The Premier League has unquestionably become a league of much debate over the years. This season, however, the debate has narrowed, with just a handful of teams separating themselves from the pretenders. In the league’s ninth weekend, we saw just what a bit of heart can do for some of those teams still swimming above water but at risk of sinking to the bottom. Goals, defensive mistakes, and a manager who isn’t quite over a recent breakup: these are just some of the stories we witnessed this week in the world’s greatest league.
1) Unlucky Black Cats
West Ham were in many ways the more dominant of the two sides, but Sunderland were unlucky not to walk away with a point. A Winston Reid goal in stoppage time gave the Hammers a 1-0 victory and three points that will go a long way in their fight to distance themselves from the bottom three. Fifteenth place is a nice position to be in, but it’s a precarious one, as West Ham are only “safe” by three points. As a neutral, you could feel sorry for Sunderland, and surely David Moyes’s future at the club could be in jeopardy if he can’t redirect the waves of an already rough sea.
Sunderland were rubbish in the first half despite going into halftime drawn goalless. The second half was a bit of an improvement, and Moyes’s halftime talk looked to have organized his side a bit more. Moyes may wait longer than he’d like for his first win of the season as Sunderland boss. Quite frankly, this year’s version of what was once a Sam Allardyce disaster is far worse under Moyes, and hopes of fighting it out to stay in the top flight might already be a hallucinogenic dream.
2) Everton Slipping Away
Everton were hot in their first five matches of the season, going unbeaten and fighting it out at the top end of the league. However, since their September loss to Bournemouth, the Toffees have drawn twice and lost twice. The weekend loss at Turf Moor against Burnley is a big concern for Ronald Koeman, as Everton led in every statistic that matters except for the final score. Out of 21 shots, only eight were on target for Everton as they dominated with 66% of the possession. The only upside was Yannick Bolasie finally scoring a goal for his new club.
If you’re Burnley, this win was the right step in a match they should’ve lost….on paper. Sean Dyche made sure to make the day a living hell for Koeman, and he succeeded in such a fashion that questions are arising about Everton’s resemblance to last year’s squad under former manager Roberto Martinez. Burnley will definitely have to fight off a number of suitors this summer if they hope to hold onto defender Michael Keane, who once again put on a spectacular display. Great on the ball and dominant in defense, it was his defensive leadership that saved the day for Burnley.
3) Pep Doesn’t Have The Stones To Change
Can you tell me the last time Manchester City won any competitve game? Was it in October? Not even close. City’s last competitive win came on the 24th of September away to Swansea. Since then they’ve drawn three and lost two, including the 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s former Barcelona squad. Against Southampton nothing changed, and the pressure on the under-performing John Stones has increased by another 100 pounds. Claudio Bravo and Stones combined for the whirlwind of confusion that resulted in a Nathan Redmond goal for the Saints.
City started the game with three at the back, with Vincent Kompany making his first start since April. The move didn’t prove to be effective for Guardiola, as it exposed weaknesses when Southampton countered. Yet City still maintained 65% of the possession while converting 84% of their passes. In football, however, it takes a bit more than numbers to win against a team looking to dethrone you. City now make the trek across the city, as they face off against Man United on Wednesday in the next round of the league cup. Criticism keeps being thrown at Guardiola for not changing his ways, but he eventually may not have the final say. Aguero was off form on the day as well, so perhaps it was something plaguing the entire team. Tony Pulis and West Brom won’t make things any easier at The Hawthorns next week as Man City look to avoid losing the league’s top spot.
4) Arsene’s Bday Bash Is Slashed
Arsenal had won seven straight in all competitions until Saturday, when stubborn Middlesbrough came to North London. It was Arsene Wenger’s 67th birthday, but he would probably have enjoyed it more with a better result. After winning 6-0 midweek in the Champion’s League against Ludogorets Razgrad, the high powered momentum was in Arsenal’s favor against a struggling Boro side. Perhaps there won’t be any post match selfies after the hard fought draw. Arsenal owned 71% of the possession during the first half alone, yet found themselves with their backs against the wall as Aitor Karanka’s side were relentless in countering.
This match ended up being a story of two goalkeepers as Victor Valdes and Petr Cech each proved their quality. Cech keeps reinventing himself, but without a doubt he remains the best keeper in the league, making four splendid saves in this match. Sole possession of top spot in the table was up for grabs for Arsenal, but their mediocre performance was against the odds. Wenger will likely get the best out of his top players next Saturday as the Gunners visit bottom side Sunderland, but in football over-confidence can be your worst enemy. This was clear in Saturday’s draw as Arsenal got too comfortable too fast in a match they should have taken a bit more cautiously.
5) Specialist In Failure
When you’re down at your worst, your enemies should take advantage, and kick you while you’re exposed. One would assume Jose Mourinho’s enemies might be having a laugh, as he was handed his most humiliating Premier League defeat ever when Chelsea demolished his Manchester United side. The game was never close once Pedro, after only 30 seconds, took advantage of a defensive mix-up and rounded Daley Blind and Chris Smalling before finishing past David De Gea. From the get-go, it was all Chelsea, and they took a 2-0 lead into half-time after a second from defender Gary Cahill. Mourinho didn’t have the answers to Chelsea’s offensive hurricane, and misery was only added when Eden Hazard added Chelsea’s third, before N’Golo Kante scored his first for the club in the 70th minute and made it 4-0 on the day.
Defensively, United were atrocious, but indeed the team never clicked in any department. As for Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge, his reception was a bit of a mix, but once the first whistle blew no one in Blue cared he was there. The only man applauded with appreciation on the day with was former club executive Matthew Harding, who passed away 20 years ago in a helicopter crash as he returned from a Chelsea match at Bolton. Mourinho’s lack of class was on display post match when he criticized Antonio Conte for emphatically celebrating Chelsea’s fourth goal. United’s slump may not last long, but it may be best for Mourinho to worry more about his lack of stability rather than the passion of other managers when they win big matches against big rivals.
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Photo via the Guardian.