Premier League clubs spent a reported $175 million on players on Friday as the summer transfer window closed and after that frantic game of musical chairs, uncertainty skulked around several clubs this weekend.
Liverpool appears to be among the window's biggest losers and was defeated by Arsenal. The jury will be out on Tottenham for weeks, while it doesn't seem too soon to offer a damning verdict on Manchester United's defense despite their stunning Robin van Persie-inspired 3-2 comeback win over Southampton.Here are five thoughts from the action ...
1. Worst of Van Persie lets Southampton dream, then the striker's best spoils their day. Seven long years Southampton had waited to get back to the Premier League, and the delay was bearable because of the hope that when the return finally came, it would bring wondrous moments such as this.
Rising easily above Rafael at the back post, Rickie Lambert headed Jason Puncheon's cross beyond Anders Lindegaard to give Southampton the lead against mighty United.
That was in the 16th minute and the euphoria did not last long, as Van Persie drew United level seven minutes later. But a 55th-minute slip from fullback Patrice Evra gave Morgan Schneiderlin space to restore the newly promoted club's lead with another header, soon after Van Persie had squandered a great chance.
The worse was to come for the new signing from Arsenal. Cutesy, floats-like-a-butterfly penalties are in fashion since Andrea Pirlo's "Panenka" for Italy against England at Euro 2012. Try one and miss? Deeply uncool.
Southampton goalkeeper Kelvin Davis read Van Persie's spot-kick like it was a large-print children's book. It was the second dire penalty Davis has saved this season, after David Silva's weak effort when Southampton lost to Manchester City.
One sensed that in the lockerroom afterwards, Van Persie would discover that time has not dimmed Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to turn his face purple and the air blue by ranting and raging against players who have fallen short of his exacting standards.
Especially in a landmark fixture: this was the 70-year-old Scot's 1,000th league fixture as United manager (599 wins). Even Ferguson will probably forgive the Netherlands striker after he atoned in stunning style with two goals at the death.
With three minutes of normal time left, he poked in from close range after Rio Ferdinand's deflected header came back off a post. And two minutes into injury time, Van Persie pinched the win with a superb header from Nani's corner.
As against Fulham the previous weekend, United went behind then relied on stellar forward play to erase the deficit and claim victory. It's a recipe for a thrilling season, but a glorious one? Even a player as brilliant as Van Persie isn't going to rescue his teammates every week. Southampton is pointless after three fixtures, but today it deserved much more than the fleeting joy of twice taking the lead.
2. Liverpool's transfer savings look costly. As principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, John W. Henry played a part in one of the biggest trades in MLB history last month as Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford joined the Los Angeles Dodgers. Henry is also principal owner of Liverpool, but its transfer dealings were a little quieter. As in, you could hear the tumbleweed blowing down the Anfield Road on deadline day.
Talking to reporters before the window shut, manager Brendan Rodgers said he "absolutely" wanted another forward. But while the $55 million folly Andy Carroll was placed in the ejector seat and landed at West Ham, no new striker appeared. Instead of adding to their goal threat, Liverpool subtracted. Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini are Rodgers' only senior forwards and that shortage showed in today's 2-0 defeat by Arsenal.
As at Fenway Park, so it goes at Anfield: "rebuilding" mode. In other words, cost-cutting after profligate spending failed to buy success. Yet under the circumstances it was ludicrous that Liverpool failed to find the $9.5 million transfer fee to sign Clint Dempsey from Fulham. Even worse, he went to an opportunistic rival, Tottenham.
To add insult to inactivity, Sunday's match simply underlined Liverpool's impotence up front. Rodgers' men had the bulk of possession but failed to score despite 19 attempts on goal and 10 corners. It leaves them with one point and two goals from three league games.
United visit Merseyside on September 23. A poor result against the great foe would only harden fears that this season will be no better than the last. Perhaps worse, since Liverpool did at least win a trophy, the League Cup, and was managed by the iconic Kenny Dalglish. Rodgers does not have the pedigree that will earn him anything close to the patience and generosity shown by Liverpool fans towards Dalglish.
3. Arsenal newbies bed in. Players signed after midday on Friday were ineligible for this weekend's games, in soccer's equivalent of unwrapping Christmas presents then being unable to enjoy them because batteries weren't included and the stores are shut.
It's one reason why it makes sense not to procrastinate. The most recent of Arsenal's three summer signings, Santi Cazorla, arrived from Malaga on Aug. 7. Lukas Poldolski joined in July. Both scored Sunday, combining for each goal.
While Arsenal is the only top-flight club yet to concede, those were the team's first goals of the season and netted without the help of the benched Theo Walcott, who figures to be a Liverpool target in January not least because his expiring contract devalues his transfer-market worth with every passing month.
Given the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona it was encouraging for Arsenal to see Abou Diaby dominate midfield and far outshine Liverpool's Steven Gerrard. The often-injured 26 year old made only five appearances for Arsenal last term.
4. Villa still waiting for victory. Aston Villa is so overdue a win that its scorelines ought to be written in red ink. After six months, it's time for the team to pay up.
Going back to last season, Villa's last league victory came on March 10 over Fulham. Sunday's 1-1 draw with Newcastle made it 13 Premier League games without success.
Paul Lambert's side did take the lead through Ciaran Clark midway through the first half but the reliably spectacular Hatem Ben Arfa's excellent strike shortly before the hour gave Newcastle a point.
On the face of it this was a good result for Villa, especially after opening the campaign with a pair of defeats and considering Newcastle's strength at home. Plus, Brad Guzan got the start in goal ahead of Shay Given and played well. But it's hard to be too cheerful given the wider context of mediocrity.
The best news for Lambert may have come in midweek when key striker Darren Bent scored for the first time since Feb. 1, albeit against third-tier side Tranmere in the League Cup. A return to form and sustained good health for Bent will be essential if Villa is to avoid a year of struggle.
5. Dempsey joins a work in progress. As usual, Tottenham waited until the window was not merely shutting but being locked and boarded up before finishing its transfer business.
So it's only fair to reserve judgment for a couple of weeks, once everyone on the roster has had a chance to learn each others' names. On the plus side, new boy Mousa Dembele scored yesterday and offered the promise that he will partially fill the gaping void left by the departures of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.
Yet a day after Tottenham paid Lyon a fee that could rise to $19 million for Hugo Lloris, Villas-Boas claimed that the goalkeeper will have to sit on the bench because the admirable 41-year-old Brad Friedel is still first-choice.
One wonders if Villas-Boas mentioned this to Lloris during his pitch to the 25-year-old France captain, who has talent that belongs at Champions League regulars, rather than wannabes. But the manager did inform the BBC. "It is undeniable that Brad's position is his and will continue to be like that," he said. Until the American's next fumble, anyway.
Dempsey got his wish to join a bigger club, but he also wants Champions League soccer and repeating last season's fourth-place finish already looks a tall order. Tottenham has two points from three matches and was booed off yesterday after Norwich secured a deserved 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane with an 85th-minute equalizer.
Rickie Lambert scores for Southampton
It has been a long route to the top for the 30-year-old striker, who was prolific for the likes of Bristol Rovers, Stockport and Rochdale before heading to England's south coast in 2009. Adding this goal to his strike against Manchester City, he has now scored against England's two best teams of 2011-12 in the space of a fortnight.
Robin van Persie
A hat-trick and an appallingly botched penalty: quite an afternoon's work for the 29 year old, who has four goals in three games for United. Capable of such deadly power and accuracy, why would he even think about taking a spot-kick with such nonchalance?