The Barclay’s Premier League is one of the most exciting leagues in the world and this weekend was no different. With 36 goals shared in nine games and only two clean sheets among them, the weekend was full of highlights and events, controversy and happenings. Fans rejoiced, some were disappointed and, most of all, many were enthralled.
However, this weekend also saw a change in the guard, so to speak. The league has been dominated by two teams in recent years, but this weekend saw the emergence of possible new contenders, faltering champions, and an old favorite. If this weekend is anything to go by, we could see the most exciting race for the Premier League title in decades. So, why did this weekend matter?
Manchester United took 1st place.
The biggest story coming out of the weekend was Manchester United’s return to the echelon of English football – the summit of the Premier League, a place they haven’t visited for two whole years. A seasoned team with 13 Premier League titles in their trophy cabinet — the most in the leagues history — United have suffered and dwindled since the retirement of their manager, Alex Ferguson, in 2013.
David Moyes has come and gone. Louis Van Gaal is currently rebuilding a squad that is looking to reclaim past glory and return the red side of Manchester to the top tier of world football. This weekend, Manchester United took a step further to that goal with a 3-0 win over hapless Sunderland (see below). With a year out of the Champions League and several players seeking pastures new, United fans will be happy to see their team picking up the form that once made them so deadly.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Van Gaal heaped the praise on his players.
“It’s a nice feeling to be top of the table. It’s the first time in my period so I’m happy. It’s always difficult when you play against a team who is only defending and counting on the counter attack. You have to be aware and my defence was very good.”
“I was very happy with the goal in extra time because they punished themselves. They were always wasting time and the referee was not reacting to that. A goal is the biggest influence in a game and I changed my approach at half-time because of that.”
United took the lead before half time when Memphis Depay slotted home a Juan Mata cutback. Wayne Rooney made it two after the break with a similar move, tapping home Anthony Martial’s low ball. Mata curled in a third late on to seal the easy win for United, one that will raise hopes of the Old Trafford faithful.
Are Manchester City fading from the race already?
Manchester City faded from a title defense last season, but they started this season with something to prove. Unbeaten in five games, with five wins and no goals conceded, it looked like City were living up to their big-spending potential. Now? They’ve lost their last two league games, the most recent a 4-1 loss to Tottenham, and a game to Juventus in European competition. Is it the same old habit that dogged City last season?
Manchester City have spent big, over £100 million has been invested in a squad that seems to always falter at the key stages of the season. With world class players like Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and David Silva in the squad, City fans will feel disappointed with their teams recent performance. Injuries have rocked them recently, but for City fans, it will all be a little too familiar.
This weekend was Tottenham’s moment to shine though — after all, not many teams put four goals past the blue side of Manchester. City actually took the lead on 25 minutes through De Bruyne, who netted a low shot, his third in as many games. Eric Dier would equalize for Tottenham before half time with a long range effort before Toby Alderweireld headed home an Erik Lamela free kick on 50 minutes. Harry Kane would finally open his account for the season when he deftly tapped home a rebound from the crossbar. Lamela would finish the rout with a mazy dribble past the stranded Manchester City keeper. There was a hint of offside about three of the goals, but it didn’t dampen a fantastic game at White Hart Lane.
City need to find their form again. If not, they could see a repeat of last season, which could have massive repercussions for Manuel Pellegrini. The City board does not take kindly to seasons without silverware. It’s early days so they can still recover, but it will be playing at the back of the managers mind.
Are Arsenal back to their scoring best?
There was a time, back in the Premier League archives, when Arsenal went unbeaten for an entire season. In that era, Arsenal were also the premier elect, the contenders to the throne on several occasions throughout several classic seasons. Since those days, the Gunners have faded somewhat. Whether it’s the reluctance of Arsene Wenger to spend proper money, or their players just not rising to the occasion, Arsenal fans have been begging for change for years.
Again, it’s early days, but this weekend saw a cut-throat, ruthless display from a team that have often been accused of “walking the ball” into the net. Arsenal smashed five past Leicester City who, until this game, were unbeaten, having come from behind on three separate occasions already this season. The game finished 5-2.
Jamie Vardy got the home team off to a flyer on 13 minutes with a curled drive, before Theo Walcott levelled the game with a side footed shot on 18 minutes. Alexis Sanchez, who has been quiet this season, was able to dispatch a clinical hat-trick — a low drive on 33 minutes, a leaping header on 57 minutes and a long range belter on 81 minutes — to put the game beyond Leicester’s reach. Jamie Vardy would score a second curled effort on 89 minutes before Oliver Giroud hammered the nail in the coffin on 90 minutes with a sublime finish.
Arsene Wenger was proud of his team, particularly Sanchez, who won the Man of the Match award.
“It took Alexis a while to find his form. He didn’t come back straight away from the Copa America and after a competition like that it takes some time. Alexis was waiting for a goal and he’s not used to not scoring for so long so it was important for him to score.”
So, Arsenal back to their best? Only time will tell. If they can continue this form, and continue to be this deadly on the attack, they could become potential contenders once again.
Can Chelsea rescue their season?
Jose Mourinho hasn’t had the best of seasons so far. With three losses already — the same amount they lost during the entire season in 2014 – 2015 — and only two wins from seven games, the current champions are really struggling for form. This weekend, they showed a glimmer of hope after fighting back from 2-0 down at St James Park, against a struggling but spirited Newcastle side. A glimmer that shows maybe, just maybe, Chelsea haven’t surrendered just yet.
It was a nervy afternoon in a late kick-off on Saturday. Newcastle, who have suffered their own worries this season, took a surprise lead through Ayoze Perez on 42 minutes, who controlled the ball exquisitely before poking the ball past Thibaut Courtois. Georginio Wijnaldum added a second for Newcastle from a wonderful glancing header before Chelsea dug their heels in. It was a Brazilian resurgence, when Ramires pulled one back with a thunderous effort from range before Willian earned the blues a point with a curling free-kick that went through the entire Newcastle defence. Newcastle will be disappointed, but Chelsea showed they still have some fight left in them.
According to Sky Sports News, Jose Mourinho voted his team’s first half performance as a minus one. A harsh rating, maybe, but Chelsea were able to readjust and prove to their fans that they are the champions and they haven’t thrown in the towel. A resurgence? Possibly. If the champions wish to retain their title, they have a long way to go.
Relegation dogfight beckoning?
Now, to the other end of the table. With Premier League champions comes relegation for three unfortunate teams. Again, it’s always too early to decide at this stage of the season — although the Christmas positions are normally a suitable indicator of the potential candidates — but three teams are under performing to such a degree, you can’t help but think their seasons are almost over already. Well, unless they change something quickly.
Sunderland registered their fifth defeat of the season with a 3-0 loss to Manchester United. Without a win to their name and only two draws in seven games, they are only one of two teams in the top flight to hold this dubious accomplishment. Sunderland are currently propping up the table with a -10 goal difference. Gus Poyet was sacked for a similar record last season. Dick Advocaat, who saved Sunderland from the drop last season, will need to perform a miracle to turn this form around.
A little down the road, Newcastle are also struggling. The only other team without a win, although they have one less loss to their record, Steve McClaren’s start as boss has not gone to plan. With two managerial casualties last season — one sacked, one departed — Newcastle fans and board members will be wanting some stability to help re-establish glory to St James Park. The fact their rivals, Sunderland, are propping them up will be little solace to a team who once prided themselves as title contenders.
Finally, Aston Villa. They started the season with an away win at Bournemouth and have since lost five games and drawn one. Their most recent loss came at the hands of a resurgent Liverpool side, although Villa were unlucky to escape with a point. Rudy Gestede, a summer purchase from Blackburn Rovers, is their shining icon at the moment, who has four goals to his name. One player does not make a team, though, and boss Tim Sherwood will be looking for his team to fight and start getting some points under their belt to avoid a repeat of last season. Again, Sherwood saved them from the drop once, can he do it again?
For all the relegation candidates, it’s early days, but they will be wanting to turn their season around as soon as possible. The reason this is a key moment — these three teams were fighting relegation last season and only escaped by the skin of their teeth. With brighter, more energetic sides around them, and teams with something to prove, the managers will need to organize and rebuild, sooner rather than later.
[Images – Getty Images/Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Julian Finney/Ross Kinnaird/Matthew Lewis/Clive Rose]