Liverpool take their point and run
This is why the other victories matter so much. Liverpool will not play well every week, simply because no team can. They will suffer at the hands of VAR controversy, they will suffer injuries to key players and they will have their most potent weapons blunted. No team gets through any title challenge without being hurt. The key to success lies in mitigating the disappointments as much as you can. If three points are out of reach, battle for one.
Liverpool were largely rotten at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical plan unsettled the rhythm of Jurgen Klopp’s full-backs, and the passing through midfield was not crisp enough to make amends. Liverpool were left crossing the ball from narrow and deep with one attacking player in the penalty area.
But they persevered, if not until they found excellence then at least until Manchester United lost concentration and positional discipline. Ashley Young lost his man and Marcos Rojo momentarily lost his mind. The end result is a slight setback for Liverpool and Klopp, but the continuation of their unbeaten run and a six-point lead after a quarter of the season played. You don’t need to ask whether he would have taken that in August.
Tottenham’s problems aren’t going away soon
Mauricio Pochettino should probably be thankful that a VAR-inspired farce took most of the headlines from the Tottenham Hotspur stadium. It started with the comically high bar required to overturn a decision meaning that Watford were not given a penalty for Jan Vertonghen’s clear foul on Gerard Deulofeu, and ended with the wrong message being displayed on the big screen despite the officials agreeing that Dele Alli’s late equaliser should have stood. That gaffe represents a new low for VAR confusion. Even its strongest advocates must be struggling to argue that this season has been a success.
But Pochettino again took backwards steps on a day of disappointment. Tottenham’s manager made seven changes to the team that were beaten 3-0 at Brighton, but arguably got his selection wrong and changed both shape and personnel to try and get back into the match against the side bottom of the table.
"I feel well — good not great — because I saw the team fight and have character," Pochettino said after the game. "It wasn't a great game but I think we did enough to score and win the game. I am happy with the way the team showed character."
That’s all very well, but Tottenham were facing weak opposition and travel to Anfield next weekend. This isn’t going to get any easier.
Manchester City find creative answer to defensive crisis
We should know by now that Pep Guardiola retains the ability to surprise even his own players with a left-field tactical plan, but Manchester City’s team selection at Selhurst Park was astonishing even by Guardiola’s standards. Their starting XI contained a goalkeeper, two full-backs, seven midfielders and a striker, and included their first-choice central midfield partnership playing as a central defensive pair.
But it worked. City had so much possession (71%) that Rodri and Fernandinho were able to predominantly operate in their usual central midfield positions, pushed high up the pitch while the full-backs surged forward as normal. Between them, the triangle of Rodri, Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan had 329 touches of the ball. The 14 players Palace used only had 467.
This emergency defensive plan probably isn’t sustainable; it would have been tested far more against a more progressive team with a top-class centre forward. But for this purpose, it was perfect. Guardiola would have come in for staunch criticism had it failed, so he deserves credit that City looked so assured.
Everton finally produce a performance in Silva’s image
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and Everton’s disappointing form this season cannot be addressed by one home win. But it was at least promising to finally see a pressing, pushing, probing Everton team without the ball and a lack of defensive uncertainty at set-piece situations.
West Ham were terrible, and Manuel Pellegrini’s team still retain the infuriating tendency to flit between excellence and incompetence from game to game. But they were shut down by Everton’s attacking players hounding them down in possession.
Silva deserves credit most because his team selection was so bold. Gylfi Sigurdsson was dropped, Theo Walcott returned on the right, Tom Davies finally started in central midfield with Andre Gomes and Alex Iwobi starred in a No. 10 role. Both Everton goals were works of aesthetic beauty.
The central midfield selection surely teaches Silva that he must stick with this strategy. If the manager wants to play quickly through midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin and Fabian Delph hamper the plan rather than help it.
Grealish proving that he is ready to make the next step up
When Jack Grealish made the decision to switch his international loyalty, we expected him to be fast-tracked into the England senior squad. If that hasn’t happened yet, it is surely only a matter of time. The lingering argument is that Grealish flourishes most when the midfield is built around him, which is probably not likely at England level. But in this form he at least deserves a chance to prove his worth.
If Grealish is not yet established as an international, there are few players in the Premier League more vital to their club’s success. Grealish scored Aston Villa’s equaliser on the stroke of half-time, but he offers far more than the goal threat from midfield. He has created 25% of his side’s chances this season, and only one player has completed more dribbles. So assured is Grealish on the ball that he demands to be double-marked by opponents. That in turn creates space for those around him.