Call it the weekend of surprises. An unexpected thumping in the Manchester Derby. A shocking loss by Chelsea to a team who had been playing badly enough it hardly seemed to matter that is was a local derby match in West London. Liverpool conspired to drop points at home to a modestly talented team new to the division. Fulham lost at home. Everton won on the road. And maybe most surprisingly of all, Arsenal won comfortably. If you'd said that any of those things were going to happen at the outset of the weekend, no one would likely have believed you. If you'd said that they'd all happen you'd have been committed. And yet, happen they did. Keep reading to learn more about what we learned from Week 9 in the Premier League:
1. Buying - five guys whose performances deserve recognition for their immediate goodness as well as being indicative of them being better than their reputations (or at least as good as their reputations).
- Gervinho - He had a vintage Robert Pires day as he finally announced himself as a potential match-winner. RvP's substitute brace will likely get most of the attention but Gervinho did something that Arshavin and Walcott seem incapable of and got to the by-line and actually found a teammate when he brought the ball back. The result were van Persie's winner and insurance goal. Gervinho's opener was a nice piece of finishing but credit where it is due to Ramsey for a really nice chipped pass into the box to find the man with the worst hair in the Prem (and there's a J. Lescott on the line thanking the Ivorian for taking the title from him).
- Danny Graham - We did this before last weekend and we're going to do it again until people start paying attention. He's good. His team lost points late to a great Wolves comeback but it wasn't his fault. I don't know if he's going to make my fantasy squad too many times but in the official Premier League game where he's cheaper and there is a bigger need to diversify, he's a great bet to continue producing.
Yohan Cabaye - He doesn't seem to get a lot of publicity and his game is very much understated but with a match-winning goal, and a classy one at that, I'm going to put my momentum behind the bandwagon until it gets rolling in a more noticeable way.
- Anthony Pilkington - Another repeat visitor to this space and he has to be acknowledged in the weekend where he powered his team to a famous draw at Anfield. His assist in this one combined with his goals last weekend has him in contention to be this season's Charlie Adam-like character rising up in stature after coming up with an unfancied team (even for a newly promoted squad).
- Michel Vorm - The two late goals were hardly his fault and he made some excellent saves to ensure that Swansea at least picked up the one point that they did get. If I were Spurs and looking for a long-term replacement for Brad Friedel whose body is bound to start disintegrating soon, I'd start looking west-ward to Wales for the Holland international. Imagine how good he could be with a better team around him. (And no, I'm not generally in the business of suggesting great moves for Spurs but this one seems pretty obvious to me).
2. Selling - 5 players who had strong performances that look to be more flash in the pan than "the real thing" or players with big reputations that aren't living up to them.
- Patrice Evra - Did you see Dzeko out race him down the sideline to receive a pass from Silva in the 75th minute or so? He outpaced Evra who at least in theory should have been on a dead run. Dzeko didn't convert the shot but if Evra can't, or doesn't want to, keep up with a lumbering guy like Dzeko, then his star has to be fading faster than anyone on the Red side of Manchester should admit.
- David Luiz - He's generally a very good player but he's good for one genuinely dumb play every time he steps on the field. Despite losing two players to red cards, it was Luiz's boneheaded concession of a penalty that made the difference in Chelsea dropping three crucial points on a day when they should have been gaining ground on United.
- Johnny Evans - See Luiz, David above with the exception that Evans is only an OK player most of the time but he equals Luiz in making stupid plays on a regular basis. The Manchester Derby was shaping up as a close match that United were likely to win late as United tend to do. Getting sent off certainly changed the course of the match and may have changed the course of the season.
- Dzeko - He didn't start a crucial match, his replacement scored a brace while the game was still at issue, and his goals were in garbage time. Throw in the fact that he actually managed to be wasteful in about 20 minutes of action that included a brace. His stats will look great coming off the weekend but his season is starting to look a lot like Berbatov's from last season.
- Roger Johnson - What happened to the decidedly above average defender who was supposed to be the guy to put Wolves defense over the top and the club firmly into the middle of the table? Not only did the defense look bad at home for most of the match against a Swansea team that hasn't shown a great deal of attacking potency but Johnson looked especially bad. Hard to know what's going on but it doesn't look good for Wolves big summer buy.
3. More from Manchester
- The drubbing that United took got me thinking about something. Exactly how many Manchester United
players would crack the starting eleven at Manchester City
? United have been getting by with some talent, great team play, and an incredible amount of belief. If you take it man-for-man, you have to wonder if anyone other than Rooney (over Dzeko/Balotelli) and Vidic when healthy (over Lescott) would make an "All-Manchester" side. I'd imagine you'd find a place for Ashley Young
alongside Silva, Yaya, and de Jong if you were playing a traditional 4-4-2. You could probably call Smalling vs. Richards a wash with Richards having more of a resume but Smalling perhaps having a little more potential. Throw in the benches and you'd take City's depth over United's in a heartbeat. The only place you'd firmly favor United would be in the manager's box. Just something to think about as the Manchester United apologists start to talk about the impact of Evans' sending off as a reason to suggest that United may not yet be ready to relinquish the title. Just saying.
4. Chelsea's Collapse
- There's just no excuse for this. The team is laden with veteran players who have won titles. The gap in talent between Chelsea and QPR is vast. Rangers have been playing poorly at home. In a season when City are setting a blistering pace and they had already beaten United in the Manchester Derby, there was no way Chelsea could afford to drop even two points here, let alone all three. Just a disaster.
5. The Title Mini-league - The headlines here are pretty obvious but lets go behind the obviousness to analyze where all three teams in the title mini-league stand against expectations. Manchester United have had the easiest schedule of the three with 25 expected points. Despite that fact, they are 5 points off their expected pace so far. City's schedule has been more difficult featuring the just-concluded trip to United where we would have expected them to lose but they have managed to exceed expectations by the three points gained today. Chelsea have also had a relatively easy schedule and have managed to find themselves the same distance behind expectations as Manchester United. If you believe in the expectations model then City are CRUSHING their two rivals at this point in the race. There's a long way to go but that's the way it stands.
6. The Fourth Place Mini-league
- Spurs continued to fly high as they got the full three points on the road extending their lead in the battle of these four teams against expectations. Newcastle
and Arsenal did what was expected of them at home so they at least didn't give up any further ground. The big, no HUGE, loser of this group was Liverpool who managed to flub their lines and give up 2 of the 3 expected points against Norwich at Anfield. Newcastle has now drawn even with Liverpool in the expectations race (remember, NUFC haven't played any of the "big" teams yet while the Reds have). More depressing for Liverpool fans who are probably of the belief (reasonably) that NUFC will fade is that they let Arsenal up off the mat and back within two of them in the expectations race. Much like City in the group ahead, Spurs have a commanding lead at this point despite what the "real" table may say.
7. Wolves Demise - I have to say I'm really at a bit of a loss as to what has happened with Wolves. Against my better judgement I woke up early for the 7:30 AM kickoff here on the East Coast of the US. I will say that while the teams weren't nearly as high profile as last weekend's Liverpool vs. Manchester United match-up, this one was much more watchable. The only downside is that for the first 75 or so minutes it was only watchable if you happen to be Welsh or really like to see Wolves (and their fans) suffer. It felt like Mick McCarthy was about 15 minutes away from losing his job. McCarthy's players managed to save his job with two late goals but you still have to wonder what is going on. There APPEARS to be talent there. Maybe some of their core players like Hunt and Doyle are getting a little long in the tooth. Maybe Jarvis is just temporarily out of form. Seriously though, between Doyle, Fletcher, Hunt, Jarvis, and O'Hara there should be some better attacking production. Anyone have any suggestions before Mick loses his job for real?
8. Everton REALLY Needed That - They secured their three road points in the final minute of regulation and finished it off with an extra time insurance goal. They couldn't really have expected much at Fulham who are really tough at Craven Cottage most of the time. That they not only got the late winner but got it from a forward (easily their worst position this season). They were falling dangerously close to moving down from the Mid-table Mini-league down to the Relegation Mini-league. They not only picked up 3 points but 3 unexpected ones. It helps make up for the loss to QPR at Goodison Park.
9. Arsenal's Best Are Good Enough
- Like the current "Big Three" Arsenal used to be able to trot out just about any combination of 14 or 15 players and reasonably expect to beat almost anyone in the Premier League with the exception of Manchester United (and then Chelsea). What I am coming to realize now is that not only have Arsenal been deprived of a couple exceptional players in Fab4 and Nasri, they have also had their depth depleted over the last few seasons. Chamakh has regressed since the first half of last season. Arshavin has gotten old so fast you have to wonder if he's a Latin American baseball player. Ox, Frimpong, and Jenkinson shouldn't be playing more than the occasional Carling Cup match. Santos is really just not very good.
10. The SB Nation Platform - The more I get used to it, the more I really love it. For those who haven't checked out some of the great posts in the FanPosts area, your fellow readers are proving to be capable of some great content of their own. We're thrilled that we inspired or at least been able to give a forum to all this great stuff. If you have some thoughts, I encourage you to share. I'm also really coming around to the Chat functionality in the comments section. We're kicking around the idea of having an Open Thread every day. What say you?
11. My Barn Door Team - With Manchester City (home to Wolves) and Spurs (home to QPR) looking like the strongest match-ups coming into the weekend here's my team: DDG, Boyata, Brown, Richards, Silva, Cabaye, VDV, Gerrard, Aguero, K2, and Suarez. Feels OK to me but maybe a little too much Liverpool with them heading out on the road to solid mid-table opposition in West Brom.