Arsenal and Chelsea crashed to big losses this weekend while Manchester United, Manchester City and plucky Bolton continued to ride the top of the table in England.
And these results raise the question: is the Premiership a more even league – or are these big teams just exhausted? Take your pick, but no matter what you decide, the fact is, a third of the way through this season, England’s top-flight is anything but predictable.
No one would have been shocked pre-game by the notion that Tottenham Hotspur could beat Arsenal – but to say that Spurs would recover from 2-0 down to sink the Gunners 3-2? That’s a stretch. Yet, that’s what happened.
After watching Arsenal go up 2-0, thanks to Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh, Spurs roared back in the second half, thanks to some big Arsenal mistakes. Rafael van der Vaart tied things up after Cesc Fabregas inexplicably handled the ball in the box – in the wall, on a free-kick. (Shockingly, this wasn’t the first time the Arsenal captain has committed such an offense.) Then, Laurent Koscielny rashly fouled Gareth Bale, setting up a Van der Vaart free-kick that Younes Kaboul headed home.
It might be uncharitable to Spurs to suggest that Arsenal collapsed – after all, Tottenham fought back brilliantly – but Arsenal folded like a cheap tent in a breeze. Once-sainted manager Arsene Wenger is finding his halo tarnished, admitting post-game that he didn’t know what had happened.
Would anyone have laid money on relegation-threatened Birmingham to beat league-leading Chelsea? They hadn’t done it in 30 years, so why would they this week? And here we are, in the aftermath of a 1-0 Brummie win, led by a stunning performance by goalkeeper Ben Foster, channeling Lev Yashin.
Chelsea uncorked 24 shots on Foster’s net, and he stopped them all. Birmingham had one shot on goal and scored. Then, they hung on grimly for a good thirty minutes as the Blues tried – and failed – to get past.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti remained defiant, but the fact is, this is Chelsea’s third loss in four league games, and the putative champs are absolutely reeling.
And what’s this about wee Bolton? They’re in fifth, after cremating Newcastle 5-1. Newcastle’s lone goal came when Stuart Holden misplayed a throw-in to give Andy Carroll a clean look at goal. Johan Elmander and Kevin Davies led Wanderers’ run all over a stunned Toon.
Manchester City walloped Clint Dempsey’s Fulham 4-1 Sunday behind Carlos Tevez and Pablo Zabaleta, possibly making ex-City boss – and current Fulham gaffer Mark Hughes – wish he’d kept his mouth shut over his replacement’s perceived failings. The rout felt like personal payback from Roberto Mancini. Across town, Manchester United didn’t look real great Saturday, but they are in second and got Wayne Rooney back. Against a Wigan side reduced to nine-men, the Red Devils won out with ease, 2-0 with Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez nailing a diving header for emphasis. United now trail Chelsea only by goal difference.
Liverpool crushed West Ham 3-0 in a game that will do nothing to ease the pressure on manager Roy Hodgson, but seriously calls into question the ability of Avram Grant. Liverpool are not good. West Ham, however, were truly dreadful, playing arguably the worst single half of football seen this season in the Premiership. Liverpool, either due to inability or lack of desire, did not put this side to the sword as others might have, and that let off camouflages the fact that Grant is getting nothing out of his dim charges at Upton Park.
Yanks in the UK didn’t have a great weekend in general: Marcus Hahnemann was to blame in Wolves’ loss to Blackpool; he gifted Marlon Harewood the winner when he came and failed to collect a corner. Aston Villa’s Brad Friedel looked shaky in a similar situation, flapping not but once but twice at crosses. One went directly in, the other led to
a corner that ultimately found the back of his net. Morten Gamst Pedersen scored both, fueling the 2-0 Blackburn win.
In Spain, the battle of the superstars continued as Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo dropped serious science on their hapless opponents, collecting matching hat-tricks.
Barcelona rode Messi’s three to a record 8-0 thrashing of Almeria while Real Madrid pounded Atletico Bilbao 5-1 to remain on top of La Liga. Messi became just the fourth Barcelona player to tally 100 league goals, but Ronaldo leads this year’s Golden Boot race with 14 to date. The teams meet next Monday in this season’s biggest European derby to date.
Elsewhere, Jersey-born Giuseppi Rossi continued his torrid streak, getting the tying goal in Villarreal’s 1-1 draw with Valencia. Jozy Altidore, again, did not play.
In Germany, Borussia Dortmund gained some breathing room atop the table thanks to a 2-1 win over SC Freiburg. Bayer Leverkusen could not keep pace, getting held 1-1 by struggling Bayern Munich on a weekend where Franz Beckenbauer flatly said the giants could not win the Bundesliga title.
Michael Bradley got two assists in Borussia Moenchengladbach’s losing 3-2 effort against Mainz. But Jermaine Jones did not play in Schalke’s shock 4-0 whipping of Werder Bremen. (It might not have helped that Jones told the press pre-game he was looking to leave the club, saying he didn’t feel ‘welcome.’) The result piled more pressure on Bremen manager Thomas Schaff, but despite crisis meetings, it appears he will have at least one more week to right the ship. Steve Cherundolo was suspended for Hannover’s 3-2 win over Hamburg; DaMarcus Beasley continues to sit. Ditto for Ricardo Clark as his Frankfurt side were blitzed by Hoffenheim, 4-0.
In France, Carlos Bocanegra returned for St. Etienne in their 1-1 draw with Auxerre. Charlie Davies played for Sochaux’s reserves (they lost 2-1) as his rehab continues; the first team beat Lorient 2-0. Montpellier went top of Ligue One for the evening with a 1-0 win over slumping Nice, only to lose the slot with Lille’s 2-1 win Sunday over Monaco. PSG beat Caen 2-1 to stay in striking distance, as did Rennes with their 2-1 win over Brest.
In Italy, it’s a bad week to be an Inter fan, and a worse one to be a man named Rafa Benitez. Inter were humbled by Chievo 2-1 to send the champs down to 7th. Samuel Eto’o tried to spark a late fightback, but even his superb individual effort with a minute remaining could not reverse the damage. Benitez’ team has now just one win in seven league games – and more ominously, the coach has the ‘full backing’ of the club, soccer-speak for ‘he’s toast.’
AC Milan and Lazio stayed one-two with Zlatan Ibrahimovic taking Milan past Fiorentina 1-0, and Lazio being held 1-1 by Parma. Roma continued to improve with a 2-0 win over Udinese while Juventus thumped Genoa 2-0.
In Scotland, Maurice Edu is out indefinitely for Rangers, but his side opened the gap atop the SPL with a 3-2 win over 10-man Kilmarnock. Celtic were held by Dundee United 1-1.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay’s Premier League.