By: Alex Greenberg
Before I begin this column I just want to let you, as the reader, know that I am a Spurs fan. I’ll do my best to restrict my pro-Tottenham bias, but I can’t promise that I won’t take cheap shots at Arsenal or Chelsea. When stakes, tensions, and rivalries are as intense as they are in the Barclays Premier League, this is easier said than done.
So, at the expense of a smooth transition, let’s just leap right into this week’s action with the same amount of recklessness that Charlie Adam puts in to every slide tackle.
No one likes an international break. Two weeks with no football can feel like an eternity, especially if you’ve had a disappointing result right before the break. To Louis Van Gaal and his Manchester United side the thirteen-day break certainly seemed lengthy after they entered the break by losing 3-0 to Arsenal.
The Red Devils renewed the famous rivalry between the cities of Manchester and Liverpool as they travelled to Goodison Park to face an Everton team who hadn’t lost in the league since August. There’s always a unique element at play when United travel to Everton. The Toffees sold 18-year-old Wayne Rooney to United for £25.6 million in 2005. Since then Goodison Park has been a house of horrors for Rooney, who was born and raised in Liverpool.
Rooney hadn’t scored at Everton in the Premier League since 2007. And when the commentator read that stat during the first half you just knew Wayne was putting an end to it.
The boys from Manchester (I say that but none of United’s players are actually from Manchester) dominated the first half before and after their two goals. The first came from Morgan Schneiderlin after Steven Naismith twice failed to clear the ball. It was Schneiderlin’s first goal for United. Morgan Schneiderlin was an afterthought in the transfer window after United brought in Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich. That was definitely unfair for the Frenchman as he is clearly a better player than the aging Schweinsteiger. Schneiderlin will be the heart of the midfield at Old Trafford for years to come.
Ander Herrera added a second for the visitors, but the beginning of the second half made it seem like Everton were coming back into the match. Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley were denied by David De Gea before Rooney eventually got his goal in the 62nd minute. Rooney has been open about his maintained love for Everton, and he celebrated with class by pointing up to the sky in remembrance of Everton legend Howard Kendall who had died during the week.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez was disappointed that his side hadn’t reacted well to conceding, as they had in previous fixtures. But Martinez will take heart in knowing that his side are only four points off the Champions League places. Compare this year’s start to the start of last season and Everton fans will not be too distraught about the loss.
The same can be said of lovable tadpoles Bournemouth, who were taken apart 5-1 at the Etihad by Manchester City. The Cherries have had terrible luck with injuries during their first season in the Premier League. Striker Callum Wilson scored five goals in seven games before tearing his ACL, and they also lost record signing Tyrone Mings to a serious knee injury just six minutes into his debut.
Manchester City were without Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Vincent Kompany due to injury, but Raheem Sterling picked up the slack with a hat-trick. Sterling seems to have settled in well following his chaotic move from Liverpool in the summer. If City can keep Aguero and Silva healthy enough to play with Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne, then they should be favorites to lift the Premier League trophy in May.
Arsenal have similar hallucinations dreams of lifting the silverware in May, and a 3-0 victory against Watford at Vicarage Road will further fuel those dreams. Watford had their chances in the opening frame, but the dynamic strike partnership of Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney were unable to find the back of the net.
Alexis Sanchez seems to always find the back of the net, and he did again in this one for his sixth goal of the season. Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey also scored for the Gunners, but Sanchez was the story of the game. He produced yet another dominant performance as the Chilean continues to build a case for Player of the Year.
One concern for Arsenal is the play of Petr Cech. In the 44th minute Cech rushed off his line to stop a breakaway and clearly handled the ball outside of the penalty box. Referee Mike Jones missed the call and the Czech keeper was off the hook. Cech’s signing from Chelsea was widely hailed as a brilliant move by Arsene Wenger, but Cech has been shaky so far this season.
Elsewhere in London Crystal Palace welcomed West Ham to Selhurst Park for a battle between two of the Premier League’s most improved clubs. Both West Ham and Palace have made the signings to compete for European places, and it showed in the quality of play. The Hammers won 3-1 largely because of a Dwight Gayle red card. With Palace tiring and down to 10-men, Argentine Manuel Lanzini smashed home a rebound in the 88th minute for what would turn out to be the winning goal. Dimitri Payet added his fifth goal of the campaign for insurance in stoppage time.
Leicester City, one of the most exciting teams to watch in the league, did what they do best when they travelled to Southampton at the weekend; they came from behind. The Foxes showed incredible fight once again to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 2-2 draw. Jamie Vardy continued his quest to dethrone Cristiano Ronaldo for the FIFA Ballon d’Or as he scored two more for Leicester. Vardy is the leading scorer in the Premier League with nine goals in nine games. Jamie Vardy, who in 2010 played for Stocksbridge Park Steels FC in the eighth tier of English football, leads the Premier League in scoring. I’ve re-read that sentence four times now and it still is impossible to believe.
Another early season surprise has been the play of defending champions Chelsea, who went into their match with Aston Villa in 16th place in the table. Some people have claimed that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is under pressure, which he has denied. But no one can deny that Villa manager Tim Sherwood is on the hot seat. That seat will only get hotter as Villa lost to Chelsea 2-0 in this one.
Villa fans took to social media after the game to call for Sherwood’s firing. Both Chelsea goals were the product of mistakes by the Villains’ defense, something which has become an unfortunate trait of teams managed by Sherwood.
Spurs, the last team Sherwood managed, seem to have weeded out the defensive errors that plagued them over the last few seasons. Unbeaten since the opening day, Tottenham have one of the best defensive records in the league. That record improved after a 0-0 draw with Liverpool on Saturday.
All that was talked about in the run-up to the game was the appointment of Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers before the international break. This was unfair to Tottenham who, so far, have been one of the leagues most impressive teams.
With all the pressure on Liverpool, Spurs came out as the better team. Ninety percent of the games action was in the first half. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Clinton N’Jie all came very close to scoring for Tottenham. The game would’ve turned out much differently had James Milner seen a red card for his American football tackle on Danny Rose.
The best two players on the pitch were Mousa Dembele and Simon Mignolet. Dembele turned back the clock to boss the midfield for the full ninety minutes, but every time Spurs threatened the goal, Mignolet was there to make a save. Had both teams been at full strength offensively, there would’ve certainly been more goals in the game.
One game that certainly didn’t lack goals was Newcastle’s 6-2 victory over Norwich. Newcastle entered the game stuck at the very bottom of the Premier League. Without a win yet on the season, and with manager Steve McClaren under significant pressure, the Magpies produced an impressive offensive display based around a world class performance from Georginio Wijnaldum. The Dutch attacking midfielder scored four goals on the night in what was the highest scoring game of this young Premier League season.
Despite the victory, Newcastle are not out of the woods yet. They still sit dead last in the league and have severe issues in defense. Norwich put forth a poor showing and made things a lot easier for Newcastle than they should have been.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s action, there are some tasty matches on the schedule. West Ham vs Chelsea and Arsenal vs Everton are the pick of the Saturday matches. Then Sunday brings us the wonderful gift that is the Manchester Derby. The weekend’s round of games ends as Southampton take on Southampton 2.0 at Anfield.
Stay tuned in the coming days for more Premier League coverage from WTBU Sports.