Thoughts on the weekend's action in the Barclays Premier League:
They certainly got a game of two halves Saturday at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea tied Everton 1-1. Chelsea had 12 shots at goal in the first half and two in the second; Everton had four before the interval and another 14 afterward. The reversal in the way each side played really was that complete.
Though Chelsea wasn't quite in high gear, the flagging champion started reasonably brightly, peppering Everton's goal in the buildup to a 42nd-minute penalty that Nicolas Anelka won from an untidy collision with Tim Howard. It was easy to sympathize with Howard's insistence that he had been "mullered" by the striker, and not the other way around.
Once Didier Drogba scored on the spot kick, Chelsea simply needed to defend the lead and had actually looked like doing more -- the returning John Terry produced a great flick shot off the outside of his boot that came back off the bar in the first half. No, really. This was Chelsea back on course, surely?
But Everton had other ideas, and its up-tempo efforts after the break seemed to have Chelsea on the run. Rampant down the left, Everton's equalizer inevitably started on that side -- though it was rather less inevitably put away by misfiring striker Jermaine Beckford.
For added value, there was enough feistiness to prompt the referee to reach for his back pocket on several occasions. Florent Malouda seemed to slap Phil Neville, who himself wafted an arm at Drogba's head. That action by a visiting player went over like a lead balloon, but the match finished 11 v. 11.
Leighton Baines must have featured prominently in Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti's nightmares during the weekend. The Everton left back was absolutely superb, shrugging off the attentions of first Jose Bosingwa and then Paulo Ferreira to drive the Merseysiders further and further into opposition territory. The accuracy of his crosses was incredible, and he could have set up at least three goals. In the 86th minute, he ghosted past two Chelsea shirts before releasing yet another pinpoint delivery into the middle, where Tim Cahill nodded down for Beckford to score the equalizer. Baines has long been touted as Ashley Cole's heir apparent; his value is skyrocketing this season.
Before indignation overcomes you, yes, Arsenal's Samir Nasri should also be talked about as the weekend's best player. Probably the season's best, so far. His two goals in a 2-1 victory against Fulham oozed caramel quality, and were just about reward for the strain Arsenal's defense puts on its fans' hearts. The first was the most glorious -- the way he stepped inside Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes was
Carlos Tevez's tantrum at being substituted late in Manchester City's 1-0 victory against Bolton soured his 50th appearance for the club, but since he's scored 33 -- yes,
After his side couldn't hold the lead in a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City, Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp noted that the difference was the introduction of Nikola Zigic. The lanky Serbian has struggled to make an impact at Birmingham, but, having watched videos of Peter Crouch with his manager, Alex McLeish, he instantly troubled Spurs' defense. At the other end, Roger Johnson and Scott Dann had no problems with Crouch. "They defend for their lives," Redknapp said admiringly, but Johnson brought more than that to the party -- it was his wonderfully flighted pass that dropped onto Zigic's head to set up Craig Gardner's equalizer in the 81st minute.
Wigan Athletic vs. Stoke City couldn't tempt many more than 15,000 spectators to the DW Stadium, but it turned out to be a don't-take-your-eyes-off-it affair, even if all four goals in the 2-2 draw came in the first half, and generally off a defender's boot or backside.
Asmir Begovic (Stoke) and Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan) both pulled off excellent saves to preserve that point, but credit here goes to Paul Robinson. The Blackburn goalkeeper allowed seven goals against Manchester United last week, but he kept a clean sheet against Wolves to put Rovers into the top half of the table. All right, he had help from the goal frame, which denied three early Wolves attempts, but that one-handed save from Stephen Hunt was all his own.
It's been only a couple of weeks since West Ham appointed Wally Downes as defensive coach, but, despite a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland, he's already making a difference. The Hammers created almost nothing of note going forward -- where Avram Grant inexplicably preferred Carlton Cole (he looks like he's mailing it in and could be gone in January) to Frederic Piquionne -- but the back line was, for the most part, disciplined and rigid. Two thirds of Sunderland's goal attempts came from outside the penalty area -- it was Asamoah Gyan's drift out to the right that allowed Jordan Henderson in to score the winner.
While we're on the subject of West Ham, how about Jonathan Spector? Those who remember him playing as a teen striker may not have been surprised by his brace against Manchester United in the League Cup, but he's not made much of an impact on English football in any position, so his swerving run through Sunderland's middle Sunday, which ended with a shot going just wide, raised eyebrows. Has Grant found a new attacking midfielder?
"Anybody that plays to the age that Sol is, and more so, accumulates that amount of games at Premiership level ... it means that they're an outstanding individual and, of course, an outstanding player."
100 percent of Sunday's goals were scored with a left foot.