That's right, Liverpool are on top after their vital victory over Man City, who haven't underachieved as much as some would argue. Plus, Chelsea and the aesthetics of winning...
David Moyes is somehow a loser in a no-lose situation. Nobody expected them to beat Bayern - but surely that's damning in itself. Jose is a winner after losing...
Read 16 Conclusions for a detailed explanation of why, without it being a vintage or flowing performance, Chelsea once again managed a big game exactly as their manager would have hoped. This was efficiency rather than expansiveness, but efficiency at its clinical best - 44% of the ball, six shots on target, three goals and a deliberate slowing of the tempo at the earliest possible opportunity to conserve energy for tougher assignments.
They may still sit third in the table, but there are very real signs that Jose Mourinho is masterminding his eighth league title in his last 12 years as a manager - more than any other manager in such a time period, and achieved across four different countries. A difficult manager to overlook for a job, you could say.
"Maybe he thought I was no good anymore, maybe he thought I looked sluggish in training, a bit tired - you cannot judge him, he tried his best for his team."
"He's flying at the moment and he's enjoying his football. He's playing with a smile on his face and he's finding the back of the net."
In those two quotes (the first from Emmanuel Adebayor on Andre Villas-Boas, the second from Tim Sherwood on his player) lies the key to the striker's success - this is the dictionary definition of the confidence player. Made to once again feel special by his manager after being castigated under AVB, both Sherwood and Spurs' supporters are feeling the obvious benefit: Adebayor now has six goals and two assists in his last eight games.
In a fantastic interview with Geoff Shreeves this week (yes, don't rub your eyes), Adebayor discussed candidly the horrific events of the last four years in which his brother Peter passed away and his national team was attacked by members of the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda on their way to the Africa Cup Of Nations in 2010.
It appears clear that whilst now thankfully happier, Adebayor suffered immeasurably from having a friend and colleague die in his arms. And you know what, who wouldn't? No-one should have to go through what he did that day, and no amount of fame or fortune can cure that. Any Spurs fan who thinks otherwise has allowed their love for a team to cloud their morality and judgment.
Hideously obsessed with the game, perhaps too often we undervalue or even ignore the human side of footballers. We expect wages and wins to act as a blanket to the trials and tribulations of actual life, when logically that is a farcical stance to take. Hearing Adebayor talking so frankly this week puts his travails on the pitch into genuine perspective, but there is a sense that now, with a manager that gives him the confidence that such a fragile self-assurance so evidently requires, he can once again flourish.
Spurs fans will be mightily pleased indeed.
"It was lovely that the supporters have been like that. It was a wonderful 10 years there. It's a lovely place, and I met a load of lovely people. I thank them immensely for the reception. You don't get that very often in sport today."
The reception received before kick-off by Tony Pulis from both sets of supporters at Selhurst Park was as touching as it was rapturous. That the Stoke fans were so full of gratitude perhaps indicates more about their current woes, but the thanks given by home supporters will have continued long into Saturday evening.
When Pulis took over on November 23, Palace had seven points, level with Sunderland at the bottom of the table. Since then, the Welshman has masterminded five wins from 11 matches as the Eagles have moved out of the relegation places - giving him a win percentage (although from an admittedly small sample) comfortably higher than that enjoyed by Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton.
Pulis is a no-nonsense manager, that much is clear. All five of the aforementioned wins have been achieved by scoring just six goals but, crucially, Palace have kept clean sheets in every one. Prior to his appointment two or more goals had been conceded in eight of the club's ten league games, but the same statistic reads three in 11 matches since.
"I think he does not love just the back four, but the whole team defending together," said Danny Gabbidon last week. "If we are solid and strong then it gives us a platform for the other players to do their stuff at the other end of the pitch. We have done a lot of work on the defensive side of things and I think it is showing in our performances."
The transformation is close to completion. Crystal Palace may yet not stay up, but nor should they have any right to given the quality of the squad.
"When you look at Crystal Palace, the structure of the football club and where it is, [the job here] will be as big an achievement as anything I've ever achieved," was Pulis' frank assessment of the situation. Having never been relegated as a manager, the Welshman is closing in on maintaining that record.
We may soon have to concede that Pulis is a damn good, if rather pragmatic, manager.
Tim Sherwood and Spurs
Five consecutive away wins, and the most recent achieved using the formation utilised to such media-ocre effect by his predecessor. It's fair to say that everything is coming up Milhouse for Tim Sherwood right now.
Speaking after the match, the manager remained cautious, admitting the pressure on his continued employment: "The final league position has to meet the expectations of the club otherwise it's 'Goodbye Charlie'. The club need to finish in fourth place."
If his side continue their current resurgence, Sherwood may yet deliver on those lofty ambitions. There remains the nagging doubt that Spurs will yet be found out tactically in the biggest games (and the FA Cup defeat at Arsenal made those suspicions more valid), but for now Spurs' new manager should continue to enjoy his mightily impressive honeymoon period.
It is a mark of the might of Manchester City's home form that a victory by two clear goals came as something of a disappointment. 'But we were expecting ten, or twelve, and we wanted Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo to hold hands as they ran the ball over the line together. Humph!'
One of the greatest indicators of City's new-found strength under Manuel Pellegrini is that they have won six home Premier League games by a three-goal margin or greater. That's four more than the rest of last season's top four (Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea) have managed between them.
Not everyone may like City, and particularly their method of achieving success, but you can't say it isn't enjoyable to watch. Four goals against Cardiff took them to 103 goals for the season, making them the first English club in history to have reached three figures by the end of January. Both the Premier League record of 103 and Manchester United's all competitions target of 143 are firmly in sight - their current pace would see them pass the first with two games to spare and the latter by mid-March. Most impressively of all, City have now already bettered their total home league goals (41) from last season after less than 60% of their fixtures.
Tougher tests are still to come (City face Spurs (a) and Chelsea (h) in their next two league assignments) and Manuel Pellegrini may have stuttered slightly in his early months in England, but the Chilean is now steering City closer to the summit - these are still the clear title favourites.
Thirty-one points from a possible 33 will do that.
Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud
There is a very real chance that Arsenal will not sign a striker in January. The best and biggest names are simply not available, except for at extortionate prices, and Arsene Wenger would be loathe to settle for the expensive risk constituted by names such as Sebastian Giovinco, Mirko Vucinic and Alvaro Morata.
This view is rather aided by the opinion of Olivier Giroud, who has insisted that the Gunners do not need any extra firepower. "Lukas Podolski is having a good comeback. We have the quality and the quantity. I would rather not see a new striker come in."
If that is to be the case, Wenger will hope to rely on greater support for the Frenchman from the club's attacking midfielders. Before Saturday, taking out the league goals from Giroud left just 15 scored by Arsenal's starting line-up. In the absence of Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey (although the Welshman may soon return) there was a very real concern for the manager that if Giroud didn't score, Arsenal struggled - of the last six matches Arsenal have failed to win, the Frenchman failed to find the net.
In light of that, a brace from Santi Cazorla acted as a rather welcome relief. The Spaniard scored or assisted 23 PL goals in his first season at the Emirates (the club's second top league goalscorer), but has seen both his goals and form dry up this season. One goal and two assists were his total contribution, but during the second half on Saturday Cazorla came alive, aided by another dominant performance from Jack Wilshere (which I wrote about here).
One swallow (or two swallows in one game, if you'll forgive the rather pornographic sounding analogy) does not make a summer, and Arsene Wenger will want the goals against Fulham to act as a catalyst for further riches, but it hinted at positivity. If Arsenal's midfield can increase their contribution of goals, it sure eases the pressure on the lone frontman.
Those With Imagination
Olivier Giroud's celebration for Arsenal's opener does a look a touch...erm, masturbatory. Still, that'll get us through the week.
For a more beefy summary of the causes of United's defeat to Chelsea you can read my 16 Conclusions from the match, but the headline statistic is worth repeating - United haven't suffered seven Premier League defeats in any of their last nine seasons, and they still have over 40% of the league campaign remaining. Whilst rivals City are 100/1 to win all four trophies, United are 100/1 just to win the league. What a difference a year makes.
The principal concern for United supporters regarding Moyes' style was that he would make United functional, but not flamboyant. They would demonstrate grit and determination, but lack the creativity and invention to wow supporters. Whilst those fears may have been justified - Adnan Januzaj looks the only player currently capable of providing any spark of excitement - the assumption of rigidity in Moyes' United looks wide of the mark. The defending for all three of Chelsea's goals on Sunday was shambolic, and the decision-making from both Nemanja Vidic and Rafael highlighted perfectly the frustration felt by underperforming players.
United fans were also alarmed by Moyes' record against the biggest teams during his spell at Everton, and those reservations have been spectacularly vindicated. United have taken just five points from their nine matches against top eight sides, less than any other side in the top half.
The question of 'crisis' will again rear its head, but is a largely moot point - United's hierarchy seem intent on giving Moyes time to turn the ship around - but amongst supporters there is a more fervent gloominess that the loyalty to this manager may be just another cock-up from a club gaining a reputation for disorganisation and lack of cohesion at the top. Having been beaten by Chelsea, the question becomes pertinent: Would Jose Mourinho be managing this United side to better effect?
"I go with my gut feeling. I thought it was an offensive team. I have played that before. If you want to blame me, blame me."
Brendan Rodgers was in little doubt who was at fault as Liverpool slipped up at home to Aston Villa to sit eight points behind Arsenal on top of the pile, and we're going to take the manager's advice when apportioning responsibility. This was all down to Rodgers' pre-match plans.
I won't go too deeply into the decision to talk up Liverpool's title chances in Friday's press conference. Having covered that here, all that remains to do is emphasise the stark contrast with Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho choosing to deflect the burden placed upon their players. Claiming that this group of players can land the club's first title in 24 years hours before a match both galvanises the opponent and heaps pressure on your own players.
Instead, the focus turns to Rodgers' team selection and strategy, both of which left Liverpool vulnerable to their bottom-half opponents. Choosing to start Daniel Sturridge was logical, but doing so in place of Lucas Leiva demonstrated an arrogance that Villa could simply be brushed aside.
The swap meant that Liverpool lined up with Luis Suarez and Sturridge flanked by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, neither of whom contribute significantly in a defensive capacity. With Jordan Henderson also given licence to roam forward, which he has done to successful effect of late, Steven Gerrard was left as the only cover for central defence, an issue exacerbated by Aly Cissokho's apparent will to attack more than he defends.
Gerrard may have been happy to move further towards his own goal (his legs cannot make those lung-bursting runs as regularly as he has been famed), but he is palpably not a holding midfielder, instead preferring to be labelled as the 'quarterback' of the side. That just means 'passer of the ball'.
Lucas, meanwhile, is. Arguably Liverpool's most crucial player after Suarez, he has made more tackles per game than any other Liverpool player, and only Claudio Yacob makes more in the Premier League. The Brazilian also makes more fouls per game than any other PL player other than Victor Wanyama, but again this is an indicator of his combative style.
Lucas' omission left Liverpool open to Villa's counter-attacking style, indicated by Gerrard's post-match quotes. "They went for a diamond and I think they outnumbered us in the middle of the park. They got it forward really quickly and murdered us on the counter attack. We expected them to be good on the counter attack, but they were even better than we thought today." Making it harder for them would have been a start.
Liverpool's first-half woes were consolidated by the fact that Gerrard didn't even perform his intended function. It took 21 minutes for him to even complete a pass, with the captain conceding his struggles. "I openly admit that it wasn't one of my better 45 minutes. They put a lot of men around me. Every time I tried to get the ball under control they swamped me in the first half." When a 'quarterback' is provided with little protection, the defensive linemen will stop moves at source (if Liverpool can get all soccerball, so can I). Even by the end of the game, Gerrard had given away over a quarter of his passes.
It all provides a tactical headache for Rodgers, now presumably convinced that his initial selection on Saturday is not the answer. One option is to pick Lucas (assuming his latest injury is not serious) and drop Jordan Henderson, moving his captain further up the field again, whilst another would be to drop one of Coutinho or Sterling and farm Sturridge out to the left wing, potentially reducing his effectiveness. The final alternative is to drop Gerrard entirely, but that would be a brave move from any Liverpool manager. Interesting decisions to be made for their next Premier League assignment - that happens to be the Merseyside derby.
All this over-examination may seem harsh on Rodgers, and this may only be two points dropped, but when a manager makes claims on title ambitions before a game, those are the standards that he will be judged on. In 90 minutes on Saturday, Liverpool dropped as many points as City have since November 10.
Liverpool supporters will be grateful that his signing is only temporary.
In a first half in which Liverpool were consistently pegged back, Cissokho's average position was right by the halfway line - the left-back just seems uncomfortable whenever asked to defend.
Dross, Dross, Dross
In a vain attempt to make this sound jolly, here a five 'fun' facts about the Premier League's bottom half to make you die a little inside.
- No team in the bottom half is averaging more than 1.09 points per game. If this continues, a team could finish in the top half on 42 points. In 2002/3, West Ham went down with that total.
- No team in the bottom half has won more than two consecutive league games this season.
- Hull City are 11th and yet have had more than five shots on target in only one of their league games this season.
- Crystal Palace were bottom of the table on Saturday morning. They are now just one win from 11th.
- Norwich are scoring at a rate of 0.8 goals per game and conceding at a rate of 1.6 per game. And they're 12th.
Just because a relegation battle is intriguing doesn't make it exciting. There is a crucial difference.
Hull And Nikica Jelavic
Jelavic took just five minutes to highlight exactly why there were Everton fans fighting amongst each other to drive him the 127 miles down the M62 for £6.5million, slicing an opportunity off target when it looked easier to score. That's now one goal in his last 32 Premier League matches in a run stretching back to December 2012.
Most worrying of all for Hull was their inability to have a single shot on target against a Norwich side that have failed to keep such a shots on target clean sheet all season.
There seems little point in once again stating the lengthy case for Sam Allardyce's prosecution, because that much is already obvious. He is the 13th highest-paid manager in the world (as we won't get tired of telling you) and yet is in charge of a side that has won three league games since the opening day.
There is little point because his fate lies in the hands of owners that seemingly see nothing to gain in an expensive pay-out to one manager that will be replaced by someone of similar quality. Malky Mackay, Harry Redknapp, Billy Davies (the top three in the betting) or anyone else besides may add a short-term quick fix, and this may eventually be seen as a necessity to try and instigate survival, but provide no assurance of long-term improvement.
So, instead of calling for Allardyce's head (I've sort of done that too, haven't I?), let me just say this: The performance from West Ham in the first half on Saturday was the worst I have seen in the Premier League this season, and this is a division with plenty of competition for that award. There was no cohesion, no understanding and no defensive structure. Of course West Ham have injuries, but there is no reason that professional footballers should not be disciplined enough to track their man, or pass the ball to a team-mate. It was an abject embarrassment, only partly saved by a goal close to half-time that served as nothing but false hope. West Ham fans are used to plenty of that of late.
Still, beat Manchester City by seven clear goals tomorrow and you've got yourselves a cup final.
Eight league games without a win now for Swansea.
The panic button should not be pressed quite yet, given that the five defeats in that run were against Everton, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Spurs, but there should be very real concern attributed to the Swans' home form - it's now two wins in 16 matches at the Liberty Stadium stretching back to March.
Swansea's next five home games come against Fulham, Cardiff, Crystal Palace, West Brom and Norwich in a run that takes them to the end of March, with away games against Stoke and West Ham in that time too. If Swansea are still in trouble (and don't think that they aren't at the moment, just three points from bottom), they deserve to be considered relegation candidates, and Michael Laudrup justifies being placed under significant pressure.
Daniel Storey - Make sure you follow him onTwitter
Simple drop Coutinho. His performances have been really average of late, whilst Sterling's pace, energy and trickery have been causing teams problems.- Barnesy10