1. UNITED TOPS ARSENAL: SOMETIMES HOLDING SERVE IS PROGRESS
The ends where more impressive than the means, an early goal and some trademark David Moyes conservatism giving Manchester United a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the weekend’s big game, but consider how the Red Devils’ performed in their other big tests. They lost at Liverpool, were drawn at home by a docile Chelsea, and were blitzed in the season’s first Manchester Derby. Perhaps Sunday’s wasn’t title-wining form, but it was still progress. It was the biggest win of the still-maturing David Moyes era.
Even more convincing: Manchester United are now unbeaten in nine, are up to fifth place, and are only five points back of first (still Arsenal). There’s obviously room to improve, but while struggling to find their way under their new boss, United has managed to avoid digging too deep a hole. When they start performing to their potential, they should still be within reach of the top – in position to defend their title.
2. WEARING DOWN: CONTENDERS FALL AFTER QUICK TURNAROUND
The six Premier League teams who played mid-week in Europe went 1-3-2 this weekend, and if it wasn’t for two facing each other at Old Trafford, the circuit’s Champions and Europe League participants may have gone winless. Perhaps the upcoming international break had players looking ahead, or maybe the accumulation of nearly three months of play hit hardest now, when a break was needed most? Or maybe it’s just coincidence that all of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham lost on the same weekend, with Chelsea needing a get out of jail free penalty to salvage a result at Old Trafford.
Arsenal’s was certainly the most palatable of the results. Nobody’s going to fault them for losing at Manchester United. City and Spurs, however, lost 1-0 to teams that started the weekend in the table’s bottom half, a description that could have been applied to Chelsea had it not been for Eden Hazard’s stoppage time penalty conversion.
Even Swansea, struggling on a number of levels, gave up three goals to Stoke City. The Potters entered the weekend with seven goals in 10 games, yet at the Liberty Stadium, they were on the board twice within 25 minutes.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence: all these teams playing in Europe stumbling this weekend. Regardless, it seems these teams could use the upcoming break.
3. FORGED OR FORTUNE? NEWCASTLE PULLS SECOND STRAIGHT UPSET
Fourteen saves. That’s what it took for Tim Krul to turn Newcastle’s upset over Chelsea last week into the start of a streak. Today at White Hart Lane, they were outshot (31-8), out-possessed (65-35), and were nearly “passed off the park” (521-284), yet thanks to Loic Remy’s 13th minute goal, the Magpies still won. Their 1-0 victory in North London moves them into ninth place.
But whereas last week Alan Pardew seemed to have orchestrated the upset, this week’s win came down to an old formula anybody could pull off: Score first and hang on for dear life. It rarely works, but for the occasionally over-matching, nearly beyond hope underdog with no chance of playing with their opposition, it’s their only option.
Newcastle doesn’t quite fit that description, so it’s unclear what we can infer from their use of that approach. Judging on one match alone, you’d say this isn’t a very good team, yet they had good fortune against Tottenham. In the bigger picture, Newcastle may just be finding new ways to win. At this point, they’ve won more than they’ve lost.
4. LIVERPOOL ADDS TO JOL’S, FULHAM’S WOES
After disappointment last week at Arsenal, Liverpool bounced back, and resoundingly so. Three goals by the 36th minute and another just after halftime had the Reds up four by the 54th minute, Fulham providing the antidote to any potential post-Emirates blues. Moving away from their 3-5-2 formation, Liverpool went on to win, 4-0.
The bigger story is Martin Jol, who has somehow survived to the point where his team is bad enough to lose by four, fall to 18th, and that only re-ignites debate about his future. The Cottagers have now lost four in a row, giving up 13 goals in the process. One of those losses was at second-division Leicester (League Cup).
It’s hard for most of us to say somebody should be fired. We usually don’t know the reasons why they’ve stayed on. But it is fair to say most managers who’ve produced Jol’s results would have been gone by now.
5. GOOD WEEKEND FOR CELLAR DWELLERS
The three clubs that came into the weekend in the Premier League’s drop all got results, and while that only helped one climb out of the relegation spots, teams people had started to see as hopeless gave supporters new reason for home.
That may be a slight exaggeration in the case of Crystal Palace, the south London club still without a permanent coach, yet after a 0-0 against visiting Everton, the Eagles earned their second result of the season. Though they only saw 28 percent of the ball, they also only gave up two shots on goal. Only Phil Jagielka’s test of the Selhurst woodwork threatened Palace’s result.
Sunderland, 19th coming into the weekend, had the most encouraging result, their 1-0 win over visiting Manchester City giving them their second win of the season. Deploying a 4-5-1, the Black Cats were set up to take advantage of Phil Bardsley’s early goal, with City earning a 24-5 edge in shots en route to their fourth loss of the season. Though the win couldn’t carry them out of 19th, Sunderland’s now up to seven points on the season.
Norwich, on the other hand, was able to climb out of the drop after their 3-1 win over West Ham United, a victory that should keep Chris Hughton in a job. Though the Canaries boss has inspired a general feeling of ennui among Norwich’s fan base, he produced a much-needed result on Saturday, the team’s three goals sure to temporarily placate supporters longing for the more goal-laden days under Paul Lambert.
6. NO SLOWING DOUBT-DEFYING SOUTHAMPTON
There have been a few analysis pieces (from Opta, among others) suggesting Southampton are likely to regress, the quality of their shots producing a higher-than-expected number of goals from their positions. Saints, the theory holds, will see future totals fall in line with expected results, meaning fewer goals.
Leave it to Hull to help disprove that hypothesis. The Tigers have been fine this year, collecting 14 points in 10 games, but if there was a candidate for regression at St. Marys on Saturday, it was them. With early goals from Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert, and Adam Lallana, Saints had put off their fall by halftime, with a late goal from Steven Davis giving Southampton a 4-1 win.
Third place, having allowed only five goals, there’s little you can take away from Saints’ results. But conceding at a rate of less than half a goal per game is not going to continue. They’ll give more. And ft their attack really is apt to regression. Southampton will eventually fall.
Until then, Saints will continue to prove us wrong.