Manchester City and Liverpool blow another chance
Manchester United finally did something constructive, and actually moved up the table. Spurs beat Southampton comfortably. Arsenal are in the middle of a Brendan Rodgers phase, and Chelsea took their chance to stride nonchalantly forward, unfettered by any other serious concerns.
Liverpool looked, last week, like they may be back to playing as they could do. They looked like they were a threat going forwards again.
City, meanwhile, had contracted a severe bout of City-itis last week and been knocked out of the Champions League in the most risible manner in years. They can’t defend, and they can’t score enough.
The game between City and Liverpool was a chance to pull away from United and Arsenal, and to make sure that the season didn’t sound like one long chorus of squeaky bum time. Instead, Adam Lallana, Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling blew their chances, and neither defence looked interested in actually standing where they should have done.
This was a quiet Premier League weekend, and it meant that neither side felt any pressure to up their game and take advantage. It could cost them, but given the repeated missteps of everyone but Chelsea, it probably won’t.
Best goal of the weekend… Jesse Lingard
Jesse Lingard does two things well. One, he scores impressive, important goals, just as he did against Southampton in the League Cup final. Just as he did against Leicester City in the Community Shield. And just as he did against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final. There’s another one now, the winner against Middlesbrough on Sunday.
While this game didn’t have quite the same importance as the finals, it mattered because it finally lifted Manchester United out of their sixth placed rut. It also mattered because they were able to play without Paul Pogba, after a string of miserable performances and some depressing results.
When you play poorly, you need people to intervene and make a difference. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has occasionally done that this season. Paul Pogba has struggled to make a difference even against the poorest teams. Juan Mata makes a difference with regular games, but inspires nobody else. Nobody would expect a player as limited as Lingard to score goals like this, especially when it mattered, but the fact that he does hints at a talent that is worth developing for perhaps another season.
Disappointing weekend for… Arsene Wenger
Every week, it seems, there is a weekend. And every weekend, it seems, things go poorly for Arsene Wenger. Wenger is in the kind of spell that only the most established managers can endure, and only the most determined and insightful managers can resolve.
The constant disappointments are far more frequent than they have been in the past, with plenty of evidence along the way this season to suggest it has been in the post. The twin worries about Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez also throw up the possibility that the traditional struggles of Arsenal will get multiply, with more than one key talent having to be replaced in each coming season.
Alan Shearer suggested that Wenger has lost the players. He certainly appears to have lost Sanchez, and Ozil loses himself most weekends anyway. The problem is that the less talents are also giving up, aware that they might actually be able to do better elsewhere. Theo Walcott, for instance, might prefer Liverpool, or even Spurs, to staying with Wenger.
The same goes for others. The only way to fix this is to win, to win consistently, and to resolve to try something new in the summer. It appears unlikely that Wenger has it in him, and it appears the players don’t think he does either.
Surprise of the weekend… Crystal Palace keep a clean sheet
Sam Allardyce has put away the pint of wine and isn’t messing about anymore. He has 10 games left, and he is still largely relying on the clubs beneath him to be catastrophically awful.
A win against Middlesbrough, and then a surprise victory at West Brom, gave him a hint that his pragmatic approach to football was working. He’s not the caveman he’s painted as, but if he were quite as clever as others say he is, his football wouldn’t be appalling to watch.
Right now, Palace won’t care, and they have their third win in row after an own goal from Troy Deeney. Palace should be safe, but with Leicester City pulling away after a serious crisis, there is little room for error.
Most important goal of the weekend… Christian Eriksen
Spurs will have known that they should have been able to cope without Harry Kane. While he is brilliant, they had Dele Alli, who is going to be a far better player even than Kane. Heung-Min Son has contributed goals in stops and starts since joining, and there is more to Spurs than just a striker.
But they might well have been a little worried about playing without him. He is a leader of sorts, and his ability to score from very little in front of him allows them to score when underperforming, and there is something ineffably depressing about missing your striker. It makes everyone feel in need of a viagra.
Eriksen is an odd player. He is often there, on the pitch, doing playmaker things. But he the archetypal Premier League luxury player, with those around him working harder than he does on the basics (that is not to say he doesn’t work at all). He is 25 now, and this kind of player has to start becoming regularly lethal or it is worth continuing with what he offers. There is a vague hint, of late, that he is starting to get the message, and he has begun to score at a quicker rate. The opener here calmed everyone down, and set Spurs up for their first Kane-less victory. The top four depends on their being more to come.