Another weekend of wild results demonstrate that with a third of the season already in the books, England’s top-flight is anything but settled.
League leaders Chelsea lost their first game at home in stunning fashion, falling Sunday to Sunderland 3-0 in the upset special of the week.
Goals from Manchester United loanee Danny Welbeck, Ghanaian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan and Nedum Onuoha steered the Black Cats to their first win at Stamford Bridge in nearly ten years. And they did it in convincing fashion.
Chelsea, out of sorts these past two weeks and missing Michael Essien (suspension), John Terry, and Frank Lampard (both injury), suddenly look mortal.
The result will be cheered most loudly by the teams keeping pace: Arsenal, went second Sunday with a convincing 2-1 win at Everton behind goals from Bakary Sagna and Cesc Fabregas in a display that was never pretty, but certainly effective enough. Everton, despite another adequate performance in the nets by Tim Howard, looks one-dimensional – muscular, but unable to impose any rhythm.
Manchester United needed a late rescue act from Nemanja Vidic after being seemingly left for dead by a dominant Aston Villa side Saturday. Down 2-0 and being outplayed, United roared back with two goals in the final ten minutes and arguably should have won out against a side that hasn’t beaten the Red Devils at home in 15 years. Credit crafty Sir Alex for changing things with his decision to take off the dangerous Chicharito for Federico Macheda, in what seemed a strange move at the time. The gaffer was right: his sub had the effect of perking up a too-predictable United attack.
Nonetheless, United have now dropped 12 points on the road, and are winless in six of seven matches outside of the Theatre of Dreams. Brad Friedel started and Eric Lichaj was a late sub for the Villains.
Bitter rivals Manchester City had it worse: they played another stultifying match, and were held by Birmingham 0-0 for their troubles. Manager Roberto Mancini, setting a new mark for denial, unleashed another surreal post-game rant following the match denying that his job is in any jeopardy. He cannot be serious.
And Liverpool again dove for the bottom, comprehensively outplayed by a very average Stoke side at the Britannia, to lose 2-0. Manager Roy Hodgson’s team was jeered off the field by their fans, and the Reds’ pain was magnified by the late ejection of Lucas, eliminating him for their next game against bottom-feeders West Ham. Despite the resolution of ownership issues at Anfield, it is clear this team has deep problems and is in no way out of danger.
In Saturday’s best game, Gareth Bale led Tottenham to a 4-2 win over Blackburn. The final scoreline flattered Rovers, who picked up two late goals after Bale had won the game for Spurs with another blistering and clinical display on the flank.
But Spurs are still not in the Euro zone: This weekend, fifth place was taken by Stuart Holden’s Bolton, as the American led Wanderers to a 3-2 win over Marcus Hahnemann’s Wolverhampton with a goal and an assist.
Elsewhere, Clint Dempsey and Fulham were held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle. Eddie Johnson played the final minute. Jonathan Spector may be playing for the Yanks on Wednesday in South Africa, but he isn’t getting minutes for West Ham: they drew 0-0 with Blackpool. Wigan won 1-0 over West Bromwich Albion, a team finally finding its level.
In Germany, Borussia Dortmund stretched their lead at the top with a 2-0 win over Hamburg, while Bayer Leverkusen kept pace with a 1-0 triumph over St. Pauli. Bayern Munich, still trying to find form, got a big 3-0 win over Nurnberg on Sunday, but stumbling Werder Bremen were held 0-0 by Frankfurt.
Americans had a mixed weekend: Michael Bradley had a goal and an assist in Moenchengladbach’s huge 4-0 win over last-place Koln, while Jermaine Jones went 63 minutes in Schalke’s desperate 2-2 draw with Wolfsburg. But Steve Cherundolo was tossed (two yellows) in Hannover’s lucky 1-0 win over fading Mainz, and Daniel Williams didn’t get off the pine in Freiburg’s 1-0 win over Hoffenheim. The less said about Ricardo Clark and DaMarcus Beasley, the better.
In France, Carlos Bocanegra’s St. Etienne had their game with Valenciennes postponed due to bad weather. Ligue One leaders Brestois drew 1-1 with Charlie Davies’ Sochaux. Davies did not play, but news this week was that charges will be filed against the driver in the car crash that kept him out of the 2010 World Cup. Lille whipped Caen 5-2 while and Montpellier pipped Toulouse 1-0 to keep pace. Bordeaux won 2-1 over Nancy and Marseille drew 1-1 with Lens, while Rennes slipped to a 2-1 loss at climbing Auxerre and Paris Saint-Germain drew 1-1 at Lorient.
In Italy, Oguchi Onyewu may not be playing for AC Milan, but they knocked off ten-man Inter 1-0 thanks to an early Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty kick in the Milan Derby Sunday. The result kept AC Milan one point clear at the top of Serie A, snapped Inter’s 52-match unbeaten home streak and piled more pressure on manager Rafa Benitez. Marco Materazzi made the fatal error in the fourth minute when he hauled down the former Inter man in the area to give him the spot-kick.
For Benitez, the result may signal the end of his tenure at the helm of the European and Italian champions, despite the fact that his team is hardly playing poor football. But fifth place is unacceptable, and with their rivals now five points clear, serious questions are sure to be asked of the former Liverpool man.
Earlier, Lazio seized the top slot momentarily with a 2-0 win over Napoli courtesy of Mauro Zarate and Sergio Floccari. They sit second, just one point behind AC Milan.
Saturday, a Francesco Totti penalty kick gave Roma 1-1 draw against Juventus to claw off points, while Fiorentina won 1-0 over Cesena, but lost Adrian Mutu in the first half to injury. Udinese whipped Lecce 4-0 and Palermo sunk Catania 3-1 in the Sicilian Derby.
In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to play footsie. Lionel Messi scored twice to lead Barca past Jozy Altidore’s Villarreal 3-1. Real Madrid duly regained the top slot with a gritty 1-0 win over Gijon Sunday thanks to an 82nd minute goal by Gonzalo Higuain. Sevilla remain in the chase with a 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza.
In Scotland, Rangers beat awful Aberdeen 2-0. Maurice Edu did not feature; he re-injured his left knee in Glasgow Rangers’ first loss of the year at midweek, going down under a hard challenge from Hibs’ John Rankin. Edu required surgery and was sidelined for nearly seven months in 2009 with a similar injury. This time, Rangers believe the injury is not serious, but held him out on the weekend as a precaution. Celtic won on Sunday 1-0 with a very late goal by Gary Hooper to keep pace, 1-0, over St. Mirren.
Midweek, Altidore scored in Villarreal’s 2-0 Copa del Rey victory over Poli Eijdo to help the Submarine to a berth in the next round.
Lichaj had made his Premier League debut in Aston Villa’s 3-2 win over Blackpool, but it was brief: he subbed in for Barry Bannan in the 90th.