United And Liverpool Lead The Winners...

The performances of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling was a massive plus for United while Liverpool are ticking along very nicely indeed for a work in progress...

Last Updated: 11/11/13 at 12:40 Post Comment

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Manchester United
Most of United's 1-0 win over Arsenal was dealt with in 16 Conclusions, but one additional point that will be particularly encouraging for United and David Moyes is how well their back four played without Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

United will have to get used to life without their creaking centre-backs of yore, but if Phil Jones and Chris Smalling (filling in for Rafael at right-back) repeat their excellent performances of Sunday, then the changing of the guard won't be particularly painful.

The only slight problem might be that, on form, Jones has a case for being United's best midfielder, and is certainly the best option when they need someone to run around and tackle people. Indeed, if nothing else it highlights that United still have a paucity of options in the middle, and could do with more additions in that area come January.

On a weekend when most of the other contenders were at best laboured, at worst abject, Liverpool's 4-0 shellacking of an admittedly desperate Fulham side was as breezy as you like.

"I think slowly we are getting there," said Brendan Rodgers after the game.

"Maybe teams will be looking at us now and instead of thinking 'maybe we can get something' they will be thinking 'this could be a long afternoon' because of the threat and the intensity."

Brendan, quite frankly, often talks a fair amount of bollocks, but he's got a point there. Liverpool adopted a more comfortable-looking 4-3-1-2 formation this weekend, a system that seems to bring the best out of their first-choice players. Steven Gerrard is obviously not the marauder of days gone, but he can still pass and, as Fulham found out the hard way, deliver a mean set-piece or two. He is often in danger of being overrun slightly in a two-man midfield, but when he has the increasingly impressive Jordan Henderson and Lucas next to him to do most of his running, he's still a valuable player to have in the Liverpool side.

In addition, Philippe Coutinho playing just behind the already pretty fluid Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez provides a whirlwind of movement that means better defences than Fulham's will be torn a new one this season.

'Slowly getting there' is probably about right for Liverpool at the moment. And if you're a work in progress and still only two points off the top with 11 games gone, there are plenty of reasons for optimism at Anfield.

Sturridge and Suarez
That's 12 goals in six games started together now this season.


Adam Lallana
Heady days at St Mary's. Third in the table, three points behind the leaders and forming about 75% of the England squad. Or something.

Lallana's goal on Saturday was a joy, and while he was helped out by a rather accommodating Hull defence who didn't seem terribly keen on tackling him (Paul McShane dropping back into the pocket, in prime position for a cut-back as Lallana advanced on goal was particularly amusing) it was tangible reward for a terrific performance.

''I feel like I am playing with freedom and confidence at the minute, as the team is, and that is one of the main reasons why we are getting these good results,'' he said after the game, insisting that he is trying to 'stay grounded'.

Lallana and pals would be forgiven for thinking 'Sod grounded - let's go to Disney World!' at the moment. Fellow England call-up Jay Rodriguez is certainly more of a mind to get excited.

"We went to third and we still believe we can be higher. There are no limits for us, really. We've just got to keep impressing and working hard."

While the sensible side of anyone's brain would advise Southampton not to get giddy just yet, the non-sensible side tells them to enjoy it.

Crystal Palace
It might be too late already, but a creditable point against one of the division's form sides is more than Palace fans expected/feared.

Indeed, word that former Cardiff (and, fact fans, F365 staff writer) man Iain Moody has joined their ranks makes it a weekend of low-key victories for Palace, although it will take plenty more weekend of rather more high-profile wins for them, and whoever their new manager might be, to survive in the Premier League.

Tim Krul
While he was helped out rather by Spurs shooting straight at him rather than the more conventional 'either side', 14 saves in one game is pretty impressive. Like the striker who scores a hat-trick of tap-ins, you've got to be in the right place to get them.

Eden Hazard
From the naughty step to match-saver in a few short days. Even if he shouldn't have been allowed to save it.

Phil Bardsley
Likewise. But more so.

Seb Larsson
If you consider getting away with shin-high leg-breakers on Javi Garcia as 'winning' of course.

Arsene Wenger's family
"I don't want to talk too much about that (decisions that went against Arsenal). I need to buy some Christmas presents and all these statements cost too much money now."

If you're reading Arsene, one of these would be just delightful.

Gus Poyet
Whatever Poyet is doing at Sunderland, we're now getting into the territory where it's something more than 'not being Paolo Di Canio'. There are still quite clearly big problems at Sunderland, and they're still second-bottom with just seven points from 11 games, but the improvements are there for all to see.

The defence is tightening up for a start. Sunday was their first clean sheet of the season, and came after two games in which they'd only conceded one. That might not seem terribly special, but when the previous eight games had seen 20 goals fly in, you can definitely file this one under 'getting there'.

"They deserve all the credit - they're the ones we had on the pitch," said Poyet after the game. That may be so, but these were the largely the same players that Di Canio had running around like circus clowns, carrying buckets that initially appeared to contain water, but in fact were full of glitter.

Loic Remy
Seven goals in eight starts now for the Frenchman. And just think - if you are to believe the alternate universe branch of theoretical physics, somewhere in another universe, there's a version of Remy playing for Stoke.

Leandro Bacuna
Bargain of the season? A free transfer certainly gets you plenty these days. You'll rarely see a more perfectly struck free-kick than Bacuna's for Aston Villa against Cardiff.


They lost, they didn't play well, their deficiencies are there for all to see, but in the last week they have played Liverpool (with Suarez and Sturridge), Borussia Dortmund (with Robert Lewandowski) and Manchester United (with Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney) and gained six points while only conceding one goal.

It's not exactly a huge surprise therefore, that many Gooners appear to be relatively upbeat.

So Hugo Lloris was fine to play five minutes after being knocked out, but wasn't fine a week after, eh Andre? Huh. Weird.

Lloris' absence from the Spurs side on Sunday might have been decisive, with Brad Friedel very much from the 'lumbering' school of advancing off one's line, rather than the Frenchman's preferred technique of frantically sprinting. However, it's tough to place too much of the blame on the 78-year-old American because he could hardly have expected Paulinho to absent-mindedly present Yoan Gouffran with the ball 35 yards from his own goal. Still, when Friedel is on his heels, he stays there for longer than most, certainly longer than the man with the fuzzy head on the Spurs bench.

Villas-Boas may have carped after the game that the result was "unfair", but perhaps when he has finished his minor tantrum he will realise that if his side seemingly lacks the wit and imagination to break down a team that have lost to Hull and Sunderland this season, then there will be plenty more 'unfair' results ahead.

Nine goals from 11 games is...not good. Perhaps this game will be the tipping point for Villas-Boas to try something different. He did towards the back end of last season, switching formations to often impressive effect, but this term he has rather rigidly stuck with a 4-2-3-1 formation with inverted wingers, even though he doesn't really have anyone naturally comfortable being the inverted chap on the left. Aaron Lennon and Gylfi Sigurdsson have their strengths, but playing there is not among them. Lennon is sometimes infuriating, but is often hugely effective when scampering towards the byline with those little legs pumping away, so why not give it a go?

And while you're at it Andre, what how about benching Andros Townsend for a while? Townsend is seemingly keeping his place in the team by employing that classic trick of looking threatening without actually being threatening. He showed glimpses in the win at Aston Villa that he has branched out from his one trick of running very fast at opponent, cutting inside and shanking the ball into the stands as his exasperated teammates gaze longingly at all the space they're in, but that was still his main method of 'attack' against Newcastle. We know what he's going to do, you know what he's going to do and opposition defences sure as sh*t know what he's going to do. So why not switch it up? Why not change a little? There's a very expensive Erik Lamela sitting on the bench gathering dust at the moment. Give him a go, eh? Got to be worth a try, because lord knows Plan A isn't working at the moment.

Manuel Pellegrini
At what point do Manchester City fans start getting concerned?

"I really cannot believe that we lost this match," Pellegrini said after the game. "I think that Sunderland won the match without the possession in the 90 minutes, but football has these things.

"They scored a goal because our defenders had a gap between them and it was the only chance they had to score."

It's all very well trying to write the defeat to Sunderland off as a freak, a one-off and don't worry we'll be fine next time, but this is now a habit for City. Add Sunderland to Aston Villa and Cardiff as the underwhelming defeats that leave their away record reading P: 6, W: 1, D: 1, L: 4. That draw, incidentally, was at Stoke.

They only lost five games in the whole of their title-winning season in 2011/12, and while in this season when the title race is so very open they might have a little more wiggle room in that respect, they are already six points behind the league leaders, and Arsenal's defeat at Old Trafford would have doubled the vexation after this most inexplicable of defeats.

It's becoming a pattern for Manchester City fans. At home, City are brutal - five wins from five, 20 goals scored, just two conceded. But on the road they seem to be putting in exactly the same performances - ponderous, little creativity and with often glaring weaknesses at the back. That Phil Bardsley - Phil Bardsley! - was given so much time and space to pick his spot should be enormously concerning.

Matthew Stanger wrote here a couple of weeks ago about how ludicrous it is that City, with all their riches, are so very reliant on Vincent Kompany, and given that in his absence Martin Demichelis is apparently the best option to replace him, City fans must be frantically arranging a trip to Lourdes for their convalescing captain. Demichelis has always had a penchant for 'creative' positioning, and he displayed that on a couple of occasions against Sunderland, mainly when casually ambling away from the defensive line for Bardsley's goal (for which Micah Richards should also be given a slap on his ample bottom), but he was also pretty lucky to get away with a similar wander shortly before, when Steven Fletcher was given room aplenty on the edge of the area, but couldn't convert.

Pellegrini said that he saw no need to change how they played or approached each away game, commenting that their opponents in their four defeats had "played better". Well, no sh*t Manuel, but you need to find a way of stopping that before it's too late.

Ashley Cole
One omission from the first team looks like a rest. Two in a row looks like a drop. Or, at best, a kick up the arse.

Jose Mourinho's comments after the game would suggest the latter.

He said: "Ashley is a top professional, he is a fighter. He has to work hard, to fight hard because the place (in the team) is his place."

Petr Cech
Had it not been for the penalty, the post-match discussion would surely have centred around Cech inexplicably allowing Stephane Sessgnon's dribbler of a shot to squirt under his body. By rights, that should have been the decisive moment of the game.

Andre Marriner
It's become common to say that mistakes are fine - because, after all, everyone makes mistakes. However, if nothing else it's deeply troubling that a referee - apparently one of the best in the land and one that was standing only a few yards away at the time - can be so easily fooled by a not-particularly subtle con-job.

Jose Mourinho
Oh Jose. As I pointed out here, it's not even that Mourinho seemed to think that Steven Reid being in the way as Ramires lurched to one side and cannoned into him was worthy of a penalty that was unpleasant, but that Mourinho had, only a month or so ago, declared he disliked diving and would punish any of his players that engaged in the dark arts.

If you're going to be one-eyed about these things and adopt a 'win at all costs' mentality then fine, but don't set yourself up as a pious moral arbiter about it beforehand.

Chris Brunt
Of course, Jose might not have had anything to defend had Brunt, bearing down on goal in the closing minutes with West Brom still 2-1 up, passed to either James Morrison or Victor Anichebe who both had clear paths to goal. Instead he larrumped a shot miles over, Chelsea went up the other end and Marriner did his thing.

West Ham
Not just because they flushed a winning position down the toilet at Norwich, but because Winston Reid, arguably their best player and certainly their best defender this season, could be out until the new year with an ankle injury.

"We've only ourselves to blame," said Sam Allardyce, carefully pointing the finger of blame at "individual mistakes" rather than say, his failure to recruit a striker leaving them forced to play a 4-6-0 formation that has resulted in just one win in the five games it's been deployed.

Sure, playing a centre-forward hadn't exactly worked out terribly well for them previously (they drew blanks in four of the six games before Allardyce pulled his Del Bosque/Craig Levein act), but that was probably more to do with that centre-forward being the almost comically inept Modibo Maiga. January, or Andy Carroll's return from injury (whichever is first) cannot come soon enough.

Not to worry though - after the international break the Hammers (only out of the relegation zone on goal difference) face Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal before the end of the year.

Dani Osvaldo
A sexy pirate he may be, but again Southampton looked more assured and more balanced without their record signing in the side. Matthew Stanger has noted in this column before that the Saints seem much happier with Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodgriuez up top, rather than with Osvaldo shoe-horned in there.

Indeed, it's a testament to the rest of the Southampton squad that they are doing this well, largely without their two shiniest and most expensive baubles in Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez.

Robert Madley
Perhaps the referee in the Swansea v Stoke game should belong in the 'Winners' section, because apparently he has discovered the ability to see around corners. That's the only rational explanation for the penalty he awarded in the final minutes that allowed Charlie Adam to nick a point for Leslie Hughes' men.

Wayne Rooney
You've just helped your team win the biggest game of the domestic season so far. You've done an awful lot of running. You've set up the only goal. You've been given the man of the match award.

Then your manager says this, when talking about your strike partner: "I've got to say, his sidekick played great as well today, Wayne."

What better way to celebrate than with a patronising ruffle of the ha...head?

Andre Wisdom
One of the few occasions when it would've been acceptable - nay practical - for a footballer to have one of those stupid massive 4x4 things.

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e was right to leave, but not just because of the money City were coming into. If I remember rightly he had a reasonable amount of chances to shine at City, but he never passed the bloody ball. Loads of aimless dribbles and 40 yard shots and not much else. I would say that if he had learnt to be a bit more of a team player he may have done better at City.

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h! And.... has it gone in!?' Well John, it is quite literally your job to tell me, so stop phrasing it as a question.

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