Top four start pulling away; Bradley gets first win; more EPL notes
- The EPL's top four have started to distance themselves from the pack.
- Bob Bradley got his first win at Swansea, but won't be happy with the play of his defense.
- Jose Mourinho was sent off as Manchester United's struggles continue.
Arsenal stayed on the heels of the top three on Sunday with a 3–1 victory over Bournemouth at the Emirates that continued the pattern of the weekend’s games.
On Saturday, the Premier League lead changed three times on Saturday as first Manchester City, then Liverpool and finally Chelsea overcame tricky, sticky opponents to win.
Arsenal, in fourth, also had to work hard to beat Bournemouth. The victory means the top four have begun to pull away from the pack.
This season has brought a return to the traditional social order after the Leicester insurrection. All four matches involving the pacesetters provided the illusion that the league is competitive before the talent edge the big boys have bought saw them to wins.
Against a neat, industrious, and organized Bournemouth team, Arsenal took the lead when Alexis Sánchez pounced on a weak back pass by Steve Cook and finished with ruthless poise. After Bournemouth leveled, Sánchez and Mesut Ozil made the difference. The two combined to prise open Bournemouth before Nacho Monreal set up Theo Walcott to give the Gunners the lead. Ozil also played a crucial part before Sánchez sealed the victory in added time.
At key moments, Bournemouth could not cope with Arsenal’s best creative players.
On Saturday, Manchester City trailed at dogged Burnley before Sergio Agüero scored twice from close range to secure a 2–1 home victory. Agüero did not seem to know much about the second which hit him a yard out and bounced in. But he has scored 32 goals in his last 34 Premier League games. How much Burnley, who managed as many shots on target as City, would love to have a striker like that.
“They were beautiful goals,” Pep Guardiola told the press with a grin.
Liverpool bombarded Sunderland at Anfield despite losing Philippe Coutinho in the first half. It was not until the 75th minute that Coutinho’s replacement, Divock Origi finally scored with a rather tame cross-shot. A late penalty by James Milner made the final score 2–0.
Sunderland kept the score close for 91 minutes, but that seemed to be its only objective. This was as competitive as a training game.
Jürgen Klopp told the BBC that Sunderland was “the most defensive team I ever saw.”
“That's the most difficult thing in world football to come through," he said.
At Stamford Bridge, Tottenham exploited the hole at the heart of the Chelsea’s 3-4-3 formation, seized control of central midfield, took the lead and dominated for 40 minutes. Pedro leveled on the stroke of half time with a stroke of the brilliance Chelsea paid for. In the second half, Chelsea, and in particular Diego Costa, at last began to match Tottenham’s energy levels and exploit the space on the flanks. Victor Moses, alone in the penalty area, gave Chelsea the lead. It held Tottenham, which entered the game unbeaten in the league, comfortably the rest of the way.
Antonio Conte, much less expressive in interviews than he is on the sideline, told the BBC: "I am satisfied with the way we fought back. These games are difficult. It was a tough game with a lot of intensity.”
Once Chelsea found its intensity, it was too good for Tottenham. Burnley and Sunderland also tried hard, but Saturday showed again that when the rich clubs ally work rate to their edge in talent, they almost always win.
Bad boy – Jose Mourinho really connected with the water bottle. It flew low and hard down the sideline. Perhaps Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney, who later missed good shooting chances for Manchester United in the 1-1 draw against West Ham, should watch the replay.
Mourinho must have known that Jon Moss would be watching. The referee showed the manager a red card. Maybe Mourinho also said something. He probably did not need to. Mourinho said enough last November when he called Moss weak as Chelsea played West Ham. Moss showed Mourinho red then too.
It was the second time in a month that Mourinho has been sent off at Old Trafford. The geography of the ground makes it difficult for a manager to reach the stands from the dugout. At the end of October, against Burnley, Mourinho had to keep getting up again and clambering backwards in embarrassing view of the cameras. This time he quickly disappeared into some hidden Dr. Evil bunker. Thence instructions mysteriously appear in the hands of a minion near the front of the stands. Before United made substitutions, assistant coach Rui Faria had to climb up to collect the names and then scamper down again to hand the note to the fourth official.
It was more co-ordination than United managed on the field. Yes, all 11 players touched the ball in a move of 22 passes that ended with Zlatan Ibrahimovic heading its goal. But the final pass was a 25-yard lofted ball straight down the middle from Paul Pogba that exploited Zlatan’s height and would be considered crude by most Sunday park teams. The straight chip into the goalmouth sometimes seems to be the limit of Pogba’s attacking creativity. On Sunday, he did manage an inventive dive which brought the yellow card that inspired Mourinho to hit the bottle.
The draw was United’s fourth straight in the league at Old Trafford. It has won just one of its last seven league matches. It is 11 points behind leader Chelsea and is beginning to look like last season’s Chelsea.
Mourinho’s antics are an amusing sideshow, but they probably won’t distract United fans from the poverty of the main event at the Theater of Dreams.
Howe now? – Eddie Howe presented his résumé at the Emirates and while he might have left without any points, he also left a good impression.
Arsène Wenger has just turned 67. Even though Arsenal’s ownership is probably not dumb enough to pay attention to the noisy anti-Weger lobby among fans and force their manager into retirement, they know that their coach is almost nine years older than the oldest of the rest (Bob Bradley). They next must be planning the succession.
Premier League clubs like to hire managers who have won titles somewhere, which tends to lock out British managers, who cannot win in England if they are not allowed to run one of the elite. Yet Howe looks appealing. He turns 39 on Tuesday, more than four years younger than Aitor Karanka, the next man on the age tree.
Howe has almost seven years of experience at Bournemouth and, briefly Burnley. He has taken Bournemouth up from the fourth division. Despite the club’s relative lack of resources, it looks as if it is beginning to feel at home in the Premier League. Bournemouth is not playing as a chippy, physical underdog, nor does it cower in defense. On Sunday, it came to the Emirates with an attacking plan to out-pass Arsenal. For 90 minutes, until the third Arsenal goal, it looked as if the plan might just work.
For those watching the question is: what could Howe achieve if he had Sánchez or Ozil?
Bradley's first – Bob Bradley has a few coaching dance moves on the sideline, but his stony face means, that unlike Klopp and Conte, it’s hard to know what he is feeling.
After Swansea scored deep in added to time to take the lead against visiting Crystal Palace on Saturday. Bradley did not crack a grin – maybe he can’t. Instead he started to bark instructions and gesticulate. He was proved right. So fragile is the Swansea defense that it still allowed Palace one more chance to level.
Bradley’s boys hung on to win, 5–4. It took six games yet few managers can have had as little to smile about after their first Premier League victory. If Bradley has spent the weeks since his arrival on October 4 coaching the defense, there was little evidence on Saturday.
Palace took an early lead. By the 68th minute, Swansea led 3–1, helped by Palace’s utter inability to defend set pieces. Swansea was no better. It allowed three ugly goals in nine minutes, the second a bizarre deflection off Jack Cork. The Swans trailed, 4–3, by the 84th minute.
Then the polite Palace defenders allowed Fernando Llorente to score twice for close range in added time.
Bradley had opted to start with Modou Barrow, a winger, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, a midfielder, in attack. But Llorente, who is slow and big, caused chaos after Bradley threw him on with the score at 1-1.
“We've had a stretch where you feel like nothing goes our way,” Bradley told Sky TV. “When I see the ball deflect off Jack Cork’s head for the third goal today, I'm thinking ‘more of the same’. But they get credit, because they kept going and sometimes you just need something like that to turn a season around.”
Palace is a weird opponent. Only City has scored more away goals this season. Yet Palace cannot defend a lead. The crazed scoring had a lot to do with the pattern Pardew’s team has been following.
Even so, Bradley will need more than this victory to turn Swansea’s season around. He will need a defense.
Dream debut – When Josh Sims set up Charlie Austen to record an assist after 40 seconds of his Southampton debut, one British bookmaker started wondering on Twitter when the 19-year-old would move to Liverpool.
That early goal was all the Saints needed for a comfortable 1-0 home victory over Everton. It was a match that brought Ronald Koeman back to Saint Mary's and provided a reminder that that sometimes clubs have personalities that survive turnover in players or coaches.
Sunday’s win lifted Southampton into the top half of the table. After a stuttering start under Claude Puel, it is again looking the best team outside the traditional rich six. Everton started the season like a train under Koeman. On Sunday, it again looked like a Roberto Martínez team, accident-prone in defense, uncertain in attack and far less than the sum of its talented parts.