The international break is typically a frustrating time for all involved in the Premier League.
For the teams in form, the fortnight off can seriously hamper their momentum at a time when everything is going right. For the teams in a malaise, all the international break serves to do is make the anticipation of the next beating all the more damaging.
That’s the theory, anyway, although Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace blew that out of the water with their 2-1 win over champions Chelsea on Saturday. Perhaps the time off enabled the former England boss the chance to instil some much-needed confidence back into his players.
Hodgson was undoubtedly one of the weekend’s big winners, but who else had a day to remember or one to forget?
Winner: Jose Mourinho
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
That’s an old quote from the author John Lydgate, and it sums up rather well Manchester United’s approach in their 0-0 draw with Liverpool.
Many United fans will have wanted their side to go to Anfield and ply with the attacking vigour that they have shown elsewhere this term, but Jose Mourinho is a cannier cat than that and knows that if you play an open style against the Reds you are liable to be punished.
Call it negative, call it what you will, but Mourinho’s sides have routinely taken points off their biggest rivals – key to winning league titles.
This excellent image, published by the BBC, is rather illuminating:
Loser: Romelu Lukaku
Big Rom got something of a verbal kick-in from Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness before the game, with accusations of the Belgian being something of a flat track bully.
The stats do bear that out – Lukaku has scored 15 in 58 against the big six, compared to 77 in 136 against the rest of the Premier League – and once again the striker was anonymous on the big stage on Saturday.
You have to feel some sympathy for him though, with Mourinho’s tactics rendering him little more than a passenger. But for such a hefty transfer fee, sooner or later Lukaku will need to start delivering when the spotlight is at its brightest.
Winner: Ronald Koeman
Anyone celebrating a 1-1 draw at Brighton is not a winner in any conventional sense of the word, but for Ronald Koeman it was the difference between collecting his P45 or otherwise.
The Dutch manager had Wayne Rooney’s injury time penalty to thank for the point on the south coast, and it has presumably secured a stay of execution for the beleaguered boss.
The question, perhaps, is for how long: Everton’s next three fixtures are against Lyon, Arsenal and Chelsea!
Loser: Andy Carroll
What was the ponytailed frontman thinking? After watching his West Ham side take the lead at Burnley courtesy of a Michail Antonio goal, Carroll endured a moment – 99 seconds to be precise – of madness, not once but twice getting booked for using his elbow when challenging for an aerial ball.
That forced his side to defend with ten men for more than an hour, and the Clarets’ pressure finally told when Chris Wood notched the equaliser five minutes from time.
Carroll will now miss games against Brighton (home) and away dates against Tottenham and Crystal Palace – all big fixtures in their own way.
Winner: Pep Guardiola
All of the superlatives available have rightly been thrown at Manchester City this term, and the one man who deserves the lion’s share of the credit is Pep Guardiola.
Much maligned last season for his stubbornness and unwillingness to switch from a system that clearly wasn’t working, Guardiola went back to the drawing board in the summer. He changed his way of thinking, deploying a three-man defence, and splashed the cash on a trio of attacking full backs to provide genuine width for his side.
The result has been greater rigidity in defence and an almost unstoppable forward motion in attack; his side have bludgeoned 29 goals in eight Premier League outings now after slamming seven past Stoke on Saturday. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks….
Loser: Arsene Wenger
Once upon a time not that long ago, Arsenal were a club with designs on European domination. They were classy, stylish and played some of the most eye-catching football you are likely to see on UK shores.
Fast forward to the present day and they are a shell of their former selves, and really there is nobody to blame but Arsene Wenger himself.
The Frenchman switched to a three-man defence at the start of the season, and on Saturday travelled to Vicarage Road to take on a Watford side with a back three of an injured Laurent Koscielny, a so-slow-he’s-almost-stationary Per Mertesacker and full back Gael Monreal. The rest, as they say, is history.
It looks set to be another long season of misery for Arsenal supporters….