THE END OF another round of Premier League fixtures brought drama in some unexpected places.
At the bottom of the table Martin Jol was predictably forced to walk the walk as Fulham lost a six-pointer to West Ham. Meanwhile, Arsenal continued to keep the pace at the top of the league while Chelsea and Manchester City were able to take advantage of both Liverpool and Manchester United’s dropped points.
But behind the raw data of points on the board, here are some of the big lessons we can look back on before the show cranks back up again on Tuesday.
1. Mesut Ozil is back pulling strings for Arsenal
The Gunners went to Cardiff, where Manchester City and United have come unstuck this season, and came away with all three points. Aaron Ramsey stole the headlines with his brace, and his steadfast refusal to celebrate against his former side, but Mesut Ozil’s performance will have equally pleased his manager. Arsene Wenger was forced into the nigh-on ridiculous position of defending his big money season, last week, after a couple of under-the-radar performances.
The German was immense at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday as he dictated terms from midfield and set up two goals. His pass to tee up Mathieu Flamini’s second-half strike was good enough to unlock any top Champions League defence.
2. ‘If Barcelona call, tell them I’m out’
Roberto Martinez did some nifty business in his first transfer window as Everton boss and loan signing Gerard Deulofeu could yet prove to be the best. The 19-year-old, borrowed from Barcelona, was given his first league start yesterday and greedily grabbed his chance. He bristled with intent all afternoon and scored a fine goal in the first-half to set the Toffees on their way to a 4-0 win. Deulofeu, who set up Seamus Coleman’s goal, will be hoping for another start, against Manchester United, this Wednesday. His boss will be hoping Barca don’t come calling for their young star too soon.
3. Rooney is keeping United afloat
Robin van Persie’s superb debut season with Manchester United was vital in securing a farewell title for Alex Ferguson. RVP has been steady rather than spectacular this season and is currently out injured. United have looked to his strike partner, Wayne Rooney, to keep them treading water while Arsenal and Chelsea continue to accumulate points.
United’s failure to buy a central midfielder, or two, during the summer has the champions looking sluggish and unimaginative. Spurs could easily have handed United their fourth league defeat and will be ruing a crucial kiss from Roberto Soldado that would have put them 2-0 up. Phil Jones showed some fight but it was left to Rooney to rescue a point for his side ahead of David Moyes’ Wednesday encounter with his old employers.
4. Football club owners can’t fool anybody
It’s less than three weeks since Fulham appointed Rene Meulensteen as first team coach.
The whole world could see what was going to happen, but on the Cottagers ploughed, saying, ‘it’s grand, Martin Jol isn’t going anywhere and he’s thrilled to have Rene on board’. Now, Jol may well be delighted to part ways with the west London side, but Meulensteen has indeed taken the reins.
This job is a big task for the highly-rated former Manchester United coach. Having had a short and not so sweet spell with Anzhi Makhachkala, he needs some tangible success that he can put on his CV and call his own. Adding determination to the Fulham ranks will be his first port of call.
5. AVB digs in
Andre Villas-Boas was never keen to play Fleet Street’s game. He never schmoozed the great football writers of London, never looked eager to give a quirky ‘Arry-esque anecdote about the Missus or massage egos like Mourinho.
John Walton/PA Wire/Press Association Images
Today, it also became apparent that he is not inclined to follow Alex Ferguson’s lead and ban newspaper reporters who don’t happily agree with his methods.
Thank goodness for that, because his tense showdown at the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton was brilliant theatre and spoke of a man determined to stay the course and do his job rather than let outside forces undermine him and his post Gareth Bale era.
6. Rough start to stint without Sturridge for Liverpool
Brendan Rodgers will be without Daniel Sturridge until 2014 and if today’s display in Hull is anything to go by, Liverpool are in for a long six weeks.
Of course, Hull (add City and/or Tigers at your leisure) had two massive slices of good fortune come their way off various parts of Martin Skrtel’s body. But even after Steven Gerrard thumped in the equaliser, the visitors never quite looked like they would control the game.
A fit Coutinho would help matters, and with Luis Suarez on board the Reds are always liable to produce something worthy of winning a game, but without Sturridge, the responsibility is now firmly back on the Uruguayan’s shoulders over the tough Christmas period.
- Words by Patrick McCarry and Sean Farrell.