Saturday Premier League takeaways: Benching Özil, Mourinho's magic and Fergie-like Manchester United

Jamie McDonald

Mesut Özil's benching went pretty well. Should he automatically be first choice for every game? That and other thoughts on Saturday's Premier League action, which featured Manchester United and Chelsea as well.

The Premier League's big races didn't move much on Saturday. All three big title contenders won, Cardiff and Sunderland lost and Fulham drew, but there's still plenty of interesting stuff to talk about.

Sometimes intangibles are a thing

When a team grinds out lots of 1-0 wins while struggling to create clear chances over and over during the course of a season, it's easy to call them lucky. Jose Mourinho, however, has been pulling this off for the better part of a decade in three different leagues. At this point, even the most analytically-minded might have to admit that Mourinho's teams do have some kind of intangible quality. They just know how to win.

Everton defended brilliantly for most of their game at Stamford Bridge and deserved a draw heading into the dying minutes, but they folded late. They let Ramires get too much space on his 90th-minute shot that missed by inches and Phil Jagielka's foul that led to the free kick was ill-advised. Ramires went down a bit easy to win it, but it wasn't an outright dive. Then Frank Lampard delivered a perfect ball and John Terry got himself into the perfect spot, even if he wasn't the one who applied the finishing touch.

Chelsea flipped into a different mode mentally at the end of the game. They looked hyper-focused and executed everything perfectly. Their opponents, meanwhile, got sloppy. It's tough to say that Everton ‘earned' a draw after that.

Time to rotate Özil in certain situations?

Drawing strong conclusions about home games against Sunderland would be silly, but Arsenal looked better on Saturday than they have in any recent game that Mesut Özil started. The German playmaker was rested in this game after he tired playing in a 10-man team against Bayern Munich, and his team looked a bit more lively with Tomas Rosicky in his place.

This isn't to say Rosicky could be better than Özil -- clearly he isn't -- but he does provide something different. He doesn't have the same first touch, tricks or vision, but he's a much more direct player and is better at running at defenders. Against certain opponents, he's more useful than Özil.

Over the last couple seasons, there's been a debate about whether Arsenal's pieces fit together best with Jack Wilshere on the bench, even if Wilshere was their best player. That's not the case with Özil in all situations, but it's time to start asking if it's worth rotating him out situationally.

City having to grind without Aguero

The good news is that Manchester City won their match on Saturday against Stoke City. The bad news is that they didn't look all that good in the process. The continued absence of Sergio Aguero is clearly affecting the City attack and the sooner he comes back, the better. It doesn't help either that Edin Dzeko missed an absolute sitter right in front of an empty net or that Stevan Jovetic lasted less than 15 minutes before leaving with what appears to be another hamstring injury.

The most important thing at the end of the day though for City is that they got three points and stayed in touch with Chelsea and Arsenal in the title race. Winning a league title isn't always about being the most stylish team or playing attractive soccer every single match. It's often about grinding out results and winning games where you're not at your best. If City ends up winning the title in May, this is one of those games.


Christopher Lee/Getty Images

The Hammers are staying up

Around the holiday period, it appeared that Sam Allardyce was one or two bad results from getting the sack. Fast-forward to late February and West Ham United is up to 10th, a full seven points clear of the relegation battle. Their 3-1 win over Southampton on Saturday means they're only one point closer to the relegation zone than they are to the Saints.

The Hammers' fantastic five-game run -- a draw away to Chelsea, followed by four straight wins -- will probably end next weekend at Goodison Park. But they've impressed in their last five games, both home and away, against title contenders, mid-table sides and relegation battlers alike. Given how many teams below them are deeply flawed in some way, it looks like West Ham are pretty safe from the drop.

Cardiff are the Premier League's worst side

Ole Gunnar Stinksjaer

Fulham have been the Premier League's biggest mess this season, going through three managers while hiring and firing a technical director in just a couple months. The Cottagers still have the league's worst goal differential, but over the last three rounds of play, it's become clear that Cardiff are the Premier League's worst side.

While Fulham were able to follow up a draw against Manchester United and a heartbreaking close loss against Liverpool with a credible draw away to West Brom on Saturday, Cardiff laid an egg, suffering a home beating at the hands of Hull. As bad as a 3-0 derby loss is, that game was at the Liberty Stadium. This 4-0 drubbing was at home. It was also Cardiff's third straight league game without a goal.

We hope the paycheck is worth it, Ole. You're going down.

Moyes' United looked Fergusonesque

Manchester United are still eight points behind Liverpool and five points behind Tottenham Hotspur -- both of which have a game in hand -- but their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace might have signaled them finally turning a corner. It seems highly unlikely that United will actually come within striking distance of fourth place this season, but they showed signs of life at Selhurst Park.

United have pulled off a few comeback wins or draws in the second half after poor first half performances this season, but it hasn't been the norm like it once was. Instead of comfortable and in control, their second halves after bad starts have looked frantic. Sometimes it results in them scoring a goal, sometimes it doesn't.

This performance, on the other hand, looked calm. United looked like they always knew they were going to score a goal, which certainly wasn't a given away to Tony Pulis' Palace. They not only scored once, but twice, and never looked like conceding even though they had the geriatric pair of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand at the back.

David Moyes and Ed Woodward have a lot of work to do this offseason if they want to get United back into title contention, but this was encouraging. This was an Alex Ferguson performance.

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