It has been another action-packed weekend in the Premier League. Iain Macintosh looks back at the best and worst performances.
We were just seconds away from another typical Manchester City result. A commanding performance. An opening goal. A long period of dominance. An unexpected equaliser. The full-time whistle. The strange sense that this wasn’t how it looked in the brochure. Angry radio phone-ins. A surfeit of long reads on Pep Guardiola’s struggle to settle in England. Streams of lunatic tweets suggesting Guardiola is a fraud. And then, just as time was running out, Gabriel Jesus popped up to prod home the winner, and everything changed. Thank you, Gabriel.
Nothing that happened this weekend was as surprising as Sunderland‘s 4-0 win at Crystal Palace. Perhaps nothing this season will be as surprising as Sunderland’s 4-0 win at Crystal Palace. In tense relegation “six-pointers,” you never expect one of the combatants to blow the other one away — especially, you know, if one of them is Sunderland. It’s a small slice of vindication for David Moyes, who was roundly mocked for trying to sign his Everton team from 2009, but it’s only a start. The six bottom teams are separated by just two points. This day will mean nothing if Sunderland aren’t out of the bottom three at the end of the season.
While the battle at the bottom looks heart-poundingly exciting, the battle at the top could be over long before the end. Chelsea wobbled a little at Anfield in midweek, doing what has appeared unthinkable for much of this campaign and dropping two points. They weren’t going to make that mistake again. After resisting a bright start from Arsenal, they soon took control and then dominated the Gunners, humiliating them once again. But they are not invincible. No one wins the title in February. In April, though? That could certainly happen.
It was always going to take something special for Spurs to break down as resolute a team as Middlesbrough. Indeed, it took two special things: Heung-Min Son‘s special turn in the box and Bernado Espinosa’s special inability to read it and go crashing through him instead. Son was excellent all night. He caused ‘Boro all sorts of problems on the left flank, and had his teammates been a little sharper, he could easily have noticeably increased his assist tally. At the least, a performance such as this will make him far harder to drop.
It is a continuing source of confusion that so few people consider Romelu Lukaku to be one of the Premier League’s best striking talents. Sure, he has had some bad spells, most notably the latter weeks of Roberto Martinez’s reign at Everton, but how much more does he have to do to be recognised as something more than raw potential? His four-goal haul against Bournemouth brought his all-time league tally to 76, just eight fewer than that of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo. And he’s only 23.
He knew. He knew at half-time what this meant. When the whistle blew, Claudio Ranieri sighed, and his shoulders visibly sagged. Down the tunnel he trudged to address a team that no longer seems to want to play for him, to ask them again why they haven’t been able to score a single league goal in 2017, to stress, in the strongest possible terms, that they are going to be relegated if they don’t rouse themselves soon. Whatever he said had no effect. It never does anymore. Leicester are going down. And Ranieri, the man who oversaw the impossible, might not have much longer left.
If you’re Sam Allardyce, what do you do after a first half such as that? I mean, seriously. What do you do? As Montgomery Burns once remarked, “And yet, if I were to have them killed, I would be the one to go to jail. That’s democracy for you.” You can’t even rough them up a bit because it’s not the 1970s. You can shout and scream for a while, but you’ll only strain your voice, which you’ll need to explain a result this awful. Ultimately, all you can do is all that you’ve done for the past three months. Think back to that day you were unveiled as England manager, and wonder what on earth went wrong.
In real time, you can understand why the officials might have missed Mikel Alonso’s forearm smash on Hector Bellerin. In slow motion, it’s probably a dangerous play worthy of a booking. But if anyone thinks the match officials are solely to blame for Arsenal‘s defeat at Stamford Bridge, they’re very much mistaken. Arsenal, as Arsene Wenger admitted afterward, were just not good enough. There’s no point going over all their faults; we’ve been doing it since 2005. All that matters is how they respond. They cannot afford any more weeks like this one.
Many people believe that 2016 was their worst year in living memory, but for Liverpool, it was nothing compared to the sequel. In 2017 thus far, Liverpool have beaten only Plymouth Argyle, crashed out of two cups at home, drawn four games and lost five, the latest defeat away at a Hull City team that most people considered dead and buried a few weeks ago. They look leggy, they lack imagination, and it has become apparent to most people that their prodigious goal-scoring rate earlier this season was covering up the sort of cracks that could swallow your car. The title challenge is long gone, but that isn’t the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Everton are only six points behind.
Last season, Bournemouth conceded 67 goals but stayed up with a degree of comfort. They appear to have taken that as some kind of challenge. The six goals conceded at Goodison Park bring their total to 47, which is very nearly two goals a game. At this rate, they’ll have let in 76 by the end of the season. Teams that defend this badly usually go down, and given that they seem to have reacted to that astonishing Arsenal fight back by mentally disintegrating, you wouldn’t want to rule relegation out just yet.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.