The sixth round of Premier League fixtures this last weekend once again failed to disappoint. Great goals, fantastic drama and high quality entertainment go hand in hand in England’s top flight, and once again, all three of these were in abundance. But what does it all mean? Well, here, in part one of my weekly review, I look back on five of Saturdays’ matches, and offer my thoughts.
Premier League Week 6 Round-Up: Part One
The Merseyside derby was by no means a classic, but in the circumstances, a draw was definitely the fairest result. Some strange refereeing decisions threatened to spoil it for the locals, but no Liverpool fan would have been complaining when referee Martin Atkinson rightly awarded the Reds a free kick in “Stevie G” territory just after the hour mark. The height and precision at which Gerrard struck the free kick was perfection itself – and not many goalkeepers even better than Tim Howard would have had a chance with it. But as Liverpool have found to their cost so many times already this season, not taking your chances costs you games.
Mario Balotelli is a grafter, talented entertainer, but he is no Luis Suarez, and that is what Brendan Rodgers must remember. The Italian hit the bar shortly after Gerrard’s party piece, and this probably galvanised Everton into action, whilst certainly providing them with the belief that at least a point could be rescued. Anybody who has not yet seen Phil Jagielka’s rocket of a shot (that is still rising by the way) must see it; it was the goal of his career and will definitely be a candidate for Goal of the Season next May. The power and precision at which the shot was hit was simply awesome and gives the Toffees something positive to build upon, whilst leaving that black cloud still lingering ominously over Anfield. It’s pretty simple – the Reds need to replace Suarez – and until they do, they will really not threaten that top four, as they are so desperate to do so.
As the weeks go by, Chelsea seem to get stronger and stronger, and look more and more like title winners. Ok, it’s early days – but mixed with the “industrial approach” that José Mourinho so adores adapting, is a caressing, beautiful slick style of football that is winning even the most ardent anti-Mourinho fellows over. Perhaps this has always been the problem for José. Stuck with a label for negative, yet pragmatic and winning football, he still favours not losing at any cost, but in Willian, Eden Hazard and Oscar, Chelsea possess three of the most exciting midfielders in world football right now. To accompany this, they also have a striker, who just simply cannot stop scoring. Diego Costa acts like a villain from a James Bond movie, and certainly plays with the cutting, unforgiveable edge of one.
Huge credit from Saturday afternoon must also be awarded to the visitors, Aston Villa, who, in spite of the heavy 3-0 score line, defended with aplomb until they submitted to their superior opponents. Wilting like a tiny flower in a forest underneath the heavy footprint of a Doc Marten boot, one could say. However, the one thing we are learning this year about Villa is that they are no pushovers. They came to the Bridge and had a go at the Blues, which offers Paul Lambert huge encouragement, and should provide Villa’s players with the confidence needed to tackle some of the “lesser lights” of the Premier League after back-to-back 0-3 reverses to Arsenal and now Chelsea.
Crystal Palace are absolutely living the high life right now; “nosebleed land” – aka 9th place in the league. Unbeaten in four games under Neil Warnock, the season has only gone in one direction for the Eagles, who lost the opening two, drew the next two, and have now recorded back-to-back wins with Saturday’s fine 2-0 victory over Leicester City. That the three points came at home will be of absolute delight to Warnock, who will once again expect Selhurst Park to be a fortress this campaign.
Set pieces are proving to be very beneficial for Palace, and would appear to offer their most realistic source of goals. Winger Jason Puncheon’s deliveries for both goals on Saturday possessed first class accuracy, and the guile with which Fraizer Campbell flicked the ball in on the goal line for his second in two games was “cute”, to say the least. That big skipper, Mile Jedinak, also scored in consecutive matches goes to show the levels of confidence currently gushing through the streets of SE25.
For the Foxes of Leicester, it appeared to be very much a case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show”. Still probably, and rightly, buzzing from their resounding 5-3 comeback victory over Manchester United last weekend, City would not have been naïve enough to presume a trip to South London would be the same kind of game as the United one. But credit to manager Nigel Pearson, who once again sent out an attacking line up with the brutal intention of hurting Palace. Yet in truth they never really got going, and it would be Palace who made them pay for their profligacy. Like any other newly promoted side, City will have good and bad days – but expect them to learn their lessons quickly from this particular defeat.
For anybody currently playing Hull City, Christmas is arriving incredibly early. For the previous three games in a row in all competitions, City threw away a winning lead at some point in the game. On Saturday, the Tigers slightly fortuitously found themselves level in the game at half time, to only go and get punished once again, and end up on the end of a 2-4 defeat to Manchester City. There is no shame in that score line against opponents such as City, but Steve Bruce will be kicking himself that having climbed a huge mountain to get the game even, they still fell off the cliff. Defensive frailties and a possible “European hangover” could be the reasons behind City’s laborious start to this campaign, but there are only so many times a team can throw a game away, without severe repercussions.
Bruce has done a fantastic job on Humberside, but the Tigers need to quickly re-group and get their act in gear. The other City, Manchester, will be delighted with the three points gained, having tossed away an early two goal cushion. Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko once again scored fabulous goals, to underline, and once again exposed the sheer quality of City’s attack, which is breathtaking and simply unstoppable at times. Defensively, they looked poor, though, and big Eliaquim Mangala will want to forget the moment he accurately headed into his own net, and then conceded a sloppy penalty. He will need to improve. The real burning question for Manchester City fans is this though. How does Manuel Pellegrini transform their domestic dominance onto the European stage? For only success at this level will mark this current team as a great one.
Wayne Rooney’s red card will be the lingering memory of Manchester United’s 2-1 win victory over West Ham United on Saturday afternoon. Needlessly kicking out at Hammers’ midfielder Stewart Downing for no apparent reason, this particular Rooney red card can only really be put down to sheer frustration, as opposed to a flash of the “red mist” that the England captain has become synonymous with in past times. The new Rooney has certainly matured, and within recent fixtures for both club and country, he has shown a much more calm and responsible side to his game – covering the weaknesses of many a team mate, and in essence, carrying them. Playing in a transitional and a non-all conquering United side is bound to take some getting used to – so perhaps the benefit of the doubt can be afforded to Rooney in this instance. Going on Saturday’s performance, Rooney will be missed whilst serving his three match ban.
Robin van Persie crashed him his 50th United goal, whilst they won the game, but the Hammers absolutely pushed them all the way, even though their wild pre-game “5-3 to the ‘ammers” predictions certainly didn’t come anywhere near to fruition. In Diafra Sakho, West Ham do at least now possess a striker both in form, and with a very strong eye for goal. Four goals from his last five games certainly reads impressively, and the Hammers must be very pleased with their opening six games. Of course, they were slightly unfortunate not to steal a point, when Kevin Nolan was harshly adjudged to be offside at the death, but on another day, they will get that lucky break and can be reasonably happy with their day’s work at Old Trafford.
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