If you looked at the Premier League fixture list this weekend, it wasn’t a schedule that exactly suggested this would be an exciting one for spectators and punters – Liverpool vs Manchester City alike, of course.
But as ever, the action could not unfold without a number of high profile talking points, with moral and literal winners crowned and losers lamented.
Here is the pick of the bunch:
Winner: Andrew Robertson
In a thrilling game containing seven goals and a dazzling array of attacking football, it is perhaps a surprise to note that Liverpool’s unassuming left back came away from his side’s 4-3 win over Manchester City as a big winner.
But Andy Robertson did what few have been able to do this season – keep Raheem Sterling quiet, and that set the platform for his team’s outstanding victory.
Because City, simply did not have an out-ball. When Kevin De Bruyne collected possession he had nowhere to go: Robertson was touch tight to Sterling and Sergio Aguero, for all his potency, does not have the legs to run in behind a defence anymore.
The Scot also earned a rousing reception from the Anfield faithful for running more than 100 yards in an act of irrepressible pressing that put all of City’s back four under pressure, and the fact that the Reds fans were singing his name alongside those of Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah is rather telling.
This was an outstanding team display from Liverpool, but for Robertson personally it was a fine way to cement his spot at left back for the foreseeable future.
Loser: Manchester City’s Back Five
There will be no panic from Pep Guardiola following Sunday’s defeat: his side were beaten by the better team on the day, and they will still canter to the Premier League title with barely any difficulty whatsoever.
But for a club with greater ambition than mere domestic glory, the Spaniard will be concerned by the manner in which his outfit were completely undone by Liverpool’s aggressive high press.
As soon as City’s back four and keeper Ederson has possession, the red arrows descended upon; a move which ultimately saw them gain at least two goals when Nicolas Otamendi and Ederson himself were guilty of slack passes under heavy pressure.
Factor in John Stones being brushed off the ball by Roberto Firmino like he was a bug on a sleeve for Liverpool’s second and it was a deeply dismal day for City’s defenders. Unless they improve their composure under pressure, their hopes of Champions League success will surely dissipate in a flash.
Winner: Riyad Mahrez
His Leicester side put in a great performance to stifle Chelsea and come away from Stamford Bridge with a point on Saturday, and the true context of that draw will not be lost on Riyad Mahrez.
The Algerian put in a man-of-the-match performance for the Foxes, and it is perhaps no coincidence that his own performance levels have increased exponentially since the transfer window opened.
With the rumours surrounding a potential move for Alexis Sanchez to anywhere but Arsenal, the Gunners will naturally seek an immediate replacement. Mahrez has long been touted with a move to the club, and his chances of signing on the dotted line will be greatly enhanced if he can maintain his improved form for the next couple of weeks.
It is no secret that Mahrez’s agent tried to secure his client a big money move in the summer, and if Sanchez does decide that his future lies elsewhere then the Foxes man will be one of the real winners of the winter transfer window.
Loser: Alvaro Morata
The goalless draw against Leicester at the weekend means that Alvaro Morata is now without a goal in five games for Chelsea, and a meagre return of two in ten suggests the honeymoon period in English football is well and truly over for the Spaniard.
The way the Blues set up puts an awful amount of pressure on Morata and Eden Hazard to conjure up goals – there aren’t many other natural goalscorers in this Chelsea side, and the fact that as a team they have failed to find the net in more than 270 minutes of football speaks volumes.
Indeed, Morata’s teammates should shoulder some of the blame for his woes in front of goal: they aren’t providing the big lad with enough chances to convert; a point alluded to by Antonio Conte in his post-match press conference.
Truer words could not be spoken than ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, and in the fullness of time you suspect that Morata’s drought will be a temporary aberration, rather than a reflection of his time in London. But the bigger picture is that if he doesn’t find his shooting boots soon, Chelsea’s campaign could be well and truly derailed.
Winner: ‘Vanilla’ British Managers
The modern game has placed a premium on foreign managers who can instil a sense of continental pizazz into otherwise wholly British institutions.
Crystal Palace, for example, appointed Frank de Boer in an attempt to instil a sense of ‘total football’ that the Dutch teams of the 1980s to the early noughties became famous for. The Eagles were surprised when De Boer could not cajole the likes of Damien Delaney and James McArthur into metronomic masters of the beautiful game overnight.
Dozens of international managers have come and gone with their tails between their legs, and while this isn’t some kind of xenophobic ‘Brexit means Brexit’ style missive it is clear the impact that British bosses like Roy Hodgson, Alan Pardew and David Moyes have had on their new employers.
Palace were dead and buried when Hodgson took over, but the former England boss has guided the Eagles to the relative safety of mid-table; unthinkable just a matter of months ago.
Pardew guided West Brom to their first win of the campaign at the weekend and the Baggies have now lost just one of their last four, while West Ham’s form since Moyes took over reads W4 D4 L4 – exactly the sort of mid-table form their fans crave after a couple of flirtations with relegation.
So there you have it: boring old British managers are the future. Somebody get Alan Curbishley on the phone….
Loser: Sam Allardyce
In his best efforts to blow our above concept out of the water, along comes Sam Allardyce to prove that British ain’t always best.
We’ll be fair to the big man: he has inherited an Everton squad that is so unbalanced it is scarcely believable, and the fact his side have scored one goal in five matches is partly down to the disastrous summer recruitment.
But a complete lack of enterprise from the Toffees in their most recent outings suggests they have become crippled by fear once again; as they were under Ronald Koeman and David Unsworth.
The next few months could prove to be some of the most testing of Allardyce’s managerial career; it will be intriguing to see if he survives with his reputation intact.