After an international break that felt like months, the Premier League is back and it didn't take much time to remind us of what a cracking season it's been.
The first match of the weekend was the one everyone had their eyes on, and the London derby of Spurs vs. Chelsea certainly lived up to its expectation with the Blues coming out on top in a six goal thriller. It only got better as Saturday progressed, with 20 goals scored in the remaining seven matches, followed by a Sunday consisting of an intense Tyne-Wear derby and a good contest between Everton and QPR.
Stoppage time winners, upsets, and derbies—this weekend had it all. Here are five things we learned.
The serious title contenders for this season were always going to be Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City; but after relatively strong starts, both Arsenal and Spurs were looking like outside contenders.
That all seems to have changed this weekend, though, after the North London clubs both suffered disappointing losses. Spurs were outclassed on their own turf to league leaders Chelsea, who continue to bulldoze past their opponents. The four goals conceded showed Tottenham's weakness in defense, and they looked like a different team without star players Gareth Bale and Moussa Dembele.
Arsenal, on the other hand, endured a shock 1-0 loss away to Norwich. Blame it on the international break, blame it on Vito Mannone's goalkeeping error, but the point is that Arsenal simply didn't show up on Saturday and fully deserved the full-time result.
Is it too early to call off the title challenges of Arsenal and Spurs? They've got 30 matches to prove themselves.
Juan Mata has been nothing short of brilliant so far this season for Chelsea.
There's no doubt that Mata, and just about every other Chelsea player, was overshadowed by the Hazard hype at the start of the season; but Juan Mata has shown his true quality now with dazzling performances for the Blues in recent weeks. He's been at the heart of every attacking move for Roberto Di Matteo's side, and is the architect of most of their goals with through balls, layoffs—you name it.
His two goals and an assist downed Spurs this weekend at White Hart Lane, and he put another Man of the Match performance in just a few weeks ago with a goal and an assist at Arsenal. Sandwiched in between those two games was Chelsea's 4-1 demolition of Norwich, where Mata bagged two assists.
In my mind, Mata is Chelsea's most important player this season, and he'll surely be the key to their title challenge. The attacking midfielder is definitely in the talk for Player of the Season as well, but will the likes of Santi Cazorla, Robin Van Persie or Yaya Toure challenge him for it?
At the beginning of every season, the three newly promoted teams are always in the relegation talk—it's just a given.
But West Ham have quickly put the worries over relegation to bed, now sitting comfortably in seventh place with 14 points following their impressive 4-1 win over Southampton this weekend. Although the Hammers defense has looked suspect at times, overall the squad has enough depth and quality to comfortably avoid relegation and secure a midtable finish.
Premier League managers generally regard the 40 point mark as safety from the drop, so Sam Allardyce's men seem well on their way to the promised land of another season in the top flight.
Of all people, Edin Dzeko has been Manchester City's superman in recent weeks.
He may be last in Manchester City's impressive pecking order of strikers, but Dzeko continues to prove himself as the perfect super sub, scoring goals in the dying minutes of games to secure results.
He did it again this weekend as he was thrown on with 11 minutes left as City were a goal down to West Brom, and surely enough the Bosnian international scored twice to secure the three points for Roberto Mancini's side.
It's not the first time Dzeko has saved the day for City either, scoring the winner against Fulham as an 86th minute substitute, as well as scoring the equalizer against Southampton on the opening day after coming on for the injured Sergio Aguero.
So do Dzeko's heroic substitute performances mean he should start for Manchester City?
There's no doubt that the league's best strike force lies in Manchester. But which club?
Manchester City's front men are menacing on paper, with Mancini having the luxury of choosing from Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli and Dzeko every week.
Manchester United have an impressive strike force of their own, with Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Chicharito the strikers at Sir Alex Ferguson's disposal.
On paper, I think Manchester City's forwards just edge out their crosstown rivals. Of course, football isn't played on paper, and on the pitch United's front line—usually Van Persie, Welbeck and Rooney—has been lethal together so far this season. Just this weekend, Van Persie assisted Rooney, Rooney assisted Welbeck, and Welbeck assisted Rooney.
Of course, City's Argentine connection of Aguero and Tevez are unbeatable on their day, but at the moment United's strike partnership are the league's best. Which one will prevail come the end of the season?