English Premier League: Heroes and Villains from the EPL Weekend
West Brom can't be beat, Spurs can't seem to win, and nobody can stop Robin van Persie.
The third weekend of the English Premier League season meant the continuation of some trends (Arsenal's clean sheets and Pepe Reina's errors, to name two more) and the end of others (Arsenal's scoring drought and Everton's unbeaten run).
As always, the action produced plenty of heroes and villains. Read on to see who made the list this week.
Hero: Robin van Persie
Three matches and four goals after his high-profile transfer to Manchester United, it’s safe to say that Robin van Persie is a new Old Trafford favorite. Not that Old Trafford saw his best this weekend. That came at St. Mary’s, against an inspired Southampton team.
Twice United trailed the Premiership newcomers from the south coast, and twice RvP pulled them back level, kicking and screaming almost. Then, just for good measure, he pulled a third goal—this one in stoppage time—out from his sleeve and handed United a wholly unexpected 3-2 victory.
The hat trick will go down as one of the season’s best, even considering the horribly botched penalty RvP sandwiched in the middle. Van Persie's third, a powerful, turning header from a tough angle, was especially brilliant.
The goals will also, however, gloss over some of the issues dogging United at the moment. Chief among them is a rickety defense that has conceded five goals in three matches.
All the same, it’s impossible to take away from Van Persie’s accomplishment. United fans will be looking for more. That performance was, after all, exactly why Sir Alex Ferguson scrapped his trusty transfer policy for an injury-prone 29-year-old.
Villain: Nigel Adkins
There's nothing wrong with tactical substitutions late in a match, nor is there anything inherently wrong with removing your best attacker when your team is trying to protect a late lead.
But what was Southampton manager Nigel Adkins thinking when he took off Rickie Lambert—only to replace him with another attacker in Guilherme do Prado—late in Sunday's match against Manchester United?
Lambert had scored Southampton's opener and is the Saints' obvious talisman. Adkins should have replaced him only if a tactical advantage presented itself.
Instead, the introduction of Do Prado was a misstep. So was handing a debut to 21-year-old Emmanuel Mayuka—another forward, mind you—with Southampton leading Manchester Frackin' United with 15 minutes left in the match.
Surely, if Adkins wanted to tinker, there were better, more defensively sound options around. This time, it seems, Adkins out-thought himself.
Hero: Steven Fletcher
Scottish striker Steven Fletcher signed for Sunderland from Wolves late last month in a deal initially worth £12 million (per BBC Sport). On Saturday, he began the long process of justifying the fee.
Fletcher scored twice in the first half, as Sunderland took a surprising halftime lead on high-flying Swansea. The goals proved good enough for the Black Cats to claim a draw and a point, their second of the season in as many matches.
Two goals won't justify £12 million, and perhaps Fletcher won't ever quite live up to the hefty fee. But Saturday was a fine start.
Villains: Andre Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy
Tottenham Hotspur have gone three matches now without a victory. With two draws, they sit in 14th place, level on points with Sunderland and Norwich City.
It's (exceedingly) early yet, but one can't help but have the feeling that all is not right at White Hart Lane. Andre Villas-Boas, brought in to replace Harry Redknapp as manager after a fourth-place finish, is already hearing boos from the home fans (via Reuters), and rightly so.
Spurs yielded a late lead at home to Norwich on Saturday, just as they did last weekend against West Brom. If they are to replicate last season's top-four finish, these are the types of matches Spurs should expect to win.
Perhaps the new signings will help. Tottenham did strengthen on deadline day, bringing in French keeper Hugo Lloris and American attacker Clint Dempsey.
But did chairman Daniel Levy wait too long to make those moves? And did he leave the Joao Moutinho deal—which reportedly fell short by minutes (via the Daily Telegraph)—too late?
Hero: Abou Diaby
Just like a new signing? Or spitting image of another long-legged, box-to-box Arsenal midfielder?
Abou Diaby, oft-injured and thus long hailed by Arsene Wenger as having the potential to serve as an almost-like-new signing, turned in a stunning performance for Arsenal on Sunday against Liverpool.
Plenty of praise rightly has gone to Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla for gelling at the right time and leading the Arsenal attack. Further praise for the overhauled defense and its mastermind, Steve Bould, is also richly deserved.
But Diaby might just have been Arsenal's Man of the Match in the 2-0 victory at Liverpool. If he keeps it up, he'll help Gooners forget all about Alex Song.
And if the galloping box-to-box runs and all-around strong play continue, he might just keep reminding them of a latter-day Patrick Vieira.
Villains: Fenway Sports Group
Liverpool shipped England striker Andy Carroll off to West Ham United ahead of the transfer deadline. The Reds are already regretting it.
First, Liverpool failed to sign a proper replacement for Carroll, or even an adequate replacement. Clint Dempsey slipped through their fingers and ended up with Spurs for only a slightly higher transfer fee (via the Daily Telegraph).
Then, Liverpool's attack looked toothless against Arsenal on Sunday in a 2-0 loss. Granted, the Reds created chances; they just didn't finish them.
Now, after the departure of Carroll and the club's worst three-game start to a season since 1962-63 (per The Independent), first-year manager Brendan Rodgers is expressing predictable regret (per BBC Sport).
The club's owners, Fenway Sports Group, must shoulder at least some of the blame. They might have other fish to fry, though.
Head honcho John Henry was spotted Monday in Seattle, Wash., for a pow-wow with embattled Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine (via ESPN New York). The official word is that Henry is not planning to fire Valentine, but somewhere in Britain, Kenny Dalglish is nodding knowingly.
Hero: Andy Carroll
Speaking of Andy Carroll, the big England forward needed little time making an impact at his new club.
Playing in a squad that suits his style, Carroll played a role in two of West Ham United's three goals Saturday against Fulham. The Hammers won the match easily, 3-0, and before he limped off with a hamstring injury, Carroll made Liverpool look very, very silly for letting him go.
Carroll's very first contribution with West Ham, a header won on a 50-50 ball near the Fulham box, resulted seconds later in Kevin Nolan's opening goal in the first minute of the match.
The hamstring injury will keep Carroll off the field for a short time (via The Guardian), but he's already showed why Hammers boss Sam Allardyce was so interested in his services.
By the way, West Ham lead Liverpool by five points and 12 places in the table.
Hero: Steve Clarke
Another win for a first-time manager who was supposed to be too inexperienced to be anything but in over his head.
West Brom beat Everton, previously the league's most celebrated unbeaten underdogs, this weekend, and after this latest victory, the Baggies have seven points and trail Chelsea by only two points atop the table.
Meanwhile, they're winning over admirers, and manager Steve Clarke keeps proving the doubters—this one first among them—dead wrong.
Villain: Pepe Reina
Another mishap by the error-prone goalkeeper must have Liverpool fans casting jealous glances at Tottenham Hotspur and their one-two punch of Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris.
For now, though, Liverpool are stuck with Pepe Reina, for better or, most likely, for worse.
And much like a loveless marriage, this arrangement doesn't seem likely to end well.