Gameweek three of the Barclays Premier League had that business as usual feel to it as it marked the first time in the young season where one or two of those marquee matches weren’t on offer. Approaching the weekend, the Aston Villa v Everton clash intrigued me the most, while Manchester City v Sunderland and Liverpool v WBA also proved interesting litmus test matches for traditionally bigger clubs to gauge where they stand against teams they “should” beat. If their pursuits of Champions League football or league titles are an achievable truth, the big boys need three points from the smaller boys, it really is that simple.
My pre-weekend thoughts served me well as Villa v Everton proved to be as exciting and enthralling of a 1-0 match as that deceptively low scoreline would allow it to be. Everton played some fantastic football through Gareth Bale-esq left back Leighton Baines, who in the first half constantly pushed forward and provided decent enough service to create a few chances early on. His pace and footwork were tricky and sharp enough to embarrass Villa’s Marc Albrighton on more than one occasion. Yet as good as Everton were in attack, they could not and would not find that killer instinct in front of goal. An exciting and involved match ended 1-0 to Villa.
Wigan produced the shock result of the weekend with a grind-it-out 1-0 win at White Hart Lane v Spurs. Tottenham looked a shell of their former selves as they called it quits on any cohesive defending in the final 15-20 minutes of the match. That final quarter or so saw Wigan create multiple chances on goal through Hugo Rodallega down Wigan’s right flank. It was then Rodallega himself who eventually found the net with the winner in the 80th minute when he struck a low, hard shot that found the far corner of the net a la Theo Walcott v Blackburn. Wigan deserved the three points as Spurs looked to be nursing a hangover stemming from their midweek Champions League exploits.
The silly moment of the weekend came from Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen who was sent off for nothing short of handbags when he attempted to play Pat-a-cake with Birmingham City defender Roger Johnson’s face. It was an odd moment that saw Jaaskelainen sent off for the infraction and allowed City to eventually take a not-so-commanding 2-0 lead. Bolton deserve credit, they fought back to level the score 2-2 at home through a Kevin Davies penalty and a stunning Robbie Blake free kick – Owen Coyle pulling the strings in an impressive fight back to earn a point.
Other notable matches saw Chelsea maintain their 100% record by dispatching of yet-to-gain-a-point Stoke City where Florent Malouda had another fine game, Fulham’s earning of a point away to Blackpool, and Manchester City’s shock late defeat away to Sunderland.
Honorable Mentions –
Nani, Manchester United– During United’s 3-0 home win v West Ham I yelled a four letter word, one in which I won’t repeat on this site or even tell you which letter it started with as thankfully now, my discretion’s win out. Directed solely at Nani, my verbal tirade eventually fell on deaf ears as the Portuguese winger redeemed himself somewhat. My outburst got me thinking a little about my love/hate relationship with Nani which realistically sums up my feelings on him – equal parts frustrating and at times brilliant.
Nani, now in his fourth season at Old Trafford, seems to improve aspects of his game each year. His one downfall is that he’s still relatively wasteful with the ball as his excitement seems to overtake his footballing brain. Nani is the type of player that will continually frustrate supporters of United only to produce a moment of brilliance in the second half to redeem his inadequacies in the first. He did so yet again on Saturday when a brilliant 1-2 was flawlessly consummated with Wayne Rooney that resulted in Nani ducking and darting the West Ham defense and scoring emphatically. Nani is always involved for Manchester United, he’s just yet to displace his boyhood dreams of heroism at every touch of the ball. His progress thus far has been thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson and his man management tactics. United fans will hope he continues to calm down and use his head more, because when he does, he’s a valuable asset to Wayne Rooney in attack as he proved on Saturday.
Note: I also want to recognize Dimitar Berbatov for Manchester United. He seems to be working harder for United and when he does, he creates more chances for himself and for those around him. His skill has never been in question (see under his brilliant volley in the 68th), it’s his often times lax work rate. He’s now scored three in four matches for United and as I predicated earlier in the season, seems poised to have a break through season.
Moussa Dembele, Fulham– The impressive performance on Saturday from Fulham new boy Dembele could end up proving a great purchase by Fulham and Mark Hughes. The Belgium international linked up well with strike partner Bobby Zamaora and was key in both of Fulham’s goals on the day. His 87th minute ball from midfield was a brilliantly weighted pass that released Dickson Etuhu in on goal for the equalizer. Earlier in the 35th, Dembele was able to shed his marker to provide a good cross that Zamora was able to head home to open up the scoring.
Dembele scored in Fulham’s midweek Carling Cup 6-0 thrashing of Port Vale. He’s already stated his love for playing in strike partnerships and has expressed his healthy communication with Bobby Zamora as being essential in helping Zamora score more goals. Zamora limped off injured early in the match, but Dembele seems ready to do the work needed to create goals for Fulham.
Ashley Young, Aston Villa– Young set up Villa’s only goal, the winner, in a match where Villa were often times outplayed by Everton. Young started out on the left for Villa and often times drifted towards the center in a more forward attacking or roaming midfield role. His quickness allowed him to pose the biggest threat against Everton’s defense while late on he became the focal point of Aston Villa’s counter attack.
Young’s pace, like fellow wingers Theo Walcott and Marc Albrighton, is often times his best asset. When he’s at his precise best, he’s a great crosser of the ball and possesses a striker’s instinct when finishing. Young was included in the most recent England squad for their Euro 2012 qualifiers.
Premier League Footballer of the Week –
Theo Walcott, Arsenal– Last week’s honorable mention continued his current form to impress again as Arsenal, level with Manchester United on points, keep close tabs on league leaders Chelsea. Now joint top scorer in the Premier League with three others, Walcott did again what he does best on Saturday away to Blackburn. As valuable as Walcott is blitzing down the right side of midfield and scoring every so often, he’s equally as brilliant in creating space for others with his well timed runs to draw defenders away. These stretching diagonal runs from out wide to center, or switching to opposite flanks from Walcott do wonders in pulling defenders with him and creating space for others to run into or pass into.
He did both on Saturday scoring Arsenal’s first and made multiple runs without the ball to create space for his teammates. In watching the highlights of Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Blackburn again late Sunday night, I realized yet again just how powerful Walcott’s burst of pace is when he’s attempting to pull away from his marker. He so nearly was responsible for Arsenal’s third goal, but couldn’t finish from a tight angle. Walcott and Arsenal on form early on.