The entertainment of Premier League football returned this weekend for matchday 12. Not every team managed to regroup well after the last two-week international break of the calendar year and so we ended up with another fun reshuffle of the league table, one that saw Chelsea leap to the top for the first time since the title-winning 2014-15 season.
The weekend started off with a gem of a fixture, a Saturday lunchtime treat of Manchester United vs. Arsenal, Mourinho vs. Wenger, part too many to count.
Outside of the Community Shield, Arsene Wenger had not beaten a Jose Mourinho team in 15 attempts, but this game was considered a better chance than most for Wenger to manage just that. Arsenal were flying high and Manchester United were underperforming. The banter and mind games provided a good build up and the match didn’t disappoint.
Mourinho, unsurprisingly, flipped the script on Wenger and United controlled large parts of the game and altogether looked to be coming together to form a clinical Mourinho team. They were organised and efficient and they created chances regularly with Herrera, Carrick, Pogba and Mata forming a brilliant midfield. Two-time Chelsea player of the year Juan Mata eventually broke through halfway through the second-half with an angled strike past Chelsea legend Petr Cech. Super-sub Olivier Giroud powered a header in on 89 minutes and gave Arsenal something to smile about; it was their first shot on goal.
League-leading Liverpool were up next together with Manchester City and both would have been excited to take advantage of the points dropped by the two competitors earlier in the day.
Southampton stood in Liverpool’s way and played resiliently. Led by former Saint Sadio Mane and Brazilian maestro Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool attacked and attacked, but ultimately they failed to break through and take the all-important three points. Jurgen Klopp described it as “not the best day, but not the worst” as his team looked excellent once again. Title competitors they remain.
It was a better day for Guardiola and City as they won 2-1 away at Crystal Palace, both goals coming from a rejuvenated Yaya Toure. Supposedly there have been a lot of apologies going round the club smoothing the relationship between the former Barcelona-men Yaya and Pep, earning a return to the team for the former and just his second win in six Premier League games for the latter. Title competitors they also remain.
Spurs hosted West Ham in the late game on Saturday. Michael Antonio scored a first half header to put the Hammers in front. It was his sixth goal of the season, each and every one coming off his head. The home team returned after the break with a bit more aggression and it paid off with Harry Winks’ debut goal for the equalizer. The positive atmosphere was short-lived however, as Janssen’s last action before substitution was to pull down a man in the box, awarding Lanzini the chance to thump a penalty past Hugo Lloris. Spurs were saved by the substitute Son and of course Harry Kane, who notched a late brace in the 3-2 comeback win. It was fun viewing until those last five minutes.
On a related note, a slow Sunday included an interesting fixture down in the Championship, as Newcastle beat Leeds United 2-0 to open up a five-point lead at the top of the second division table. Dwight Gayle scored both goals and now has 13 for the season, including 9 in his last 6 matches. Rafa Benitez’s men look well on course for promotion.
Monday Night Football remains as 12th place West Bromwich Albion take on 11th place Burnley in a match for mid-table superiority.