Heroes & Villains: Banquets, scalps and coffin nails
Who rocked and who shocked in the Premier League this weekend? Mark Booth hands out the bouquets and brickbats
The Premier League
Sometimes, just sometimes, the BestLeagueInTheWorld justifies the hype. This weekend had storylines and sub-plots aplenty with Manchester United's win over Chelsea proving to be the thrilling showpiece dessert to a banquet weekend of Premier League fare featuring controversy, dramatic comebacks and a whopping 38 goals.
His detractors might need to check their stance. There are those who say he goes missing in big matches, but his sublime goal against Chelsea was impeccably timed as the visitors looked to be getting a foothold in the match. There are those who say he has a lack of final product, but 19 goals and 33 assists in his first 100 Manchester United matches compare favourably to Cristiano Ronaldo's 19 goals and 12 assists.
If Nani can produce this kind of performance on a regular basis, United are going to take some stopping Ã¢ÂÂ especially with Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney looking similarly imperious.
Showed wonderful spirit to get back into a match that looked finished 11 seconds into the second half. Sergio Aguero's second straight after the break sparked the home side into life which earned its reward when Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy fired them level. The energy on display was all the more remarkable when you consider the modesty of their squad size and the fact that they were in Europa League action on Thursday night.
Martin Jol's appointment at Craven Cottage was a popular one across the Premier League; although Fulham are yet to record a win, there was enough evidence on Sunday afternoon that it should be a fun season again in West London, both at home and abroad.
The newly promoted sides
It's been a tough introduction to Premier League life for Norwich, QPR and Swansea but all three recorded relatively comfortable wins on Saturday afternoon that allow supporters cause for optimism. Swansea's brand of easy-on-the-eye football was growing increasingly liable to win more praise than points, but a hugely impressive 3-0 win over West Brom proved that the ancient art of keeping the ball on the floor can prosper when the individual sacrifices itself for the collective.
QPR proved at Wolves what they had hinted on Monday night against Newcastle, that their new acquisitions have added real dynamism to a solid if unremarkable squad, while Norwich, widely seen as the weakest of the newly promoted sides, recorded a vital three points at Bolton in what could still prove to be a long season for Paul Lambert's men.
Relations between Messrs Levy and Redknapp will have improved no end after thrashing their race-for-fourth-place rivals at White Hart Lane. Although they were helped on their way by Liverpool's lack of discipline, even at 11 versus 11 Spurs were well on top and this result could prove to be a platform for greater things. What was also evident was that an interested Luka Modric is worth his weight in gold if Spurs have aspirations of rubbing shoulders with Europe's elite once more next campaign.
Whilst one high-profile scalp won't be enough to mute the bloodthirsty thousand who marched on Ewood Park on Saturday afternoon, it will have heartened Steve Kean to see the manner in which his Blackburn Rovers side went about their business. Looking in trouble when Arsene Wenger's side took the lead twice, Blackburn rallied and the sight of Martin Olsson bouncing on the spot, eagerly awaiting his introduction in the second half, preceded his inspired assist for Arsenal's second own goal courtesy of Laurent Koscielny Ã¢ÂÂ the definitive fourth nail in Arsenal's coffin.
Granted, they were facing an exhausted Stoke City 'fresh' back from Kyiv and lacking experience in simultaneous fighting on domestic and continental fronts, but you still have to put them away Ã¢ÂÂ which Sunderland duly did. A 4-0 scoreline in no way flattered Steve Bruce, who will be delighted to silence his increasingly vocal critics. Breathing space at last for a clinical Sunderland.
It might not be the most fashionable opinion that Fernando Torres has been Chelsea's most effective performer this season so far, and had it not been for one lapse in concentration, he could well be included in the Heroes section for his lively performance at Old Trafford. Unfortunately that momentary loss of muscular co-ordination was one of the most staggering misses in living memory.
A delicious stepover took David De Gea out of the game and for all the world it looked like Torres had the simplest of tasks in rolling the ball into an empty net. Not so, as the Spaniard sliced Chelsea's faint hopes of a point wide of the target.
Ill-discipline and a lack of organisation cost Liverpool dear and there's a vague sentiment emanating from Anfield that King Kenny's honeymoon period might be coming to an end. It's difficult to remember Liverpool being so hopelessly outclassed, though they weren't helped in their cause by Charlie Adam and Martin Skrtel's suicidal second yellows.
Steven Gerrard looks set to return in midweek for the League Cup fixture at Brighton; perhaps it's a game too late for Liverpool, as his leadership would have provided the missing example in a worryingly rudderless showing at White Hart Lane.
More of a reality check than a crisis but after endless eulogies about attacking football from pundits and neutrals, Mancini reverted to type in the 69th minute at Craven Cottage. With Fulham in the ascendency after halving City's advantage, Mancini replaced the team's heartbeat in David Silva with the defensively-minded Pablo Zabaleta Ã¢ÂÂ and sacrificed two vital title-race points. City were dropping deeper with each passing minute and with this change the Italian surrendered any attacking intent and invited Fulham on.
This fixture might have been the perfect chance to shuffle his pack and bring in Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez rather than leaving them on the bench again; continuity is fine if you're winning matches but City's wasteful first-half performances in their last two games will have drawn raised eyebrows from two of the squad's more disruptive characters.
Their appearance in this villains section is growing dangerously regular. Some of the most naive defending you will see in the Premier League this season saw Arsenal snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Ewood Park. Most problematic of all, deadline signings Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker seem to have immediately bought into that Arsenal defensive mantra: abandoning all sense of responsibility when put under pressure.
Before watching the second half through their fingers, Gooners would have had cause for encouragement as Mikel Arteta pulled the strings from a quarter-back role; however, without Jack Wilshere Arsenal lack a player to set the emotional tone of the team Ã¢ÂÂ and the way they wilted in the second half against a very average Blackburn side will have given Arsene Wenger yet another sleepless night.
There was a time a foul in the penalty box equalled a penalty Ã¢ÂÂ especially when perpetrated on a home player at Old Trafford. Not on Sunday, when Ashley Cole was lucky to escape with only a yellow for an ugly scything challenge on Javier Hernandez in the penalty area. A spot kick did not follow. Eh?