Premier League good weekend, bad weekend

Seb Stafford-Bloor

Good weekend...

Crystal Palace

Before kick-off, Sam Allardyce's gameplan at Stamford Bridge likely hinged on his players not conceding an early goal. He would have told them stay compact, to not allow Hazard and Friends to penetrate deep space, and then to grow into the game and feed on whatever uncertainty started to develop. So for Crystal Palace to knock over a team of Chelsea's calibre was achievement enough, but to have done so on the road and after conceding such an early goal was particularly descriptive of their resiliency.

They rode their luck and, yes, the ball did seem to continuously bounce and spin in their favour, but the two goals which won them the game relied on nothing but perfect execution - and, in Christian Benteke's case, a swaggering class which was quite incongruous with the situation. 

The Belgian has that in his locker: at the top of his form for Aston Villa, that little pause before shooting was a regular part of his game. He has carved a reputation for goalscoring violence, too, but he was (and remains) part of a small number of targetmen with the technique to slow the game down at its pivotal moments. 

The charm of that goal was its patience; a quite breathtaking moment of impudent class. 

For Palace, it also bookended a thoroughly impressive five weeks: four games played, four games won, and just a single goal conceded. The public are not party to training-ground sessions and so can only guess as to how hard this Palace squad have been made to work by their manager. But it's not really a mystery: the last four results have been repayment for the hours of drilling and tactical instruction which Allardyce will have put them through.

Forget this result's potential impact on the top of the table for the moment and just admire what it represents as a coaching success. Allardyce wasn't right for England and he'll never be granted that kind of chance again, but he was absolutely the right appointment for Palace and - again - is proving himself capable of inspiring even the most disaffected underperformers. 

Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham

Burnley invite a lot of a platitudes and their home form this season is routinely discussed as an extension of the local weather, their geographical location, and the associations which have been built around Sean Dyche. That's wrong: they're an extremely well constructed side and they play in front of some of the loudest fans in the country. It's not that other teams shrink against Burnley, it's that they themselves are really rather good. 

So this Tottenham performance was excellent. For all Mauricio Pochettino's celebrated virtues, he can be prone to dallying over his touchline decisions; he doesn't always make changes as quickly as he needs to. But here, he did: Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks were forced off before half-time and yet the Argentinian's patchwork quilt of a side still smothered a spirited opponent.

Hugo Lloris didn't really have a save to make at Turf Moor and even with their replacement parts Tottenham were able to find a balance between defensive security (Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen were quite outstanding) and accurate offensive incision. 

Beating a newly promoted team might not sound like such a big deal, but contextually this might have been Spurs' best away performance of the season. With four of the teams around them dropping points, it certainly felt like it by the end of the weekend.

Every Hull player involved in Andy Robertson's goal

A good weekend for Hull City generally, of course, but what a goal that was - and what a vivid tribute to Marco Silva's influence. Teams desperate for points are, by convention, not supposed to play precision football, preferring generally to pursue more direct routes.

This, then, was quite startling: the velvet touch by Lazar Markovic, his slick give-and-go with Abel Hernandez, and then Kamil Grosicki's little push into Robertson's path. At this time of year, goals in bottom-of-the-table games are supposed to involve deflections, rebounds, and chaos, but that really was football of the highest order.

It will be ignored by most because those amber-and-black shirts just aren't quite fashionable enough, but it's still one of the great Premier League moves of the season.

Bad weekend...

Jose Mourinho

That was all a bit Louis van Gaal, wasn't it? An impotent home performance against a team who should have been beaten, followed by contrary answers in a benign post-game interview. Yes, we've seen that before and the act wore thin a long time ago. 

Beyond Jose Mourinho's tiresome obfuscation lies a difficult reality: despite their heavy investment, United haven't really improved. Their football is more watchable, but their league position and tenuous top-four chances have and continue to rely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The result against West Bromwich Albion - like those against Stoke, West Ham, Middlesbrough, Hull and Burnley - was another which fitted the constructed perception that United are just "unlucky".

That may not be outlandish because their proportion of shots to goals is startlingly high, but this is a club who pay through the nose for execution. They buy off-the-peg players who don't come with caveats and they build squads which aren't subject to the same "learn and grow" conditions of almost every other side.

Manchester United occupy a world in which asterisks hold little weight and, unless something changes dramatically between now and May, this season will represent a significant underperformance. Champions League qualification may not be a commercial imperative, but it was still a bare minimum expectation in 2016/17. 

Paul Clement

Swansea have been revived by Clement and they are battling against relegation rather than already down because of him.

Nevertheless, his reluctance to tailor his side's approach around Fernando Llorente's absence on Sunday was baffling. In the first half against Middlesbrough, Swansea slung 25 crosses into the visiting box. In the second: another 21. To what aim, though? Jordan Ayew replaced Llorente at the top of the formation and inevitbaly lacked the stature to replicate his threat. Even Borja Baston, disappointing as he's been, would have been a more sensible selection given his physical attributes. 

Swansea dedicate a lot of organisational energy to pre-game data analysis and yet they employed a football-by-averages approach against a team who, despite their league position, are defensively excellent in the air.

It didn't make sense. And worse, it didn't yield any results: all but five of those 46 crosses were unsuccessful and none of them caused Boro anything other than mild concern.

It was understandable for Clement to begin the game with a familiar system, but for him not to have pivoted away from it - or to make any substitutions at all - is difficult to explain. 

Everton's Poster Boys 

Ronald Koeman was a victim of the international break (whether Martin O'Neill agrees or not) and Everton were always likely to suffer at Anfield without Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Ramiro Funes Mori, but their defeat was troublingly familiar. With the exception of the younger players, who can't be blamed for wilting in that kind of atmosphere, this was another occasion on which the club's leading players failed to make any impression on a marquee fixture.

Everton melted in the derby heat. Again.

In the summer, an affluent European club may well spend upwards of £60m on Romelu Lukaku and, before next season begins, another side may also take a run at signing Ross Barkley. Both should be approached with caution, though, because although indisputably talented and used to having their way with lesser opposition, they each have a habit of shrinking when the light is at its brightest.

Everton travel to Old Trafford on Tuesday night, meaning that both will have an immediate opportunity to further their reputations, but the smart money is on more anonymity and there being more questions to answer by Wednesday morning. 

Both are treated as talismen and yet neither of them do quite enough when it matters to warrant that status. 

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