Georgina Turner
Monday September 27th, 2010

Notes from the weekend in the Premier League:

1. Things get tough at the top. After an eight-match winning streak stretching back to April, (goals for: 38; goals against: one), Chelsea has been beaten. And how! Playing deep and disciplined, Manchester City welcomed the champions into a blink-and-you-lose catenaccio contest. Carlos Tevez's winning goal Saturday came in a 59th-minute break that was the first and only time defenders and forwards were evenly matched in number.

Roberto Mancini's midfield tactic was demolition, with Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry the wrecking ball. City closed down space quickly and the ceaseless tackles seemed to take the west Londoners by surprise. That they failed entirely to fathom a way around such obstacles took spectators by surprise.

It was a performance to encourage copycat attempts from future opposition, and offered Manchester United an opening in the early race for first place going into Sunday's match with Bolton. But how's this for sentences you never thought you'd hear: Johan Elmander, whose billing as a striker seemed previously to violate the Trades Description Act, upstaged Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.

In a 2-2 draw that kept United three points off the pace, the Swede put on a display of vim and vigor that shouldn't be too badly tarnished by a wild miss after he'd wriggled past Nemanja Vidic to set up a wonderful chance to score Bolton's third. He had, after all, help to create Martin Petrov's strike, and he, along with Kevin Davies, made another show of United's defensive frailties -- even Patrice Evra is starting to look shaky. Did Alex Ferguson really sell Gerard Pique?

United might have failed to capitalize, but it did leapfrog Arsenal, which lost an error-strewn match 3-2 to West Bromwich Albion.

This summer, when Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer looked ready to pay his own wages to get a move to the Emirates Stadium, there was something almost perverse about Arsene Wenger's attachment to serial bungler Manuel Almunia. So much so that doubters began to wonder if they were missing something, but this weekend, once again, it was the Spanish keeper who was missing things. Like: common sense, positioning and -- oops! -- that ball, there.

Arsenal has broader problems, but how many lives does this cat have? The ever-protective Wenger says Almunia is injured for the trip to Partisan Belgrade -- making room for super-sub Lukasz Fabianski.

2. There's a bit of bounce at the bottom. We're only six games in but none of the promoted sides is in the bottom three, with West Bromwich Albion reaching the dizzy heights of sixth place after a win over Arsenal. Three million dollars? No one even spends so little on players in the overinflated market of the Premier League anymore, do they? But for such a frugal outlay, Roberto di Matteo has already bought three match-winning performances from recent signing Peter Odemwingie.

The talk in the West Brom dressing room is now of Europe, rather than relegation. Pie-in-the-sky, perhaps, but it tells you just how transformative Odemwingie's arrival has been. The Baggies hadn't won at Arsenal in 27 years, and hadn't won an away fixture in the top flight in their last 16 attempts.

When their fellow Midlanders at Birmingham were promoted in 2009, most people fancied them to be relegated at the first opportunity, and manager Alex McLeish was installed as the bookmakers' favorite to win the sack race. Now look: He's led them on a yearlong unbeaten home streak that hasn't been managed at St. Andrews since 1907, when Billy Jones, aka the Tipton Smasher, led the charge.

This time around, there have been more ties than victories, and Saturday's draw with Wigan wasn't especially entertaining. But still, there are probably places Everton manager David Moyes would rather be preparing to take his winless side to the weekend.

There's hope, too, for West Ham, which grabbed its first win of the season, against Spurs. West Ham was up against Tottenham's last-choice central defensive partnership of Sebastian Bassong and Vedran Corluka (a man who makes erosion look fast), but don't hold that against Victor Obinna and Frederic Piquionne. This could be the strike partnership that hauls the Hammers out of trouble.

Both scored against Sunderland in the League Cup last week, and their movement, drive and understanding troubled Spurs. And Robert Green was just as important -- yes, that Robert Green, making several saves, the most impressive of which kept out a fizzing Luka Modric drive.

3. Striking contrasts. Ayegbeni Yakubu has never been one of those lean, run-all-day strikers, but the Everton front man still looks to be carrying too much weight to manage the short bursts of speed that used to power him past defenders.

Moyes played Yakubu alone up front against Fulham and didn't really get much more bang for his buck than his counterpart, Mark Hughes, who started the game without any out-and-out strikers thanks to injuries. There were a couple of moments in which the Yakubu of old flickered briefly -- a second-half turn-and-shot showed he was still in there somewhere -- but, presented with a gilt-edged opportunity in the closing stages, he poked the ball tamely into Schwarzer's arms.

Perhaps Moyes is hoping for something akin to the improbable return to form of Aston Villa's Emile Heskey. Watching him put in a man of the match performance against Wolves was like hearing breathing in a morgue. It culminated in a towering 88th-minute header to win the three points.

No doubt it's still too soon to start scripting the touching made-for-TV biopic, but there is arguably something potent about his combination with new (old) manager Gerard Houllier, who previously managed Heskey at Liverpool. Chances are Heskey wouldn't have been on the pitch to make that header under Martin O'Neill, and would typically have lumped it into the stands if he had.

Painfully shy, Heskey is a confidence player and Houllier is well positioned to manage that. "I told Emile, 'Well done, son,' after the League Cup game," Houllier said. "I don't know whether he believes in me, but I believe in him."

4. Knocked off his Perch. Newcastle is the club that still winces at having signed the likes of Jean-Alain Boumsong and Celestine Babayaro; Nottingham Forest is the club that still can't believe it bagged $6 million from Tottenham for Andy Reid. So alarm bells ought to have rung when James Perch's name and a $1.5 million move were first mentioned (Perch moved from Forest to Newcastle in July).

For the first time in the league this season, the right back avoided a booking for haplessly upending an opponent, instead going beyond that with an own goal that proved to be the winner for Stoke, which had managed only one shot on target itself.

He wasn't single-handedly responsible for Newcastle's undoing (the removal of Cheik Tiote might feature pretty highly on the list), but Perch -- well under 6 feet and about as weighty as Kate Moss -- shouldn't really be charged with marking players such as Robert Huth on set pieces. What does Ryan Taylor have to do to be given a shot?

5. Oh, no, referee talk again. Forget the Dirk Kuyt goal that has Sunderland manager Steve Bruce carping. Michael Turner stopped the ball dead on the spot the free kick was due, then stroked it back to his keeper. Referee Stuart Atwell called it right. Where he did make a mistake, however, was in booking Steven Gerrard for elbowing Danny Welbeck in the face. If Atwell saw the contact, there's no option but a red card.

It's not the first time Gerrard has escaped censure for dishing it out, and Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock also got away with a second bookable offense when his tackle on Wolves' Kevin Doyle drew just a free kick. He'd already been booked for catching Dave Edwards, and referee Mark Halsey seemed to balk at the thought of showing a red.

At least we can rely on decent sorts like Birmingham's Roger Johnson, who simply looked down his nose at Hugo Rodallega, rather than going theatrically to the ground, as the Wigan striker went in for a sly head butt.

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