For me, this is the weekend that we check out assumptions. We'll have more on this later but for me, this is the weekend that Chelsea officially falls out of the race for the title. They are hardly mathematically eliminated but two things combined to throw them out of the race in my mind. First, Manchester City continues to maul everything in their path which this week meant the Newcastle United team that had been having its own way with the also-rans of the league. Second was the realization that not only did Chelsea lose to Liverpool but they really haven't beaten anyone good this season. Here's the list:
1. Buying - the players who are on an upward trajectory:
- Laurent Koscielny - He played well as a deputy at right back and looks much more comfortable with Vermaelen around settling things down at the back.
- Mario Balotelli - If only we knew when he was going to start - he's been an incredibly productive fantasy player when he's started. Any chance Mancini will take Ancelotti's lead and start announcing his starting line-up ahead of time?
- Jon Walters - When he came into the Prem it was easy to dismiss him because he just didn't look the part but he's really grown into it. He's never going to be the next Henry but he's a good, grity mid-table guy who is just getting it done without much fanfare.
- Shane Long/Ivan Klasnic - Both are back to doing what they started off the season doing.
- Armand Traore - Luke Young got the defensive goal but Traore got an assist and has quietly recovered from a very difficult start to the season.
- Arsenal's Forward 3 - RvP needs no explanation but Theo Walcott and Gervinho seem to be coming into their own supporting the amazing Dutchman. You could look at their contributions in two ways - they created a lot of opportunity OR they didn't cash in. Regardless, the chances are there and that will draw attention from RvP and the midfield.
- The Mourinho Boys - Cech, Terry, ACole, Lampard, and Drogba all looked really old against Liverpool. Hard to have the spine of your team looking that way if you want good things to happen.
- Heidar Helguson - A 34 year old forward with modest physical gifts who has 5 goals and an assist in his five starts this season. A great story and vital points for QPR but I would be stunned if it is sustainable.
- Per Mertesacker - Just a shadow of the guy who lines up for Germany. I've seen explanations related to having a more mobile partner but hard to use that as an excuse this past weekend with Vermaelen back. His softness on Norwich's goal was embarrassing. Hard to know if that can be fixed. At least when Senderos was embarrassed he was embarrassed by Drogba in his prime.
- Yakubu - A great story for one weekend but I'm convinced I could get a goal against Wigan the way they're playing this season. I wouldn't keep him around if you were smart/lucky enough to get in on the good times this past weekend (or even if you BD'd him).
- Ryan Giggs - He should have hung them up over the summer, huh?
- 6. Fulham are good at home - We've come to know Fulham as a good home team over the past few seasons but not so much this season. They have only one more point at home than on the road in an equal number of matches (6) in each venue. Even worse, they've been leaky at the Cottage with 9 goals conceded in six matches.
- 7. Money can't buy happiness - Those of us (like me) who don't have a remarkable amount of money like to tell ourselves that it can't buy happiness but ask the folks dressed in sky blue in the Northwest if 34 points out of a possible 36 doesn't make them happy. Hard to believe that Fulham are the only ones to have caused a blemish on City's record thus far. Even better, City's store-bought collection is so much easier on the eyes (and ears) than the group that Chelsea put together with similar money. They play a fun-to-watch passing game and who can argue with the never-ending comedy that is Mario Balotelli?