Welcome to world football's Monday Morning Hangover, an homage to the NFL section’s own Monday Morning Hangover, where we round up the key stories and important points from the last weekend in world football.
With an inevitable focus on the Premier League, let's get started.
The Class of the Field
As many of their rivals elsewhere struggled this weekend, Manchester City and Chelsea showed why they are considered such clear favourites for the title this season with their high-quality contest at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The game lacked the drama and sheer unpredictability of a number of other contests we witnessed this weekend, but it did showcase two well-balanced teams capable in attack and defence, along with a manager who knows how to prepare for these sorts of games better than anyone else.
The home side enjoyed the majority of the possession and territory but, following Pablo Zabaleta’s harsh dismissal (for two niggling fouls), it was Chelsea who took the lead following a classic counter-attack. City overcommitted at a corner, and the visitors poured forward; Diego Costa found Eden Hazard, who duly slotted in a cross for substitute Andre Schurrle to knock in at the far post.
It was a classic Jose Mourinho away game smash and grab—the Special One’s side having defended deeply and resolutely before exposing their opponents on the break. Except this time, City, despite their numerical disadvantage, found an answer—Schurrle forgetting his duty to track his runner as James Milner set up Frank Lampard for his first Premier League goal against the team he scored 171 for.
It was a suitably Hollywood ending to a contest that underlined the fine margins on which the highest level of the game is played.
Following the game, City boss Manuel Pellegrini caused a stir for deriding Mourinho’s tactics. He said, per The Telegraph's Mark Ogden:
I am very happy with the mentality of our team, and it is so important to play like a big team, and not like a small team.
I would not be happy to play that way. I don’t want to analyse Chelsea, but I think we played against exactly the same team we played against Stoke here. I knew it would be very difficult for us to score. Finally we could score, but what the other teams do, it is not my duty to analyse.
Mourinho, as was always likely to be the case, shrugged off the comments. He made a number of valid points, even if he was perhaps trying to twist the knife a little more:
Pellegrini, many times he says he never speaks about me and my team, but he keeps doing the same thing. I am the one that does as he says.
I don’t comment on his words. Don’t ask me about his words, I am not interested in that. I see the point as one point won because we arrived here as leaders with two points more than second, but we leave with a three-point lead.
I look to the table, and we are leaders with three points. This was a super difficult stadium, super opponent and we leave in a better condition than when we arrived.
This, perhaps, is the salient point to take away from the game. Chelsea arrived in Manchester as the standout side of the campaign so far, and they would have left with a win against their most probable challengers for the title were it not for one of their most revered former players.
Pellegrini can argue that Mourinho’s teams should be more adventurous on such occasions, but the Portuguese has long approached such games in this way and is well within his rights to continue to do so. That's even if the likes of Diego Costa (quiet on Sunday) and Cesc Fabregas (only slightly less subdued) give him more options than last season.
It is up to the other former Real Madrid manager to find an answer to the strategy, rather than ask his opponent to amend it.
No Defence for Complete Capitulation
In three successive games against the Premier League’s newly promoted sides, Manchester United walked away with just four points from a possible nine. The 4-0 demolition of QPR in the middle might have sparked talk of a revival and a return to form, but the 0-0 draw with Burnley and 5-3 humbling at the hands of Leicester City remain better barometers of this current United side.
For so long on Sunday, United looked comfortable, showing shades of the performance they put in against Harry Redknapp’s side as Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and Angel Di Maria (with an exquisite finish) were all involved in the side’s opening two goals.
But silly mistakes cost them dearly—they let Leicester score almost immediately after going 2-0 up to give the hosts hope just as they were getting demoralised, and then repeated the trick with a series of silly mistakes when the game looked as good as won at 3-1.
As the tide turned against the visitors, however, Louis van Gaal seemed helpless on the bench. The Dutchman left embarrassed as former non-League striker Jamie Vardy waltzed through United’s porous defence to give the Foxes a lead they would not relinquish.
United have five points from their first five games, and they are yet to face a side that any pundit would expect to finish ahead of them at the season’s end. Van Gaal has three more games (against West Ham, Everton and West Brom) before his team host Chelsea at Old Trafford.
Perhaps a game against a rival will be the making of this team, which seems to need to sort out its mental resolve as much as its tactical issues. Then again, if things continue in the current vein, they could be heading for an even more embarrassing lesson from another team in blue.
Goal of the Weekend
Pablo Hernandez, take a bo... oh, you already did in the act of scoring that goal. What a finish (and what a fool the goalkeeper looks).
Goal of the Weekend: Runner-Up Edition
Angel Di Maria and Sergio Araujo, two Argentines showing that the art of finishing is very much alive and well.
- It was a bold decision from Alan Pardew to play Papiss Cisse on Saturday after Newcastle’s medical staff said the Senegalese striker was not fit enough. The gamble paid off—Cisse scored twice in a 2-2 draw—but was Pardew’s decision motivated by what was good for the player and the team or what was good for his own perilous job status?
- For the second season in a row, Crystal Palace went to Goodison Park and came away with an impressive 3-2 win—scoring from every shot on target they had. At Wigan, the knock against Roberto Martinez was that his side was never able to defend well; after starting the season with a glut of goals conceded, the Spaniard will need to put particular focus on that area of his side.
- Things continue to go well for Ronald Koeman and Southampton. Written off at the start of the season in many quarters, the Saints picked up a third clean sheet in five games as they beat Swansea City—another fast starter—at the Liberty Stadium. The Saints are second in the table. Mauricio who?
- Amid the concerns about Liverpool’s attacking issues, it is worth noting that Raheem Sterling scored his third goal of the season at Upton Park. At this rate, the 19-year-old is on course to bag 20 goals this season—a remarkable haul for one so young and not playing as striker.
- First Tottenham, now Manchester United. Winning against QPR is seemingly far from a reliable indicator of a side’s current form. Stoke must be petrified about their short-term prospects after only managing to draw 2-2 with Harry Redknapp’s side at the weekend.
- A first Arsenal goal for Danny Welbeck and a goal and assist for Mesut Ozil in a win over Aston Villa leaves the Gunners as the second-placed of the “Big Four” in the early Premier League table. After a first month when most of the news out of the Emirates has been pessimistic, perhaps the start has not been too bad after all?
Liverpool Become the Thing They Most Feared
In the summer, as Liverpool signed player after player in a bid to replace the departed Luis Suarez, Brendan Rodgers was adamant his club would not suffer the same fate as Tottenham, who had struggled for consistency and fluency last season following the loss of their talisman, Gareth Bale.
"I think it is totally different circumstances," Rodgers said at the time, per ITV. "For us, I think it is pretty obvious we were very low in terms of our numbers and that quality and depth.
"So, irrespective of Luis staying or going, it was something we had to do and I'm very glad we did it, because I look at the quality in our training and it has gone up a level."
Just five games into the season, however, and the alarms are already beginning to go off around Merseyside. Liverpool were great against Tottenham, poor against Southampton and Aston Villa and close to abject in Saturday’s loss to West Ham.
After that 3-1 reverse, Rodgers talked about the effect of European football on his team’s routine, along with the impact of some injuries. The true cause seems to be the one he insisted would never be a problem: New faces are still adjusting to life at the Reds.
The likes of Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana have yet to find their feet, while Mario Balotelli was quiet when his team needed him to make an impact as the home side impressed at Upton Park.
"The standard of our play was nowhere near what we would expect," Rodgers acknowledged to Sky Sports. "Our passing and composure today was too short, there were too many long passes and overall our performance wasn’t at the required level."
Any team will struggle to replace a player as good as Suarez, and any team will struggle to accommodate so many new signings into a team with any real haste. It remains early days—Liverpool will almost certainly improve—but perhaps this campaign will lead to a slight re-evaluation of the success of Tottenham’s own recruitment last season.
The Statistical Revolution Will Not Be Recognised
It may be difficult to accurately make a correlation between raw statistics and the performance of an individual player, but with England’s next European Championship qualifiers just over two weeks away, it is interesting who the algorithms throw up as potential inclusions for Roy Hodgson’s next squad.
Per Whoscored.com’s data, Danny Welbeck is actually the best performing English player so far this season, with Phil Jones a close second. But beyond that, there is a litany of players who have yet to receive Three Lions recognition.
|English players in the Premier League this season|
Michael Dawson, Ryan Shawcross and Curtis Davies all feature ahead of Gary Cahill, while Eric Dier, Stewart Downing, Craig Gardner and Nathaniel Clyne have also caught the eye so far.
With defence in particular considered to be a problem area in this current England team, it will be interesting to see if Hodgson takes early-season form into account when picking his squad to face San Marino and Estonia.
Other Points of Note from the Weekend
The Foxes Make a Statement
While Man United’s defensive woes will rightfully be given a lot of attention in the days ahead, nothing should detract from Leicester City’s performance on Sunday. While they were a narrow second best for the early part of the game, they got stronger and stronger as the match wore on, eventually grinding their illustrious opponents into dust in a contest that will be remembered for a long time.
Such statement wins do not always spark fine seasons—this game felt a little like Cardiff City’s 3-2 win over Manchester City last term, and look how things ended up thereafter—but Leicester already look to have a team more than capable of staying up.
In the likes of Danny Drinkwater, Wes Morgan, Liam Moore and David Nugent, they have the core of the title-winning side last season. Leonardo Ulloa adds a genuine all-round goalscoring threat, and Esteban Cambiasso offers an undeniable gravitas in the heart of midfield.
In recent times, it has become very rare for all three promoted teams to go straight back down; if one of those survives this time, the Foxes look clear favourites.
More Pain at the Lane
After the bright start to the season (well, a smash-and-grab against West Ham and a demolition of QPR), things have gone downhill quickly for Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino.
On Sunday, a subdued side were beaten 1-0 by West Brom at White Hart Lane, meaning Pochettino’s side have picked up just one point from their last three games. Andre Villas-Boas’ 1-0 wins might have been boring in the early part of last season, but at least there was a certain amount of consistency to it all.
Pochettino’s side seemed to take to his methods well in the first few weeks of the season but looked lacking in intensity throughout the match against Alan Irvine’s side—a game few would have expected them to lose.
"The way that we played, I think was wrong because we played very, very slow from the beginning," Pochettino said, via Eurosport. "I am angry or disappointed—I don't know the best word to show my feelings.
"We had a bad day. I am very disappointed because we had a very bad day, we played very slowly."
Pochettino is not under pressure just yet, but there is never a particularly long grace period to work through issues at Tottenham.
The Baggies, meanwhile, remain a team that looks suspiciously like relegation fodder—with an inexperienced manager and squad of either untested or over-the-hill Premier League players.
But with Joleon Lescott and James Morrison in this sort of form, perhaps that sort of dismissive attitude is what will drive them to cause a few more surprises over the course of the season.
Frankly, My Dear, I Really Do Give a Damn
You did not think we would go the whole way without making proper mention of Frank Lampard, did you?
In a situation almost unprecedented in Premier League football, certainly in a game involving two sides of such stature, the midfielder was applauded off by fans of his former team after scoring the goal for his new side that cost his old one a potentially defining victory.
Such was the depth of goodwill for Lampard that Chelsea’s travelling contingent still gave him a standing ovation at the final whistle—giving him a taste of the emotional send-off he was denied by the odd nature of his summer departure from Stamford Bridge.
The veteran’s goal was nothing special—a typical late run into the box, followed by an improvised first-time finish—but it was a special Premier League moment. Unlike many other “muted celebrations,” Lampard seemed genuinely conflicted by his actions. Afterwards, he sounded glad the situation is unlikely to occur again.
He told Sky Sports: "It's a really difficult one. I'd be unprofessional if I didn't come on and do my job, so I was trying to get into the box and it was a great ball back from [James Milner]. It's a tough one for me. I had 13 amazing years with the Chelsea fans, so I am mixed with it. I am obviously pleased the team I play for got a draw."
He continued: "I am a little lost for words. I didn't expect to come on and score like that. I came on and the Chelsea fans were singing, and that's emotional. Then I am playing for this club, who have taken me in brilliantly as well, so I am really stuck in the middle here."