The defending champs took another blow while the Hammers ironed out another top dog and Manchester City earned another easy three points.
Alan Pardew is establishing quite the reputation as Jose Mourinho’s kryptonite. OK, so that might be overstating things, but with the win on Saturday he did become the first manager to defeat Mourinho three times in Premier League play, and in doing so his Crystal Palace side also handed the Blues just their second loss in 100 games at the Stamford Bridge under Mourinho. This was no fluke result, either. Palace were the better side on balance on Saturday afternoon. Bakary Sako was lively and creative, Yannick Bolasie came off the bench with energy and inventiveness, Jason Puncheon was constantly moving play along the right-hand side. Palace had a pacey group on the pitch and gave Chelsea fits all game long, and once Bolasie came into the game in the 55th minute the tempo and momentum of the game swung totally in Palace’s favor.
Bolasie made both of Palace’s goals although he didn’t get an assist for either. His first contribution to the game came when he laid off a pass to Sako in the middle of the box in the 65th minute; Sako’s initial shot was blocked by a sliding Azpilicueta, but the ball remained right as his feet, allowing him to collect his thoughts and slot home a tidy finish over the top of Courtios. And once Chelsea had equalized thanks to Pedro’s sublime cross, which found the forehead of a diving Falcao, Bolasie once again made his way down the left flank, this time crossing the ball to Sako at the back post. Without much room to spare, Sako ingeniously played the ball square to Joel Ward, who had made his way all the way up the pitch from the right back spot to the six-yard box in order to head home the winning goal.
It was a magical performance by Palace and another forgettable outing for the defending champions. Mourinho’s squad just seems to be missing something at the moment. Neither Matic or Fabregas is playing at the same level as they were at the start of last season and reigning EPL player of the year Eden Hazard has been anonymous for a good portion of these opening four weeks. It’s not quite time to panic just yet for the special one, but when you consider that City are 4-0 and just added another world class attacker in Kevin De Bruyne, Chelsea can’t allow this title hangover to last much longer.
Things are looking up for Sunderland! Well, relatively speaking at least. After losing their first two games of the season, the Black Cats are in swimming form after their second straight draw. In reality, I thought Sunderland were a tad bit lucky to get a point away at Villa Park. The Lions were dominant in possession, tripled Sunderland’s shot total and generally looked the more dangerous side. Loanee Yann M’Villa kicked off the scoring with a gorgeous free kick for the Black Cats in the 8th minute before Scott Sinclair nabbed a first-half brace 30 minutes apart in the 11th and 41st. But Villa couldn’t hold on to its lead as Sunderland forward Jermain Lens equalized with about 30 minutes to play, and the Lions were unable to find a winner as Dick Advocaat’s side parked the bus. The man of the match for me was quite obvious: Jordan Amavi. As I mentioned in my first BPL recap column, Amavi is absolutely fantastic when getting forward down the left-hand side and he only furthered that reputation against Sunderland, completing five dribbles and notching an assist when he was invited up the pitch to join the attack.
Liverpool have been all over the map this season. They weren’t good at all in their season opening win against Stoke but won anyways, they shouldn’t have beat Bournemouth at home but got saved by a couple of iffy calls and they were actually quite good in securing a point against Arsenal at the Emirates. Perhaps that result against the Gunners could have been a turning point for a string of good results for Liverpool, but naturally it was just a blip on the radar to make their 3-0 home loss to West Ham look even crazier.
Liverpool’s defense in this game was absolutely horrible. Dejan Lovren might have had the worst defensive game of the season thus far as quite literally gave the Hammers a goal when he was caught in possession on the goalline. Martin Skrtel wasn’t much better and new boys Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez were pretty bad, too. To top it all off for the Reds, Coutinho picked up two yellow cards within seven minutes of game time and was sent off, allowing West Ham to see off the game quite comfortably in the second half.
The Reds never really threatened in this game, and to be honest, they’ve been pretty poor on the attack all season long. It’s dumbfounding how little this team manages to play to the strengths of its $50 million target man. Through four games, Liverpool sit at the bottom of the league when it comes to cross attempts per game at 16; it’s the futbol equivalent of giving DeAndre Jordan a max contract and then refusing to lob him the ball on alley-oops. Benteke is more than just a poacher and he can score some quality goals, but his primary skill is winning balls in the air and scoring goals off the end of crosses. That may not be the way that Brendan Rodgers wants to play, but he should have thought of that before he paid $50 million for him.
And it wouldn’t be a West Ham game in 2015-16 without the Irons having someone sent off, too. Mark Noble picked up a straight red in the 78th minute, but he did so a good fifty minutes after he scored a very nice goal off of another Liverpool miscue at the back. I thought the 22-year-old Argentine winger Manuel Lanzini was excellent in his first start for the club; his pressure on Liverpool’s backline helped create some chances and I was impressed by his workrate. Spanish midfielder Pedro Obiang was my man of the match for the control and precision that he exhibited in the middle of the park. The former Sampdoria man had six interceptions, four tackles and completed close to 80% of his passes as he helped see out West Ham’s second win of the season over a traditional BPL power.
The fact that two goals didn’t seem like enough for the Citizens in their home win over Watford is a testament to the kind of start to the season that they’ve had. But Credit Enrique Flores’ side for being able to hold down the red hot Sky Blues for the entire first half before Raheem Sterling opened his City account just two minutes into the second half. Soon after Fernandinho would add a second for City and the rest was history. Speaking of Fernandinho: After a down year last season, he’s starting to look like one of the best midfielders in the Premiership again. Perhaps it was the emotional and physical wear from his time with Brazil in the World Cup or just an off season, but right now his ability to compliment Yaya Youre in City’s midfield by providing defensive balance and additional offensive competent for the most loaded attack in England is special.
Oh, and by the way, City have now taken all 12 points from their available 12 to start the season WITHOUT summer signings Nicolás Otamendi and Kevin De Bruyne playing a single minute. Given their current form and the quality of this squad, it looks like a Premier League title might not be the most prestigious trophy in City’s sights this season.
It’d be easier to name which Newcastle players didn’t get booked in what was a rather forgettable afternoon of football at St. James’ Park. Left back Massadio Haidara, right back Daryl Janmaat, holding midfielder Jack Colback and of course Tim Krul all kept their names out of the book on Saturday, but the rest of the Magpies were not so lucky. Most of Newcastle’s cards seemed kind of typical of an underdog team trying to get physical with its more skillful opponents, but Aleksandar Mitrovic’s challenge that got him sent off in the 16th minute was despicable and worthy of an additional ban of a game or two. Mitrovic didn’t take long to get his name in the book in either of his first two Premier League appearances and he marked his first start in the BPL by stamping on Coquelin’s ankle.
Newcastle would, of course, close up shop and attempt to hold on for dear life in hopes of a 0-0 draw. Unfortunately for them, and for everybody watching, the game’s only score would come on an own goal off of Fabricio Coloccini. The Gunners perhaps deserved more from this match, like a goal of their own, but Krul was very good between the sticks, making sure that Arsenal’s 22-1 shots advantage didn’t manifest itself on the scoresheet.
Stoke have yet to have their quality on the field match the quality of its offseason acquisitions. The Potters are now winless in four, and even though a 1-0 loss to Liverpool or a 2-2 draw with Spurs aren’t disastrous results, with the kind of players that Mark Hughes has at his disposal, a 1-0 home loss to West Brom is an avoidable and dreadful result, especially when it comes after two players were sent off. Ibrahim Afellay is one of the summer signings that Stoke have pegged for a big season, but he was sent off in the 25th minute after a reckless challenge, and Charlie Adam would join him in the lockerroom just six minutes later after another straight red. At that point Stoke had little hope of bossing the game against a West Brom side that came ready to sit back, and Salomon Rondo’s first Premier League goal in first half stoppage time was enoguh to lift the Hawthorns to its first win of the season.
In a matchup between two of the pleasant surprises of the Premier League season thus far, the Cherries and the Foxes were both rewarded with a deserved point. The Tinkerman Claudio Ranieri made his first alteration to his league squad this season, dropping former Mainz striker Shinji Okazaki to put an extra body in midfield. It was N’Golo Kante, whom Leicester bought from SM Caen, a French side that earned promotion to the top flight last season, that got the start as the Foxes’ #10, and he had a lively afternoon linking up with Jamie Vardy. Vardy was the goal scorer for Leicester, knocking in a penalty in the 86th minute to keep the Foxes streak of positive results alive. Perhaps Leicester could have gotten even more on the road against the new boys, but Marc Albrighton and Riyad Mahrez had their first poor performances of the season, leaving the Foxes without the kind of offensive punch that they’ve showed during the early portion of this season.
The Cherries, meanwhile, were a fun side to watch yet again, and they continued the trend of being able to keep possession against their formidable Premier League opponents. Callum Wilson wasn’t particularly sharp all afternoon, but his overhead kick in the 24th minute was a real piece of work, and the young Englishman is now tied at the top of the table with Mahrez and Gomis with four goals in league play. Unfortunately for the Cherries, the draw comes with two very damaging injuries. Record-singing Tyrone Mings is out for the season after tearing his ACL and flamboyant winger Max Gradel also suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for six months. These are two massive blows for Bournemouth, but from what we’ve seen from Eddie Howe’s side this season, they still stand a decent chance to remain in the Premier League past 2016.
Tottenham probably feel unfortunate to come away from a home matchup against Everton with just one point, but at the end of the day this game didn’t deserve a goal. Spurs did put a good amount of shots on goal, and Tim Howard earned his clean sheet with a man of the match performance between the sticks, but I don’t think either side was particularly good on Saturday afternoon. Tottenham were without their #10 as Christian Eriksen sat with a knee injury, meaning Ryan Mason got the start behind Harry Kane. As you’d expect, Mason didn’t offer nearly as much going forward as Eriksen does, and Kane was left without a great deal of service.
Roberto Martinez also played a rather punchless side, opting for a bit more of a technical grouping in midfield with the addition of usual sub Arouna Kone supporting Lukaku from the right-hand side. On the road, perhaps starting Tom Cleverley over the more dangerous Kevin Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu was an OK move, but I don’t think the talent gap between the two sides was big enough for the Toffees to play it safe from kickoff. Mirallas, who replaced Cleverley right after halftime, and Deulofeu did wind up on the pitch as subs, but neither left much of an imprint on the game.
After struggling out of the gate in the league (two points in three) and after being eliminated from the Europa League by Danish side FC Midtjylland, the Saints finally got on track with a thorough domination of newly-promoted Norwich. Southampton’s three-pronged attack that dominated last season – Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle – had its best performance of the young season, toying with the Canaries in possession and creating havoc any time they were allowed space down the flanks. Tadic netted a brace, Mane had a pair of assists and Pelle added his second goal of the season. Norwich right back Steven Whittaker had an asbolute shocker, getting booked twice on top of all of the space he allowed Tadic on the left hand side. The Saints new centerback duo of Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida was more than solid in front of Maarten Stekelenburg, but they were almost never bothered by Norwich’s attack, which was rather toothless for a team that scored five goals in its first three games.
What a start to the season this has been for Gary Monk’s Swans. Another game, another magnificent performance from signing of the summer Andre Ayew, who outperformed United’s five new boys despite costing $110 million less. And another game, another goal for Swansea striker Bafétimbi Gomis. Ayew got himself a goal and assisted on Gomis’ finish, with the two goals coming within a five-minute span that completely changed the game. Juan Mata had put United on top to start the second half, but Swansea were able to break down United on two occasions in order to secure the equalizing and winning goals. It must be said that United keeper Sergio Romero had to do better on Gomis’ attempt, but he got a weak hand on the ball and allowed it to role in, sealing United’s fate. The Swans wouldn’t have held onto all three points were it not for the expert work of Ashley Williams at the back, as his pair of tackles on Wayne Rooney in breakaway situations kept the English talisman at bay.