It was a weekend for big matches. All across Europe there were derby matches to be seen with the North London Derby front and center the Premier League-centric universe that this column inhabits. Outside of the Premier League and even the real world there were still more big match-ups. The Philadelphia Eagles played their biggest rival, the Dallas Cowboys, last night with their season essentially on the line. Over in the fantasy Premier League universe, I had match-ups with the reigning Perfect XI season points champion Mike Phillips in both the Togga Experts League and the Togga Writers League with our two teams being first and second in the standings in both leagues (Mike was first in the Experts League and I was first in the Writers League). In MLS, DC United played the second leg of their playoff series against New York Red Bulls in Harrison, NJ. We’ll just say that there was a lot going on, even more so than usual.
The fact that such a big week coincided with the anniversary of my father’s passing got me thinking about the important role that family and friends play in making these rivalries important to us. I came by my love of sports by way of my father and from a very young age all the way through his passing it was always something that we could spend time talking about. The life of a Philadelphia sports fan isn’t one typically filled with frequent memories of championship seasons but, like a mid-table Premier League team, the wins in rivalry games mean all that much more for the scarcity of trophies.
Of course we remember Tug McGraw jumping into the air after getting the final out in the 1980 World Series or Bobby Clark’s mostly-toothless grin as he held the Stanley Cup aloft in 1974 and 1975. But as much as Dr. J and Moses or Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard holding championship trophies, the memories of the big games against the Mets or Cowboys or Celtics are the ones that made us the most happy from day-to-day and year-to-year. It was “Boston Strangler” Andrew Toney slicing through the Celtics defense for an unexpected win on a Sunday afternoon in the regular season even as the Celtics were on the way to an NBA title behind Bird, McHale and Parrish. It was beating the unhittable Doc Gooden at the Vet. It was bare-footed Tony Franklin kicking a 59-yard field goal against Dallas to win a Monday Night Football game that I had no business being awake for the end of.
These memories have always and will always be special, not because they involved a championship, but because if the opponent and the significance of that opponent passed on through the generations. I didn’t get my passion for soccer from my dad. His generation, at least those whose families had been in the US for multiple generations and hadn’t spent any significant time abroad, didn’t care about soccer other than as a thing that they had to drive their kids to on the weekends. What I did get was a firm understanding of the notion that some games are just bigger than others because of the memories that they can create. The Phillies might stage a dramatic comeback win against a dominating Mario Soto, one of the best pitchers of that particular season, at Veterans Stadium with Mike Schmidt hitting the winning home run after Soto struck him out in his previous three at-bats but that was just a moment because beating the Cincinnati Reds, regardless of the circumstances, just wasn’t special.
Fear not, I’ll bring this back around to the Premier League. The beauty of yesterday’s North London Derby is that it really had everything that supporters on both sides crave to keep the tradition going. It had two teams in great form (in the Premier League at least). It had rising stars (mostly on the Spurs side). It had established stars (mostly on the Arsenal side). It had mistakes. It had moments of real quality. It had heroes of both the expected (Harry Kane) and the unexpected (Kieran Gibbs) kind. It had distinct “acts” like any great drama from Shakespeare with Arsenal dominating the play early and late but Spurs owning most of the middle.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it had a result that allows you to see just about anything you might want to see in the outcome regardless of your allegiance. A Spurs supporter could rightfully claim that they deserved the win for all of the excellent chances that they created while they were on top. It was just bad luck that a second or a third didn’t go in. The Arsenal supporter will look at Olivier Giroud’s headed chances and suggest that Arsenal could just as easily have won 2-1 or even 3-1 if he’d been more clinical. Arsenal supporters could look at the facts of the situation and say that they managed to play Spurs even despite missing Welbeck. Walcott, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Bellerin and having Cazorla at less than 100% due to illness. Spurs supporters would retort that they, not Arsenal, have the next great North London Derby star in Harry Kane who is now on three goals in two NLDs and a great bet for the next one after that with Deli Alli looking incredibly impressive.
In the end though, the most important thing that came from the match was a renewal of an excellent rivalry that lived up to everything that a rivalry should be. The play was, um, spirited. There were talking points aplenty. The result was fair for both sides based on their performances. Mostly though, it was fantastic because my adrenaline was pumping for the entire match and my first thought as Kieran Gibbs guided Mesut Ozil’s cross past/through Hugo Lloris was how bummed I was that Charlie was too enthralled watching Paw Patrol on my iPad to start making his first rivalry day memories with his dad.
The Title Race (Ranked from favorites to most likely to miss out on the Champions League)
Manchester City – Most of the quick analysis that I’ve seen on City’s draw at Villa Park focuses either on how much better Villa looked under Remi Garde or on this just being a “blip” for City and not really worth fretting about. I have a slightly different view of the situation. Given how close City came to dropping two points against equally poor Norwich last weekend, you have to be worried that City just aren’t THAT good without Silva and Aguero. Arsenal have been pretty much destroyed in the post-match analysis for a draw against a very good Spurs side despite missing six and a half players who would at least be in the running for a starting spot. City have now come close to dropping four points against the dregs of the league despite only missing two starters. It’s easy to pile on Arsenal and diminish their chances of winning a title because their frailties are predictable and well-known but City’s dropped points this weekend and those almost dropped last weekend are far more telling for me than anything happening at the Emirates this weekend. It isn’t like Silva and Aguero have been pictures of health and these injuries are just one-offs. Missing one or both isn’t THAT much more surprising than Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey going down with soft tissue injuries.
Arsenal – I think it is reasonable for us all to admit that this Arsenal team, and most Arsenal teams of the past ten or so years, have two clear weaknesses when it comes to match-ups. Weakness number one is the frustrating script we’ve come most accustomed to seeing when the Gunners underachieve and that’s when a less talented opponent “parks the bus” and frustrates the Gunners as they try intricate pass after intricate pass in the box to no end. Sometimes it ends in a nil-nil draw and sometimes the Gunners get too drawn in and their opponents pick up a goal on the counter for the ultimate insult.
More recently, a second weakness has formed as the high pressing style has come more into vogue. Swansea have replaced Bolton Wanderers and their ideological equivalents as a bogey team because they have effectively pressed Arsenal into submission. Liverpool did it for 45 minutes in the nil-nil draw at the Emirates earlier in the season. West Ham did it in the season opener. Spurs had the athletic midfield and solid defenders to make that work for most of the match. Arsenal were better early and better late but they just don’t have the combination of physical presence and technical skill at the base of midfield to pass out of the press when done well. Francis Coquelin is a tackling machine but he isn’t going to navigate through intense pressure. Santi Cazorla, who is devastating playing from his deep-lying role when the opposition give him even a little room to gather the ball and compose himself, isn’t very good when confronted with numbers and deprived of time to assess. His stature allows opponents to knock him off the ball without necessarily having to foul him and the combination of being knocked off the ball and making bad passes under pressure leaves Arsenal’s defense exposed to rapid-fire attacks.
I love Coquelin/Cazorla for matches against teams that can’t press like Liverpool and Spurs did at the Emirates. They were great against Manchester United and other teams like Leicester City and Watford who have been content to let the Gunners get themselves organized in the middle third. We can talk all we’d like to about Giroud and/or Walcott being insufficient to win a title but if the alternatives are an occasionally-fit Aguero, an occasionally (at best)-useful Wayne Rooney (combined with a still-too-young Anthony Martial), and a flailing Diego Costa then that’s going to be a hard argument to make. There’s also the issue that there just aren’t too many better options out there available. What should be available, somewhere, in January is someone who can partner up with Francis Coquelin to help the Gunners navigate the transition from defense to attack when facing a well-executed high press.
Manchester United – Yawn, not too much analysis to be done here. They’ll be thrilled that they managed to pick up two points on City and Arsenal and be especially excited that City dropped points that they really shouldn’t have but a win over West Brom at Old Trafford doesn’t really boost United’s title credentials in any meaningful way other than not detracting from them.
The Second Tier (Ranked from most likely to break into the Champions League to least likely)
Leicester City – They just keep on winning. What a great story. It will inevitably end in frustration as their squad is revealed to be too thin and their over-reliance on the goals of Vardy and Mahrez is proven a weakness when those two go a month without scoring. Still, in addition to the fantastic Jamie Vardy-used-to-play-non-league-football narrative they’ve now added the Mahrez gives Vardy the spot kick to continue his goal-scoring streak story. It’s fantastic narrative and makes this group incredibly likable.
Spurs – I talked a lot about Arsenal’s weaknesses and the real concern for Spurs is less a stylistic one and more a firepower one. If Harry Kane isn’t the Harry Kane of last season for the entire season are there enough goals in this squad to break into the top four over the course of a full season? They have certainly proven in the win over City and the draw at the Emirates that they’re capable of great things when Kane is on song and the press is working. What they haven’t proven is that there are goals beyond Kane if he’s mis-firing as he was early in the season or if he is injured for any significant time. Eriksen’s goalscoring is off the pace from last season, Lamela and Chadli are both playing better but neither feel like ten to fifteen goal compliments. Son has yet to stay healthy enough to show that he can be Kane’s goal-scoring partner. It would be a lot to put on the shoulders of Deli Alli to ask him to score the goals to fire Spurs past Liverpool, Leicester City and the rest nipping at the heels of the final Champions League spot.
West Ham – A second mediocre outing in a row in an entirely different situation. Last weekend the Hammers proved unable to overcome Watford’s parked bus. On Saturday it was a chance to prove continue to assert their claim to being “best of the rest” by besting fellow contender for that crown Everton. The match was fairly even so suggesting that the result was anything other than appropriate would be a disservice to the Toffees. Given that the match-up took place at Upton Park means that the Hammers should have been expected to get the better of things even if the two teams are close to even on talent. This isn’t a horrible outcome for West Ham but it certainly dents any notion that they’re a cut above the other teams in this group of contenders for Chelsea’s Champions League spot.
Liverpool – I’m not going to move Liverpool below Palace just because Palace beat them but, like West Ham, the loss to Alan Pardew’s men sentenced the Reds to being just another name in the hat among the pretenders to the throne. A great team wins that match and a very good one at least keeps it to a draw. Liverpool may get there eventually after a transfer window or two but clearly they’re not there yet.
Crystal Palace – Two weekends in a row where Crystal Palace validated that they are, indeed, worthy of being throw in with the teams in this section. A nil-nil draw against Manchester United at home followed by a 2-1 win at Anfield is as solid as credentials get. This isn’t to say that Palace should be at or near the top of this group as a result of their recent exploits but they do get to maintain their membership in Club Best-of-the-Rest for a while longer. It would be really nice if they found someone to play as a center forward so we could find out how good this midfield can be.
Everton – Given how well the Hammers have played for most of the season you can hardly find fault with an away draw at Upton Park. It isn’t a transcendent result but it was a solid one that keeps the Toffees just about where they were in our eyes. Gerard Deulofeu continues to be a handful as a compliment to Romelu Lukaku and if they have two effective attackers with Arouna Kone occasionally joining them then we can talk about moving them up this list.
Southampton – You’d have liked to see them do better than 1-0 against Sunderland but it was what they needed to do without bells and or whistles. You wonder how we’d be judging them if M’Vila hadn’t committed that penalty.
Chelsea – Is it better or worse that there were encouraging signs from Eden Hazard and Willian and they still lost to a mid-table Stoke City group? Another question worth pondering is exactly how valuable Willian has been during open play. We know he has a reputation as a defense-oriented wide attacker. Last season his contribution was more “closer” once a lead was obtained and needed to be closed out than starter. This season, because he’s been scoring from set pieces, we’ve taken it on faith that he’s been an effective two-way player combining scintillating attacking play with his usual tenacious defense.
I can’t claim to have watched every minute of every Chelsea match this season (and am probably a much happier person for that fact) but having watched every minute of this particular match, I came away thinking that his attacking ability from open play and even his crossing just aren’t that great. In a match where he didn’t score a free kick goal, he appeared to end as many Chelsea attacks with a cross that didn’t make it past the first man as anything else. I don’t want to get into an argument over the validity of statistics in general or even specific ones to describe the value a player is providing to his team but here’s a quick player comparison from within the Chelsea squad so far this season:
Player A: Starts 9; Sub Appearances 2; Goals: 2; Assists 2: Shots on Target 5; Chances Created 20; Successful Crosses 2; Successful Take-ons 20; Interceptions 6; Tackles Won 13; Aerial Duels Won 1; Effective Clearances 2
Player B: Starts 10; Sub Appearances 2; Goals 0; Assists 1; Shots on Target 5; Chances Created 21; Successful Crosses 6; Successful Take-ons 6; Interceptions 14; Tackles Won 20; Aerial Duels Won 7; Effective Clearances 5.
It’s almost like they’re the same guy. Player A has been more clinical with his few shots on target and has dribbled more effectively but Player B has the superior defensive contribution across the board. Player A is Willian who has been lauded as Chelsea’s best player thus far this season. Player B is Cesc Fabregas who has been called out as being at the root of everything that has gone wrong for the Blues and been benched. I’m not here to defend Fabregas’ contribution so much as wonder how anyone can get that excited about the attacking contribution of a winger who has only managed two successful crosses when Chelsea have Diego Costa, in theory an effective target forward, in the middle. And, if you’re not going to be creating chances from crosses then you at least need to be creating them through some other method and the numbers say that Willian isn’t creating at a particularly impressive clip. Willian’s 20 chances created puts him in a tie for 20th in the Premier League in that category. With only two goals and two assists to show for his season the notion of Willian as an attacking force just isn’t true.
I know that defense is even harder to quantify than attacking because a well-positioned defender can help nullify an attack without doing anything statistically measurable but, just for fun, here are the defensive stats of another attacking midfielder to compare to Willian’s six interceptions, thirteen tackles won, one aerial duel won and two effective clearances:
Player C: Starts 11; Sub Appearances 0; Interceptions 9; Tackles Won 10; Aerial Duels Won 1; Effective Clearances 4.
Pretty similar, huh? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the slothful, much-maligned-for-his-effort Mesut Ozil. Oh, and he’s got 10 assists and 54 chances created. Again, I don’t want to make it out that the game is all about statistics but it is an objective way to point out that Willian’s attacking excellence, at least in Premier League matches, is being vastly overstated. Perhaps it’s more a case of “we expected a ton from Hazard and Cesc and aren’t getting it while we expected next to nothing from Willian and have gotten slightly more than that”.
The Relegation Battle (Ranked from most likely to be relegated to least)
Sunderland – The #DeadCatBounce Tour continues as Sunderland drop another match and look bound for the drop unless there is a massive January turnaround that involves some new players. To make matters worse, it looks like there might be a ray of hope at Villa Park which will make things even harder for Big Sam. It’s looking like horrible management at the top levels of the club will finally come back to haunt Sunderland.
Bournemouth – Last week I wrote that it was looking increasingly grim. This weekend that would be a massive improvement as they Cherries dominated the chances but lost to a beatable team in Newcastle. They get another crack at a team that can be had in Swansea after the break but after that it looks pretty ugly as they play Everton, @Chelsea, Manchester United, @West Brom and Crystal Palace to take them through Boxing Day and then they get @Arsenal, @Leicester City, and West Ham after that. We’re going to make a lot of Chelsea jokes until they get themselves righted but honestly, does it look like there are many points between now and mid-January? Maybe something against Swansea? Maybe a point at the Hawthorns? On current form it’s hard to even joke about this group going into Stamford Bridge and getting a result. If they lose against Swansea in the form the Swans have been in then the next version of this column will likely have the Cherries bottom even if the standings don’t.
Aston Villa – A loss to Spurs on Monday but then a reason for huge optimism. Remi Garde actually found a place in the starting eleven for the talented and at least somewhat expensive players who came in over the summer. Those players rewarded him with a strong effort against the top club in the division. A single point doesn’t, in and of itself, make any significant difference at this juncture of the season but as a signal of things to come now that Villa have changed managers, it is certainly something to feel good about. Let’s just say that in the managerial firing sweepstakes a draw vs. City > a win over Newcastle.
Newcastle United – It won’t go down as artistically impressive by any stretch of the imagination but one shot on target, one goal and one win will look as beautiful as the site of the Magpies being out of the relegation zone for the first time this season. You’d have liked to see them impose themselves more on a weaker opponent but, again, three points is three points. I will also put in a plug for one of my soccer crushes, Ayoze Perez looks like the real deal and I would love to see him get a chance with some better teammates in the next season or two. He’s going to be a good one and I’m thrilled that I was on the bandwagon dating from early last season.
Norwich City – The Nathan Redmond late injury scratch almost broke the fantasy Premier League playing corner of Twitter. It was all good from there though as the Canaries pounced on a struggling Swansea side who look like they’re doing their best to join this relegation conversation. Norwich City will celebrate being able to say that they’re above Chelsea in the table after 12 weeks but after that fun little bit of storytelling ceases to be fun, there’s still a significant issue with their defense when playing teams that are currently in anything resembling solid form. Fortunately for them, Swansea aren’t one of those sides. They do get Chelsea next so maybe they can consolidate their place in front of last season’s champions after the international break.
Newcomer of the Year of the Week
We’re going to give this one to Deli Alli because he’s a newcomer and the next one (Young Player) to Eric Dier. The two of them were exceptional carrying out Mauricio Pochettino’s high pressing game. They played with energy and power and just would not give the Arsenal midfield time to think and make the right pass. Alli was also impressive going forward even if none of his efforts in that direction led to anything specific on the scoreboard for Spurs. You can see a great play emerging and, sadly for Gooners like me, he’s exactly the sort of player that Arsenal could use at the base of its midfield.
Young Player of the Year of the Week
Eric Dier is generally not a noteworthy type other than the two goals he seems to have randomly scored at the beginning of each of his two Premier League seasons. He appears to be what Arsene Wenger hoped he was getting when he paid a lot of money for Calum Chambers (and, who knows, maybe Chambers still has that in him) but this is a Spurs conversation and not an Arsenal one. Dier deputized in multiple positions on the back line last season and this season has moved up to make one of the holding midfield roles in Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 his. An odd case of an English-born player who grew up in another country and seems to bring a different sensibility to the game even as he adds his very English physical presence to protecting the back four at White Hart Lane.
Player of the Year of the Week
In a weekend when goals were at a premium and only two clubs managed to score more than a single goal, there weren’t any multi-goal scorers to reward here. The biggest upset of the week went to Aston Villa but it’s hard to give Brad Guzan or any of his defenders too much credit because he blocked one point blank header with what appeared to be his face (which we assume he didn’t intend) and another hit the crossbar to be followed by a narrow miss on the rebound. Villa’s was a fortunate team victory rather than featuring a single outstanding contributor. Ozil registered his 10th assist of the season and created a bunch of chances but it’s hard to give Player of the Year of the Week to a member of a team that didn’t seem to have coherent possession for the middle 70 minutes of the match. I’m going to double down and give this to the partnership of Vardy and Mahrez.
Manager of the Year of the Week
Welcome to the Premier League Remi Garde. Apparently, the first step to being a good Premier League manager is playing your most talented players and Garde knocked that step out of the park. Now on to scoring some actual goals.
My Week in Expert Leagues
As I mentioned in the opening, it was a big weekend for me in the two Togga leagues as I faced off with Mike Phillips with a helping of a match-up with Big Ben Dinnery of PremierInjuries.com fame in the IEFSA Expert League. It wasn’t a complete washout but it was definitely the first losing weekend I’ve had since the opening two weeks of the season. Here’s how it broke down.
In a weekend when there weren’t many goals, the clean sheets were against me and that’s not a good thing to have happen in any league, let alone the IEFSA Expert League on Fantrax. Mr. Dinnery got clean sheets from Kolarov, van Dijk, Howson, and Elliot. At the same time, I was missing Hector Bellerin and got exactly zero clean sheets which is impressive given how many teams were shut out this weekend. I got a goal and general awesomeness from Ayoze Perez and solid efforts from Danny Rose, Matt Ritchie and Olivier Giroud but sub-par performances from Myhill, Cathcart, Debuchy and Fabregas was too much to overcome. It’s funny, I started the season with only one solid forward who was on the verge of being benched (Giroud) and now I’m actually too deep at forward (Giroud, Perez and Deulofeu) but am not getting nearly enough from my midfield. It’s going to be an up and down time until the transfer window opens in January unless there’s a managerial change at Chelsea that gets Cesc going again.
I have a very good team in the Togga Premier League Fantasy Expert League and I’ve been playing very well but as good as I’ve been, I was no match for league leader Mike Phillips. I had a very solid day that would have won me matches with eight of the other eleven teams in the league but it didn’t feel like I was ever in this match. Mike got strong double digit efforts from Bacary Sagna, Jose Fonte, Matt Ritchie, Robbie Brady, Marc Albrighton, Anthony Martial and Troy Deeney but in truth didn’t get a spectacular outing from anyone on his team. Just a lot of “very good”. As it turned out that was more than enough to overcome big days from Ayoze Perez, Dusan Tadic and Xherdan Shaqiri complimented by a lot of “meh” from the rest of my group.
On the plus side, I did get some measure of revenge by getting a win over Mike in the Togga Writer’s League. Mesut Ozil (me) and Philippe Coutinho (Mike) cancelled out each others’ exceptional days but Mike’s forwards, Olivier Giroud and Wayne Rooney, let him down while I got another big day from Jamie Vardy and managed to pull off a squeaker of a victory. In fairness to Mike, he had the third highest score of the weekend in the league and was just unlucky to come up against the highest much as I was in the Expert League.
It was a fairly good weekend in Perfect XI. I had a rotten time with my forwards as City (Bony) and Southampton (Pelle) disappointed against bad teams but I still managed to ride Ozil, Tadic, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Monreal, Kolarov, van Dijk, Sagna and De Gea to 151 points (492nd for the week) which has me at 30th overall for the season.
My PL.com weekend was about average. An injury/rotation (Bellerin injured, Cedric/van Aanholt rotated) crisis cost me a dead spot in my defense and a poor choice of captains (Pelle) cost me some points there. Otherwise, it was a rough weekend for some guys – Payet, Monreal, Ayew, and Mahrez – who have been scoring big. I got good stuff from David De Gea (6), Kolarov (7), Ozil (8), Vardy (9), and Lukaku (8) to ensure that it wasn’t a total loss. The mediocre weekend has me at 7,322 overall, 280 in the US, and 3 in our Rotoworld.com group heading into the international break.
Players I’m looking at acquiring: Jesse Lingard and a variety of reinstated Aston Villa players head my list of targets to keep an eye on but mostly Lingard who seems to be moving ahead of higher profile candidates and playing his way into a starting role for United.
Players I’m thinking about ditching: I never went in for either of them but if you don’t have a lot of room on your roster do you drop Depay and/or Firmino to pick up someone like Lingard? If you’re in a dynasty format of some sort then certainly not given that both players have long term potential but on current form and prospects for playing time there isn’t much cause to keep either big money summer signing. Believe it or not, I’m not just saying that to troll some of my fellow fantasy pundits who were much more enamored with those two before the season started (although I can’t say I mind that I get that as a bonus).
Random Closing Thoughts
My Second Club – Third place and ahead of Manchester United, Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea headed into the post-Week 12 international break. Just. Crazy.
This Week’s Good Points: Step up to the podium Aston Villa (one point), Tottenham (one point), Crystal Palace (three points), and Norwich (three points). It’s been a while since we had more than an upset or two in a week. I’m not going to give Stoke City any good points because everyone is beating the Blues but I certainly can’t say the opposite of the bad points category.
The Good Points Table: West Ham United 9; Norwich City 8; Everton 6; Crystal Palace 6; Swansea City 4; Watford 4; Tottenham 4; Bournemouth 3; Manchester City 2; Newcastle 2; Aston Villa 1; Stoke City 1; Sunderland 1;
This Week’s Bad Points: Manchester City certainly “earn” two points here with Arsenal joining them while Liverpool and Swansea pick up three in the wrong category. Chelsea add to their league-leading total with three more to push them to 16.
The Bad Points Table: Chelsea 16; Manchester City 8; Liverpool 7; Manchester United 5; West Ham 5; Arsenal 5; Swansea 5; Southampton 3; Stoke City 3; Sunderland 3; Tottenham 2; Everton 2
My Favorite Things – Riyad Mahrez’s getting an “assist” without touching the ball… Xherdan Shaqiri with the beautiful ball that unlocked the Chelsea defense ultimately leading to the Potters’ goal…Ayoze mania running wild (at least in parts of Newcastle and a few of my fantasy teams…Mesut Ozil…Hector Bellerin (absence makes the heart grow fonder …Philippe Coutinho’s recent form…Aston Villa’s good luck and team defending…Jesse Lingard pipping all of the big names at United to provide some signs of life for the Red Devils attack...Romelu Lukaku’s bounce back season…Harry Kane rounding back into form (OK, I hated it but it makes the league better)…Spurs bringing youth along all over the pitch (Alli, Dier, and Kane have serious potential)…Ditto Manchester United if Lingard is for real, Martial continues to develop, and Depay gets his act together to harness his massive potential.
My Least Favorite Things – Heurelho Gomes’ howler…Yann M’Vila’s judgment…Santi Cazorla against the high press…Wenger choosing Mertesacker against an athletic opponent when a Koscielny/Gabriel pairing would have made more sense…Olivier Giroud’s precision…the over-reaction to Giroud missing a few opportunities – he’s been on fire against strong opposition (Manchester United, Bayern Munich anyone?) and sometimes things just don’t go your way and it doesn’t have to be a referendum on his ability to lead Arsenal to a title…Swansea’s inexplicable collapse, almost as mysterious as Chelsea’s but at a lower profile club…Dimitri Payet’s injury (get well soon Dimitri, the fantasy world needs you back).
What did we find out? Manchester City aren’t going to win the title without Silva and Aguero playing a high percentage of City’s remaining matches…Arsenal need a powerful holding midfielder in January in the worst way…Spurs still need a 15 goal scorer to compliment Harry Kane in the worst way…Chelsea continue to be a dumpster fire…Jurgen Klopp may be a very good manager but he can’t get THAT much more out of the current Liverpool squad than Brendan Rodgers did…Aston Villa have hope…Sunderland probably don’t…ditto Bournemouth…Manchester United, without being particularly impressive, had a great weekend.
What’s Next? We get what feels like the 20th international break of the young season meaning we don’t get the Premier League back until the 21st of November. Once we make it to the verge of Thanksgiving (here in the US at any rate) we’ll return to action with Manchester United seeing if they can break down Watford’s parked bus in the early Saturday match. The 3 PM (UK Time) matches are led by a relegation six-pointer between Norwich City and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge while the Remi Garde revolution comes to Goodison Park in search of more points. Another match that is surprisingly a potential relegation struggle between Bournemouth and Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium. Saturday is capped off by a higher profile match-up toward the top of the table as Manchester City try to bounce back against also-looking-to-bounce-back Liverpool at the Etihad. A Sunday tussle for Champions League positioning features Tottenham hosting West Ham while the match week wraps up with Monday Night Football at Selhurst Park featuring Crystal Palace and Sunderland.