How quickly things change. Norwich City were 22/1 to beat Manchester City on Saturday, but exposed City’s shortcomings without Aymeric Laporte. Laporte is injured, Vincent Kompany has left, Nicolas Otamendi has always flirted with ludicrous incompetence and John Stones has regressed badly over the last year.
[timgcapManchester City manager Pep Guardiola.]PepGuardiolaManCityFeb2017_large.jpg[/timgcap]
The message should go out to every Premier League team: Do not fear this City team. If you sit back, they will find a way to beat you. If you go forward they may pick you off, but if you press high and put pressure on their central defenders and full-backs you can ruffle these expensive feathers and in doing so humble them.
Daniel Farke deserves every congratulation coming his way, but Pep Guardiola must prepare for difficult questions and more stern tests.
The notion of being underrated is an odd, shifting concept — the more someone is called underrated, the more they, therefore, become, well... rated — but it is certainly true that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane share the majority of the plaudits earned by Liverpool’s inimitable front three. That pair score so many goals, but their strengths are also more obvious: speed, acceleration and trickery.
Firmino’s reputation doesn’t suffer by comparison, but his role is often more subtle.
But there is nobody within Liverpool’s coaching or playing staff who forgets even for a moment the effect of Firmino on this team.
He is the glue of this front three, the selfless creator who sacrifices his own goal tally to provide for the wide forwards either side of him.
Nobody works harder or longer to make Liverpool tick in the final third.
But even praising Firmino’s effort and selflessness risks overlooking his own skill. The turn and pass for Salah’s game-clinching goal was truly wondrous.
Firmino is the center-forward who gives you everything, and Salah and Mane would be far less successful without him. Divock Origi’s injury on Saturday came at an opportune time.
This has not been the perfect start to life at Chelsea for Frank Lampard, and his side travelled to the Black Country in search of a good news story to shift the mood back in the right direction.
But Lampard has at least stayed true to his promise of prioritising the club’s academy graduates and so usher in a new era at Stamford Bridge. He is being handsomely rewarded for that faith.
Chelsea have scored 11 league goals this season, and every one of those has been scored by a product of their academy.
Tammy Abraham’s hat-trick at Molineux was sandwiched by Fikayo Tomori’s first Chelsea goal and Mason Mount rounding off another virtuoso performance in attacking midfield. To put this run into context, before this season, 16 of their last 424 league goals were scored by academy graduates.
A revolution has taken place.
Chelsea are not perfect. A top-four place may well be beyond them, particularly with the added workload of Champions League football. There are issues with their midfield balance and therefore vulnerability at the back. But they are scoring goals and having fun in the process. That can be the start of something meaningful.
Much is expected of Leicester City under Brendan Rodgers this season. Rodgers may urge patience and insist that this is a three-year project to break back into the top six, but those above Leicester have obvious flaws and have European football to contend with.
Leicester have a deep squad that blends youth and experience. We hoped that they would go to Old Trafford this weekend with hope, not fear, in their hearts.
So we are allowed to feel disappointed in Rodgers and in his team. Manchester United’s confidence was fragile and they were without several key players, but rather than starting the game in a frenzy Leicester allowed United to gain a foothold through their own passivity and a lead thanks to a piece of poor decision-making.
If that challenged Leicester to throw everything at United in the second half and unnerve their opponent, they failed in that task too. United supporters won’t care a jot, but this was a Saturday afternoon to hammer home the status quo of last season’s top six. Rodgers should expect some flak for the drabness of his team’s performance.
It is one of the tenets of elite club management that you are never more than three matches away from mini-crisis. Tottenham won on the opening weekend but had taken only two points since.
Add in Mauricio Pochettino’s accusations that some of his players had lost focus with the European transfer window remaining open, and Spurs approached their first game after the international break needing to set things straight.
Crystal Palace were complicit in Tottenham achieving their aim. Mamadou Sakho was farcically rusty on his first start for seven months, while leaving Zaha up the field on the right-wing caused Palace problems because right-back Joel Ward was dragged infield by Son Heung-Min and Danny Rose overlapped.
On the right, Serge Aurier took advantage of Patrick van Aanholt pushing up. The counter-attacking strategy only works if you first soak up pressure and frustrate the opposition.
But it was still wonderful to watch Tottenham rediscover their groove, even if Kane was oddly peripheral.
Son and Eriksen dovetailed beautifully in the final third, the two full-backs created as much danger as any attacking player, and Harry Winks is the long-term answer in midfield if he stays fit. Crisis? What crisis?