This season is going to throw up surprises... just roll with it
So Chelsea lost. And so did Manchester United. Arsenal drew at home. Manchester City didn't win away again. And isn't this all brilliant? We knew it might be the most open Premier League race to date, but 15 games into the new season and we're still none the wiser where the title will be heading this season.
Arsenal and Liverpool might be in charge of the top two spots after impressive starts, but you still won't find many people who believe either will be lifting silverware come May. But then who will? Chelsea continue to follow up gung-ho goal fests with shoddy defensive displays, Manuel Pellegrini's City are still faltering on their travels and city rivals United... well, the less said the better (but we'll say some stuff below anyway).
Tottenham aren't there yet either. Everton, Newcastle and Southampton, though, have taken giant leaps in the right direction. Mid-table also-rans can be as awful as they can be brilliant. Not even Crystal Palace look hopelessly doomed anymore. So let's all just relax (even you, United fans), be grateful we're not a league ruled by two sides and enjoy what could be the most entertaining season in Premier League history. There's a helluva lot of football still to be played.
... but the fear factor has gone at Old Trafford
“Our retention of the ball, particularly in the first half, must be better," mused Newcastle manager Alan Pardew ahead of his side's trip to Manchester United. “We can’t turn the ball to United like that. I hope we’ll play a lot better."
His advice certainly got through. Even amid United's current plight, few teams go to Old Trafford and control possession like Newcastle did on Saturday. Quite how the Magpies transformed a 3-0 reverse at Swansea into a super victory at the champions' home in the space of three days is anybody's guess, but credit must go to Pardew for the way in which he set his side up.
Newcastle's patient approach paid off. By the final whistle they'd notched 63 more passes than David Moyes' side with 52% possession, forcing the hosts into 12 more clearances, winning the aerial duel battle 19 to 13 and restricing United to just eight of 21 successful take-ons.
Cutting off a Moyes side out wide is always the aim - and that's just what Pardew's men did, particularly down the right where Mathieu Debuchy completed 5 of 6 tackles and Mike Williamson 3 of 4. With Davide Santon and Fabricio Coloccini registering similar success rates, the likes of Adnan Januzaj were left frustrated in their attempts to provide for the visibly riled Robin van Persie. That United completed a pitiful weekend-low 53 passes in the attacking third told the biggest story.
If United had missed chances this latest defeat could have been forgiven in some ways, but that just wasn't the case. They were outpassed, outclassed and when fans reflect they may well think of what might have been with Michael Carrick on the pitch. Not since the 2001/02 campaign had United lost consecutive home games, and even then Chelsea were one of those sides to inflict defeat. This just doesn't happen.
Ross Barkley... England... plane
Get him on it, Roy.
But who are we kidding? The watching Three Lions chief will have seen enough to make his own mind up on this one after the youngster's terrific display at the Emirates.
As Everton dominated the first half an hour in north London it was Barkley who ran the show for the Toffees, completing a game-high number of attacking-third passes in the first half and capping the lot with one particular moment of brilliance, a drop of the shoulder to bamboozle both Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in one go.
We all know England won't win the World Cup with a typically safe squad. Hodgson needs game-changers, players who can really make things happen, and Barkley is certainly capable of doing just that. Sure, he shouldn't be expected to sustain his exceptional promise over an entire major tournament but his inclusion is a must if England are serious about taking the next generation to a new level.
"I've never seen an English player with his mentality," glowed manager Roberto Martinez after Sunday's 1-1 draw. Decide yourself, but this writer is sold on the idea.
What have they done with Fulham?
Getting out with the old and in with the new might just have done the trick at Craven Cottage. Forget that Fulham finally ditched Martin Jol over a month too late and have looked like nailed-on relegation fodder for the entire campaign - on Sunday they finally showed why they'll probably 'do a Fulham' and stumble their way to safety once again.
Against Aston Villa, Rene Meulensteen's troops were excellent from start to finish, restricting the visitors to speculative counter-attacks and looking thoroughly comfortable throughout. In truth, midway through the second half it was all a little embarrassing. Even Dimitar Berbatov looked interested again for the second game running. Perhaps the Bulgarian's agent should declare his man's unhappiness every week.
Scott Parker "put a shift in" like "we all know he can" (to use the former England man's expansive post-match vocabulary), Steve Sidwell popped up with his third goal of the campaign and forgotten man Ashkan Dejagah was the game's most creative player. It was no coincidence that the Cottagers were so tight without maverick duo Bryan Ruiz and Adel Taarabt (though Villa were really bad).
More of the same, at home in particular, will almost certainly keep them afloat and heaven forbid... make them interesting again.
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