This weekend of football didn’t look to be one that would pose many problems for the top Premier League sides, but it didn’t turn out that way for a couple of them. Manchester City took on Crystal Palace at the Etihad in a game many felt the home side could run away with, whilst Chelsea hosted Leicester, a match in which they were also clear favourites.
Although City’s last match against Leicester in the Carabao cup quarter-final wasn’t their most convincing performance, only going through on penalties, almost everyone would have expected them to bounce back and comfortably beat a struggling Palace side in the following league game. It did look like it could work out this way with Gundogan firing home a header early on. Yet, it was Palace who responded scoring two goals in as many minutes, one of which was a Goal of the Season contender from Andros Townsend. Aside from their first goal, City generally struggled to break down a solid Palace defence only clawing one back late on via De Bruyne’s freak cross-come-shot. It was only in the last few minutes when they were pushing for an equaliser that they managed to create some clear chances, none of which were capitalised on leading to an emphatic 2-3 win for Crystal Palace. This is a huge result for Palace, putting them six points clear of the relegation zone. As for City, it leaves them 4 points adrift of top spot after Liverpool secured a 0-2 win against Wolves on Friday night.
Much like City, Chelsea progressed unconvincingly to the Carabao Cup semi-finals after Hazard scored in the 84th minute to steal the win for his side against Bournemouth. Again, many would have expected Chelsea to push on from this when they faced Leicester at Stamford Bridge. The home side dominated the match early on creating a few decent chances, one of which you would have expected Hazard to score 9 times out of 10, but this was the one time that he fired his shot against the crossbar. It was Leicester who took the lead early in the second half with Jamie Vardy scoring a goal typical of his style, a run in behind followed by a ferocious shot past Kepa. Chelsea did appear to be on top for most of the game but only created a couple of outstanding opportunities like the one Hazard missed and one that saw Alonso hit the post late on. They consequently suffered a 0-1 defeat in a game that only emphasised Sarri’s main issue even further. He needs a striker. Any team that relies on one key player and their left back to score most of the goals is never going to be overly successful and certainly won’t meet the standards Chelsea expect of themselves. If they are unable to make an addition in January, Chelsea could not only find themselves falling even further behind in the title race, but could also be at risk of losing their Champions League spot.
Whilst their still 8 points behind, Manchester United could maybe, just maybe, be one of the sides to threaten Chelsea’s 4th place position. It’s fair to say United made an awful start to the season leading to Mourinho losing his job. His replacement, Solskjaer, was something of a surprise but he already looks to be returning exactly what United have been missing since Ferguson’s retirement. United travelled to Cardiff in Ole’s first game, the club where the Norwegian previously had an unsuccessful period in charge which included relegation for the Welsh side. Solskjaer set up his side in a way that United fans will have been desperately wanting to see for a long time; Young and Shaw were virtually playing as wingers whilst the attacking players were knocking the ball around beautifully with some excellent one touch play. Anthony Martial’s goal really captured the impact Ole has had after just a few days at the club. The reds ran out as 1-5 winners and the fact that this was the first time United had scored 5 goals since the Ferguson era tells you everything you need to know. You have to wonder why Mourinho was so reluctant to change his ways and stop restricting his players to a very defensive style of football. Almost everyone who knows anything about football could see what needed to change, the players just had to be allowed to enjoy their game. Mourinho’s dismissal looks to be a real move forward for the club, even this early on, as United look to finally be on the right path to becoming the feared giants they always used to be.
In general, this weekend has been a very positive one for the away sides. Of the 9 games that have been played so far, 6 resulted in away wins with Newcastle against Fulham being the only one which ended in a draw. You certainly wouldn’t have expected it to work out this way with City, Chelsea and even West Ham, who have been in excellent form recently, all playing at home. That’s the Premier League for you.