Smouldering Liverpool are firmly in the hot section along with a flawless Chelsea, whilst the wheels are off at the Emirates and poor old David Moyes just can’t catch a break …
Liverpool were undoubtedly the stars of the weekend after a sparkling performance at Anfield, thrashing Arsenal 5-1.
The Reds were 4-0 up inside the first 20 minutes, and this performance illustrates quite clearly how far the side have come under Brendan Rodgers. The key to the emphatic victory was their high tempo pressing game, and although they started the day on top of the league, Arsenal simply failed to match the energy from Rodgers’ side.
The Liverpool manager was asked afterwards whether fourth is his team’s main aim this season and Rodgers’ response was that they would simply try and finish as high as they possibly can. This perhaps indicates that the Irishman believes his side are capable of more than just top four, and although it seems likely that this season is too soon for Liverpool, you’d have to concede that if they keep playing like this, fourth should be regarded as an absolute minimum.
Whilst Liverpool’s thrashing of Arsenal will have given Rodgers’ side a serious confidence boost, Chelsea benefitted just as much from the result, as their win in contrast to Arsenal’s dropped points took them to the top of the league.
Jose Mourinho’s side were fantastic in their own right against Newcastle, and their victory at the Etihad has clearly given them renewed confidence in this title race. As has so often been the case this season, Eden Hazard was the star of the show, and he capped his display with a sublime hat trick. The Belgian commented last week that he has ambitions to perform on a similar level to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and on Saturday’s showing, that is anything but a pipe dream.
In my view, the title is now Chelsea’s to lose and if they continue to play like this, the race for the trophy could end up being over before most of us had envisaged it would be.
The Hammers began the week embroiled in some ludicrous legal wrangling as they desperately sought to have Andy Carroll’s suspension overturned. No doubt readers will have diverse views on the appropriateness of this, but for me, West Ham’s refusal to accept an FA ruling left a very sour taste in the mouth and I was delighted to see the appeal come to nought.
Thankfully for Sam Allardyce, his side were able to put those issues to one side and concentrate on the football, and their third away win of the season at Aston Villa helped them to move out of the relegation zone. The Hammers are not out of the woods yet, but during their Villa Park victory they showed enough fight to suggest that they should not be considered as prime candidates for the drop.
It was so nearly three points for Fulham at Old Trafford, but Rene Meulensteen’s men nevertheless deserve an awful lot of credit for the determination they showed to grab a draw against the champions.
Whilst it wasn’t a vintage performance from the Cottagers, it was a vintage tactical display, and Meulensteen quite simply outwitted David Moyes on the day. Fulham played a classic backs-to-the-wall counter attacking game that United simply failed to break down, and for that reason they thoroughly deserved the point.
Meulensteen’s men are still four points adrift of 17th, but on Sunday they showed that with the right gameplan they can cause problems for most other sides in the division. Having thought their goose was cooked last week, it seems that they’re still in with a chance of escaping.
Their home game against bottom-of-the-league Fulham was supposed to be a gimme for United and David Moyes, and the fact that it was anything but merely serves to illustrate how far the champions have fallen in David Moyes’ short tenure.
Despite how Moyes attempted to spin it in his press conference after, this was not an unlucky result. Moyes is often keen to suggest that his team have ‘deserved’ points that have eluded them, but in my opinion the Scot must subscribe to a very skewed definition of the word ‘deserved’. Just because a side has more shots and more possession it does not mean that they deserved to win the game. In fact, if they have failed to win the game with that amount of possession and shots, then it could very easily be argued that they did not deserve to win the game.
A particularly telling stat from Sunday’s game is that United put in 82 crosses – the most ever recorded since Opta began recording these sort of statistics. The fact that United crossed the ball this number of times and only scored from one of these crosses suggests a ridiculous level of tactical inflexibility from David Moyes. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of sanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, and this quotation is highly appropriate for the United predicament. The tactic of crossing the ball into the box was demonstrably ineffective, but Moyes’ inability (or refusal) to change his tactics meant that United just continued to ping balls into the box hoping something would change.
In fact, the quote from Einstein sums up Moyes’ reign at United so far. Aside from the purchase of Juan Mata – which looks like more and more of a panic buy every day – Moyes has not done anything different to try and rectify his side’s disastrous form. He picks the same players in the same system every week and yet he expects them to somehow miraculously improve.
United are now nine points away from the Champions League places, which you would have to think would be the minimum requirement for Moyes. Barring a ridiculous series of events, the Red Devils will not qualify for the Champions League.
We might have understandably expected a reaction from the Citizens after their loss against Chelsea last week, but no such reaction was evident at Carrow Road as City blew the chance to go back to the top of the Premier League.
City are now two points away from first-placed Chelsea, and although that is by no means an insurmountable gap, with Chelsea looking ever more dangerous, City could find themselves out of the title race if they cannot get over this mini-slump.
In truth, one draw against a Norwich side should not be anything to worry about, but what will be a concern to Manuel Pellegrini is the lack of creativity in the City ranks. Not only did they fail to score against the Canaries, they rarely threatened, and given that they are going to be playing many more relegation candidates over the next couple of months, Pellegrini must find a way of breaking these sides down if his side are to remain in contention.
Some will regard their calamitous defeat at Anfield as a mere bad day at the office, but there were a number of alarm bells during their schooling at the hands of Liverpool that intimated that it could well be more than that.
Simply put, Arsenal were woeful in all areas of the pitch, and perhaps the biggest concern for Gunners fans is that their players looked rather listless and disinterested. No doubt they are tired – Wenger runs a tight ship and most of the front line players play every game – but the fact that they seemed unable to get up for a trip to Anfield will be a concern for the manager.
Arsenal have been fantastic at times this season, but it’s looking more and more likely that they can no longer be viewed as serious title contenders.
I’ve said before that appointing Solskjaer was a good PR move but that the jury was out on whether it was a good footballing move. The Norwegian is one of football’s good guys and is loved in the UK, but so far there has been no evidence that he is capable of performing at the level required to keep Cardiff up.