English Premier League Highlights and Lowlights
The big boys blew through the competition again, but there were also positive results for the plucky upstarts.
Clean sheets appeared in new places, but so did high-scoring thrillers.
And while some trends continued, it was finally the end for an impressively long streak.
The English Premier League provided its usual dose of thrills and drama over the weekend, and we've got all the highlights and lowlights for you right here.
Keep reading for all the details.
Highlight: Manchester Supremacy
Manchester City and Manchester United occupied the two top positions in last season's final table, and although neither held the top spot heading into the weekend, both looked the part in convincing victories.
City produced their best, most complete performance of the season in tearing apart Sunderland 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium. Aleksandar Kolarov opened the scoring early with an expert free kick before Sergio Aguero and James Milner rounded out the win with second-half strikes.
In truth, the margin could have been much higher, and City fans will be relieved that manager Roberto Mancini opted for a return to the four-man back-line that propelled the team to so much success a season ago.
Tellingly, with the returns of the four-man defense and the abandonment (perhaps permanently?) of Mancini's three-man experiment, City recorded their first clean sheet of the season.
United were perhaps even more impressive in dispatching Newcastle 3-0 away from home. Last season, this fixture ended with the same scoreline, only reversed. But this time, United ended the contest in all of 15 minutes.
Newcastle started without four members of their regular back five in goalkeeper Tim Krul and defenders Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor and Danny Simpson. And their absence was felt almost immediately.
First Jonny Evans and then the physically unassuming Patrice Evra converted from Robin van Persie corners to give United a 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes. The match was basically over at that point, but Tom Cleverley added United's third in the second half with a curled shot into the top corner.
With more performances like these, the Manchester duo might yet reclaim their place as the Premier League's two title favorites.
Lowlight: Big Money at the Other End of the Table
Queens Park Rangers lost again, this time 3-2 at West Brom, and Mark Hughes' new-look, big-money team remains rooted at the foot of the table with two points and no wins from seven matches.
QPR invested heavily over the summer, bringing in big names like midfielder Esteban Granero from Real Madrid and Julio Cesar from Inter Milan as Hughes attempted to make good on his promise that the team would not face another relegation fight on his watch.
Unless something changes soon, that promise won't be kept.
Highlights: Goals, Goals, Goals
In six Saturday matches, only one team—Sunderland against champions Manchester City—failed to score.
The rest more than made up for it, with 25 goals—or more than four per match—flying into nets across the country.
The pace slowed Sunday, with nine goals coming in four more matches.
Lowlights: Two Dives and a Stamp
Liverpool's Luis Suarez was guilty of another dive during a scoreless draw with Stoke on Sunday. He was fortunate to escape a booking, but an object lesson remains to be learned.
If he didn't already know, Suarez should now realize that this sort of thing is exactly why referees regularly wave away his genuine penalty appeals. Few, possibly not even Suarez himself, can know in real time whether the Uruguayan is diving or not.
That doesn't, however, excuse Robert Huth. The Stoke defender appeared to stamp on Suarez intentionally, and Suarez was left with stud marks on his torso after the match. But Huth escaped punishment even though the referee saw the incident.
On Monday, the Football Association declined to punish Huth for the incident (via Sky Sports), breaking a precedent set last season when Mario Balotelli received a four-match ban after stamping on the head of Tottenham's Scott Parker (via The Daily Telegraph).
Meanwhile, across the country, Tottenham's Gareth Bale was guilty of a dive of his own against Aston Villa. He, too, should have drawn a yellow card, but he escaped punishment.
Considering these incidents, it wasn't the best weekend for referees or the FA.
Lowlight: Ashley Cole and Twitter
Speaking of the Football Association, English football's governing body on Monday charged Chelsea defender Ashley Cole with bringing the game into disrepute after Cole's controversial Twitter comments last week (via BBC Sport).
Cole called the FA an offensive profanity after the FA labeled Cole's testimony unreliable in the John Terry racism inquiry.
In this case, the FA was right to charge Cole. An attack such as Cole's cannot go unanswered.
The fault here is with Cole, who stupidly and needlessly provoked the FA and could now serve a suspension at the same time as Terry.
Missing Terry for four matches was already going to hurt Chelsea's early title challenge. Now they might have to make do without both Terry and Cole.
Highlight: The New Chelsea
This is not Jose Mourinho's Chelsea. At least, not entirely.
Chelsea stormed past Norwich with a 4-1 home victory Saturday, reversing Grant Holt's early opener with a stylish first-half outburst that included goals from Fernando Torres, Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard.
Branislav Ivanovic completed the rout with a volleyed finish in the 76th minute, but the game—and increasingly the entire season—was a showcase for Chelsea's young midfield playmakers Juan Mata, Hazard and Oscar.
Those three have helped turn Chelsea into a smooth attacking force that bears little resemblance to Mourinho's title-winning sides of the mid-2000s—or even to last season's improbably successful run-in under Roberto Di Matteo.
But the new Chelsea share one trait with the Chelsea of Mourinho. Through seven matches, the Blues have conceded a league-best four goals.
Lowlight: Liverpool's Familiar Problems
Liverpool labored to a scoreless draw at home to Stoke on Sunday. Still winless at home, the Reds remained 14th in the table and failed to capitalize on the momentum created in last week's 5-2 victory at Norwich.
The problems for Brendan Rodgers' team were depressingly familiar. The Reds took 18 shots (to Stoke's six) but found the target with only two of them. They held 63 percent of possession and won five corners but failed to convert any of that into a goal.
After international week, Liverpool will have another chance to figure things out when Reading visit Anfield on Oct. 20. The issues will need to be sorted by the following weekend, when the Reds visit crosstown rivals Everton.
Highlights: Fightbacks and Plucky Underdogs
Chelsea's fightback wasn't the only from the past Premier League weekend.
Swansea recovered from a 2-0 first-half deficit to draw 2-2 at home to Reading. The draw helped slow Swansea's skid down the table after losing three straight matches.
Southampton also grabbed a 2-2 draw thanks to Jose Fonte's 90th-minute equalizer, which came only two minutes after Fulham had taken the lead through Kieran Richardson.
In London, Arsenal recovered from Mohamed Diame's impressive early goal to beat West Ham and old nemesis Sam Allardyce 3-1 at Upton Park. The Gunners' defense again looked shaky against high passes and set pieces, but it stayed strong enough to make goals from Olivier Giroud (his first in the Premier League), Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla (a wicked knuckleball) hold up.
Meanwhile, plucky underdogs Everton and West Brom kept up their pleasantly surprising starts. Everton drew 2-2 at Wigan thanks to Leighton Baines' late penalty, and the Toffees are now fourth in the table with 14 points.
West Brom defeated QPR 3-2 at home and climbed to sixth, also on 14 points.
With each result, both strengthen the argument that their starts are no fluke.
Highlight: Spurs Keep a Clean Sheet
Tottenham Hotspur won again and climbed to fifth with a 2-0 victory at home to Aston Villa on Sunday.
It was Spurs' most complete performance of the season, and that showed in the fact that Andre Villas-Boas' defense recorded its first clean sheet.
New goalkeeper signing Hugo Lloris played well in his first start ahead of American Brad Friedel, and Steven Caulker and Aaron Lennon provided the second-half goals.
Up next is a tasty home match against league leaders Chelsea, the former home of AVB. With another performance like Sunday's, Spurs just might throw the title race into chaos in two weeks' time.
Lowlight: Friedel's Streak Ends
Tottenham's big win brought an end to goalkeeper Brad Friedel's impressive streak of games started in the Premier League.
Manager Andre Villas-Boas opted for French No. 1 Hugo Lloris, and in doing so, Friedel's streak of 310 straight matches came to a close.
It's hard to blame AVB. In fact, the Portuguese had a good reason to bench his 41-year-old American stopper (via ESPN FC):
After the Panathinaikos game (in the Europa League), we decided it would be logical if we wanted to get Hugo acquainted with the Premier League type of games. He can't play only Europa League. The change was not based on performance. Brad has been immense for this team."]
All the same, the end of the streak brought with it a poignant reminder about how quickly life changes in football:
Last time Friedel didn't start PL game: May 2004. Clint Dempsey was NE rookie & hadn't yet made int'l debut.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) October 7, 2012
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