The young stars are in France, the elder stars are in Spain and the atmosphere is in Germany, but England, bless her, still dominates Europe when it comes to unpredictable, hapless chaos. Where else could you find a title contender like Liverpool capable of dishing out a thrashing one week and then taking one themselves the week after? Or, in Arsenal’s case, doing it the other way around. And what about teams like Tottenham that can be irresistible on the road but perplexed by a slightly bigger pitch at home? Madness.
At least the Premier League title is being defended properly this year, for the first time since 2014. Good old England. You’re certainly never dull.
Talking point of the weekend
It would be fair to say that few observers looked at Sadio Mane’s challenge on Ederson this weekend and instantly thought “red card.” Former England strikers Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Gary Lineker all claimed later that they would have gone for the ball in exactly the same manner. Unfortunately for Mane, referee Jonathan Moss begged to differ, and the law is quite clear that any player who “endangers the safety of an opponent” in challenging for the ball is guilty of serious foul play, and thus in line for dismissal.
Given that Mane nearly kicked Ederson’s face clean off of his skull, you have to accept that Moss might have had a point. But then why wasn’t Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie sent off for a similar offence on Alfie Mawson?
Performance of the weekend
While Liverpool could reasonably argue that they were still in the game before the red card, they never looked remotely capable of holding Manchester City at bay. With 11 vs. 11, it was an interesting clash. With 11 against 10, it looked like a punishment beating. Pep Guardiola’s style of football isn’t the sort of thing that comes easily, but something does appear to be clicking now and the confidence engendered by a result like this will only hasten the process. Guardiola has bought well this summer as Benjamin Mendy in particular looks outstanding. If anyone finishes above City this season, you suspect they’ll be the champions.
Goal of the weekend
And to complete the City love-in, what a glorious strike from Leroy Sane. Effortlessly whipped into the top corner from range, it was the final insult to a Liverpool team that might have been thinking, “Oh well, at least it was only four… oh.” With so many big-money arrivals at the Etihad, you can easily forget that the young German cost City the better part of £40 million. While that fee could never be described as a bargain, it certainly looks justified.
Heartwarming moment of the weekend
Leaving aside those people who loathe Arsenal and all who play for her, is there anyone out there who doesn’t like Danny Welbeck? He has the complete set of attributes required of a modern striker. He is intelligent, selfless, quick and strong; he’s tall and seems quite nice, too. If he could just stick the ball in the back of the net more often, so the received wisdom goes, he’d be a world-beater. And yet there he is with a brace in a much-needed victory over Bournemouth and joint second-highest scorer in the league. Is this the start of something? Probably not, but you live in hope.
Bad day at the office
In a weekend of stiff competition in this department (don’t think we didn’t notice you, Everton and Southampton), Lee Chung-Yong’s single-handed scuttling of Crystal Palace stands apart in a class of its own. Frank de Boer’s face said it all. After two weeks of brutal headlines and heated crisis meetings, he backed down from his ideals, sent out a modified side and hoped for improvement. And he got it. Palace made plenty of chances, invoking fine saves from Tom Heaton and his replacement Nick Pope. If you’re prepared to overlook the minor issue of Lee Chung-Yong inexplicably releasing Chris Wood with a perfect through-ball after three minutes, it was quite good.
Victory of the day
The last thing you want, if you’re the manager of a goal-shy football team, is a game against Tony Pulis. Everything Pulis does is based on repetition. He drills his players like a marching band until they’re visualising set-piece diagrams in their sleep. And yet Brighton Hove Albion, hitherto displaying all the teeth of a very old earthworm, put three goals past West Bromwich Albion. Three! If you were Chris Hughton, you’d be tempted to walk away now and bask in the glow of achievement for the rest of the year.
If you’ve got any sympathy left, give it to Craig Shakespeare at Leicester City. The Foxes are hovering just above the relegation zone, but they haven’t played badly all season. They were unlucky at Arsenal, competitive at Manchester United and had the chances to punish Chelsea at the King Power Stadium. Shakespeare has revived Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, had his faith in Matty James vindicated, landed one of the signings of the summer in Harry Maguire and yet, if you look at the table, he seems to be struggling. Expect this skewed perception to balance itself when easier fixtures arrive.
It’s been far too long since our last handshake drama, but you never forget how to analyse one. First of all, it’s important to ascertain who first turned away from the expected epicentre of the shake (Jose Mourinho) and who ostentatiously gestured at the turned back to indicate the offence caused (Mark Hughes). Then it’s crucial to review the postmatch interviews to see who callously makes light of the incident (Hughes again) and whose face darkens with fury at the mention of it (Mourinho, this time). That way you can correctly conclude that the pair of them should be picking up litter on the side of motorways for a month, that the game has gone and that you’d never have seen this from dear old Bill Nicholson.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.