Welcome to your new Premier League, just as we had gotten used to England's top division being handed to Chelsea, a meme that Carlos Tévez debunked around 8:30 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. After Manchester City's 1-0 victory over the Blues, we're in search of a new meme to dwell upon, exploit, and distort.
Wigan is no longer the worst team in Premier League history (as we were told, a few weeks ago), and Chelsea can be beaten. In hindsight, both conclusions seem reasonable enough to make us question why we ever believed what they debunked. At the same time, I'm interested in seeing the next flat-world view we accept. Manchester United's draws portend a drop in league? Arsenal's loss to West Bromwich Albion shows the Big Three is actually a Top Two? We need to hurry-up and develop this theme. I have another column to write next week.
For now, we're left with a world thrown into chaos by Chelsea's loss at Eastlands. True, Chelsea is still safely atop the Premier League, and their loss was to a squad that seems particularly well-suited to exploit Chelsea's weaknesses, but we should still completely reassess the Blues, right? To occupy our time, the next few days may be filled with outlets constructing scenarios by which Chelsea will continue to stumble, but come Tuesday when Marseille rolls into Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will show us why they should be considered the favorites to take this year's title. The match at Eastlands reminded us that the perceived gap between Chelsea and their challengers was just that: perceived. Short of another team stepping-forward, the Blues are still the league's class.
Plus, there's something inherently unfair to City about dwelling being too critical of Chelsea. If you're going to take the favorite's mantle away from the Blues, you end up depriving Manchester City of their due credit. The fact that City defeated an undefeated side - one which come into the match with a +20 goal difference - end up cheapened. What a victory, City! Too bad your accomplishment showed your win wasn't much of an accomplishment. Let's not analyze ourselves in circles.
Chelsea is not as good as some thought, and no, City is not as good as some will now think, but it was a great win for the Citizens, one which showcased every reason why City is a particularly poor match-up for Chelsea. The Blues don't have the defenders to handle City when they set-up to counter. City's midfield strength can mitigate what is usually a huge advantage for Chelsea. The Citizens are more than willing to sit-back and wait for their chances, even if it means settling for a draw. They're not going to give Chelsea easy goals, and combined with their strength in midfield, the philosophy leaves matches between City and Chelsea likely to be decided by the Citizen's counterattack. And that decision is more likely to go City's way.
At least, that's how both matches Mancini's managed have played-out.
In Other Big Three Stumbles
Manchester United were again drawn by an inferior team. And again, they allowed multiple goals, needing a MIchael Owen second half header to draw Bolton, 2-2. It's a result which will overshadow the fact that United never looked the lesser team, and for a lot of this match, they looked like a club that will continue to content for titles. Bolton got a scrappy, well-deserved point, and in doing so showed that the key to United's season is likely Rio Ferdinand's health.
The bigger news amongst bigger clubs is Arsenal, who lost at the Emirates 3-2 to West Bromwich Albion. The score was ultimately flattering to the Gunners, who got a late brace from Samir Nasri after falling behind by three. For the second week in a row, Arsenal was unable to play their style of game, a style that has been habitually forced upon the less talented teams of the league. Not so against Sunderland and Brom. Lacking the drive needed to overrun a team they should have blown-out, Arsenal showed no ability to play without Cesc Fabregas, who missed this match with injury.
West Brom deserves credit, and their sixth place standing in league is their reward. Still, this match was about Arsenal, because although Brom played well, they didn't play so well that an Arsenal that expected to compete for silverware shouldn't have handled them.
Yeah, Bottom Is Worrying
Everton drew at Fulham. On the surface, that's an acceptable, almost good result. Of course, Fulham had no strikers, starting Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey up-top, and Everton needed to make up points, having lost last weekend at Goodison to Newcastle. On Saturday, the Toffees failed to do so, held to a 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage that sees Everton in 20th place through sixth rounds.
But the Toffess aren't the only Liverpool club whose struggles continue. The Reds needed a gifted first goal to take the lead on Sunderland, who would charge back to a 2-1 lead. While Liverpool eventually equalized, they were still drawn at home by the Black Cats, leaving them in 16th place.
Of greater concern, Liverpool looks the part, with another day of average (at best) performances by Steven Gerrard, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Jamie Carragher. Fernando Torres is playing better, and Dirk Kuyt is back, but Roy Hodgson has work to do to make this a mid-table side. At this point, contended for Europe is two steps away.
More Bites From The Bottom
West Ham beat Tottenham in what might be the season's biggest upset (he says on the same weekend West Brom won at the Emirates). At least West Brom sits sixth and had won a couple of matches before this weekend. West Ham's only wins had been in the Carling Cup. They came into the weekend with the league's worst defense, worst record, and its second-worst goal difference. Yet, they beat Tottenham, 1-0.
Harry Redknapp needs to shoulder the blame for the loss. Yes, his defense was depleted, forcing him to move Gareth Bale into defense, but with Avram Grant playing his two wingers high and wide, West Ham was left with only Scott Parker and Mark Noble to hold-down the midfield. Meanwhile, Spurs were playing with five midfielders. When given that kind of advantage, Redknapp needs to have a plan in place to win the match, particularly against a team with less talent. But Redknapp feels tactics are overrated, he said earlier this year. On Saturday, it showed.
While Upton Park saw one goal, St. Andrew's saw none, with Birmingham City and Wigan playing to a scoreless draw. The result isn't surprising, with Wigan having played the Blues tough last season. The lack of goals is the eye-opener. Coming into the match, the teams had combined to allow 21 goals. On Saturday, the match ended 0-0.
Stoke City climbed out of the relegation zone thanks to James Perch, the Magpie right back's difficult start to life in the Premier League getting much worse on Sunday. Perch headed into his own next with five minutes left, giving the Potters a 2-1 win at St. James's Park. The result pushes Stoke to 14th place, while Newcastle drops to 10th.
And at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool nearly got a result from a difficult match-up with Blackburn, staking a late Matt Philliips goal to a 1-1 score as time wound down. But the Rovers came good in the end, getting a Brett Emerton goal in stoppage time to take all three points, pushing the Seasiders into 15th place, two points above the drop.
Look At The Happy Debutant
Is there poetry or irony behind Emile Heskey, the shock starter on Sunday at Wolves, getting the game-winning goal for Aston Villa in Gerard Houllier's debut? The former Liverpool man's 88th minute tally gave his Anfield boss three points and a derby win to open his stay with Villa. The 2-1 victory has Villa in fifth place, defying their -2 goal difference, though with Houllier having finally arrived at Villa Park, this is the Lions' chance to push-on from a season's sluggish start.
Conversely Wolves, who gave supporters reason for hope throughout the season's first month, are now in 17th place, even on points with Wigan. Their goal difference, -3, is only one worse than Villa's.
The League, As I See It
Or how it could eventually be ...
Champions: Chelsea - A one goal loss on the road to another Champions League-caliber team is an expected, not shocking, result.
Champions League: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City - With the gap between four and five being bigger than the gap between three and four. For now.
Europa League: Tottenham, Fulham, Newcastle United - Coincidentally, the league's only other teams with postiive goal differences, though that's not why they're chosen.