Five thoughts from Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League ...
1. United's glass is half full. The bad news for Manchester United is that its winning start to the season came to an end. It lost Javier Hernandez to injury. Its defense allowed Stoke a string of dangerous strikes on goal. United was dominated for much of the second half.
The good news is that David de Gea, the United goalie, made a string of spectacular saves to restrict Stoke to one goal. Maybe he is still a bit cautious in coming for high crosses, but against Stoke that's probably wise. United created plenty of chances of its own, including one in the dying seconds which Ryan Giggs put wide. Above all, United escaped a bad afternoon with a 1-1 draw that meant it ended the day still in first place.
Nani gave United the lead with a copy of his goal against Chelsea a week earlier, dancing in from the left and scoring with a precise shot. Stoke leveled when Peter Crouch, for once, avoided fouling any defenders as he exploited his height advantage and headed home in the 52nd minute. After that Stoke, organized, energetic and enthusiastic, pressed while United threatened on the break.
This is not a United team that will crush opponents, especially a robust opponent like Stoke, into submission. It relies on the speed and accuracy of its attacks. On Saturday, even without Wayne Rooney, who is injured, United was still able to generate menace even though it was forced onto the back foot for long periods. Yet United also allowed a lot of chances. Stoke, especially at home, can put opponents under tremendous pressure but often lacks the killer touch. If United end up allowing so much action around its penalty area against teams with more cutting edge than Stoke, which is pretty much every other club in the Premier League, the road to the title could turn rocky.
2. The Sky Blue depths. After Manchester City had spent an hour toiling to free itself from the suffocating embrace of Everton, Roberto Mancini went to his loaded bench. Instead of Carlos Tévez he took a hunch on the erratic Mario Balotelli. Mancini told the BBC after the game that Balotelli had trained well during the week and that he offered width. The hunch paid off. Balotelli, his hair now shaved into a tread pattern that made it look as if a motorbike had driven over his head, brought the special ingredient City needed: luck. When Balotelli shot in the 68th minute, he was outside the penalty area with most of the Everton team in front of him. This time, the Everton players' willingness to throw their bodies at the ball, rebounded. Balotelli's low shot hit the lunging Phil Jagielka. The deflection carried the ball into the bottom corner past the stranded Tim Howard. Mancini promptly went to his bench again, yanking off a striker, Sergio Agüero, and bringing on a midfielder, James Milner. With one minute left, Milner scored his first Premier League goal to seal a 2-0 victory that meant it ended the day again level on points with Manchester United.
A week ago at Fulham, City threw away a two-goal lead and dropped points for the first time this season. On Saturday, it was facing a team that had won on its last four league visits to what is now the Etihad Stadium. More dropped points would have killed all the momentum of City's fast start. The home team found a way to do what it had to do. It was neither a pretty nor a comfortable victory. That had a lot to do with the intelligence, work rate and organization of Everton. But it was a victory that showed the depth of City's resolve and, more importantly, the depth of its bench.
3. Ole! Ole! Oh dear! For Fernando Torres the roller coaster ride is becoming more and more extreme. Last Sunday, he scored his first goal of the season and only his second since joining Chelsea for £50 million ($80M) in January. It was a neat, clever strike, and it was against Manchester United. Unfortunately it was bracketed by two bad misses, the second with the goal empty after El Nino had sidestepped the goalie and Chelsea two goals down, overshadowed the goal.
On Saturday, Torres scored another clever, confident goal, spinning to shoot into the corner and put Chelsea a goal up against Swansea. After 18 months of subpar performances, two in two games suggested that The Kid was back. He wasn't back for long. Ten minutes after his goal, Torres planted both boots into Mark Gower's ankle and received a red card. His recent resurgence is now going to be interrupted by a three-match ban.
It didn't matter to Chelsea. By the time Torres went off, Ramires had put Chelsea two goals up. Ramires, who is developing into an attacking threat in his second season in England, added a second before Ashley Williams headed a late reply for the Swans. But the last word belonged to Chelsea substitute Didier Drogba. He scored to make it 4-1. He looks like he could be a decent replacement for Torres.
4. Robin rises. Yes, Arsenal struggled again even at home against what is currently the worst team in the Premier League. Yes, Arsenal only put the game away when Bolton was reduced to 10 men. But for the Gunners only two things mattered: They won, 3-0, and Robin van Persie scored twice.
The victory lifted Arsenal to the heady heights of 12th. How high it can climb will depend very much on van Persie, the club's one genuine goal-scorer. He had looked off the pace so far this season. On Saturday, he gave Arsenal the lead with a real striker's finish at the start of the second half. "You could feel the relief for are fans and among the team as well," Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, told the BBC. Van Persie added a second, his 100th goal for Arsenal. Alex Song scored the third, but that was an adornment. Van Persie had won the game. "It is difficult to imagine our team at the moment without him," Wenger said.
5. Newcastle anyone? Maybe the Newcastle purge is paying off on the field as well as at the bank. Shorn of all their vaguely big-name players, the Magpies have started the season with a six-match unbeaten streak that has them sitting in fourth place, just a point behind Chelsea. On Saturday they dismissed visiting Blackburn, 3-1. All the goals came from Demba Ba, a French-born Senegalese striker, who arrived as a free agent from relegated West Ham. Ba was cheap not because he lacks ability, but because no one trusts his knee. Over the last three years, transfers to Stuttgart and Stoke collapsed after he failed his medical exam. Newcastle made clear it also had doubts, but it was a club with little choice but to take a gamble. For now that gamble is paying off. Demba Ba can score goals.