There are still plenty of issues with Manchester United, but their performance against Big Six peers is not one of them. In their five games against those clubs this season, United have won three and drawn two. They enjoy playing without the ball, inviting the opposition onto them and exposing them on the counter.
But it would not be possible without Marcus Rashford being in such wonderful form. Rashford is the leader of United’s attack, and has his confidence back after a difficult period during Jose Mourinho’s management. It seems ludicrous
such a talented young player would have been subject to staunch criticism from his own supporters, but those who lambasted Rashford hopefully now feel very stupid. For Manchester City, problems grow by the week and Saturday surely marked the end of their title challenge after only four months of the season. The injury to Aymeric Laporte persuaded Pep Guardiola to use Fernandinho as a central defender, but in trying to fix one problem, he has caused another and destroyed the balance of City’s team.
Before Saturday afternoon’s game against Crystal Palace, Watford’s new manager Nigel Pearson was paraded at Vicarage Road. If most observers might consider Pearson to be highly fortunate to get a Premier League job after leaving clubs in the Championship and Belgian second tier, they might reassess
after watching Watford labour to a dismal 0-0 draw. Everton’s win over Chelsea means Watford have fallen further from safety. It is remarkable how quickly a mid-table team has fallen into ignominy. The defence at least stopped Palace from having a shot on target, but their midfield creativity is absent and Troy Deeney was left horribly isolated for long periods of the match. Gerard Deulofeu and Abdoulaye Doucoure look starved of all confidence, leaving the unpredictability of Ismaila Sarr as the only creative outlet. Normally, a new manager might look to improve his club’s defensive record, but that is not Watford’s issue. Quique Sanchez Flores tried that and succeeded only in stymieing the team in the final third. Pearson is hardly renowned for progressive attacking football, but he must make it work quickly if he is to avoid the first relegation of his career.
Talk about the new manager bounce. Duncan Ferguson may well not get the Everton job on a full-time basis, but he has already done his job. One of the principal issues of Marco Silva’s failure was his inability to inspire a battling, fiery, passionate performance from Everton’s players even in must-win scenarios. Ferguson certainly managed that.
The 3-1 victory over Chelsea will provoke questions about certain players who have looked lost for months but suddenly produced under a new manager, but the buck always stops with the man in charge.
Ferguson used his programme notes to remind supporters of his love for their club, and presumably sung from the same hymn sheet in the dressing room. Sometimes players just need to be reminded of why it all matters so much.
The evidence of Ferguson’s impact can be seen in the game’s statistics. According to Sky Sports’ Adam Bate, their 37 tackles against Chelsea is the most recorded in a Premier League match this season and the most by an Everton team this decade.
Listen to Jose Mourinho talk about Son Heung-Min for more than five seconds and you can tell that he’s in love. “Even before the goal, my son calls him Sonaldo after Ronaldo Luis Nazario,” Mourinho said after Son’s wonder goal against Burnley.
“The only thing that comes to my mind is the goal when I had the honour of being next to Sir Bobby Robson in 1996 when Ronaldo scored a wonderful goal.”
It isn’t hard to see why Tottenham’s new manager might enjoy Son’s qualities. It is hard to imagine a more hardworking, selfless attacking player in world football. Son understands the importance of pressing to win the ball high up the pitch, and is genuinely as happy providing assists as scoring goals.
It’s becoming the headline theme of Chelsea’s season, overshadowing even the extraordinary improvement of their young players in a short space of time. Frank Lampard’s team have played 24 matches in all competitions, and kept just four clean sheets. After 24 matches last season, they had 12 clean sheets.
Fikayo Tomori started the season in the team but was dropped after some disappointing displays.
Andreas Christensen was Tomori’s replacement but has regularly been caught out of position. Kurt Zouma has started more games than both of the other two but has been no more secure. Behind them, Kepa is struggling badly too. For all the merited positivity generated by Chelsea’s fountain of youth, their central defence is crying out for a little leadership and experience.