Saturday analysis: Marvellous Magpies, sloppy Stoke & Big Sam's big problem
So Newcastle CAN defend...
After 10 games of the season, has the penny finally dropped for Alan Pardew's men? If evidence of their terrific 2-0 win over Chelsea at St James' Park is anything to go by, then it's entirely possible.
A drab first half on Tyneside could be largely attributed to the Magpies' fine work in midfield, where Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye were excellent in disrupting the visitors' patient probing.
The Blues were allowed to play with freedom in their own half, but were harrassed, harried and ultimately snuffed out once they ventured into Toon territory. Jose Mourinho's briefest of half-time team talks told its own story.
Overall Pardew's men recorded 18 interceptions (double that of their opponents), recovered the ball 44 times and made 48 successful clearances. But after the break they added guile to their grit. It took just 15 second-half minutes for Newcastle to double their efforts on goal tally, and their pressure eventually told as Yoan Gouffran nodded in Cabaye's free-kick before Loic Remy added No.2. They deserved it, too.
Remy, in particular, was a different animal after the interval. In the first half the Frenchman was forced into playing with his back to goal (he made only one successful forward pass), but his increased involvement after the break proved pivotal. All seven (!) of his shots came in in the second half and he was rewarded for his persistence with Newcastle's second goal, a well-taken effort after fine work from substitute Vurnon Anita. It's only a matter of time before the influential forward's move from QPR is made permanent.
Clinical United take early siesta
Twenty-two minutes was all it took for this game to be won. That's all Manchester United needed to race into an unassailable three-goal lead against struggling Fulham at Craven Cottage, and thereafter promptly shut up shop as Martin Jol's side attempted to revived themselves after the break.
Take what you like from the fact David Moyes' men created only four chances in open play - admittedly, compared to Fulham's 13 it seems a little embarrassing. But while United weren't exactly Brazil circa '70 after the break, letting Fulham back into it through Alex Kacaniklic's 65th-minute effort, they had enough to get the job done. In truth, it's rare that teams with a big lead at half time go on in similarly devastating fashion - even if their blue city rivals didn't adhere to that notion today.
Moyes was forced into making all three of his substitutions at the break, and the United replacements' attacking contributions were virtually non-existent. Marouane Fellaini was happy to tick along in midfield (with 93% passing accuracy), scarcely foraying forward, while Shinji Kagawa's left-wing wanders were minimal. Simply, United had no interest in adding to the west Londoners' woes. In the second half their attacking-third passing decreased by a third, while middle-sector tip-tapping was cranked up almost two-fold. Game over.
Huddlestone's tale of two halves
Another home win for Hull leaves Steve Bruce's men sitting pretty in the top half - not least thanks to Sunderland's first-half disciplinary madness. The Tigers were leading when Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena were both shown their marching orders before the half-time whistle, but made it count in the second half to see out another win at the KC Stadium (their third of an increasingly impressive campaign).
Tom Huddlestone took particular advantage of the Black Cats' woes as he shifted forward in the second period to dictate play. The former England man, the game's most influential player, created six oppotunities for his team-mates after the break, having failed to muster any in the first half. He also attempted four shots and comfortably led the game's passing stakes. No surprise then, that Hull racked up 22 shots after the break having managed just three before the interval. It's fair to say Bruce's faith in the 26-year-old has paid off.
Meanwhile, it became all about width for Hull in the second half. Ahmed El Mohamady attempted 17 of the hosts' 44 crosses (equalling his lofty tally against Aston Villa earlier in the season) but, again, was only successful with one of those. It was a strategy that didn't reap rewards, but may continue if Hull's lack of quality up front isn't addressed in January. Still, there isn't too much you can knock about Bruce's boys at home this season.
David Silva makes Merlin proud
It's no surprise that they call the Spaniard the 'wizard' at Manchester City - and here he demonstrated why once again. In fairness you could have picked any of the home side's players for praise as City ran riot in their 7-0 demolition of Norwich but Silva, with his goal and impeccable passing in the final third, can take a chunk of the praise. At West Ham a fortnight ago he was dazzling. And with him alongside Yaya Toure Manuel Pellgrini's men look capable of anything.
Norwich were hopelessly outclassed. Clearly the Canaries had already given up midway through the first half, and by the 36th minute they were four down. Manager Chris Hughton is already walking a fine tightrope at Carrow Road, and it's this kind of defeat that will invetibaly topple the affable Norwich chief. Sure, his side were picked apart by an ominously fearsome City side, but they also never really knocked the hosts off their stride. Allowing Pellegrini's men to make over 700 passes at a success rate of 92% isn't good enough.
Stoke must go back to basics
For their own sake, Stoke have got to start getting things right at the sharp end. Mark Hughes' attempted reshuffle at the Britannia Stadium is looking like a half-baked job with no happy ending in sight, its hilarity summed up by the fact that goalkeeper Asmir Begovic is now the club's joint leading scorer for the season.
The Potters remain defensively safe, but the goalscoring problems that earned Tony Pulis the sack are still lingering with malice. Against Southampton they even tried re-kindling the spirit of Pulis - 14% of their passing was long - but even Peter Crouch's aerial presence was ineffective once more. Don't blame the beanpole hitman, though - the quality of service afforded to him (below) was beyond pitiful. Indeed, he wasn't even able to register an effort on goal.
It has to start with simplicity. While Steven N'Zonzi looks a capable distributor in midfield, the Frenchman can't be expected to do it alone every game. Sadly for Hughes it was the case here - his side completed just 58% of their passes in the first half, on home soil. Not good enough.
Sessegnon key to Baggies' bounce
As the transfer window approached closing time this summer it seemed West Brom's insipid start to the season would only continue. Four winless games left us all wondering when things would improve for a side that hadn't spent any money, was relying upon an ageing Nicolas Anelka to score goals and lacked the creativity to shine in the top flight this year.
But Steve Clarke's men have quashed premature predictions of a struggle ever since, having snapped up the likes of Stephane Sessegnon and Morgan Amalfitano late and seen young prodidy Saido Berahino blossom. Today the former and latter combined for a comfortable West Brom win, while Baggies regulars Gareth McAuley and Youssouf Mulumbu impressed.
Mulumbu was imperious in the middle, finishing as West Brom's top passer overall, contributing in the final third and fulfilling his defensive duties superbly with game-high 11 ball recoveries and seven interceptions. Sessegnon, meanwhile, provided the key to unlocking Crystal Palace's backline with the assist for Berahino's opener at The Hawthorns. It's not the first time the Benin international has come up trumps for Clarke's men, and it won't be the last.
Credit where it's due - West Brom won't be embroiled in a dogfight at the bottom this side. Palace, meanwhile, are marooned on three points after 10 games - three fewer than Derby County had amassed at the same stage of the Rams' record-breaking (for all the wrong reasons) Premier League campaign. It's with little wonder there's no queue outside Steve Parish's door.
Big Sam's striker nightmare continues
It worked to a tee against Tottenham, but West Ham's false No.9, 4-6-0 system is now haunting Sam Allardyce with too much regularity.
On another day this would have been a comfortable Hammers victory against Aston Villa, but instead the east Londoners' struggles up top left them rueing what could have been after a frustrating goalless draw at Upton Park. Andy Carroll is still at least a fortnight away from a return to contention, but that West Ham are missing the powerful Geordie so much is worrying. At the beginning of the season Modibo Maiga was ineffectual, while Croatian striker Mladen Petric has so far been snubbed.
Allardyce's side completed almost 200 more passes than their opponents, three times more in the final third, outshot them 17 to eight and dominated the wings (as seen below). Yet their possession counted for little as they registered just four efforts on target, while Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis's combined 30 crosses might as well have been played to the Invisible Man. Yep, it's all still screaming Carroll.
But something has to give soon. West Ham dominated proceedings against Paul Lambert's limited Villa side, who themselves are hideouslty reliant on Christian Benteke up front. The goal-getting Belgian practically saved the West Midland side's Premier League skin last time out, and continues to be their overused talisman up front. Again the 22-year-old was sent up for a game-high 15 aerial duels as Lambert's men reaffirmed their status as the top flight's long-ball merchants.
Left foot, right foot, even his head - Santi Cazorla provides a threat with all three