As October gives way to November, the great and good of the Premier League are gearing up for Halloween which has unfathomably become popular in Britain. Students will be wrapping themselves in the toilet roll they’ve stolen from their University library, actual grown-ups will painstakingly recreate costumes of their favourite film characters, and children will take to the streets to demand sweets off strangers in a bizarre paedophile/victim switcheroo. Premier League managers are getting in on the act too, with Jurgen Klopp aping the monster from Basket Case (presumably an homage to his Liverpool side), Arsene Wenger dressing up as Hannibal Lecter and orchestrating The Silence of the Fans at the Emirates, and Slaven Bilic taking the lead role in his own production – Dead Man Walking.
The festivities began at Old Trafford for the Saturday lunchtime face-off of Bogeyman Jose Mourinho and the tombstone-toothed Mauricio Pochettino. Manchester United were still missing the yin-yang central midfield pairing of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini, while Tottenham were without Harry Kane, who had requested the weekend off to attend an apple bobbing competition (he would later be disqualified, on account the unfair advantage a mouth that doesn’t close offered). Shorn of their most potent striker, Spurs contributed to a cagey first half with several shots from distance. Manchester United offered much of the same, but it was the visitors who came closest to opening the deadlock when a long ball caused confusion between David De Gea and The Hunchback of North Preston, and fell kindly for Moussa Sissoko, who’d come dressed as a motivated footballer. Old habits die hard, however, and the Frenchman skied his shot over.
Mourinho’s side came out after the break looking revitalised, and Henrikh Mhkitaryan began to give Ben Davies serious problems on the right wing, whipping a series of crosses into the danger zone that required the intervention of Hugo Lloris. With the game grinding towards a goalless draw both sides had a chance to edge in front, as Christian Eriksen’s ball into the box was a whisker away from Dele Alli’s big toe, while at the other end Romelu Lukaku smashed a header against the base of the post. Alli then converted when in an offside position, and from the resulting free-kick De Gea launched the ball downfield and onto the head of Lukaku, the Belgian’s flick-on found the onrushing Anthony Martial and his clipped finish past countryman Lloris delivered all three points to Manchester United. A gut punch for Spurs, who before this game had gone three years without defeat when missing Harry Kane, but their lack of endeavor was cruelly punished. For Mourinho, a much needed win against a title rival, and a pleasing 12th goal in the last ten minutes of games this season.
Attention switched to the bottom of the table come the 3pm kickoffs, as an early-season six-pointer took place at Selhurst Park. Crystal Palace would be hoping to build on the win against Chelsea in their last home game, while West Ham were looking to build on the comeback against Spurs in their midweek League Cup tie. Slaven Bilic was just hoping to see the day out still in employment. An early penalty claim from Wilfred Zaha fell on deaf ears, and that may have been the point at which Palace fans thought it wasn’t going to be their day. On the half hour, West Ham launched a rapid counter attack, and Andre Ayew’s excellent vision found Aaron Cresswell steaming down the left. The full-back’s low cross found the onrushing Javier Hernandez, and the Mexican duly stabbed home. The Eagles immediately looked to hit back, and when James Tompkins headed towards goal an equaliser looked inevitable, only for Joe Hart to produce an acrobatic save. The England #1 has fairly been criticised for some of his performances this season, but occasionally he shows why Gareth Southgate has so much faith in him. Two minutes before half-time and the home side looked done for. Ayew ran deep into the final third, tricked his way around Scott Dann and looped the ball over Julian Speroni to extend the Hammers’ lead.
Bilic’s half-time message would have been to ensure nothing is given away early in the second-half. Unfortunately Angelo Ogbonna was taking a leak at the time, and within five minutes of the restart he’d bundled over Andros Townsend in the area to give Palace a lifeline. Luka Milivojevic duly converted, and suddenly all did not seem lost for the Selhurst Park faithful. For the remainder of the second half, it was one way traffic. Yohan Cabaye twice looked to have grabbed an equaliser, first when his long range effort hit the post, and then when Hart thwarted his free-kick, tipping it round the post. Ogbonna then headed against his own bar as the clock ticked over 90 minutes, but the announcement of six minutes injury time increased the volume of the home faithful’s roar. Still the Eagles couldn’t find a way through, and when Wilfred Zaha looked to be caught in a cul-de-sac in the 96th minute, it seemed West Ham had done enough for the win. The winger, however, twisted and turned in the area and bent the ball around Hart to earn a point for Palace. Cue bedlam. Roy Hodgson jumped up on the touchline like a boy a tenth of his age, while Bilic sank to his knees. In truth, a point isn’t a whole lot of use to either of these sides, but Palace will be feeling much better for it than their visitors.
At the top end of the table pace-setters Manchester City travelled to West Brom to pit Pep ‘Pinhead’ Guardiola against Tony ‘The Man In The Cap’ Pulis. After huffing and puffing and not blowing Wolves’ house down in midweek, the City boss took it upon himself to rest record-chasing Sergio Aguero, opting for Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva and Leroy Sane up front. It was Sane that opened the scoring for City, ghosting in at the back post and firing an unstoppable shot across Ben Foster and into the top corner. Anyone expecting a Guardiola goals avalanche of the kind seen at Vicarage Road would have been surprised when, two minutes later, the hosts equalised. A long ball (surely not?!) bounced awkwardly on the edge of the Manchester City area, and as confusion reigned between Ederson and Nicolas Otamendi, Jay Rodriguez took full advantage, lobbing the ball over the Brazilian ‘keeper. West Brom were level for less than 120 seconds as Fernandinho took aim from outside the area and hit a daisy cutter towards Foster’s goal that sneaked into the bottom corner.
Pulis would have been buoyed to see his side not overawed by their illustrious visitors, and had Salomon Rondon made the most of the two first-half chances that fell his way, they could easily be level. As West Brom pushed for that elusive equaliser in the second half, City broke and Kyle Walker played an inch perfect cross into the path of substitute Raheem Sterling to tap home. A host of chances followed for the visitors to extend their lead but, even with three goals, Guardiola’s side suffered a rare off-day in front of goal. Concentration was also absent in defence as, in stoppage time, Otamendi attempted a casual chest-pass back to Ederson which was intercepted by Baggies winger Matt Phillips to reduce arrears. Only a consolation goal, but perfect proof that this Manchester City side are not without their flaws.
In the other 3pm kick-offs, Liverpool posted a routine 3-0 home victory against Huddersfield despite Mo Salah missing a penalty, Watford suffered a surprise defeat at home to Stoke City, and Arsenal came from a goal down to record a 2-1 victory against Swansea City.
The evening kick off saw Chelsea travelling to a Bournemouth side looking to build on their excellent win away at Stoke last weekend. Despite his heroics against Watford, Michy Batshuayi dropped to the bench again to accommodate Alvaro Morata, and it was the visitors that looked the most likely to score in the opening exchanges. A timely intervention from Nathan Ake prevented Morata scoring the opener, and the Spaniard missed a gilt-edged chance when presented with a one-on-one, former Chelsea ‘keeper Asmir Begovic’s quick thinking forcing the striker to skew his shot wide. The second half brought more of the same, as the Cherries struggled to get a foothold on the game, and when a glorious crossfield pass was taken down by Eden Hazard, the Belgian needed no invitation to drill the ball past Begovic at the near post. Eddie Howe’s side then sprang into action, but their forward forays were continually cut-off before the killer touch could be applied, and it was Chelsea that went closest to scoring a second, Cesc Fabregas shooting over from a tight angle. Another one of those games that Howe would be happy to write off in theory, but Bournemouth will need to start taking points off their rivals in the near future if they’ve got any hope of avoiding a nightmare at Dean Court this season.
Sunday lunchtime brought a South Coast derby onto our screens, with Brighton and Hove Albion looking to build on a decent start to the season against a Southampton side yet to find their groove under Mauricio Pellegrino. The last time these two sides had met in the league was in 2008, with both teams in League One. Southampton edged the game that day, though Glenn Murray had opened the scoring for Brighton – plenty of home supporters would have fancied a flutter on him doing the same this time out, having seen the striker bag two goals last time out. It was the Saints that burst out of the blocks quickest, and took the lead in the seventh minute. James Ward-Prowse’s long range free-kick evaded the dive of Mat Ryan and bounced back off the bar, leaving Steven Davis an open goal to nod Southampton ahead. The hosts slowly played their way into the game, with Anthony Knockaert and Shane Duffy both squandering chances to equalise, and the Seagulls went in behind at the break.
Seven minutes into the second half Brighton were level. The impressive Pascal Groß sent a cross into the Southampton area and Murray, who else, connected first to head into the top corner. It was no more than Brighton deserved after their positive reaction to conceding, and on another day they could have laid claim to all three points. Duffy again popping up in the opposition area, but slicing his shot wide the way only a centre back could. Within minutes the Irish stopper was back in familiar territory, blocking countryman Shane Long’s goalbound effort to ensure a point for the hosts. In the end a decent result for both sides, the Seagulls had looked for the world as though they might struggle after their limp defeat to Arsenal at the start of the month, but 28 days later Chris Hughton’s side are beginning to put a run of results together in their bid to maintain their Premier League status for next season.
The Sunday afternoon kick-off at King Power saw New Manager Bounce’s Leicester City take on Bouncy New Manager’s Everton. The Foxes lined up with a different face in the hotseat for the third Premier League game running, as Michael Appleton’s biceps made way for the softly-spoken Claude Puel. For Everton, club legend David Unsworth took his place as caretaker manager for the first time in the Premier League in the hope of exorcising last week’s five goal trouncing from Arsenal and getting a result with the worst use of £110m in football. An Everton side clearly devoid of confidence were on the backfoot from the off, with Demarai Gray the beneficiary down the right. A series of early whipped crosses set alarms off in the Everton defence, and it didn’t take long for one of them to find their intended target – Jamie Vardy gleefully opening the scoring on 18 minutes. We have it on good authority that Vardy will be using his goal bonus to fund his Halloween get together, where guests will be able to drink as much Monster as they’re physically able to, before passing out and wetting themselves. Gray continued to terrorise the Everton backline, and after switching to the left hand side, the winger fired in a cross that skidded up off the wet turf and deflected in off the unfortunate Jonjoe Kenny. The young full-back’s airkick adding embarrassment to misfortune. The second goal awoke something inside Everton, and they suddenly started playing football. Aaron Lennon was unlucky to be denied a penalty when brought down by Danny Simpson in the Leicester area, and both Wayne Rooney and Kevin Mirallas came close with shots from distance.
The game turned into a bitty, gritty contest in the second half, with no shortage of commitment but a dearth of quality. Leicester were content to soak up the growing pressure from Everton, safe in the knowledge that they didn’t buy a striker in the summer and are now relying on cameo apperances from a man without a locker at the training ground. Everton’s endeavor unsurprisingly went unrewarded, with none of their eight first team playmakers able to find a killer pass to unlock the Leicester backline. If the Everton board are unable to bag themselves a world class manager, it could be a long season for David Unsworth. And that’s just dealing with jibes about his weight from Joey Barton.
The Monday game saw Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle travel to Burnley in what is, for this season at least, the Magpies local derby. The Lancashire side, at only 110 miles away, are the closest Premier League team to Newcastle, which is probably why Sky decided to televise the game on a Monday night. How frightfully thoughtful of them. A meeting between two of the league’s most pragmatic managers was never likely to be an attacking masterclass, though Jeff Hendricks had a chance to open the scoring in the first minute, but skewed wide from a tight angle. Burnley made all the running in the opening stages, lifting high balls into the Newcastle area, though the visitors almost snatched the lead when an attempted clearance bobbled in front of Christian Atsu, only for the diminutive Ghanaian to poke over from six yards out. Jonjo Shelvey then hit a rasping shot straight at Nick Pope, but the sides went in goalless.
Early in the second half, Ayoze Perez hit a bending shot that looked to be heading in, but Pope managed to get a firm hand to it and beat it away. Burnley then took the game to Newcastle and after Elliott came out to save from Ashley Barnes, Johann Gudmundsson crossed for Hendricks to thrash the ball into an empty net. Benitez took action, introducing Jacob Murphy and Dwight Gayle for the off-colour Matt Ritchie and Joselu, but besides a long range effort from Isaac Hayden Newcastle were unable to fashion a decent chance, and Burnley held on for the win to continue their impressive start to the season. Newcastle fans will be hoping that talks at boardroom level are concluded sooner rather than later, Benitez is getting the most out of his resources, but to seriously trouble the top half his squad needs investment.
So Manchester City march on at the top of the table, and would have been pleased to see their neighbours take points from Tottenham in the title race. Chelsea remain in touch with the top three, but the challengers will be desperate for Guardiola’s side to drop points soon if they’re going to mount a serious title bid. Crystal Palace remain rooted to the foot of the table, but the grit and determination with which they secured a point at home to West Ham will be encouraging for their supporters. David Unsworth, meanwhile, will be munching on his toffee apples wondering how to get some goals out his ghoulish front-line. If he can find the trick that’ll be a treat.