Yohan Cabaye grabbed a late consolation goal in the final few minutes. All is not well for the Foxes, though, as Jamie Vardy is without a goal in his last nine games played (all competitions). Saturday marked just the fourth time this season that Leciester managed to score multiple goals (all competitions).
Bob Bradley’s Swansea earned a point on the American’s PL home debut, a game which the Swans had the upper hand for most of the 90 minutes, but failed to put away a handful of key chances. Still, it’s a clean sheet for a side with one of the worst defensive records in the PL this season, and a massive improvement on the dodgy defending away to Arsenal last weekend.
Scott Arfield scored a 90th-minute winner at Turf Moor, as Burnley dropped Everton to four games without a victory. Sam Vokes put the home side ahead not long before halftime, but Yannick Bolasie‘s first goal for Everton pulled the visitors level just before the hour mark. After starting the season five games unbeaten, Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees have just two points to show for their last four games and have slipped to sixth in the league table, and could finish the weekend as low as eighth.
The West Ham reclamation continues, at a snail’s pace, thanks to Winston Reid‘s 93rd-minute winner against last-place (now just 2 points from 9 games) Sunderland. After an horrific start to the season, the Hammers are unbeaten in three, including back-to-back 1-0 wins, and just two points stand in between themselves, in 15th, and Southampton, in eighth. Slaven Bilic has survived.
If Stoke City are winning games, chances are Xherdan Shaqiri is amongst the goals. On Saturday, Shaqiri was the goals for the Potters, bagging a brace either side of halftime to make it back-to-back wins for Mark Hughes‘ side as the ascent up the league table follows a nearly identical path to that of West Ham.
Paraguay’s Dario Lezcano and the hosts looked prepared to cruise to a 3-1 win when he netted his second goal of the day, but there was still a half-hour left at Audi-Sportpark.
Adrian Ramos scored in the 69th minute, opening the door for the latest big moment for American teenager Christian Pulisic. The diminutive attacker scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season in stoppage time to propel BVB to a point.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had BVB’s other goal.
Hertha Berlin 2-1 Koln
Anthony Modeste and Koln had less than 10 minutes to celebrate their equalizer, as Niklas Stark’s 74th minute goal lifted Hertha to all three points. USMNT center back John Brooks went the distance at center back.
Bayern Munich 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
What looked like a potential onslaught in the first half hour settled into a final score line, as Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa goals were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s crew at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach managed just two shots, none on goal, in the loss. USMNT mid Fabian Johnson went 90 minutes in the loss.
Elsewhere Hamburg 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Another 90 for USMNT’s Chandler
Freiburg 2-1 Augsburg — Nils Petersen nets winner.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim — Early red card for hosts.
Darmstadt 3-1 Wolfsburg — Three different goal scores in win.
RB Leipzig vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Mainz — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Now 32 years old and Barcelona’s longest-tenured servant, Iniesta has played more than 40 games (all competitions) every season since the 2003-04 campaign, back when he was a 19-year-old La Masia product quickly breaking into the first team. Part of a run like that is down to unparalleled talent and an unwavering commitment to craft, but, of course, a stroke of good luck on the serious-injury front.
It’s looking quite unlikely he’ll extend his 40-games-played streak to a 13th season in 2016-17, however, after the club confirmed fears on Saturday that Iniesta suffered knee ligament damage during a heavy challenge by Valencia midfielder Enzo Perez early in the first half of Barca’s 3-2 victory — statement from Barca’s official website:
The first team player Andres Iniesta has injured the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. When he arrives in Barcelona the player will have more tests to find out the exact extent of the injury.
The Blaugrana also lost Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique to injuries during their Champions League triumph over Manchester City, as well as Rafinha and Arda Turan, who picked up knocks of their own in training during the week. Injury crisis at the Nou Camp.
How would manager Jurgen Klopp have felt if his dominant side, one that failed to put away maybe a dozen chances versus the Baggies, drew?
“We had to finish the game much earlier,” Klopp said. “It would have been kind of a joke if we drew or lost today. We were unbelievable. We wasted a little energy in the second half. … Performance, really good against a team like this that were here to get somehow something.”
He’s right, of course. The Reds need to learn to kill teams off, even if star West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster deserves plenty of credit for another starring role against a top team.