Quite a number of exciting matches took place this weekend with the pick of the bunch coming at the Etihad where “stupid” – labelled as such by his manager in the post-match aftermath – Chris Smalling’s red card cost Manchester United on Sunday as Sergio Aguero’s strike meant City retained the bragging rights in Manchester for a fourth consecutive time.
Chelsea were uninspiring but they still managed to grind out a slim win over Queens Park Rangers, despite playing the entire duration of the match in an “empty stadium”, according to Jose Mourinho. Also, interestingly, their next opponents Liverpool seem to be following the lead of Tottenham Hotspur, who themselves have not found happiness since Gareth Bale left the club in 2013.
Here’s some of the key things to come out of this round’s action:
1. Credit to Alan Pardew for Newcastle United’s Renaissance
It seems that Alan Pardew is well and truly back from the dead after Newcastle won yet again at home to a dismal Liverpool side, which capped off what has been a remarkable week for them. After a poor start to the season, the Magpies have won three league matches in a row to catapult themselves out of the relegation zone and into the top half of the table. Pardew deserves a lot of credit for masterminding this turnaround.
The under-fire manager had received plenty of stick for Newcastle’s poor start to the season, but with four victories on the spin in all competitions, Mike Ashley’s unpopular decision to stick with the 53-year-old has surely been vindicated. After losing to Stoke City, they managed four points from the next two games and have now picked up impressive wins over Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool all in the space of a week. Whether they can keep this up remains to be seen, but the calls for Pardew’s head have subsided for now.
2. Southampton continue to impress, but can they finish in the top four?
The Saints picked up their 10th victory in 11 matches courtesy of Victor Wanyama’s stunning goal at the King Power Stadium. Victory meant that the high-flying side keep a firm grip on second spot and are beginning to make a case for their Champions League credentials. They have impressed everyone with some beautiful football and the results are going their way at the moment. This has prompted a lot of questions about whether they can sustain a top four challenge.
I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Southampton up there in the Champions League spots at the expense of one of the bigger guns, but I don’t think they can maintain this run of form throughout the season. In times past, a couple of sides have put in surprise top four challenges with Aston Villa, Newcastle and Everton coming up just short in recent years, mainly because of a lack of depth in the squad.
Southampton are in a similar situation. Ronald Koeman’s men can beat almost anybody with a fully fit and in-form side, but by the time injuries and suspensions set in towards the end of the season, it’s just hard to see them competing with the likes of United and Arsenal, both of whom have greater financial power and will surely strengthen in January. The Saints are in a good moment, but I’m not yet convinced.
3. City showed they’re the boss in Manchester
For the fourth consecutive time City have beaten United, and comfortably too, although the scoreline suggests it was a much closer affair. The Citizens didn’t even need to be at their best to dispatch the Red Devils, whose already thin defense looks to have deteriorated even further. Marcos Rojo joins Phil Jones on the sidelines, while Smalling’s unbelievable behavior means that United will be without a single senior centre-back for their next match, despite spending close to £150m in the summer.
The funny thing is that some United fans actually celebrated the fact that it was only 1-0 and not the 4-0 that could have been if the referee had not been so short-sighted. Louis van Gaal later claimed that his side’s last-gasp equalizer at home to Chelsea and the loss to City has shown that his side are now on par with the big boys. Hardly the mentality of ‘the biggest club in the world’.
Oh, and there was some abysmal refereeing on show as well. Overall you could account for three clear, unambiguous penalty claims that were ignored by Michael Oliver which reinforced my low opinion of the man.