BY Pete Starr
Game Of The Weekend
Whilst hardly the most celebrated match up of the weekend, Bournemouth’s visit to Watford provided more unexpected thrills than a stag do co-organised by Bear Grylls and Steven Seagal, as the clubs shared 4 goals and point a piece.
Callum Wilson impressed again, opening the scoring with a sharp front stick header after half an hour before the human torso, Troy Deeney, rammed home his third of the season from inside the penalty area to level things. Josh King’s mazy dribble and deflected drive saw Bournemouth briefly nose ahead again before Watford’s record signing, Isaac Success, sloped off the bench and tied things up once again with a peach of a header.
Bournemouth’s remarkable away form was their saviour last season (over half their total tally came on the road) and the Cherries were a whisker away from bagging all the points here on a number of occasions, as they rattled the woodwork three times in the second half. Jack Wilshere and Junior Stanislas both expertly located the frame of the goal with efforts from range before the Arsenal loanee fluffed a golden opportunity, drilling a simple effort from 6 yards off the post, having been found by Matt Smith’s slide rule cross.
Despite neither side finding a late winner, no one felt short changed after this fairly breathless meeting of a couple of sides who you suspect will nestle in the warm bosom of mid-table security this season.
Result Of The Weekend
As Jose Mourinho found out recently, a week is a long time in football. Having conceded three whilst drawing against Celtic and been consummately beaten at White Hart Lane, it's now the previously bulletproof Pep Guardiola’s turn to taste the salty tang of fickle perceptions.
Injuries and a draining Wednesday evening game in Scotland meant that we saw City put out a pretty weak side (Fernando/Navas I’m looking at you) for arguably their biggest test of the season thus far.
What we saw from Spurs, however, was a truly remarkable display of tactical clarity, fitness and desire as they pressed the bejesus out of City till the very last. 20 minutes or so into the game Alan Smith on Sky coms was convinced that ‘there was no way Spurs could keep this up’ but the white surge, whenever City’s defence attempted to play out from the back, kept coming all game long.
On the rare occasions that City managed to work the ball beyond Tottenham’s feverish front four, they were met in the midfield by the wall of muscle that Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama represent. Both men arrived over the summer with question marks next to their name – the former due to his hefty price tag and penchant for disappearing into the ether for months on end, whilst the latter’s discipline problems remained a big concern – but the pair excelled, putting in their finest displays for the club thus far as Mauricio Pochettino’s remarkable knack for improving his players shines through again.
Whilst there was an element of good fortune about Spur’s opener, when Alli swept home Son’s puppy dog cute through ball to make it 2-0 before the break, no one could argue the scoreline was anything other than an accurate reflection of Tottenham’s total superiority.
For all the excitement Son, Alli, Lamela et al generate, Pochettino’s calling card is his defence. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen were exceptional as they completely nullified the red hot Sergio Aguëro. Again, the levels of consistency that Vertonghen has discovered under the Argentine boss, having repeatedly auditioned for the role of Captain Clusterf*ck, under both Andre Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood, speaks volumes for Poch’s coaching and man management skills.
In the end a slightly silly penalty kerfuffle between Son and Lamela proved to be the only negative from an afternoon where Spurs made City look plainly human and instilled themselves as worthy contenders in the title race after a quiet but effective start to the season.
Honourable mentions – my word they did little to deserve it against a horrendously wasteful United side, but, considering their current rotten funk, Stoke’s away point at Old Trafford was a huge result.
Goal Of The Weekend
In a largely horrendous game characterised by Middlesbrough’s lack of ambition and West Ham’s simply horrendous shooting, Dimitri Payet turned up to deliver the sort of box office magic that saw Real Madrid sniffing around this summer.
Receiving a long ball on the left flank, Boro full back Antonio Barragán was the first of many to quickly discover he had football pie all over his shirt before the Frenchman skated towards goal. A further four defenders wilted and flopped with every waggle of the winger’s hips and, having travelled a good 40 yards with the ball, Payet rolled a shot back on himself into the far corner of the net. Ding dong indeed.
Honourable mentions – Christian Benteke’s header to salvage a point for Palace on Friday night was a sight to savour. The man’s got a forehead more cultured than most right pegs and he met Joel Ward’s deep cross with a fine leap, before carefully curling a header back inside the far post.
Worst Goal Of The Weekend
How fitting that on the 20th anniversary of Arsene Wenger’s appointment at Arsenal, the godfather of aesthetics in the English game, they beat relegation fodder Burnley with one of the worst footballing eyesores fathomable.
A last second cross was flicked on at the near post before falling to two unmarked Arsenal players at the far stick. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s mistimed hack would have sent the ball well over the bar from all of three yards had Laurent Koscielny not been stood directly in front of him. The centre half’s hands stopped the shot ending up in orbit, deflecting it instead into the net, from a position that is best described as ‘very, very offside’.
I for one would not have liked to cross Sean Dyce as he sat down for his customary post match pint of gravel.
Arsene Wenger, to his eternal credit, played to the gallery, dusting off a much loved classic and claiming he ‘did not see’ the incident in question.
Honourable mentions – Joe Allen’s equaliser for Stoke hummed pretty rotten as David de Gea made a pig’s ear of Glen Johnson’s weak effort from range. A melee to reach the rebound saw four players pile in with the ball squirting up onto the bar and out for the Welshman to tuck away.
Assist Of The Weekend
I couldn’t get enough of José Holebas’ delivery for Isaac Success’ equaliser at Vicarage Road. The German born, part Uruguayan, Greek international hooked over a wizard of a free kick from the left flank. Having cleared the first defender (!!) the pace on the ball meant all it took was a glance of the forehead from the marvellously named Nigerian to send the ball fizzing into the far corner.
Chap Of Steel
Having shipped goals like they were going out of fashion, Stoke’s decision to hand the No.1 jersey to emergency loanee Lee Grant last week proved a wise one. Despite making just the 2nd Premier League appearance of his career at the Old Trafford, the 33-year-old played a huge role as the Potters snaffled a crucial point.
In total Grant made eight saves, the most impressive of them coming in the first minute as he foiled Zlatan Ibrahimovic twice from close range when the Swede was nailed on to score. Amongst some more routine stops, Jesse Lingard also found himself exceptionally thwarted against the odds at the near post by a top, top, top (!) draw save.
The fact that David de Gea flubbed the one piece of vaguely serious glovework he had to do at the other end just served to highlight what an impressive display of concentration it was, in the face of some relentless pressure from Manchester United. That, I’m afraid, really ought to be the last we see of Shay Given in the Premier League.
Honourable Mentions – James Milner’s conversion into the left back we always knew he dreamt of being has been rather impressive. Against Swansea the renegade everyman put in a cracking shift, logging more defensive actions (tackles, interceptions, clearances adn blocks) than any of his teammates and showed his worth going forward with a game high nine crosses. Securing the win with a late penalty that flirted with, then sensibly backed down from, the idea of being a Panenka, proved to be the cherry on this particular cake.
Pretty much the entire Spurs team deserves a nod here whilst the weekend’s only 0-0, between Leicester and Southampton, was due largely to a redoubtably stodgy performance for forgotten Chelsea man Oriol Romeu. Well done one and all.
Chumps Of The Weekend
I ended up bagging a last minute ticket to see West Ham v Boro from the away end on Saturday and thus had a front row view to one of the more baffling subplots of this season – the persistent violence involving West Ham fans. During the game, your classic lowbrow slanging matches over the (in-no-way-sufficient) buffer zone between the two sets of fans by the corner flag was typically unpleasant but nothing beyond the ordinary.
When goals were traded early in the second half there was a volley of coins and bottles aimed into the away section however, which saw one woman and an elderly man have to leave with injuries sustained by missiles. Relatively speaking, having been hit with a Twirl chocolate bar (?) as coins landed around me, I got off lightly. As tensions rose and stewards struggled to placate dozens of enraged Smoggies, I found myself tersely watching out the final ten minutes, silently praying that Middlesbrough didn’t snaffle a late winner. Whilst I’m aware this sort of stuff is common place at grounds around the country, it bummed me out realising just how far we have to go before football truly becomes a place where anyone, regardless of gender, age or sexual orientation can go and feel genuinely comfortable (note - video contains offensive language).
— Richard Dodds (@doddsy35) October 1, 2016
The unsavoury atmosphere in the ground was followed up after the game by yet more fighting and arrests immediately after the game outside the stadium. It's ugly and frankly doesn't give us much of a leg to stand on when moaning about things like the conduct of Russian fans at international tournaments.
Whilst all football clubs attract a certain level of caveman, and I’m in no way tarring every West Ham fan with the same brush here (the overwhelming majority of the supporters behave perfectly normally every week) the club cannot deny it has a stubborn fan culture issue. Although stewarding/policing has been lax at times this season, it was pretty well stocked here and yet ugly scenes, straight out of the 1970’s, circulated around social media minutes after the game as various whoppers charged around trying to act out their pubescent little Green Street fantasies.
Whilst this may seem like wet liberal bellyaching to some, the fact is that parents with children felt compelled to leave early due to the the atmosphere and, as mentioned above, women and the elderly were among those away fans injured by objects thrown during the game because their team had had the temerity to score.
Most embarrassingly of all, however, this is no one off. Going back to the stoning of Man United’s team bus last May, there has been fan violence at 5 of the last 9 European or Premier League home games that West Ham have hosted (Man United, Astra, Bournemouth, Watford, Middlesbrough). In a league where crowd violence has largely been stamped out, that's a pretty shocking tally. Whilst the club desperately tries to move forward, certain sections of their fan base remain determined to keep them mired in the dark ages.
— Police Hour (@PoliceHour) October 1, 2016
Honourable Mentions – Sunderland. Bottom of the league, one of just two winless teams in the top flight and with a manager being forced to talk up a draw where they were outplayed by a lack of adventure personified – a Tony Pulis side playing away from home. With Stoke and West Ham up next for the Black Cats, you fear for Moyes’ neck should they come away from those games without at least one win.
Stat Of The Weekend
Right, rant over. Back to pointing and laughing at rank incompetance. Since the start of last season Paddy Van Aanholt has scored more Premier League goals (6) than anyone at the club bar Jermain Defoe. This serves nicely to highlight the Dutchman’s worth as an attacking force and how rotten every other striker at the club has been/is/will be for all time. Seriously though guys, play him as a winger forevermore.
Question Of The Weekend
Just what exactly does Gareth Southgate see in the long term international career prospects of Glen of Johnson? Kieran Trippier, 6 years Johnson’s junior, whom we were mighty impressed with in the Champions League last week, has reasonable grounds to be rather cheesed off about not being picked for England’s games this week. Likewise, giving 78-year-old Phil Jagielka a place in the squad as 4th choice centre half, over Calum Chambers, pickles my noggin like you wouldn’t believe. THINK OF THE FUTURE GARETH.
Hashtag Of The Weekend
— Vannes OC - Officiel (@VocfootOfficiel) October 1, 2016
— Vannes OC - Officiel (@VocfootOfficiel) October 1, 201
Do Bears Defecate Amongst Trees?
Does Tactics Tim Sherwood want the Villa job back? Course he bloody does.
Cover image - PA. Numbers and stats provided by WhoScored.