Quite a game, no? Nick Miller watched Arsenal's thrilling 1-1 draw with Everton and saw two teams who have improved, leaving certain others trailing...
Another rotten day for David Moyes, whose desperation for a win was epitomised by the selection of an unfit Robin van Persie in attack. It's looking pretty worrying indeed...
It has been a fascinating start to the season.
I was once taught that the word "prestigious" was largely meaningless; it purported to convey a sense of importance, but any award that had to be called prestigious by definition was not. Woody won an Oscar. Helen won a Bafta. Nigel won the prestigious Southern Area Photocopier Salesman of the Year. Similarly, any sentence that begins "Interestingly..." is almost certain to contain nothing that is, in fact, interesting.
In the context of sport, prestigious is joined by a couple of other alleged compliments that miss the mark. Test cricket, when it builds through four or five days of ebb and flow to a torturous climax, is arguably the supreme sporting examination of skill and temperament. Even the game's most devoted adherents will acknowledge, though, that conditions at a ground and in a series can combine to unfortunate effect. Cricket novices unsure as to whether it is just them or has the match got a bit boring should be reassured that the whole world is thinking the same way any time the commentators fall back on the word "absorbing". Or "fascinating".
This Premier League season had, on paper, the elements to be the most unpredictable for years. Sky's adverts have been assuring us of this. In large part this was because last season's top three clubs all had new managers, including Manchester United kicking off without Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time since Mrs Thatcher was still winning elections. Meanwhile, the new money in the league had financed splurges across the division in a record-breaking transfer window. Yet compared to a couple of years ago, when (very low) cricket scores were being run up, 2013-14 has been a slow starter.
Yet it has been unpredictable: Chelsea going from worst ever start under Roman Abramovich to Saturday night leaders in 90 minutes; Manchester City starting superbly against Newcastle then stuttering against Cardiff, Stoke and Hull; Arsenal in crisis after losing at home to Aston Villa on the first day and, four wins later, replacing Chelsea at the top; Liverpool purring along in unaccustomed fashion, suffering a small but bizarre setback at Swansea, then being shocked at home by Southampton.
Yet the season has not caught fire - or at least had not done so, at least until Sunday's game at the Etihad. And paradoxically this was in part for exactly the same reason as it was being talked up (by me, too): because of the wholesale change of managers. Inevitably, Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and David Moyes have taken time to adjust to their new jobs. What drama there has been for the leading clubs - Manchester City's defeat at Cardiff, for instance - was not really down to the quality of play.
We had league leaders for the international break in Liverpool, who were played three, scored three. Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford was the low point: too much was invested in a match this early in the season, with a tediously comical outcome. We had acres of build-up for a game that struggled to be even absorbing.
Yet as managers have time with their new teams and players, chaos gives way to shape (except amid the lunatic fringe on Wearside). Sunday's climax was the game we have been crying out for but even the warm-up, Stoke's defeat at Arsenal, showed Mark Hughes's work this season in a positive light as well as Arsene Wenger's. Players and managers are bedding in across the league; even Manchester United, humiliated on Sunday, were impressive in Europe and, while they had plenty of shortcomings, came up against a City side who were superb throughout.
Yes, at times this season has been fascinating, failing to live up to the advertisements, the hype made worse by the genuine competition between broadcasters. There is a natural desire for clean narratives, with limited protagonists, in fictional as well as non-fictional drama; a season when the traditional contenders are in flux and are joined by the traditional pretenders denies us this, and that is what is promised. But just as a Test match can recover from sessions spent in the doldrums, so can the season. If increasing levels of quality can be added to the unpredictability then this campaign could soon be adding to the Premier League's prestige.
One of the problems is that just as the season has got going and gaining some momentum, there is yet another break for Internationals.- Slaphead