Iain Macintosh casts his eye over the best and worst of the action from the Premier League during the opening week of 2017.
We’ve now seen exactly why Real Madrid are reported to be watching Dele Alli with such interest. He’s technically excellent, he’s clever, he’s tenacious and he’s in such a rich vein of form that he’s now scored seven goals in four games. Two crosses, two headers, two goals and Chelsea’s incredible winning run is over. Not that Tottenham’s victory was his and his alone. The entire team were heroes on Wednesday, snapping at their opponents from the first whistle, almost as if they were seeking bloody vengeance for something from last season…
But let’s congratulate Chelsea on an extraordinary run of form. They were well beaten by Spurs, but they’ve been brilliant for so long. Chief among their heroes was Diego Costa, who has apparently been learning magic tricks from David Luiz. He’s pretty good; that useless, sulking lump of a striker from last season has disappeared before our very eyes. Costa scored again on New Year’s Eve, a typically brilliant force-of-nature effort to wrap up the win against Stoke City. So what’s brought about this incredible transformation? “It’s good for us to have a manager who is not just a boss but a person we can talk with,” he said. “Someone whose support we can count upon.” Ah.
But while Diego Costa clearly isn’t a fan, Jose Mourinho and his Manchester United team are beginning to hit their stride. Don’t be fooled by the narrow margin of victory against Middlesbrough or the controversy at West Ham. After six months of torturous grind, this team finally looks as if it knows, and believes in, what it’s doing. There’s movement, there’s aggression, there’s belief. In short, for the first time since 2013, they’re starting to look like a Manchester United team.
We thought we’d established that Olivier Giroud‘s role within this Arsenal team was that of a blunt instrument used to bludgeon those defences that refuse to yield to all the silky stuff. Apparently, Giroud himself disagrees. Anything Henrikh Mkhitaryan can do, he can do while still onside. And if that goal against Crystal Palace wasn’t enough, he dragged Arsenal towards a point they didn’t entirely deserve at Bournemouth, making two and scoring one in a dramatic last 20 minutes. He’s had a very happy Christmas period.
Can a team survive on home form alone? Burnley are having a good go at proving that they can. Sean Dyche’s side have picked up just a single point on the road, but they’re nearly indomitable at Turf Moor, as David Moyes can now testify. A hat trick for Andre Gray, whose season had hitherto spluttered and coughed, saw off Sunderland in emphatic fashion. And, let’s be honest, a spirited 3-1 defeat away at the hands of Manchester City isn’t too shabby either. With 23 points on the board, the relegation favourites are likely to be only four wins and a couple of draws away from safety.
It’s embarrassing enough to lose a man on a cross once in an important Premier League game, but to do it twice … Cesar Azpilicueta and Victor Moses did just that against Tottenham and will thus have a lot of explaining to do this morning. Dele Alli should never have enjoyed all of that room to score his brace. And is it worth having a word with Thibaut Courtois as well? No one wants to see a goalkeeper turning away from a shot, never mind a header. But watch Courtois again for Alli’s second. Hmmm…
It’s well known that Pep Guardiola doesn’t particularly enjoy dealing with the press and, to be honest, who can blame him? Imagine if someone turned up at your place of work, someone who had never done your job in their life, and they started telling you where you were going wrong and why you were one of this week’s villains. You’d hate it too. But you’ve got to play the game. You’ve got to play the game because otherwise you just make it worse and intensify the scrutiny and further invite the ridicule. Manchester City won on Monday. Guardiola should have just focused on that and moved on rather than getting shirty with the media.
We’ve all taken it for granted that Sam Allardyce will save Crystal Palace, haven’t we? It’s just what he does. Their players are far better than the ones he inherited at Sunderland and he kept them up, so what could possibly go wrong at Selhurst Park? Well, quite a lot, it seems. One point from three games is not an impressive haul, but it’s the nature of the last performance that will concern Allardyce the most. Swansea have been appalling for months. How did his Palace side manage to lose at home to them?
Let’s never speak about Middlesbrough vs Leicester again. Let’s just delete all the match reports from the internet, burn the tapes and draw thick black lines through the history books. Actually, let’s save one copy of the game so that we can use it as an interrogation tool that would fly in the face of the spirit of the Geneva Convention. This has to be the quickest that a “Worst Game of the Year” has ever presented itself. Still, look on the bright side. That’s surely as bad as it gets.
We all get frustrated with referees. We all leave the stadium believing fervently that the man in black must have been wronged by one of our players in the past and has now devoted his life to getting them back. But let’s try to keep things in perspective. The fury directed at Mike Dean for his admittedly subpar performance on Monday was excessive. One national newspaper column reacted by demanding that he hang up his whistle. He’s doing his best. As was Michael Oliver whose decision to send off Simon Francis brought similar opprobrium. Can we be a bit more understanding in 2017?
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.