Was it that Chelsea were magnificent, or were Sunderland just a load of tripe? Did Hull put up a magnificent display or were Tottenham just toothless? Were Stoke magnificent, or Liverpool just crap/totally unlucky if you are a Rafa Benitez fan and still believe he can do no wrong? Read on to find out what five things we’ve learned this weekend, now that the weather has relented and life can continue as normal.
1. Rafa Benitez is a pioneer and innovator. Seriously, he is. I’ve seldom seen a match where a manager has confessed it is a must win game for his team, away against tricky opposition and then pick a team which consisted of six defenders, two defensive midfielders and two attackers (one reprising his role of an attacker, which he hasn’t played probably for two years or more). Better still, he left £30m worth of attacking midfield talent on the bench. It was all going so well too, a beautifully crafted Kyriakos deflection off a Thomas Sorensen seizure had put Liverpool in front, but thanks to Andy Gray willing an equaliser the Gods of football listened to the giant-foreheaded one and allowed Robert Huth, he of the smouldering good looks, to prod home an equaliser late on. Cue apoligies, promises about the next game, how luck is going against Liverpool, should Rafa be sacked? Blah di blah.
2. The Premier League is much tougher this year. Only, I am not quite sure why that is. Is it because teams have closed the gap on the top four, or is it because the top four are not as dominant as they once were? I mean take Manchester United v Burnley. An easy 3-0 win for United. Well, not quite. The result was 3-0 but twice at 0-0 Burnley had two gilt-edged chances to take the lead. That would not have happened in the past. Hull drew at Tottenham, West Ham at Villa, Everton comprehensively outclassed Manchester City, Stoke and Liverpool drew. Games you think should be home bankers are proving not to be. Apart from good old Sunderland of course, who didn’t let the side down. Top marks for one Sunderland fan who remarked in a moment of beautiful clarity “It wasn’t as if the lads didn’t try even, they did… We are just crap compared to Chelsea.”
3. If there is a better midfielder in world football at the moment than Cesc Fabregas then I’ve not seen him this season. Now I know people will immediately go “Xavi!” “Iniesta!” “Kaka!” “Lampard!” “Lucas Leiva!” erm “Ryan Giggs!” but we shall ignore their pleadings. Fabregas returned from injury and the transformation in the Arsenal team was immense. The first goal against Bolton was just poetry. As much as I am not a fan of Arsenal, with Fabregas in the team, they are a joy to watch and often Fabregas is the sole reason for that.
4. The Premier League is now divided into three divisions. Did you notice this weekend the subtle divides getting bigger? The top three all won, Aston Villa, Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool couldn’t keep pace, Everton are slowly edging their way towards this group which also includes Birmingham and the rest of the teams are all pretty much embroiled in the fight to avoid the drop. So we have a race for the title, the race for fourth and the fight against survival. Perhaps in history this weekend may be seen as the one which finally defined the role of each team for this season.
5. Chelsea may struggle without their African based players in January. Yeah. Another class prediction I made a while back in an article. Mind you I don’t think we should count games against sides Steve Bruce has been with in the past 12 months. His former charges Wigan lost 9-1 at Spurs not so long ago, so 7-2 at Stamford Bridge is a bit of a moral victory. Honestly, my predictions are so laughably wrong sometimes, I should write an astrology column.