This weekend showed once again why the Premier League is so popular, with one of the most thrilling encounters of recent years being played out at Goodison Park.
Manchester United were without Wayne Rooney for the trip to Everton, but – whatever Henry Winter tells you – his absence did not lessen their capacity to win the game. Dimitar Berbatov led the line well and scored the third goal which seemingly clinched victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but Leighton Baines’ crosses caused havoc in the United box, allowing the hosts to score two injury-time goals and salvage a remarkable 3-3 draw.
Ferguson – who later saw his son’s team Preston throw away a similar lead to lose 4-3 at Burnley – must be concerned at his side’s failure to close out games, and he might begin to question the concentration of stand-in defenders Gary Neville and Jonny Evans. While the two are at opposite ends of their respective careers, they are perhaps equidistant from the pinnacle of their abilities.
United’s late collapse allowed Chelsea to move four points clear at the top of the table with a comfortable 3-1 win against West Ham. Early goals from Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou meant the champions barely had to break sweat, as they sat back and allowed their hosts plenty of possession.
It is difficult to judge Chelsea’s start to the season based on the opposition they have faced so far, but you can only beat what is placed in front of you – something Manchester United have failed to do twice now.
While their rivals continue to hog the headlines, Arsenal are going about their business quietly yet effectively. The odd defensive hiccup remained in their 4-1 victory over Bolton, but Arsene Wenger’s side adjusted well to the loss of Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.
The scoreline was harsh on a Bolton side very much in the game until the laughable dismissal of Gary Cahill, but Owen Coyle’s side needed to capitalise more on their concerted spells of possession and take the chances presented to them. If you don’t do that, Arsenal will punish you.
The ‘big three’ were joined in the top four by Blackpool, who continued their fairytale start to the season with a surprisingly-comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle’s St James Park.
Ian Holloway’s men were reliant on goalkeeper Matt Gilks to preserve the lead given to them by Charlie Adam’s first-half penalty, before DJ Campbell sealed the win in stoppage time. Toon Army manager Chris Hughton may be regretting his decision to leave new signing Hatem ben Arfa on the bench, with the midfield trio of Nolan, Smith and Barton failing to provide the necessary creative spark.
Elsewhere Fulham saw off a spirited but indisciplined Wolves outfit at Craven Cottage, in a game which will be remembered for a distressing injury suffered by Bobby Zamora. The England man’s leg snapped under a challenge from Karl Henry, bringing back memories of former Arsenal striker Eduardo’s horrific break in January 2008.
But unlike Arsenal on that fateful day, Fulham were spurred on to record a hard-fought win, Moussa Dembele’s double placating Mark Hughes’ misery somewhat. His opposite number Mick McCarthy, meanwhile, will be concerned that Christophe Berra’s late red card is one of three which could have realistically been awarded against his side.
Another player to see red on Saturday was Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, who did not even last half an hour against former club Wigan. Two yellow cards in the space of five minutes brought an early end to the combative midfielder’s afternoon for the second time this season.
£13m man Asamoah Gyan still came close to securing an unlikely three points for the 10 men of Sunderland, but his well-taken volley was cancelled out by an instinctive finish from Antolin Alcaraz, who turned in Tom Cleverley’s wayward shot for his first goal in Wigan colours.
City will rue defensive errors and attacking complacency, as they made a meal of coming back into the game after Joe Hart gifted the opener to Nikola Kalinic. Roberto Mancini’s men had 20 shots on goal to Blackburn’s 4, but could not find a way past a determined Rovers back-line.
And Spurs were similarly guilty of gifting a goal to their opponents, with a static defence failing to respond when Marc-Antoine Fortune’s shot looped up and spun towards the back post, allowing Chris Brunt to equalise with a rare headed goal from all of a yard out.
Sunday’s televised game was not one for the purists, with Birmingham and Liverpool playing out a dull goalless draw. The hosts had the better chances, but Pepe Reina was equal to everything thrown at him by the Blues, while at the other end an uncharacteristically-negative selection from Roy Hodgson left Fernando Torres feeding off scraps for the most part.
Team of the week (4-2-3-1)*:
Reina (Liverpool); Kaboul (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Dann (Birmingham), Cole (Chelsea); Song (Arsenal), Scharner (West Brom); Arteta (Everton), Fabregas (Arsenal), Adam (Blackpool); Berbatov (Man Utd)
*Team selected ahead of Monday night game between Aston Villa and Stoke
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