It was another entertaining, goal filled weekend in the English Premier League. As title contenders dropped points and teams like West Ham and Southampton appeared in the top four, viewers have plenty to discuss. Here are four things we learned from round nine in the Premier League.
Chelsea are still the team to beat
Chelsea dropped points for only the second time this season, after a dramatic last-gasp equalizer from Robin Van Persie. If you want evidence that The Blues are the team everyone wants to take down, look no further than the celebration that ensued. United players and fans alike, reacted as if it were the result of the century. When, in reality they needed five extra minutes and a little help from referee, Phil Dowd, to earn a point at home against a Chelsea team missing its top two strikers.
In fairness the draw was deserved given how well United played over the course of the ninety minutes, but the reaction was telling. Teams even with the quality of Manchester United, understand just how difficult it will be to take points off Chelsea this season. Having won seven and drawn two (away to both Manchester clubs), Jose Mourinho’s men, at least until they lose, are still the team to beat in the Premier League.
Marouane Fellaini is relevant again
There were many positive aspects to the Red Devils performance against the league leaders on Sunday. Perhaps, the most important was the play of Marouane Fellaini. Fellaini was integral in Van Persie’s equalizer, but it was his defensive work that was most impressive. Fellaini spent the bulk of the ninety minutes hounding Cesc Fabregas all over the park, making it impossible for the Spaniard to stamp his mark on the game.
This came on the heels of a pivotal performance against West Bromwich Albion, that saw him score his first goal in red. Though United may not be ready to challenge for the title just yet, Fellaini is the sort of player that can be pivotal in getting them back into the top four. He provides hard tackling and strength in a midfield riddled with fancy footwork and pace. After a disappointing 12 months it appears he is back to the form that earned him the move to United in the first place.
Allardyce proves he’s better than Pellegrini
Prior to Saturday’s game against Manchester City, West Ham manager, Sam Allardyce, criticized his counterpart, Manuel Pellegrini, and suggested he was a manager more adept to adapting to his opponents. This proved true as Big Sam guided West Ham past Manchester City with a 2-1 win at Upton Park.
Allardyce is often, wrongfully, associated with long ball tactics. Though at times he has played defensively, there is not one style that defines the out spoken manager. Allardyce, as he states, weighs up the opposition and his own squad and plays the style that puts his team in the best position to earn the points. This season he has proved that with the right squad, his teams can play an aesthetically pleasing, free flowing style, full of creativity in attack.
Big Sam knew how Pellegrini would set up his team and in turn, deviated from his favoured 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 to negate City’s outside threats. After two Hammers’ goals it was Pelligrini who had to readjust his game plane, but Allardyce was there to counter any substitution. With the Hammers moving into fourth place after an impressive win against the reigning champions, it is time Allardyce get some credit for being one of football management’s greatest chameleons.
No amount of signings can replace Luis Suarez
Liverpool showed us yet again that they have not even come close to replacing Luis Suarez. Despite all the new signings the club made in the summer, there is still glaring hole up top. Suarez not only scored goals, but was also the hardest worker on the pitch and inspired others to work harder for the team. That tenacity, which helped Liverpool into the top four last year, for the first time since 2009 now seems long gone.
This weekend was another indication that life after Suarez is cruel. Furthermore, the inability of Mario Balotelli, Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Emre Can to produce is also highlighting Brendan Rodgers naivety as a manager. Despite losing Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury, Rodgers still believes his team can play in the same style they did last season.
Liverpool continue to set up as if Suarez, or someone like him, is playing up top and the reality is, no amount of players can replace the enigmatic striker. It is now up to the manager and the players to find a way to consistently take three points, otherwise Liverpool are in real danger of falling back out of the Champions League spots.