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Giants left with much to think about
We head into the international break with a few surprises after this weekend. No one would have picked Arsenal and Liverpool to be tied on points atop the table after seven games, and we all thought the Manchester clubs would be a lot better off than they are. But after this week, we're convinced more than ever that this is an open league with no clear front-runner. And that’s good for the game and for the fans.
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Let’s start at Liverpool, where the new “SAS” got a solid win over an admittedly poor Crystal Palace. Now, I played with the original SAS -- Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham -- and I don’t think Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez are quite there yet. But they are in fine form and Liverpool are able to cover up a lot of weaknesses because they are able to score goals at any time.
And that’s something we have to keep an eye on: Liverpool do have weaknesses. Brendan Rodgers was right to caution fans after the match that Liverpool still are a work in progress. The Reds are still missing a few pieces but Rodgers' program is working, and he deserves all the credit. They are going to make things interesting this season.
Liverpool's archrivals, Manchester United, quieted some of the talks of crisis with a solid if nervy win over Sunderland. The match was actually a bit hard on Sunderland, who look very different under Kevin Ball. All the pressure that had built up under Paolo Di Canio has finally been expelled and the Black Cats now look like they are back to enjoying their football.
Adnan Januzaj is rightly the toast of the weekend after scoring two fine goals to rescue his manager and his team, but United have problems. They are at the back, and Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have to get it sorted out. Both men look as if they’ve lost a step and we’ve seen several times now how they have been caught out. David Moyes is going to have to do some work back there because United cannot prosper without a stout back line. Right now, he doesn’t have that.
We also saw how the Europa League is affecting teams: both Tottenham and Swansea slumped this weekend, and in Spurs’ case, it was very dispiriting. That was a bad loss at home at the hands of a very negative West Ham, and Andre-Villas Boas now has to go back and think about how he can get his side back on track. He admitted after the game that it was a wake-up call and he is right: Ravel Morrison simply tore his team apart, and when you give up goals like that, you’re going to be punished.
As for Swansea, give Mauricio Pochettino a lot of credit: his Saints have only lost three games out of their last 19 matches, and they are doing it with defense. All the criticism that was leveled against the club when they sacked Nigel Adkins now has to be reconsidered a bit, because under Pochettino, the Saints look like a quality side, and their place in the table shows it. They stifled Michael Laudrup’s side on Sunday and fully deserve to be in fourth.
We have to give the same credit to Steve Clarke at West Brom. His side has become very hard to play against. They’ve beat United and now with a draw against Arsenal, they are showing that you can play attacking football against the best teams in the league and prosper. That was a fine game, with some real pace and power up top and bit of guile on the break. Had Nicolas Anelka scored on his breakaway, we’d be having a different conversation here.
But let’s also give a nod to Arsenal. They entered a very grueling stretch and have come out of it on top of the table, in the driver’s seat in the Champions League, and will get a number of injured players back after the break. This is about as good a scenario as Arsene Wenger could have ever hoped for and if the Gunners can keep it up, they have a shout.
Flipping the switch
Chelsea escaped Carrow Road with their first away win of the year at Norwich. Jose Mourinho talked about how his teams needs to rediscover their winning mentality, and he has a point, because teams do not fear Chelsea they way they did even a year ago.
This game summed that up: Chelsea got off very quickly, and looked like a dangerous, passing team. But then, they took the foot off the pedal and allowed Norwich back in. In the end, Eden Hazard and Willian rescued the three points, but that’s a concern -- Chelsea should not be letting teams back into matches. Mourinho is going to have to work on that during the break.
And finally, I want to end on Newcastle because I was really pleased to see my lads get a solid win over Cardiff City in Wales. That’s a very tough place to play and yet we came out and dominated the game. That was the most fluent and composed match we’ve been able to put together, and if Loic Remy can stay on form, we have a bit of hope.
I love chatting with you guys, so do take a moment to follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2. It’s a lot of fun to be able to banter with you guys all week! And don’t forget, you can always ask questions to us at @FOXSoccer or @FOXSoccerDaily. And check out our brand new FOX Soccer Daily show page, right here on FOXSoccer.com. Thanks as always for reading, and I will see you Monday.