"One swallow does not a summer make" was Aristotle’s way of saying one goal doesn't end a drought, yet it was hard to watch the weekend's Premier League fare and not conclude a sea change had occurred. It was as though the division's labouring strikers had called an emergency general meeting in midweek and Saturday was the fallout.
Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney and Alexis Sanchez all ended personal goal famines to get off the mark in the Premier League this season. Aristotle may grumble otherwise, but with a veil of self-doubt lifted from a succession of the league's key protagonists, the complexion of the season may have shifted in a single weekend.
Being a striker used to be football's most glamorous gig, yet it seems a more prosaic profession these days. Like a factory worker punching the clock, everything is judged in minutes. Before the weekend, Rooney's time sheet read 1,000 minutes since his last league goal. Kane had clocked up 748 prior to his effort against Manchester City.
Citing the number of games in a barren run is no longer enough. It would seem a fascination with failure brings out the mathematician in even the meekest of critics. Giant-size Dom Joly-style calculators are this season's de rigueur item on the terraces.
The case of Kane encapsulates the English psyche toward its footballers to a T. Here is a 22-year-old kid who scored 21 league goals (31 in total) in his breakthrough season at Tottenham Hotspur last term and was named PFA Young Player of the Year. An unassuming teetotaler, who in interviews appears to have about as much edge as a Labrador puppy wrapped in Andrex, Kane is living proof that nice guys don't always come last.
And yet with the new campaign just 630 minutes old, he's been called a "one-season wonder" so often it’s almost as if those doing the labelling want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The English propensity to "build 'em up, knock 'em down" is very much in full working order. Just ask Rooney, whose goal against Sunderland on Saturday helped take Manchester United to the top of the table and edged him closer to the club's all-time scoring record.
Just over an hour had elapsed in Tottenham's eyebrow raising 4-1 victory over Manchester City when Kane's industrious performance was rewarded with a goal. In an offside position he may have been when Christian Eriksen's set piece cannoned off the bar and into his path, but there was nothing apologetic about a half-volley finish that was beholden to a technique not normally employed by out-of-sorts strikers.
Roy Hodgson was like a kindly grandfather in the stand as he clenched a fist. Sat in the row directly in front of the England manager, Daniel Levy’s eyes spun like a fruit machine before settling on pound signs. Both were mightily relieved.
"Any striker who is not scoring gets a bit moody, but I’ve stayed professional and try to do my best for the team," conceded Kane post-match, per the FA's official website. In his moodier moments, he didn’t go as far as to kick the cat but rather served it chicken leg as opposed to breast.
Earlier in the game, it was his battling that won the free-kick out wide that led to Toby Alderweireld giving Spurs a 2-1 lead. Like Rooney, Kane is not a player who goes missing. A lack of inspiration does not lead to a paucity of perspiration.
Gusto was matched by guile on Saturday, though, as a City back line shorn of both Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart struggled to cope with the fluid interchangeability of a youthful Tottenham side that always looks to its No. 10 as a focal point. With an average age of 24 years and 40 days, Spurs’ XI was the youngest named in the Premier League this season.
At times in the second half, City looked ponderous in comparison, as the home side pressed high with an infectious enthusiasm. After a season of transition and several false starts last term, Spurs now look significantly closer to realising Mauricio Pochettino’s overarching vision. Having not lost since the opening-day defeat at Manchester United, three league wins on the spin have catapulted them to within four points of the summit.
The sight of English quintet Kane, Tom Carroll, Eric Dier, Kyle Walker and Dele Alli on the field at the same time will doubtless have enthused Hodgson too on an uplifting weekend for the England manager.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side has gone from champions elect to second place in the space of a week. According to WhoScored.com, City have conceded one goal in the 535 minutes Kompany has been on the field this season. Substitute his presence with that of Nicolas Otamendi, and the back door has been left open on eight occasions in just 285 minutes.
Stand-in goalkeeper Willy Caballero hardly inspired confidence either, and with an awkward-looking trip to Borussia Monchengladbach up next in the Champions League on Wednesday, Pellegrini could well have done without Yaya Toure pulling up injured at White Hart Lane. The Ivorian joins Hart, Kompany and David Silva in the treatment room, and when added to Sergio Aguero's travails (five Premier League games without a goal), it leaves City’s spine looking like a case study at a chiropractors' convention.
A pair of rank offside calls that went against Pellegrini’s side does not excuse a run of three defeats in four.
Sturridge at the Double to Aid Beleaguered Rodgers
A football manager caught in the eye of a storm who is able to call on a fit-again Daniel Sturridge is like a non-swimmer stranded on a desert island with a canoe maker. While Dick Advocaat will have spent a restless Saturday evening pondering whether the Sunderland mascot who managed nine kick-ups at Old Trafford is ready for first-team football, Brendan Rodgers will not have enjoyed a better night’s sleep all season.
Following a 3-2 victory over Aston Villa at Anfield that took Liverpool to within a couple of points of the Champions League places, Rodgers gave an impassioned denunciation of the "hysteria" that has surrounded his position of late. Talk of "people outside of here" wanting him out sounded unnervingly paranoid. It was as though he’d been transplanted onto the set of The Lives of Others, but with Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness working for Sky Sports instead of the Stasi.
"I am pretty confident that there is a group of people that don’t want me here to be the manager," said Rodgers, reported by Football365.
"Sometimes we haven't lost games and the hysteria around it is pretty clear that there is maybe something else going on from behind. I am talking about people outside of [the club]."
If he starts to turn Liverpool’s boot room into a secret bunker, it'd time for someone outside of the club to step in.
Few would blame Liverpool supporters greeting Sturridge's performance with a little mild hysteria. His brace on the day took his tally of leagues goals to 37 in 57 appearances. Translated to a 0.65 strike rate, he betters that managed by Fernando Torres (0.64), Luis Suarez (0.63), Michael Owen (0.55) and Robbie Fowler (0.48) during their respective Anfield stints, as highlighted on Match of the Day.
If anyone has the right to question whether outside forces are at play, surely it is Sturridge. Since joining Liverpool in 2013 he has missed 63 matches through an outlandish variety of injuries that would be written out in full here were it not for a restrictive word count. Why waste words on woe that could be spent on wonder?
Both of his goals against Villa deserved to be preserved in formaldehyde and put behind glass like a Damian Hirst shark. If his first, a glorious angled volley with his left foot after a one-two with James Milner, exorcised 90 excruciating minutes against Carlisle United, his second shooed off the ghosts of extra time and penalties. This time it was Coutinho who played the wall, as Sturridge rebounded the ball off him before finishing with a composure that elicited incredulous laughter from its audience such was its nonchalance.
Not bad for a man who had previously gone 266 days without a Premier League goal.
If, and it’s an if that should be emblazoned in a 6' font, Rodgers can keep Sturridge fit, he might yet keep those outside forces at bay and see out the remaining three years of his Liverpool contract.
Sanchez Treble Tops Foxes’ Dream Start
Over in the Midlands, it proved to be a remarkable day for Alexis Sanchez. A treble in Arsenal’s 5-2 win at Leicester City gives him the distinction of being the first player to score a hat-trick in each of the Italian (Udinese), Spanish (Barcelona) and English top flights.
In his previous eight games this season, Sanchez had looked as though he had left his legs in Chile, where over a hectic summer of little rest he helped the hosts win the Copa America. Unlike with Kane, though, Sanchez has the luxury of an extensive back catalogue he can give to his detractors to thumb through in lean times. It was always a question of when, not if, he’d play himself back into form, and unfortunately for a spirited and previously unbeaten Leicester, that day was Saturday.
Such was the pioneering and adventurous spirit employed by both teams only a true curmudgeon would take Leicester to task over the kamikaze high line they employed. Wes Morgan and Robert Huth left such vast swathes of space behind them they looked like jockeys thrown from their saddles chasing horses for much of the afternoon as Sanchez and Theo Walcott galloped past them at will.
It all made for an engrossing contest, and it must not be forgotten Leicester’s own speed machine, Jamie Vardy, struck the woodwork twice to go along with a pair of fine finishes.
A word too for Mesut Ozil. His chipped pass for Sanchez’s second goal should once and for all ensure no one ever again mutters "I could do that" upon watching the German listlessly fail to track his man, for only an artist could play such a pass it was almost abstract in its conception. So for that, let’s let him off not washing his brushes.
The final word, though, belongs to the ever-ebullient Leicester coach Claudio Ranieri, who spoke of Sanchez with a true Italian’s appreciation of the beautiful things in life.
"Meraviglia (a wonder)," he enthused, per the Irish Independent. "The ball and him are born together."