Last season, one of the things that we could most enjoy about having Kenny Dalglish back in management was just how much he seemed to be enjoying it. His years of watching from the director's box seemed to have given him the distance necessary to reject the increasingly impetuous shenanigans of Premier League dugouts, and instead extend a hand at the final whistle and turn his thoughts instantly to the next game. Pop! went that bubble after Liverpool's first defeat of the season, away to Stoke on Saturday.
The referee Mark Clattenburg had three penalty decisions to make: whether either of Rory Delap and Matthew Upson deliberately handled the ball inside the Stoke area, and whether or not Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher fouled Jonathan Walters. He awarded one penalty, to Stoke, which Walters himself converted. For Liverpool, it was a simple hard-luck story. With the benefit of replays, Delap's handball might have been given, Upson's almost certainly wouldn't. Walters went down far too easily, but the fact that Carragher had to unwrap his arm from around the Stoke striker's waist before he could strike a what-me-ref attitude weakened his appeal.
Yet a deadly serious Dalglish said afterward: "If we continually get battered with things that are outside our control then we are not going to have much chance. Our first four league games have all had a contentious decision in them and every one of them has gone against us. We would like to be respectful toward referees, but more importantly... it's about having respect for my football club." It isn't quite the Fox Mulder conspiracy theory that some of the British press made out, but the implication is that Liverpool aren't being treated fairly.
"If I feel Liverpool are suffering then maybe I need to go down the same route as some other people go and see if we can get some benefit from that; I'll speak to the owners first and see what they say because the last thing I want is for my behavior to infringe on the club's success in any way," he went on, trying to shimmy past comparisons with the managers famed for their referee-related comments, and a call from the FA. Yet this is no better than Alex Ferguson's "we don't get the big decisions," no matter how couched the terms. If it betrays any real paranoia, it's distinctly worrying.
In four matches -- refereed by four different men, who are unlikely to have decided on some strange anti-Liverpool alliance over the summer -- Liverpool have "suffered" very little injustice. Against Bolton, Lee Probert's biggest mistake was failing to deal with a backpass from Paul Robinson to Jussi Jaaskelainen, when Liverpool were already 3-0 up. Against Arsenal, the referee's assistant made arguably the most significant decision, keeping his flag down in the buildup to Liverpool's first goal. Phil Dowd's decision to show a yellow, rather than a red, to Kieran Richardson on the first day of the season is probably the most contentious, but it wasn't really to blame for Liverpool's inability to see off Sunderland, and no manager should want to argue that his side could only draw because they were forced to play against 11 men.
Norwich manager Paul Lambert -- whose side have conceded a penalty in every game so far, ranging from the nailed-on to the marshmallow soft -- made for an interesting contrast this weekend, when the referee missed West Brom's Gabriel Tamas elbowing James Vaughan in the face. "We've had four [penalties given against us in a row], which is an extraordinary run, but that's the game," he mused. Asked about the Tamas elbow, which is being looked at by the FA, he said: "When that happens in the penalty box, you're hoping one of the officials saw it, but they [didn't]." And that was that.
Once again there were plenty of goals to choose from, but none was more audacious than Daniel Sturridge's, in Chelsea's comfortable win over Sunderland. Just inside his own half, Raul Meireles played a perfect ball forward for the striker, who'd started instead of Fernando Torres, and after getting himself goal-side of Wes Brown, Sturridge sent a cheeky little puttering backheel past Simon Mignolet and in off the inside of the far post. Given the players he's battling against just to get a game, Sturridge's confidence (he admitted he'd tried in training quite a few times, but this was the first time he'd tried it in a match) is just lovely. Incidentally, Meireles' $19 million deadline-day move from Liverpool to Chelsea looks like one of the best of the window.
Sometimes the impact of a substitute makes the manager look like a genius, but the creativity that Wes Hoolahan brought to Norwich's play after replacing Andrew Surman with just under half an hour left against West Bromwich Albion simply made you wonder why he'd been on the bench in the first place. They call him "Wessi" at Carrow Road, such has been his impact since moving into the playmaking role at the top of the midfield diamond for the 2009/10 season, and you can't help but wonder if Albion's defense might have tired into blunder territory had it been tested by Hoolahan's canny little passes for longer.
Saturday Oct.1 will be the first day on which Manchester City and Manchester United kickoff a Premier League weekend at the same time, but perhaps only their opponents, Blackburn Rovers and Norwich City, will hope it brings an end to what is becoming a devastating game of one-upmanship. After City beat Spurs 5-1, United thumped Arsenal 8-2; following City's impressive 3-0 win over Wigan Athletic this weekend (they could have scored double figures), United duly put five past Bolton Wanderers. Bolton and Wigan could probably have combined to build a 16-man defense and still not kept a clean sheet against either side, which is a concern for those of us who would like a truly competitive Premier League, but there is no denying the quality -- and sheer attacking chutzpah -- of the soccer being played by the two Manchester sides. Should we single players out? Reviewing my notes from the weekend I found two simple, excitable snippets: "Silva!" and "Jones!" And they weren't even the men who scored hat tricks.
Tim Cahill's pass to Leon Osman for Everton's first goal was pretty nice, but assist of the weekend must go to new Sunderland striker Nicklas "Humility" Bendtner, whose complete failure to control a Seb Larsson cross from the right sent the ball on for Korean striker Ji Dong-Won to score his first for the club.
When you're the kind of player who revels in playing in the No.13 shirt, you have to hope you make it look "lucky for some." Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny pulled off a terrific save only seven minutes in to Swansea's visit to the Emirates, dropping low to his left to palm the ball away after Danny Graham had flicked Kemy Agustien's cross toward the bottom corner. It didn't just help Arsenal to win 1-0 (thanks to a Michel Vorm howler at the other end, rolling the ball into Angel Rangel's heels for Andrei Arshavin to convert from a tight angle), it kept Swansea waiting for its first goal of the season.
"I'm not here to please anybody, I'm here to play my football. I'm a professional. Whenever I can score I will score. Whenever I have a chance to help the team win a game, that's what I'm here for, that's what they signed me for. I don't have to care about what people say or what people think. I have a chance to play for Arsenal, I have a great time in Arsenal -- I love Arsenal, I still have a big, huge respect for Arsenal, but today I'm a direct enemy to Arsenal. I just have to be a professional, play my football, enjoy myself of the football pitch, that's all" -- after a well-taken debut goal that had the Tottenham fans jubilantly calling him one of their own, Emmanuel Adebayor over-thinks things.
4/45 -- Fulham's success rate with crosses against Blackburn Rovers on Sunday. Video footage is still being trawled to identify the four that reached their target.