We all hate the international breaks, as they give us two weeks without the comfort or discomfort of supporting our clubs. This wasn’t the most entertaining of weekends in the Premier League, with fatigue affecting those players who traveled far for World Cup qualifiers and had little time to recover from jet lag. With the last of the breaks come and gone for 2016, the remaining six weeks of this calendar year will give us a clearer picture of what the table will look like in May. The pressure is now on for all clubs, while duties to country are put on hold. Not much changed in this weekend’s Premier League action, but for now we have a new leader at the top of the list.
1) Tottenham Leave It Late
There was a time in the Tottenham vs West Ham match when you’d have felt safe betting on West Ham to take the maximum three points. That was until Harry Kane scored a brace in the final two minutes of the match to secure a 3-2 win in the London Derby. His first was only fair, as Tottenham had pressured for the draw, and then they were further rewarded with an extra time penalty winner.
Harry Winks scored his first ever Premier League goal in the 51st minute for Tottenham, but it was the highly criticized Danny Rose who worked tirelessly for the full 90 minutes, shrugging off all thoughts of fatigue. This was an exceptional win for the still undefeated club which is headed into a massive match next Saturday at Stamford Bridge. The two best defenses will be the talk of the week, but Tottenham must do better against Chelsea than they did versus West Ham if they hope to keep the Blues’ free-scoring streak at bay. Mauricio Pochettino worked the tactics in his favor, but Spurs will eventually lose when not playing to their strengths.
2) The Resurgence of Sunderland
It would be premature to say Sunderland are making a resurgence, but it surely isn’t a false hope if you’re a Black Cats’ supporter. Their only two wins this season have come back to back, and Victor Anichebe has been the goal scoring threat needed to help them move up the table. Although still in the bottom three, Sunderland can now see a shining light at the end of their season, but how long can they continue this momentum with the end of year fixtures approaching fast?
It was yet another headache for Hull, who steadily continue to sink their own ship into the bottom of Premier League darkness. You want to wish the Tigers all the best, but their lack of football quality only serves to frustrate the neutral and opposing fans. Life in the top flight will surely be short-lived for Hull, but will Sunderland be joining them in the Championship next term?
3) Gunning For Jose
Arsene Wenger must still wait for his first win against his nemesis Jose Mourinho, but he did well to kill off United’s hopes of securing the win on Saturday. Wenger brought in Olivier Giroud in the 73rd minute, followed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ten minutes later. The two teamed up for the late equalizer, and inserted a sour taste into Jose Mourinho’s ego and insecurities.
Phil Jones helped ease some of the pain of Mourinho’s center-back crisis with another solid display, but there are still questions about United’s inability to defend for a full match. The bright side to it all has been Antonio Valencia’s return from injury, given his importance to Mourinho’s system. Alongside Juan Mata, Valencia will remain the likeliest of Old Trafford heroes during the tough stretch of United’s remaining fixtures.
4) The Best of Costa
Antonio Conte has been able to get the best of Diego Costa without unleashing his worst. The Spanish striker became the first Premier League player to hit double figures this term when he scored his tenth goal of the season in Sunday’s win over Middlesbrough. Costa has been one of the fundamental pieces in Chelsea’s run to the top of the league, and it can’t be overstated that the striker’s ability to calm his nerves has helped get the best out of him.
The Costa of this season has been stellar compared to last year, when he accumulated ten yellow cards and a red. This season, he hasn’t been booked in the last seven matches for both club and country. Perhaps a born-again Chelsea has helped Costa realize his importance to the squad, but most of the credit for that is owed to Antonio Conte’s ability to manage a player with a temper hot enough to cause fists to fly. As long as Costa continues his recent streak of confidence, his goals and performances will only help Chelsea run away from the pack.
5) A Toure-ntial Return
Bring a legend back from the cold, and he will put you in your place for ever doubting him. Yaya Toure did just that on Saturday, as Manchester City added to the agonies of Alan Pardew and Crystal Palace with a 2-1 win to keep pace with Liverpool and Chelsea at the top of the table. It couldn’t have happened to a better player, who has given so much for his club, even amid speculation of his imminent departure.
Pep Guardiola may not have Toure available to help Man City progress through the rest of the Champions’ League group stage, but while he is still on the books he will be available for further heroics. It’s not certain where Toure will end up come January or next summer, but it’s performances like Saturday’s that have set the Ivorian international on a level apart from the mere football elite.
Thanks for reading.
Photo via the Guardian.