For the first time all Premier League season, Chelsea were shut out on Saturday when Sunderland held them scoreless in a 0-0 draw. The Blues didn’t look themselves as striker Diego Costa was ineffectual and playmakers Cesc Fabregas, Oscar and Eden Hazard weren’t as incisive or influential as usual. Riding a late surge, Sunderland might have even handed Chelsea their first loss. They applied significant pressure, asking real questions of Chelsea’s composure in the back. A primary contributor to that late assault was the American striker Jozy Altidore, whose expensive acquisition by Sunderland the summer before last has yet to pay dividends. He was a handful as a substitute, yet could also have done better on his lone chance.
Getty ImagesAlex Livesey
Premier League giants fail to convince, take points anyway
Liverpool and Arsenal, who seemed primed to retake their spots at the top-end of this league last season, after several years of relative futility, continue to plod along this year. The Gunners have looked strong only in flashes while the Reds haven’t come close to emulating their form from last year. Still, they both escaped another weekend with the points. Against West Bromwich Albion, a splendid Santi Cazorla cross on the run set up Danny Welbeck for the thunderous header and winner. In an even drearier affair, Liverpool also won 1-0 against Stoke City. Ricky Lambert won a header off a cross late on and defender Glen Johnson dove head-first into the scrum to nod it home. That win was rather flattered, since Stoke’s Bojan had hit the post and another effort had been saved off the line. Both these teams have so much to prove yet.
Getty ImagesLaurence Griffiths
Tottenham finally rediscover their mojo at White Hart Lane
In a contest between underperformers, Tottenham avoided a fifth home loss -- which would have been two more than any other team. It looked, for a time, like their swoon would continue though, when Kevin Mirallas’s sublime shot from distance put them behind. But Harry Kane took a shot, which was well saved by the American Everton goalie Tim Howard, and Christian Eriksen swept home the rebound with a scuffed shot that bounced just right to equalize. Fittingly, it was Roberto Soldado -- the striker who doesn’t score -- who scored the 2-1 winner. He hadn’t gotten a league goal since March. It’s been just as long since the Spurs have impressed anybody. They’ve been a fragile team this year, but they held on. And so, they are just two points out of fourth place.
AFP/Getty ImagesBEN STANSALL
Southampton couldn’t capitalize against Manchester City
The Saints certainly didn’t embarrass themselves in their 3-0 loss to the defending champions at home. The sides looked evenly matched for long stretches. It’s just that Southampton, in a direct battle for second place, collapsed after their opponents went down a player. Eliaquim Mangala was sent off with a quarter of an hour to go and City soon scored a second and then a third goal through Frank Lampard and Gael Clichy, after Yaya Toure had put them ahead earlier. When Vincent Kompany hobbled off with five minutes of added time to go, City were reduced to nine players. Yet Ronald Koeman’s men failed to take advantage of these gifts. Instead, they surrendered half as many goals in a single game as they had in the dozen before it. Becoming a proper contender means punishing teams when the chances present themselves. The Saints didn’t.
Getty ImagesMike Hewitt
Manchester United are finally figuring things out
They had been waiting for it all season long -- and much of last season, too: That big, cathartic win that could build some momentum. So it was only against Hull City, but United’s authoritative 3-0 win will do much for their confidence going forward. The go-ahead goal by Chris Smalling was scrappy, and required the goal-line-technology to be awarded. But Wayne Rooney’s and Robin van Persie’s subsequent tallies were splendid. Ander Herrera, who came on for the quickly-injured Angel Di Maria, made the difference. United had 74 percent of the ball, the sort of performance that warmed manager Louis van Gaal’s heart. The Red Devils have now won three in a row and consolidated fourth place. They are, somehow, just five points out of second place.