1. Mourinho takes the pragmatic route to victory
The goals were flying in elsewhere. Look at the top clubs and most of the scorelines were spectacular: 5-0, 0-4, 2-3, 2-3. Then there was one, seemingly more mundane result: 0-1. Manchester United had scored four goals in three of their first five league games. The sixth was less eventful, even taking into account Jose Mourinho’s late sending off. It was arguably more typical of Mourinho. Some of his title-winning teams began campaigns with flurries of goals before then settling into a pattern of hard-fought victories, secured with control, professionalism and positional discipline.
While others were cramming more goals into their games, Mourinho ensured there would not be a second at St Mary’s by introducing a fifth defender, Chris Smalling, for the final quarter of an hour. The nature of the opposition – a low-scoring but defensively solid Southampton side – also had an impact on the result but Mourinho can testify that pragmatism, keeping clean sheets and a capacity to retain a lead once it is taken can be a formula for glory.
2. City’s SAS upstage Guardiola’s star strikers
The focus had been on Manchester City’s star strikers in recent weeks. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus had provided categorical proof that they can play together. The two South Americans have started eight games together and scored 16 goals between them in that time. Yet Jesus was left on the bench against Crystal Palace and while Aguero scored his 176th City goal to close in on Eric Brook’s club record, the 5-0 hammering of the beleaguered bottom club instead showed the quality of their wingers.
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Leroy Sane’s goal was his fifth in as many games. Raheem Sterling’s brace took his tally to five in six. They are all the more remarkable as those records include substitute appearances and there is some debate if either figures in Guardiola’s strongest side. That may make others envious. City’s SAS are proving how deadly they are – indeed Sterling has more league goals than Everton or Southampton – but they may still be found on the bench at Chelsea on Saturday.
3. Much-mocked Mignolet shows his excellence at saving penalties again
The simplistic temptation is to say that Simon Mignolet is not good enough for Liverpool. The more complicated reality is that he is sometimes good enough, a goalkeeper whose lack of presence in his penalty area contributes to their habit of conceding at set-pieces but whose capacity to make fine saves sometimes means he comes to their rescue. Mignolet seemed to sum up his Reds career in an evening at the King Power Stadium, letting a goal in from a corner, complaining ineffectually he was fouled, then giving away a penalty with a misjudgement and finally saving it.
By denying Jamie Vardy, he made a fifth stop from the last eight spot kicks he has faced. It was a second crucial one already this season. The save from Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric helped Liverpool reach the Champions League; the one from Vardy, who seemed set to equalise, was almost as important. Liverpool were without a win in September; that frustrating run seemed likely to include a fifth game. Mignolet has represented a curiosity in Jurgen Klopp’s reign, given a five-and-a-half year contract three months after his appointment, strangely rested for the 4-0 win over Arsenal and demoted to second choice in the Champions League but a much-mocked goalkeeper who has been accused of costing Liverpool points won them an extra two on Saturday as they beat Leicester 3-2.
4. Morata means Hazard gets a rest for bigger games
The limelight lingered on Alvaro Morata, and understandably so. By scoring his first Chelsea hat-trick, he illustrated why there is life after Diego Costa and why he promises to be just as prolific as the departing forward, but rather less troublesome (to his own club, anyway). Morata was sublime at Stoke, displaying pace, panache and an assured touch in front of goal. Goalscorers do not merely change games and win points: they also camouflage other issues and change perceptions.
Before kick-off at the bet365 Stadium, Antonio Conte seemed to have taken an unnecessary risk by leaving Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill on the bench. He ended up summoning both, but they should still be fresher for seemingly bigger games against Atletico Madrid and Manchester City. A 4-0 win against Stoke, albeit a Stoke side who finished without a specialist centre-back on the pitch, is a fine result. The fact it was accomplished with two of the pillars of Chelsea’s spine confined to cameos made it more impressive. And Morata’s brilliance was such that he gave Conte the luxury of resting them.
5. Aurier’s rashness could cost Tottenham
There had not been one for 868 days. Tottenham had completed two seasons without collecting a red card in the Premier League and if that 82-game sequence owed something to luck – both Moussa Sissoko and Dele Alli incurred bans for offences that went unseen by officials – it was nonetheless proof of discipline. Then Serge Aurier marked his full league debut with an early departure for challenges that were not dangerous but which, in the context of the game, were reckless in part because of their needlessness.
Spurs were 3-0 ahead against West Ham, had been pegged back to 3-1 when the right-back was sent off and ended up hanging on at 3-2. Before then, Aurier had offered indications of the pace and power that could make him an asset but he could also have conceded a penalty. Moreover, even a cursory examination of his career suggests he has a self-destructive streak and a tendency to do stupid or, on occasion, unpleasant things. For all his evident ability, Mauricio Pochettino may deem Kieran Trippier a more trustworthy figure. Aurier’s indiscipline did not cost Tottenham on Saturday. It may do in the future.