After some very unexpected results in the opening weeks of the season, normal service has been resumed in the Premier League with wins for every member of the big six. Yes, Watford, this is the esteem in which we hold you now. And to think, some people tipped them for relegation … ahem.
At the other end of the table, the misery continues for Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and West Ham, but they can at least take heart from the giant leaps taken by the likes of Everton and Brighton this weekend. We are still at a stage of the season where one win can change the mood quite significantly. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Performance of the weekend
If an inferior team stays compact and deep, tirelessly filling gaps inside their own half, they can usually make it very difficult for a superior team to find the space to operate. That was Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson’s plan, and it was a sound one. But Manchester City are not a usual opponent. They move the ball so quickly and with such accuracy that the usual spoiling tactics just don’t work. You had to feel sorry for Hodgson by the end. His players were so tightly packed that you could have thrown a tablecloth in the air and got all of them under it, but it was no good. City just blew them away.
Goal of the weekend
Of all the most likely conclusions to the Philippe Coutinho saga, you’d probably put “gets his transfer to Barcelona” just ahead of “doesn’t get his transfer to Barcelona and sulks in the reserves.” Instead, Liverpool have ended up with the perfect outcome: they’ve kept him at the club, they’ve kept him in the team, and on the evidence of this weekend, they’ve kept him at the top of his game. The Brazilian made Liverpool’s first goal and scored their second, and what a hit. Kasper Schmeichel never stood a chance. Few players are as dangerous as Coutinho with a free kick.
Bad day at the office
There comes a point where life becomes thoroughly unfair, and Crystal Palace have whizzed past it and straight off the edge of a cliff. Getting battered by Manchester City was entirely expected; in fact they probably did well to keep the margin of defeat so tight. But to lose Christian Benteke, their £30 million striker and the key to their recovery, to a long-term injury — well, that’s just mean. The season is only six games old, but it’s already looking so, so bleak for the South Londoners.
Dive of the weekend
On any other weekend, Jamie Vardy would have cleaned up here for the sheer professionalism and style of his effort against Liverpool. Invite contact, lift feet, tumble through air. It was exceptional. The Leicester frontman is a master of the dark arts. However, he’s been pipped to the post by Huddersfield’s Rajiv van la Parra whose blatant cheating angered Sean Dyche so much that the Burnley manager railed furiously against diving, the corruption of children and the injustice of having the referee hand out the correct punishment at the time, thus sparing Van la Parra from a ban.
This column has never been slow to cock a snook at Jose Mourinho, even though it has no idea what a snook is or whether or not it’s safe to uncock one in public. He is, of course, one of the greatest managers of his generation, but he can be a very naughty, disrespectful and downright snide chap at times. However, it’s a bit harsh to send the man to the stand for inadvertently putting a foot in the field of play in the closing stages of the game. Other managers — we’re looking at you, Jurgen, and you, Antonio — can rant and rave and whirl and gesticulate without censure. Stuff like this only plays into Jose’s persecution complex.
Unlikely hero of the weekend
It’s still not clear exactly what Oumar Niasse did to upset Everton manager Ronald Koeman, but you’d hope, after three goals in four days, that the Dutchman has forgiven him now. One of Koeman’s first acts at Goodison Park was to strip Niasse of his squad number and banish him to the reserves. The Senegal international was then packed off to Hull where he surprised everybody by actually being quite good. And “quite good” is enough to put a man pretty high up the pecking order of Everton strikers these days. Koeman would have been in trouble if Everton had lost to Bournemouth. Niasse saved him.
Realisation of the weekend
Seasoned Serge Aurier watchers know that there are two sides to the 24-year-old full-back. On the one hand, he is quick, he is dangerous on the overlap and he’ll burst a lung to get back and cover if he or his teammates lose possession. On the other hand, he can be so stupid that you wonder if he banged his head as a child. If there were any Spurs fans who didn’t know this, they know it now. Tottenham were on cruise control at the London Stadium when he suddenly launched himself at Andy Carroll, just six minutes after getting himself booked. But at least he apologised.
Game to watch next weekend
OK, we know you’ll be watching Manchester City’s first serious test of the season (at least over 90 minutes) away at Chelsea and yes, you’ll probably be morbidly curious about Crystal Palace’s chances at Old Trafford, too, but keep an eye out for West Ham’s clash with Swansea. The Hammers’ comeback against 10-man Spurs has probably kept the wolf from the door, but Slaven Bilic can’t survive many more hits. Swansea have only scored three goals all season, the lowest total if you ignore Crystal Palace, and they have to be beaten here. Anything less than a home win in this, the last game before international break, and West Ham could be looking for a new manager.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.