The league leaders suffered a shock defeat, the Merseyside derby was a one-sided affair and nothing could separate Arsenal from Manchester City. Iain Macintosh looks back at the weekend’s heroes and villains.
It isn’t going to be enough to change people’s minds. It isn’t going to be enough to put Arsenal back in the title race. It may not even be enough to put Arsenal back in contention for a top-four place. But Shkodran Mustafi‘s equalising header might just ease the pressure a little on Arsene Wenger. At least until Wednesday when the Gunners inexplicably lose at home to West Ham. This was the day that was supposed to offer either a final damning judgement on Wenger’s reign, or a morale-boosting lifeline. In the end, the 2-2 draw with Manchester City offered neither.
Hang on a minute … is that a title race developing? With Chelsea’s consistent dominance, we’d all but given up on having one of those this year. But Tottenham hadn’t. Burnley had won nine out of their 14 games at Turf Moor this season and that record, combined with Spurs’ traditional Spurseyness, led many to believe that this would be a tough afternoon for Mauricio Pochettino. It turned out just to be a tough first half. One tactical reshuffle later and Spurs had themselves a two-goal lead. After the win, the gap is down to seven points and Chelsea are back in visual range. And all this without Harry Kane.
For a moment, Liverpool were wobbling. Having opened the scoring and duly taken hold of Everton at Anfield, their unorthodox and daring decision to neutralise their neighbours’ set pieces by simply standing very, very still backfired horribly. They needed something special to settle their nerves. Philippe Coutinho provided it. The Brazilian bobbed and he weaved, he zigged and he zagged and then, as calmly as a pro golfer chipping out of a bunker, he lofted the ball into the top corner. And from there, Liverpool never looked back in a 3-1 win.
Okay, admit it: Who thought that Sam Allardyce was a broken man, his powers sapped by the trauma of his England experience? Never write off Big Sam. Never. Okay, so he needed a bit more of a warm-up at Selhurst Park, a few outtakes for the blooper reel, but he’s hitting his marks now. Beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is an extraordinary achievement, but it’s only one slice of a far larger slab of extraordinary called “four consecutive wins with only one goal conceded”. Palace were in all sort of trouble when Allardyce arrived, but it looks like he’s only gone and done it again. They’re staying up.
Hull City may not still be in the Premier League next year, but Marco Silva probably will be. The young Portuguese manager has made a name for himself in England by tightening up his hitherto leaky Tigers, but it’s bold, mid-game attacking changes that have really raised eyebrows. He did it against Swansea to win three crucial points and, on Saturday, he did it again against West Ham, dropping his three-man defence, pushing two men up top and turning the game. Hull have given themselves a chance now. Silva has given himself an interview for whichever medium-size Premier League vacancy opens up next.
Oops. For nine whole minutes, Chelsea looked utterly comfortable at Stamford Bridge. And then it all went wrong in the space of 90 seconds. In their defence, the league leaders didn’t do an awful lot wrong. They had nearly three quarters of the ball and nearly a quarter of a century of shots with the on-target efforts in double figures. They just couldn’t find a way through. And so as the anaemic kid from Class 2B stares in shock at his bruised fist, the school bully rocks slightly on his heels, his bleeding nose evidence of an unexpected vulnerability. How will Chelsea respond to this shock? How will the rest of the class? Their midweek clash with Manchester City will prove most instructive.
Manchester City will have to get over their own disappointment after spurning numerous opportunities to inflict defeat on Arsenal in North London. Pep Guardiola will know that his was the better team, but he’ll also know that woolly headed defending and wasteful finishing cost him a game that could have been wrapped up long before half-time. As much as this match was proof that Arsenal are way off the pace, it was proof that City are only marginally closer to title contention themselves.
It was very generous of Ronald Koeman to claim that he was “proud” of Everton‘s performance at Anfield, but we’d really like to know which bit in particular it was that impressed him. Romelu Lukaku didn’t have a shot, Ross Barkley was hack-happy and ineffectual, the three-man defence looked like a one-man defence and where do you start with Joel Robles’ performance? Was the correct response to Divock Origi’s goalbound run really to scamper off his line and then list horribly to his left like a grounded fishing boat as the ball whizzed to his right? This was as bad as Everton have played in 2017.
Jose Mourinho wasted little time in apportioning blame for Manchester United’s disappointing draw with West Bromwich Albion. And he wasn’t going to start with Tony Pulis’ negative tactics. He ran through his entire team, praising every player for their consistency, before stopping abruptly at the attackers. Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhytarian were not mentioned by name, but the implication was clear. They haven’t been good enough for him. Given that United have only scored 42 league goals this season, considerably fewer than their rivals, he might have a point.
When the end comes for this column, we want David Moyes by our side. “You’ve worked really hard,” he’ll say encouragingly. “Okay, so the column didn’t get the hits we’d hoped for, none of the gags really came off, it’s repulsed advertisers and the ESPN security guards are clearing your desk as we speak, but you did work hard. And there’s still time for you to convince the editor to reverse his decision to terminate your employment and to take back those things he said about your parents. You just have to keep working. You’ll get there.” No, we won’t. And neither will Sunderland.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.