Expect the unexpected – unless you’re referring to the Premier League.
Pretty much all of the weekend’s fixtures went the way of the form book, with Tottenham’s draw with West Brom probably the only game where punters were left red faced and chucking their betting slips at the telly.
Everton were thrashed, both Manchester clubs prospered, Liverpool and Chelsea played out a 1-1 draw – the fifth in their last eight meetings, and a big club (Arsenal) got a contentious penalty decision go in their favour ahead of a ‘smaller’ opponent (Burnley).
So who were the key winners and losers from Gameweek 13?
Winner: Roy Hodgson
Hands up: who truly thought Roy Hodgson would reinvigorate the fortunes of Crystal Palace?
After his insipid spell as England boss, few would have anticipated one of the older statesmen of the modern game causing such a sea-change, but clearly a back-to-basics approach – after Frank de Boer’s ‘total football’ efforts – has worked for the Eagles.
They are now unbeaten in four on home soil following the 2-1 win over Stoke on Saturday, and while that did require an injury-time winner from Mahmadou Sakho it was no less than Hodgson’s men deserved.
Their next six opponents are Brighton (a), Bournemouth (h), Leicester (a), West Brom (a), Watford (h) and Swansea (a), and so there’s no reason why Crystal Palace’s own version of the Great Escape can’t gather momentum this Christmas.
Loser: Mark Hughes
Tony Pulis was sacked as West Brom boss after a run of ten games without a win, and while Mark Hughes’ record is marginally better with two victories in eleven starts, ‘Sparky’ knows his Stoke City need an electricity surge from somewhere.
The Potteries based outfit were on the wrong end of a 1-2 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday, and unfortunately both his Plan A and Plan B failed. Plan A, which is trying to pass the ball around, was snuffed out by a diligent Palace midfield, while Plan B – launch high balls to sub Peter Crouch – also yielded little with James Tomkins and Mahmadou Sakho standing tall in the Eagles’ backline.
Stoke have now conceded two or more goals in eight of their last ten outings, which is a sure indicator that problems lie ahead, and with their next three fixtures taking in Liverpool (h), Tottenham (a) and West Ham (h), you can forgive Hughes for feeling a little twitchy at present.
Winner: Pascal Gross
When Manchester United took on Brighton at the weekend the likes of Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku were all on display.
And yet, it was a Brighton midfielder signed from a German second division outfit that really sparkled.
In fairness, Pascal Gross has been excellent for Brighton all season, bagging four goals and five assists as well as a Premier League Player of the Month nomination for September.
Little was expected of the German this term, but Brighton boss Chris Hughton has obviously done his homework: Gross was directly involved in more goals than any other player in the Bundesliga last season.
Loser: Paul Clement
When the tabloids start linking recently dismissed managers to your job, you know it is time to worry as a football manager.
And that’s exactly what happened when Tony Pulis was handed his P45 by West Brom; immediately, the Welshman was being linked with a move to Swansea.
It makes sense, on paper, with the Swans needing a firefighting manager like Pulis to retain some order after winning just one of their last six matches in the league and one of eight on home soil.
A penny for Paul Clement’s thoughts then, who remains employed as Swansea manager. His side’s flaccid 0-0 draw with Bournemouth saw his odds of being the next Premier League manager to leave their post shrink to just Even money in places.
Winner: Toby Alderweireld
It’s unusual for a player that is out injured until January to come out as a winner, but Toby Alderweireld’s importance to this Tottenham side has really come to light in recent weeks.
His teammates certainly missed him in the 0-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal, and once again at the weekend Tottenham looked shaky defensively; this time Davinson Sanchez beaten all too easily Solomon Rondon, who opened the scoring for West Brom in the 1-1 stalemate.
That means that Spurs have taken just four points from a possible twelve in the Premier League lately, meaning they are now 13 behind Manchester City and some five adrift of their city rivals United in second.
It will be hurting Alderweireld to watch this unfold from the sidelines, but it certainly aids the Belgian’s negotiating position: expect him to be offered an improved contract sharpish.
Loser: Lee Mason
It would be wrong to call Sean Dyche a loser: his Burnley side fought like lions against Arsenal on Sunday.
And yet there was a jarring sense of certainty when Aaron Ramsey went down under minimal contact from James Tarkowski that the penalty would be given.
Duly, Lee Mason pointed to the spot, and Dyche was left seething after the game in his stoic yet gruff-voiced fashion.
Lee Mason isn’t the only referee to make a bad decision this season and he certainly won’t be the last, but it is worrying how many times big clubs get those 50-50 decisions go in their favour against rather more unfashionable opponents.