By the end of the match at St Mary’s on Sunday, the traveling Manchester City fans were singing “We are champions, champions of England” with conviction.
This was, perhaps, the first weekend this season when City could say that it was the Premier League club that played most like the champion.City had been over-shadowed by Chelsea and, surprisingly, Southampton, so far this season.
On Sunday, it responded like a champion. Away to a team that hadn't conceded a goal at home all season, City won 3-0, even though it played from the 74th minute with 10 men. Chelsea’s draw at Sunderland the day before had given City a rare chance to gain ground. It did not waver as it seized that opportunity.
Southampton had a chance to prove it was a true contender. It wilted.
City climbed above the Saints into second. It also trimmed Chelsea’s lead to six points.
Yaya Touré gave City the lead with a crunching shot after 51 minutes. It was his fifth goal of the season. It was proof, again, of his power and talent. The issue remains whether he, like many of his teammates, can rediscover his consistency.
Eliaquim Mangala received his second yellow card for a needless and panicky barge on Shane Long. Yet Southampton still could not lay a glove on City.
Instead, Frank Lampard, who is making something of a specialty of scoring when City is down to 10 men, doubled the lead. So comfortable was City that Gaël Clichy, a fullback, was able to charge forward to score his first ever goal for the club.
For one afternoon, everything was suddenly purring for City. Could this be the start of another of its scary mid-season surges?
Lampard’s comment to Sky, which broadcast the game in Britain, was revealing.
“The spirit was really there today,” he said, which raises the question of where the spirit has been in other weeks.
If City can keep that spirit, Chelsea should worry.
Free of excuses -- Before Sunday, all four of Tottenham’s games following a Thursday group match in the Europa League had been at home. Despite that, Spurs had still managed to lose them all. On Sunday, it faced the only other Premier League team also involved with the poor, ugly sister of European competitions. And while Spurs had played at home on Thursday, Everton had traveled to Germany. Tottenham had no excuse for believing it was the more tired team. It responded by outworking Everton for much of the match and, despite a severe attack of nerves set in at the end, winning, 2-1.
Costa's escape -- Chelsea had twice as much possession and twice as many attempts on goal as the home team as it drew 0-0 at Sunderland. Yet Sunderland created the better opportunities. Santiago Vergini should have scored. Connor Wickham, Adam Johnson and Jozy Altidore all might have. Chelsea was lucky to finish with its unbeaten record intact. It was also fortunate to finish with 11 men. After John O’Shea fouled Diego Costa and then clattered into him, Costa rolled and swung his boot hard and fast at O’Shea’s head. Costa was fortunate that he missed. He was also helped by the way O’Shea turned and sprinted back into defense instead of falling down clutching his head. Maybe it was an example of the traditional British (and Irish) virtues of fair play. But it could also have been that O’Shea was afraid he might be about to receive a yellow card and was fleeing the scene of the crime. Certainly there was little evidence of fair play when Costa later touched Wes Brown in the face. Lee Cattermole, man with 71 yellow cards and seven reds in 216 Premier League games, led the successful lobbying for a yellow card. Even so, Costa came out ahead on the deal, but if he keeps lashing out at opponents, he is going to get in a lot of trouble very soon.
Long and Noble history erased -- After West Ham’s dreary 1-0 victory over lifeless Newcastle, the BBC interviewer sought out Mark Noble to congratulate him on breaking the club “record” for league appearances. Noble was clearly embarrassed. He had just made his 205th appearance, passing Connecticut-born Steve Potts who made 204 after 1993. That date should ring a warning bell. It was the year Premier League started. There is an idiotic tendency to treat 1993 as year zero for English soccer. History is one of English soccer’s great assets. This eagerness to promote cheap plastic modern records erases achievements, and players, far greater than Noble and his 205 games. Noble knows it. Billy Bonds set the true record with a truly impressive 663 league appearances. Behind him, but ahead of Noble, are the names that lend most luster to West Ham: its three World Cup winners Bobby Moore (544 league appearances at West Ham), Geoff Hurst (411) and Martin Peter (300), Their records should be celebrated, not obliterated. And Potts should be remembered for actually appearing in 399 league games for West Ham.
On the attack -- Of course some stats simply cannot be compared over time. When Opta announced on Saturday that the QPR-Leicester game produced more goal attempts than any Premier League game it has recorded, it should be remembered that Opta only upgraded its statistical coverage in 2006. Even so, the numbers are eye-popping. Between them the teams managed 51 strikes. Even with 10 minutes of added time, that adds up to better than one every two minutes. Opta’s stats do not entirely add up. It credits Leicester with five shots on target (which presumably includes the two goals), 10 off-target and five blocked which its says total 19 attempts. That’s not bad for a team that had not scored in five league games going back to October 4. Only two of the other 15 teams in action on Saturday managed more. Chelsea had 24 attempts. QPR easily topped that. It had 32 – against Leicester. That’s a huge number. No wonder QPR won, 3-2. Leicester solved one problem, but created another. It created enough chances to have scored a lot more than two, but sacrificed defense and still lost.