Pack away your nostalgic ‘it’s just like the 1980s’ chat. Stop making comparisons between Villa and Leicester – nearly relegated one season, winning the Premier League the next if you’ve been living under a rock – and worry about how much of a difference Richarlison clearly makes to Carlo Ancelotti’s side.
Yes, the Premier League table still looks particularly odd – there is no denying that – but it won’t look like that for much longer, even if the team who was top after six matches has finished in the top four every time since 1998 Toffees’ fans.
A weekend utterly shorn of matches for the broadcasters to give the biggest of big buildups to presented the neutrals amongst us only Manchester United vs Chelsea to really look forward to. It even felt like minimal effort went into bigging up the pay-per-view clashes which might have something to do with both Sky and BT hoping to quietly shelve this format given the backlash and the fact that fans are donating money to food banks rather than paying to watch the match legally. What would be a very classy move from either company would be donating the projected revenue from these PPV matches to food banks across the UK but I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one.
So United vs Chelsea, that was worth the wait. In fact, if they were still playing now Luke Shaw wouldn’t have gone on an overlap much to Bruno’s disappointment and it would still be 0-0.
According to the current United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, they needed ‘the fans at the stadium to give them an extra spark’. As far as excuses go, that one is pushing it further than Mendy tipping away a Marcus Rashford piledriver. United need the fans to provide the spark to push them to victory? What about trying the £35m Dutchman who is pretty much doubling up as the crowd at Old Trafford since moving from Ajax?
One of the finest moments of the match, and trust me there were not many, was Paul Pogba translating Ole’s instructions for Edinson Cavani before the Uruguayan came on as a second-half substitute. At least, that is what we all assume he was doing. For all we know, Pogba might well have been saying ‘just run around a bit, make it look like you care a little bit if you can be really bothered, and then pick up your wages at the end of the week’.
Cavani nearly scored with his first touch which was, to be fair, his only touch of the match.
According to Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s issues were in the ‘final third’ which must have been a refreshing change if not massively alarming given the amount of money they’ve spent to have better options in the ‘final third’.
Lampard did have an additional valid point to the one claimed on the pitch – Chelsea would have had a nailed-on penalty if there had been a three-year-old child who had never, ever seen a game of football before in their toddler-based life running VAR on Saturday night rather than a fully-qualified referee staying dry in a studio somewhere.
There’s been quite a few pundits suggesting that Harry Maguire needs to get a bit of a grip at the moment given (a) his off the field affairs and (b) his horrendous form but he did appear to take their advice a little too literally by capturing his opposing captain Azpilicueta in what can only be described as a WWE headlock as Chelsea took a corner.
We’ve been here before, of course, and we’ll probably be here again before today’s column is finished, but if that is not being given as a penalty where some others are – well. Actually, credit to Lamps for going here first, suggesting that with any luck, VAR decisions will ‘balance themselves out over the season’ – that being exactly why VAR was brought in the first place so that these things didn’t need to balance themselves out because the refereeing brains trust would get at least one extra chance to get the decision right.
It wasn’t all bad news for either manager, though. I mean, Mendy might have actually passed the ball into his own net rather than out for a corner. And for Ole, he can take relief from the fact that Paul Ince thinks Pogba should leave United for Real Madrid at the earliest opportunity – Ince clearly under some kind of illusion that Madrid base their transfer policy of his opinions and Pogba even knows who is to listen to said advice.
A nod of the head also has to go to United’s PR department who cleverly let slip that the club could have signed their £60m+ central defensive target, Dayot Upemecano of Leipzig, for a mere £700K in 2015 if they hadn’t spent so much time quibbling over £200K that the deal got called off. There’s nothing like getting the United fans in a tizz over the Glaziers and Woodwood once more to distract from the fact that United were pretty poor for 90 minutes.
Peppy G did the unthinkable against West Ham – and no, I don’t mean concede three goals in the last eight minutes to throw away three points. I mean, who actually does that? No, Guardiola named an unchanged XI for the first time in his City reign (I think, or maybe it was the first time in three years – meh, details). Not that Pep’s decision was right, you’ll understand – City were 1-0 down to West Ham at half-time meaning they needed to call upon Phil Foden to save the day (if getting a point against David Moyes’ Hammers is indeed a saved day).
Is it the elephant in the room to suggest that City might not be that good anymore? Have they completely lost their way, a team that can no longer see the wood for the trees due to their previous levels of brilliance? Even Sergio Aguero, once the most consistent of consistent performers seems to have forgotten the script – he was ineffective again, before limping off injured, again. And as for the defending for Antonio’s lovely little scissor-kick strike – what’s Spanish, French and Portuguese for ‘play to the damn whistle?’
Post-match, it broke that Eric Garcia will resist ‘all attempts to make him stay at City’ – based on that performance, I would suggest that ‘attempts’ should very much be ‘minimal’ and ‘offers to drive him to Barcelona myself’ very much to the maximum.
Whilst City are apparently imploding in Pep’s scientific football laboratory of crazy ideas, Liverpool are slowly picking up pace and becoming the side that blitzed their way to the title last season. And when I say blitzed, what I really mean is spawny wins by the odd goal where the opposition walk away wondering how they’ve lost it.
It does look, however, like King Kloppo will have to defend their crown without Virgil van Dijk for the entire season whilst also having to play against VAR on every single decision for the remainder of the campaign – a champions handicap, if you will.
Funnily enough, Chris Wilder felt it was a penalty for Sheffield United where Jurgey-lad wasn’t even convinced Fabinho fouled Oli McBurnie regardless of the location.
It didn’t really matter though, as Liverpool took it 2-1 and Diogo Jota getting many a plaudit. Unsurprisingly, Klopp is ‘not surprised’ at how good Jota is – which is a bonus seeing that he signed off £40m+ to sign the lad.
Sheffield United plan to lick their wounds by signing United’s Marcos Rojo at the earliest opportunity.
As mentioned at the top of all this malarky, Aston Villa won’t be winning the Premier League. They saw their unbeaten start come to a somewhat shuddering halt as the left-foot of Patrick Bamford saw Leeds win 3-0 at Villa Park. Before the season started, Bamford responded to a tweet from ex-manager and current nobody David O’Leary suggesting that Bielsa needed a world-class striker to stay up this season. Bamford commented ‘and so it begins’ so you would suspect one of the best hat-tricks scored in a Leeds shirt would make him feel pretty good right now.
In the weekend where the clocks went back, it was clear Roy Hodgson has set Wilf Zaha’s forward as he still manages to convince the Palace star that it is mid-December and the transfer window is almost open once more.
Zaha was fantastic in Palace’s 2-1 over Fulham – actually, reading that sentence again tells me not to get too carried away with Zaha’s performance. It was Fulham, a fixture that could easily brighten up the Championship next season.
Palace fans did get an even rarer treat, however – 10 shots on goal from their team in the Hodgson era. This only the second time this has happened, apparently.
Wayne Rooney wrote (I know, right) in his Times column on Sunday that Jordan Pickford ‘needed to be harder to beat’ which is stunning advice to give a goalkeeper struggling to catch a virus right now.
Pickford actually could not be blamed for Everton’s 2-0 defeat to Southampton, a result that will worry Everton fans given that the only real difference was the lack of a suspended Richarlison.
There hasn’t been a 0-0 draw between Wolves and Newcastle since ’98 – 1898. Judging on the two goals conceded by Karl Darlow and Rui Patricio, they didn’t feel like changing that fact.
Finally, ahead of Arsenal’s late Sunday clash with Leicester David Luiz moaned about VAR giving too much help to some players – a complaint that is on a level with a bank robber calling out the use of CCTV in banks. Just stop fouling people, David.
To be fair to Luiz, he did manage to get through 50 minutes without VAR catching him out. before he went off injured. VAR did rear it’s head, naturally, disallowing an early Arsenal goal through Lacazette for reasons that seemed to be completely different to the ones everyone watching assumed. Standard, and it was foolish of us to think that by the last game of Sunday that they might know their backsides from their elbow.
Leicester legend Emile Heskey suggested that Islam Slimani still has a future at the club. Brendan Rodgers clearly disagreed, preferring to not pick a striker instead of naming the Algerian in the starting XI.
That’s right – £30m signing Slimani is considered that bad that the team would rather not play with a striker than play with him. That’s going to be good for the confidence, eh?
Oh, and Jamie Vardy scored the winner. Because, you know. He was playing Arsenal.