Following a weekend that proved that Manchester City are fallible, Nick Miller runs the rule over the Premier League’s biggest storylines.
Man of the weekend
Just after that man in the front row at Stamford Bridge leaned forward and spat out whatever reprehensible bile he aimed at Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City forward smiled. He did so in a manner which firstly suggested the abuse was all-too familiar, but also conveyed a sense of pity for the lowlife who is currently under investigation by various authorities.
Sterling didn’t need to release the statement he did on Sunday morning. There’s no way he should have to. He’s a 24-year-old footballer who shouldn’t have to be a spokesman or figurehead for anything.
He doesn’t have to point out that the media plays a role in all of this. But it says only good things about his character that he did.
Result of the weekend
On Sept. 23 last year, Manchester City beat Crystal Palace 5-0 to go top of the Premier League. Aside from the first day of this season, when their mere 2-0 victory over Arsenal wasn’t quite enough for top spot, they stayed there. Until Saturday, that is.
Many have been convinced that the Premier League will be a procession this year, Pep Guardiola’s side simply too good to be caught, too strong to let it slip for even a second.
The chances are they will still win the Premier League, despite the 2-0 loss to Chelsea. The reasons for those predictions of total dominance have not been invalidated because they lost to a team featuring Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta.
But we have a title race now. A real one. City now have to produce all they did before with a highly confident, highly dangerous, tremendously solid Liverpool at their shoulder. This is going to be fun.
Progression of the weekend
Every round of games seems to bring a new piece of evidence for how much Liverpool have matured and become more reliable. Their 4-0 win over Bournemouth gave a handy point of comparison, from the game there in 2016 when they went 2-0, then 3-1 up, but contrived to lose 4-3.
No such danger of that happening this time. This is a Liverpool who know how to win games, not just take the lead. And now they’re top of the league. They might just stay there too.
Redemptive moment of the weekend
It seems like every time Chelsea lose a game, David Luiz is blamed: He was the man pointed to after the capitulation against Tottenham, to give the most recent example.
So it must have been hugely satisfying that he was the man to score the clincher but more importantly defend superbly against Manchester City. A player of extremes, this weekend it was a positive.
Goal of the weekend
A 25-pass move? Featuring 10 Manchester United players? Followed by a shimmy and a dipping rocket of a shot from a man who hadn’t scored in over a year? What more could you want than Ashley Young’s strike against Fulham?
Faint praise of the weekend
There were the echoes of something from the past at Old Trafford on Saturday, a reminder of what Manchester United used to do: Comfortably and comprehensively deal with a struggling team in a manner that suggested all of their plans had been carried out to a T. Sure, it was “only” Fulham, but the players seemed happy, the fans seemed happy, even Jose Mourinho seemed happy.
It almost seems churlish to point this out, but it’s an illustration of how things are at United more generally that it is even necessary to remark upon this. A result and performance like this has been the exception rather than the rule this season. If Mourinho wants a happier life, he must get his team to do this more often.
Misdirected complaint of the weekend
Rafa Benitez was understandably thoroughly vexed after DeAndre Yedlin’s sending off ruined Newcastle’s plans against Wolves.
“We need VAR,” said a fuming Benitez after the late 2-1 defeat. “Now.”
It’s coming, but there are a couple of problems. Benitez contended that Jamaal Lascelles was covering Diogo Jota’s run so Yedlin was not the last man, but that wasn’t clear-cut and therefore it’s debatable at best whether any video referee would have overturned the decision. And there lies one of the problems with VAR: People, like Benitez this weekend, assume it would solve all arguments, but in many cases it might make them worse.
More pertinently, if for the sake of argument we assume that Benitez was correct and Newcastle did have a covering defender, then the Newcastle manager should be more upset with his own player for pointlessly dragging back an opposition player. Newcastle have enough woes without their players brainlessly adding to them.
Form team of the weekend
That’s now three wins in the last five games for Cardiff, a team that most — including this column — wrote off as near relegation certainties at the start of the season, now in 14th place, above two teams (Burnley and Newcastle) who finished in the top 10 last season and with a four-point buffer between themselves and the relegation zone.
We were wrong to dismiss Neil Warnock’s side before this campaign started, not necessarily because they are an under-appreciated collection of talents, but because the bottom half of the Premier League features a lot of deeply average and poor teams.
Anyone can and will beat anyone down there — it’s a sort of Championship Plus and, just like England’s always entertaining second tier, you shouldn’t write anyone off. As a certain team from south Wales proved last season.