Saturday Analysis: Chelsea, Hammers and Adam Johnson do a lot with a little
Big Sam's minimalist masterclass
Before West Ham's recent troubles, Sam Allardyce was making a decent fist of making them a reasonably slick passing team, comfortable in possession and creating chances through neat interplay. But Cardiff 0-2 West Ham was Big Sam v1.0, and you'll get few Hammers fans bemoaning its success on this occasion.
On a tricky trip to tackle Cardiff's fresh-faced young manager, Allardyce's team won despite having just 36.9% possession, completing 193 passes (to Cardiff's 409), of which only 53 (Cardiff: 138) were in the final third. Hammers made a hefty 26 tackles (and committed 16 fouls) and a startling 55 clearances (32 headed).
It didn't help that Cardiff so often chose to cross (38 times) against a team managed by a former centre-back exquisitely happy to have two of his kind to choose from. Roger Johnson and James Tomkins - before his daft second yellow - contributed 12 each of West Ham's startling 55 clearances (of which 32 were headed).
And of course, Sam's team won 2-0, the goals coming through a winger finding a target man before a nippy midfielder scored on the break. Any win will do – had they lost, Hammers would have been bottom by two clear points and four adrift of safety – but Allardyce will allow himself a wry smile that sometimes the old dog can teach the young pup a few new tricks.
ANALYSE IT Cardiff 0-2 West Ham
Blues cruise without the ball
In truth, the first half of Hull 0-2 Chelsea wasn't great. Goalless and largely guileless, it hardly represented value for money for BT Sport. But then Chelsea slid through the gears: having been outshot 7 to 4 before the break, they rained in 10 second-half shots while restricting Hull to 3 off-target efforts.
And notably, having gone in front went Eden Hazard finished a well-engineered goal, they controlled the game largely without the ball. Having had 66.6% possession in the first half Chelsea were outpassed in the second - but notably few of the home side's passes hurt the visitors where it mattered. Fernando Torres' second allowed them to enjoy going top of the league in ominous style.
ANALYSE IT Hull 0-2 Chelsea
Johnson makes a little go a long way
Despite his headline-grabbing hat-trick at Fulham 1-4 Sunderland, it wouldn't be fair to say Adam Johnson ran Fulham ragged: 20 players completed more passes than him, including Cottagers sub Ashkan Dejagah, who only came on in the 68th minute. And only 2 of his 6 attempted dribbles came off.
But Johnson made the difference between the teams. He scored with all 3 of his attempts – a curled free-kick to put Sunderland in front, a low shot to thwart Fulham's comeback and a penalty to confirm the victory – and created the visitors' second by pulling a free-kick back for Ki Sung-Yueng just before half-time.
The scoreline was harsh on Fulham, who had 58.8% possession, completed 395 passes (to Sunderland's 245) and passed more than twice as much as their guests in the final third. But like West Ham at Cardiff, the visitors did much more with much less, and Fulham's latest heavy defeat - they've conceded 18 in their last four losses - could be the most damaging of all as the relegation pack tightens claustrophobically around them.
ANALYSE IT Fulham 1-4 Sunderland
Teenager Stones shows great promise
Hesitant as we are to put pressure on the shoulders of the young, it's encouraging to see how well John Stones is adapting to first-team football at Everton. Signed from hometown club Barnsley last January, the 6ft 2in teenager has had a sprinkling of first-team appearances this term, but injuries to others have accelerated his education and he marked his third successive start with an impressive performance in Everton 2-0 Norwich.
Only his centre-back partner Phil Jagielka completed more passes than Stones' 55 out of 59 - a 93% accuracy ratio outshining Gareth Barry, sat in front of the youngster and presumably appreciating his use of the ball. And well he might: the majority of Stones's passes went forward, one set up a chance an one of the few which didn't connect was a raking 70-yarder into the Norwich area. Furthermore, over the course of the 90 kinutes he successfully passed to every team-mate except Leighton Baines – not a worrying omission considering Stones played on the right of central defence.
To complete a tidy afternoon he also completed both his tackles and all 8 of his clearances (more than any team-mate). Oh and he tried an unsurpassed 5 take-ons, completing 3 – although there may be a few Evertonians who'd rather he didn't get quite that confident just yet…
ANALYSE IT Everton 2-0 Norwich
Bentaleb rewards Sherwood's faith
"I had no hesitation. The kid is ready to play." So said Tim Sherwood after bringing on Nabil Bentaleb in the interim manager's first Premier League game, at Southampton. Bentaleb has been in every matchday squad since, only remaining unused in the win over Stoke, and marked his first league start with an eye-catching performance in Tottenham 2-0 Crystal Palace.
Barely 19 but 6ft1in in his socks, the Lille-born prospect completed 99 of his 106 passes – the highest in the match and almost half of Palace's team total. Nor were they all safe taps sideways: he attempted and completed more in the attacking third than any other player. He also picked up half a dozen loose balls, won half of his 8 tackles, committed as many fouls as anyone else – and curled a fine effort against the post.
In that debut at St Mary's, Bentaleb replaced Moussa Dembele; here he played alongside the Belgian, but when Sandro returns the two may be in direct competition – and there's no saying the senior man will get Sherwood's nod.
ANALYSE IT Tottenham 2-0 Crystal Palace