Premier League gameweeks took on the guise of London buses this week. You wait ages for one then two come at once. Unfortunately they’re both filled with leery men in suits, topless lads who’ve put ‘Banter’ in their featured skills on LinkedIn, and fourteen pushchairs. Plus they’re both showing West Ham on the on-board screens. Still, just as risking catching an STI on the nightbus is preferable to catching pneumonia walking home, some football is better than no football. So suck it up, get on board, and prepare yourself for an uncomfortable ride.
All twenty Premier League teams were in action this midweek, with some intriguing ties on Tuesday followed by a set of bankers on Wednesday. Watford’s game at home to Manchester United looked the most likely to give us a surprise result, given the stumbling nature of Jose Mourinho’s side in recent weeks and the ongoing inflation of ‘The Special One in waiting’ Marco Silva. Saturday’s resounding win at Newcastle lifted The Hornets up to eighth, and opened up a healthy five point gap between themselves and Brighton in ninth. For United it was imperative that, with Manchester City likely to secure three points at home to Southampton, they came away from Hertfordshire with three points. Anyone expecting a free-flowing attacking onslaught from both sides has clearly not seen a Mourinho side operate away from home recently, and unsurprisingly the opening stages were cagey – both sides trying to suss each other out like a pair of cocks in the backroom of an East London pub. First blood was drawn by the visitors when Jesse Lingard found space in the Watford half, presumably after trying to start a conversation about his Instagram with the home defence, and rolled the ball into Ashley Young. Given the former England winger’s decline in form over the past few years, few could blame Watford’s defence for allowing Young space, and no-one could have expected him to pop the ball up, shift past a defender and rifle the ball into the bottom corner. As if one and a half goals weren’t enough for one week, the former Watford youth product then produced a free-kick of outstanding quality, curling the ball into the top corner from fully thirty-five yards, leaving Heurelho Gomes no chance of reaching it. With 25 minutes gone, United looked home and dry. Seven minutes later, it was three. With Watford’s backline delivering a touching tribute to Newcastle’s defensive display on Saturday, Romelu Lukakau rolled the ball into the path of Anthony Martial, and the Frenchman powered a shot into the bottom corner. Silva may have been fearing a repeat of the last time a team from Manchester descended on Vicarage Road, particularly when Gomes was called into action to produce a stunning double save as Lukaku’s strike was palmed away, and Lingard’s follow up was met with lightning reactions. Richarlison did have an opportunity to reduce arrears just before the break, but as his header hit the bar and fell to safety the home fans may have been resigned to scratching this up as a bad day at the office.
In a far less frenetic second half chances for both teams were few and far between, as Watford shored up and the back and punted long balls out to the wings. Lukaku missed half an open goal when connecting with Rashford’s cross, managing to shoot straight at Gomes, but with less than fifteen minutes to go the game suddenly burst into life. First Marcos Rojo scythed Roberto Pereyra down inside the area to gift the home side a penalty, which the returning Troy Deeney converted with aplomb. Then, with six minutes of normal time remaining, Andre Carillo zipped the ball into the United penalty area from the left, and Abdoulaye Doucoure flicked his boot out and turned the ball past David De Gea. Game on. Sadly for Watford, the fightback was extinguished two minutes later when Lingard sidestepped two defenders and hit another drive low into the corner to wrap up the win. As if that wasn’t galling enough he followed it up with one of his trademark obnoxious celebrations. Give that lad a flushie. A very good win for Manchester United, and a refreshingly clinical performance. Watford, it seems, have found their ceiling, but there’s no reason they can’t be an outside bet to break into the top six this season.
At the King Power Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur were hoping to throw a disappointing draw at home to West Brom into the fuck-it bucket with victory at Leicester. The Foxes have looked much improved under the stewardship of Claude Puel, and the 6-1 walloping Shakespeare’s side received at the end of last season looked unlikely to transpire again. Indeed, it was Leicester that made all the early running in the final third, with Wilfried Ndidi firing an early tester straight at Hugo Lloris, and Harry Maguire seeing his header cleared off the line. Soon enough the hosts got there reward when the industrious Marc Albrighton looped a ball into the box and Jamie Vardy delicately lobbed it over Lloris. A picture perfect goal for a man that has almost certainly spent the last week at home sitting in his pants, eating McNuggets and watching questionable pornography. That goal spurred Tottenham into action and Moussa Sissoko almost played a part in equalising, as his tame shot looped up off Kasper Schmeichel’s shins, only for Christian Fuchs to clear from the goal-line. Then Dele Alli, yet to hit the dizzying heights of his previous two seasons, found some space on the edge of the Leicester box, only to shoot straight at Schmeichel. It didn’t take long for those wasted chances to bite Mauricio Pochettino’s side on the behind as, in first-half stoppage time, Riyadh Mahrez took a trip down memory lane and produced a mind-boggling mazy run followed by a stupendous finish to double Leicester’s advantage.
In the second half Harry Kane finally burst into life, and could have pulled one back as his curler narrowly drifted wide of Schmeichel’s post. Another excellent chance soon followed, but Kane couldn’t quite reach Christian Eriksen’s floated cross. Pochettino then threw Fernando Llorente into the action to partner Kane, along with the returning Erik Lamela, and the changes soon paid dividends. Lamela’s through ball to Kane was taken in his stride by the England man, and a lashed shot into the top corner brought Spurs back into the game. And they should have earned a point. The Leicester goal was under siege for the final quarter of an hour, but the best chance of the game fell to Llorente who, six yards out and with the goal gaping, managed to divert his shot ten yards wide. A striker clearly low on confidence that, should Kane pick up an injury, could seriously scupper Spurs sooner or later. If anything Kane, along with Alli and Eriksen, looks like he could do with a rest, but with the games coming thick and fast, and Tottenham reeling from a sticky patch of form, the last thing Pochettino will want to do is rotate his best players. An excellent win for Leicester, meanwhile, who have ‘comfortably midtable’ written all over them – and that’s no slight.
In the other two games on Tuesday, Newcastle managed to avoid a fifth straight defeat by coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw at The Hawthorns, while Brighton and Crystal Palace met in the first ‘If You Have To Explain Why It’s A Derby It’s Not A Derby’ Derby of the season, playing out a goalless draw.
In the headline game on Wednesday, two crisis clubs went head-to-head to decide once and for all who’s the most incompetent. In only his third game in charge David Moyes took his West Ham side to Everton, the club where he forged his seemingly unshatterable reputation, hoping to keep his former protege Wayne Rooney quiet. That plan lasted approximately 18 minutes as the Everton forward played in Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and the youngster outwitted Joe Hart and went down under the ‘keeper’s clumsy challenge. The resultant penalty was struck at a nice height, but Hart could only beat the ball back into Rooney’s path, and he gratefully nodded the rebound in. Ten minutes later, and Everton were two up. Tom Davies found space down the right, his low cross was miskicked by Jonjoe Kenny, but Rooney was on hand and completely unmarked to sweep the ball into the bottom corner. By now Everton were purring, and the Hammers looked on their way to a good hiding.
Ashley Williams gave the visitors an opportunity to get a foothold on the game just before the hour mark with a clumsy tackle, but Manuel Lanzini’s penalty never looked like beating Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal. Five minutes later, the game was well and truly over. Calvert-Lewin streaked clear of the West Ham defence, only to find Hart rushing out to sweep up. Rather than boot the ball out of play, England’s first-choice ‘keeper slid a clearance over the halfway line but straight onto the right foot of Rooney, who’s volley thundered into the unguarded net. Williams then gave the scoreline a little flourish, connecting with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s corner to loop a header over Hart and into the far post. A resounding win for the Toffees in what looks to be caretaker David Unsworth’s last game in charge. Rumours abound that Sam Allardyce is due to take up the post on a short-term contract, so Everton fans can consign emphatic victories like this to recent past, and look forward to looking at the Gravy Walrus’ sour face week-in week-out.
Elsewhere in the North-West, Everton’s most recent conquerors Southampton travelled to the Etihad, looking for that rarest of things – a point against Manchester City. Guardiola, fresh from his side’s spawny win at Huddersfield on Sunday, eschewed the rotation policy used by many manager this week, with Aguero, Jesus and De Bruyne all in the starting lineup. Unsurprisingly it was the hosts that carved out early chances, both Fabian Delph and Fernandinho striking from distance, though neither troubled Saints ‘keeper Fraser Forster unduly. In fact it was Southampton that came closest to taking the lead in the first half, and Pierre-Emile Hojberg’s header from Nathan Redmond’s corner crashed off the crossbar and out of danger. As City steadily worked their way closer to Forster’s goal, Fernandinho saw his curling shot parried away, while Aguero was unable to find a way past the big Geordie after squirming free of Southampton’s defence. Goalless at half-time, and so far so good for Pellegrino’s side.
Unfortunately for the visitors it took only two minutes of the second half for City to find a way through. Kevin De Bruyne’s wicked free kick from the left flank looked to be touched in by one or both of Nicolas Otamendi and Virgil Van Dijk, though curiously the Belgian was awarded with the goal. Not content with the lead, Guardiola’s side then lay siege to Southampton’s goal – Gabriel Jesus seeing a shot saved and De Bruyne having a long ranger turned away. Then, out of nowhere, Southampton equalised. Redmond picked up an overhit cross on the right hand side of the area, got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Oriel Romeu to crash into the roof of the net. While home fans may have expected an onslaught, for the first time this season they started to look like they were running out of ideas until, in the sixth minute of stoppage time, De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling exchanged passes on the edge of the box and the winger curled a wonderful shot into the corner to win the game. Eerily reminiscent of the Fergie-time their neighbours used to profit from, City are picking up the habit of nicking late winners alongside dominating games. They simply look unstoppable. And David Moyes’ team is up next.
In the rest of Wednesday’s games, Arsenal brushed aside Huddersfield thanks to a fine performance from Mesut Ozil, as the Gunners ran out 5-0 winners, and Liverpool had a comfortable evening in the Potteries, with Mo Salah coming off the bench to score another two goals. Chelsea edged a narrow victory over Swansea thanks to Antonio Rudiger’s goal, and Burnley produced another excellent away performance to take all three points against Bournemouth.
The Manchester City Rail Replacement Bus Service rolls on then, calling next at a West Ham Walkover, a Manchester Derby, and a thigh-rubber with Tottenham. The way this season’s going Guardiola could have the league wrapped up before Moyes is asked to pack his bag – and you wouldn’t put money against both happening before Christmas.