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Matchday Wrap Up

Monday Morning Manager - WK29

by Neal Thurman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

Where has that been from Manchester United all season? Maybe Spurs were just due for a real clunker but Manchester United haven’t been that good even when playing against the dreck of the league so writing the result, and the way it happened, to Spurs falling down on the job would be just trying to find a way to withhold credit from United.  No, it was at least a glimpse of what we hoped we might see from United all season.  The funny thing was that most of United’s big acquisitions from the summer – Angel di Maria, Falcao, Luke Shaw, and Marcos Rojo – were not involved (Falcao came in for the last 10 minutes or so but was inconsequential, none of the rest even participated).

 

Despite the high profile absences, United dominated the day by dominating the midfield.  Playing only Wayne Rooney as a recognized forward, the combination of Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, and Ashley Young anchored by Michael Carrick overwhelmed their counterparts from Spurs.  I don’t recall even a single passage of play where I thought to myself, Spurs look like they might be getting a foothold in this match.  Mostly, I wondered how this could be the same Spurs midfield that similarly overwhelmed Arsenal at White Hart Lane not too long ago.  Finally, I wondered if Louis Van Gaal has the stones to keep the Holdovers (I know it sounds like a bad action movie title but what else should we call Rooney, Mata, Fellaini, Young and Carrick?) on the pitch when his more expensive acquisitions are available again? 

 

Suffice it to say that Manchester United’s trip to Anfield on the 22nd just got a lot more interesting.

 

The other thing that struck me over the weekend was the newly joined race for second place.  Not just the notion that Arsenal have a real shot at supplanting Manchester City for second place in the table but that Arsenal have a real shot at being the second best team in England for at least the next couple of seasons. 

 

Is part of this the partisan in me coming out and just HOPING that Arsenal can move past City in the pecking order despite City’s superior spending power? Probably, money usually rules the day and betting against the bigger spender finishing higher in the table is generally a fool’s errand.  Still, hear me out, there might be some logic to this yet.

 

Point 1 – Manchester City have already faced FFP sanctions once because they’ve been deemed to have overspent compared to their revenues while Arsenal are a model of fiscal prudence who a) are rarely huge buyers and b) almost always profitable from their business operations (especially once you remove the extraordinary expenses related to the Emirates being constructed which is largely complete).  Advantage Arsenal.

 

Point 2 – Manchester City’s roster is almost entirely at its peak or already on the decline.  Pablo Zabaleta is 30, Gael Clichy is 29, Martin Demichelis is 34, Aleksandar Kolarov is 29, Vincent Kompany is 28, Bacary Sagna is 32, Frank Lampard is 36 (and leaving for MLS at the end of the season), Yaya Toure is 31, Jesus Navas is 29, David Silva is 29, James Milner is 29 (and is likely gone at the end of the season), Fernandinho is 29.  Only Joe Hart (27), Sergio Aguero (26), Wilfried Bony (26) and Eliaquim Mangala (24), Samir Nasri (27), Fernando (27), Edin Dzeko (28) and Stevan Jovetic (25) can be said to be in their prime and of those only Hart and Aguero have proven themselves worthy of being long-term building blocks (Bony is probably in the same boat but hasn’t proven himself with City yet).  Mangala has been a bit of an overpriced disaster as has Fernando, Nasri is a complimentary piece, Dzeko and Jovetic are both frequently rumored to be leaving.  Look at the Arsenal roster and you have rising youth with Coquelin (23), Bellerin (20), Chambers (20), Gabriel (24), Gibbs (25), Oxlade-Chamberlain (21), Ramsey (24), Wilshere (23), and Welbeck (24) still having time to develop before they hit their prime while mainstays Ospina (26), Ozil (26), Walcott (26), Giroud (28), and Sanchez (26) are all on the younger side of their prime.  Only Koscielny (29), Mertesacker (30), Monreal (29), Debuchy (29) and Cazorla (30) among regular players are on the downside along with squad players like Rosicky (34), Arteta (32), and Flamini (31).  Of the players at Arsenal hitting the end of their prime, only one of the center back spots lacks an obvious replacement (Bellerin for Debuchy, Gabriel for one CB spot, Gibbs for Monreal, and Ramsey/Ox for Cazorla). 

 

Point 3 – City have shown themselves to be poor talent evaluators over the past few seasons.  With the jury still out on Bony (but, again, there’s little reason to expect him to fail given what we’ve seen at Swansea), the list of acquisitions has been miserable.  Mangala was incredibly expensive and hasn’t been any good (and he’s not THAT young at 24).  Fernando is 27 and hasn’t showed that he’s more than a spare part.  Fernandinho is already nearing his presumed decline at 29 and hasn’t been more than a solid/adequate starting midfielder.  Lampard and Sagna are both declining veterans who look good on the roster based on what we remember of them but they are solid veterans off the bench and nothing more. 

 

Point 4 – Home Grown Players is the final spot where Manchester City are in a tough spot compared to Arsenal.  With the presumed departures of Frank Lampard and James Milner combined with the offloading of failed purchases Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair, City are going to be at a serious deficit when it comes to fielding the necessary 8 home grown players necessary to fill out a Champions League or Premier League 25-man squad.  Of the current group, the Premier League’s official web site lists only Hart, Milner, Lampard, Clichy (he qualified because he came up as a youth player with Arsenal), third string goalkeeper Richard Wright, and 15th string center back Dedryck Boyata as home grown players.  With Milner and Lampard presumably gone that leaves four spots to be filled at a minimum and six that really SHOULD be filled as Wright and Boyata are pretty much around only because of their home grown status.  With little help coming from the U21 ranks (who aren’t subject to HGP restrictions) and what we know about the exorbitant prices generally required to buy English players, City are in something of a bind. 

 

Point 5 – City lack reliable stars.  Unless you’re expecting bounce-back seasons from David Silva and Yaya Toure after a summer of rest instead of a World Cup and far better health from Sergio Aguero then City don’t really have the sort of stars that you expect from a team that wants to challenge for the league title and the upper reaches of the Champions League. 

 

None of these points by itself point you to the fact that Arsenal have a chance to overtake City in the race to be second to the exceptional combination of Jose Mourinho, Roman Abramovic’s money, and the Chelsea front office’s transfer genius.  Together though, they point to a City group that is going to have a very hard time rebuilding both their core of stars and a set of complimentary home grown players within the budget constraints that FFP imposes at both the Champions League and Premier League levels.  They are faced with the choice of spending big and facing additional penalties or shopping at the bargain rack and hoping their transfer acumen improves significantly.  At the same time, Arsenal can watch their young squad currently sitting one point behind City, improve naturally with age and supplement them with one or two key purchases (with goalkeeper and center back presumably being next up). 

 

Arsenal supporters may want to hear something more uplifting than “second place is a real possibility for the next few years” and City supporters may not want to confront the reality that their relatively new-found money isn’t an instant cure-all but looking at today’s rosters and rules, those seems like two very reasonable conclusions.

 

(NOTE: All of the above assumes that the Premier League and UEFA have the courage of their convictions and are willing to levy heavy punishments should City not comply with the stated regulations – UEFA has already shown weakness by reducing the Home Grown Player requirement from 8 to 5 after limiting City’s Champions League squad to 21 in response to their last set of violations) 

 

Check in with Rotoworld.com for news, analysis and fantasy predictions all season

 

The Title Race 

 

Chelsea – Position: First Place, Points: 64, Form: 11 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (@HUL, STK, @QPR, MAN, @ARS) Southampton played very well.  Chelsea were just solid (for them).  This was a good weekend only in that City tripped up worse and against worse opposition which put the Blues closer, not farther away, from the crown.  It’s getting repetitive but Chelsea’s performance was not satisfactory but it was enough.

 

The Race for Europe

 

Manchester CityPosition: Second Place, Points: 58, Form: 9 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (WBA, @CRY, WHU, AST, @TOT) Last weekend the faint praise in this space for City was that they didn’t stub their toe in a match that should have been a relative gimme.  Oops, not so much this week.  The defending champs are in a stretch of their schedule where they should be beefing up their point total and instead they looked lackluster against a club highly likely to be relegated.  They are now in a race with Arsenal and United for the second spot rather than a race with Chelsea for the title.  If Liverpool keep coming on you wonder if City’s Champions League spot could be in question.  I’m not saying that fifth place is likely but I’m saying that it is no longer out of the question.

 

Arsenal Position: Third Place, Points: 57, Form: 15 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@NEW, LIV, SUN, CHE, @HUL) That’s five wins in a row since the loss at White Hart Lane and what appears to be a comfortable spot in the top four.  Who would have imagined that the club could be so optimistic going into the second leg with Monaco after the disaster of the first leg.  A win at Old Trafford in the FA Cup combined with their five straight wins will do that for them.  As an added bonus, they were able to win comfortably while rotating some key players.  Cazorla only played 20 minutes as a substitute.  Bellerin was rested.  Welbeck was rested.  Sanchez came off early.  Even better, Aaron Ramsey showed signs of being the Aaron Ramsey from the beginning of last season for the first time since his most recent injury woes.  Arsene Wenger could still stand to get Sanchez some additional rest in the coming weeks but that’s about it for the “to do” list right now.

 

LiverpoolPosition: Fifth Place, Points: 51 Form: 13 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (@SWN, MAN, @ARS, NEW, @WBA) Liverpool play at the Liberty Stadium later today. 

 

Manchester United – Position: Fourth Place, Points: 56, Form: 12 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (@LIV, AST, @CHE, @EVE, WBA) We covered the excellence of their performance in the opening.  I still want to see more than one great match before I move them ahead of eternal rivals Liverpool for the fourth spot.  Happily, we’ll get to see those two face off next weekend and decide who has the pole position then (or see if City continue to stumble opening up the possibility of Arsenal, United, and Liverpool all overtaking them down the stretch). 

                                      

Tottenham Hotspur – Position: Seventh Place, Points: 50, Form: 7 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Light (LEI, @BUR, AST, @NEW, @SOU) The combination of being six points out of fourth and looking that dire against Manchester United certainly don’t give you much hope that this group is going to make it to the Champions League.  They do have a very light schedule coming up which should help but since passing Arsenal in the standings after their huge win in the North London Derby, Spurs have dropped eight points compared to their rivals in the intervening five matches and allowed Liverpool to overtake them as the “darkhorse” in the race to supplant United/Arsenal/City for one of the Champions League spots.  The biggest disappointment for me watching Spurs against United was how marginalized Christen Eriksen was in the match.  He was terrifying against Arsenal and I actively had to remind myself he was even on the pitch against United. 

 

Southampton – Position: Sixth Place, Points: 50, Form: 5 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (BUR, @EVE, HUL, @STK, TOT) They played well and picked up a point at a place where they can’t have been expecting to do either so that’s good.  Still, they’re six points from fourth and dropping.  It feels like a vintage Arsenal February/March that manages to undermine great early promise.  Maybe that’s why I’ve enjoyed the Saints season so much, it feels like home.

 


 

The Relegation Zone - where we examine events at the other end of the table as established clubs flounder and newly promoted clubs reveal who they are going to be this season. Like the sections above, I’ve reordered with the most likely to be relegated being first and the least likely of the group last.  

 

Leicester CityPosition: Twentieth Place, Points: 19, Form: 2 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@TOT, WHU, @WBA, SWN, @BUR) They needed three points and they got one.  It just isn’t enough.  Even worse, Aston Villa, Everton and Burnley picked up three huge points.  Leicester City are as good as sunk. 

 

QPR – Position: Nineteenth Place, Points: 22, Form: 3 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (EVE, @WBA, CHE, @AST, WHU) Well, it was an amazing consolation goal from Matt Philips late but the Rs were out of the match early and, on a weekend when those around them picked up points, they’re going to need all the consolation they can get.  It isn’t just that relegation looks increasingly likely but the financial free fall that would go with it given the excesses of the Harry Redknapp regime could mean that the Rs join Pompey as clubs that Redknapp has effectively destroyed with his financial mismanagement.  At least there will be some solid money coming back when they sell Charlie Austin.

 

Sunderland – Position: Seventeenth Place, Points: 26, Form: 2 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@WHU, NEW, CRY, @ARS, @STK)  Bye, bye Gus.  The change was needed for sure as Poyet just sat stoic on the sidelines glaring off into space as his charges were used and abused by Aston Villa over the weekend.  The big question is whether the Black Cats can find someone to pull them out of the mire and save them from relegation.  There are rumors that Sam Alardyce is viewed as the perfect candidate for the job long term (or maybe Dick Avocaat) but neither are going to be the answer between now and May and it seems unlikely that either man will be interested in managing in the Championship next season so getting the right person in to stay up is pretty important to what comes next at the Stadium of Light.  It feels like no better than a 50/50 proposition right now.

 

Burnley – Position: Eighteenth Place, Points: 25, Form: 4 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Difficult (@SOU, TOT, ARS, @EVE, LEI) What a huge win that was! Not just that they won which would have been huge but picking up three points at City means that they improved their position without exhausting any of the more winnable matches left on their schedule.  It’s still going to be tough and Villa winning big didn’t help them out at all but just when they need a ray of hope, here come Sunderland dropping back into the relegation picture.  The dream is still alive.

 

Aston VillaPosition: Sixteenth Place, Points: 28, Form: 6 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (SWA, @MAN, @TOT, QPR, @MAC) Villains everywhere have been waiting for that for longer than United supporters have been waiting for the attacking breakout that they saw this weekend.  Four goals.  Four goals from forwards.  A Benteke brace.  A huge win in what is now surely a relegation six-pointer.  Two wins in a row.  An FA Cup Semi-final.  It’s all going Villa’s way right this minute.  Tim Sherwood can certainly take some credit for turning this ship around just when it looked like it was about to run aground (and into the Championship).  The work isn’t over yet and Burnley haven’t helped things by keeping pace this weekend but Villa are looking closer to safety for sure.  Oh, and watching them play can now be said to be preferred to poking oneself in the eye with a dull spoon so there’s that.

 

Hull CityPosition: Fifteenth Place, Points: 28, Form: 8 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (CHE, @SWN, @SOU, LIV, @CRY) Only one point in a match with Leicester City (regardless of location) feels like a loss these days.  What feels like a win is watching Sunderland implode.  They may only be separated by two points in the standings but Hull City seem miles ahead on the pitch right now and that should be good to stay up.  Extending Steve Bruce’s contract didn’t make a great deal of sense to me but staying up is staying up and management is probably satisfied to some extent as long as those Premier League TV checks keep coming in even if that doesn’t particularly turn on supporters.

 

EvertonPosition: Fourteenth Place, Points: 31, Form: 4 points from past 5; Upcoming Schedule: Moderate (@QPR, SOU, @SWN, BUR, MAN) This was probably the weekend when Everton moved to safety.  They got the three points they so desperately needed with Aston Villa and Burnley having already picked up three each and Hull City having picked up a single point.  They have five points between themselves and Sunderland (who are still not in the relegation zone themselves) and that’s looking insurmountable with only 10 matches left to be played.

 


 

Newcomer of the Year - where we track the progress of players new to the Premier League this season

  

  1. Alexis Sanchez – A solid match but not nearly as spectacular as last weekend.
  2. Diego Costa – Costa scored another goal (Chelsea’s only one of the match) and is clearly surpassing Cesc Fabregas based on a season-long body of work.
  3. Cesc Fabregas – It’s going to be hard for anyone to assault Cesc’s spot high up on this list because of all the assists he piled up early in the season.  That said, he’s in full freefall mode at this point.  Maybe it’s the World Cup summer plus Mourinho’s lack of rotation catching up to him but he’s been a shell of the dominant player we saw in August, September, and October.
  4. Charlie Austin – He was game but Crystal Palace were just a lot better than the Rs.  Maybe we should start using this spot to scout out potential new homes for Austin for next season. 
  5. Gylfi Sigurdsson – Swansea don’t play Liverpool until later today.  
  6. Dame N’Doye – He nearly caused a goal but was called for a foul on the keeper as Nikica Jelavic ripped home the rebound.  He’s still proving to be worth his weight in gold but no goal this time around.  
  7. Dusan Tadic/Graziano Pelle/Sadio Mane/Eljero EliaDusan Tadic poked his head up in the goal column for the first time in ages and the Saints got a point at Stamford Bridge.  Not bad after a long spell being unproductive for this group.  
  8. Fraser Forster – Hard to blame him for the Chelsea goal, it was a really nice header from Costa.  
  9. Alex Song – Hmm, maybe Arsene Wenger knew something when he decided not to sign Song over the summer.  He was strong early in the season but he has faded for sure.
  10. Diafra Sakho Emre Can can move into this spot with a strong performance against Swansea later today, Sakho certainly didn’t do anything to defend the spot against Arsenal over the weekend.

 

Just Missing Out: Daley Blind, Angel di Maria, Enner Valencia, Thibaut Courtois, Jefferson Montero, Toby Alderweireld, Falcao, Andrew Robertson, Leonardo Ulloa, Danny Welbeck, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Joseph Schlupp, Patrick van Aanholt.

 

Dropping Off:

 


 

The Phantom Point All-Stars – Where we list those players who failed to tally any “major” statistics (goal, assist, clean sheet) but scored big in the more subtle categories like tackles won, passes intercepted, blocked shots, shots on target, successful crosses or corners won that can make a fantasy week in formats that reward these statistics. Occasionally, we’ll reward a player who gets an assist or a clean sheet if they also had a big “phantom” weekend.  

 

And we’re back with a new set of Phantom Point All-Stars for Week 28.  It’s been too long:

 

  1. Leighton Baines – Yes, there was a clean sheet in there but Baines was exceptional in his first match back from injury with six tackles won, four passes intercepted, a shot on target, two successful crosses, a blocked shot and a corner won.  This is the type of performance we’ve been waiting for all season for from Baines.
  2. Jore Okore – Another that comes with a clean sheet but was supplemented by winning four fouls, blocking two shots, intercepting two passes and winning a tackle.
  3. Morgan Schneiderlin – A thorn in Chelsea’s side, the French midfielder won ten tackles (10!) and intercepted nine passes (9!).  That’s a big day. 
  4. George Boyd – Yes, he scored a goal but we’re putting him here anyway because, well, it was a pretty big goal in a huge outcome for a guy who has been making the list this season on a pretty regular basis.
  5. James Morrison – Don’t call him “Jim” and don’t try to get a pass by him.  The Baggies’ midfielder intercepted six passes along with a shot on target, two corners won and a successful cross in their 1-0 victory over Stoke City. 
  6. Oscar – He’s unlikely to show up on this list for his tackling or intercepting so you’d be right to expect that he had a big weekend with shots on target (3) along with a corner won and, well, at least he won one tackle.
  7. Craig Gardner – Like George Boyd above, we’re putting Gardner in here because he’s been a frequent visitor to the list for his phantom points only.  This week there was an assist but he also intercepted three passes and won three tackles so he gets to stay on the list.
  8. Toby Alderweireld – There was a lot of defensive work done by the Saints as Alderweireld joined Schneiderlin with impressive defending phantom points including two blocked shots, three intercepted passes and a tackle won in addition to a shot on target.
  9. Cheikhou Kouyate – Playing out of position at Center Back, Kouyate acquitted himself well as he intercepted four passes, blocked two shots and won three tackles.  Imagine the final score line if he hadn’t been there to stem the Arsenal attack.
  10. Joel Ward – The man for whom this list (at least the defensive version) was initially founded.  He scored for the first time in three seasons so we’re acknowledging him here and not even looking to see what else he did.  Well done Mr. Ward, now go back to piling up interceptions and winning tackles.

 


 

The Fake Narrative of the Week - It is impossible to go a week without encountering a narrative somewhere in the football media that appears to be totally made up for the sake of gaining attention.  They usually fall into the categories of made up transfer rumors, hanging on too long to a mental image of who a player was and not who he currently is, or preying on a long-held stereotype based on club, nationality, or position.  When I come across them, I'll let you know and then let you know why I think they're silly.

 

The Lukaku purchase was a flop because he’s a bad player.  With Everton taking a huge step away from the relegation precipice and Romelu Lukaku being very productive in recent weeks, there has been a change in the narrative about the price Everton paid for him over the summer and whether that was a good purchase or a bad one.  Here’s the thing, Lukaku himself, even when he wasn’t at his best, was never the reason the move was a bad one for Everton.  Lukaku is 21-years-old and somewhere between very good and great with the arrow pointing towards him being great one day soon.  That puts Everton in the enviable position of being one of the few mid-table clubs with a world class forward to either deploy for themselves or sell on at a big profit.  So, why was this STILL a bad idea?

 

The answer is in the unsexy world of resource allocation and opportunity cost.  Lukaku is a very good player and was acquired for a fairly reasonable price (if there is such a thing in world football).  The big question is whether Everton would have been better served buying three £10M players rather than one £28M player.  The opportunity cost of Lukaku was a new center back to eventually join John Stones in replacing Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka.  The cost was a replacement for Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill who have never been adequately replaced as attacking forces in the Everton midfield.  If you look at the forwards who Roberto Martinez could have purchased instead of Lukaku for far less money – where names like Dame N’Doye and Charlie Austin come easily to mind – you could easily see Everton having a much deeper squad than they do. 

 

Instead of doing the scouting work to find an inexpensive replacement, the Toffees purchased Lukaku and then had to pray that everything else went right.  That meant Ross Barkley HAD to take a massive step forward.  Leighton Baines couldn’t get hurt or start to show his age a little.  Seamus Coleman had to repeat one of the better attacking seasons from a right back on a non-Champions League side in recent memory.  Gareth Barry had to hold off the aging process for another year.  The thin defense had to stay healthy.   Tim Howard had to maintain peak form in net. 

 

Basically it all had to be perfect for Roberto Martinez and it wasn’t.  The result was that while Lukaku, on his own merits, is still a very good player headed toward being great, buying him was still a bad idea because of what it cost Everton elsewhere.

 


 

What’s Going On In The Fantasy Premier League World? – I’ve run out of “Sponsors I’d Like To See” for now but I’m replacing it with a section on what’s going on with some of the major season-long and daily fantasy games available to Premier League fantasy devotees.

 

Yahoo – Just a reminder now that the MLS and their players union have reached an agreement and the season will go on.  Yahoo are launching an MLS fantasy game! Check it out here.

 

Major League Soccer – The league will continue to run its own fantasy game on their own web site.  Check that one out here.

 

Daily Fantasy Lobby – There are a bunch of communities that have grown up around Daily Fantasy Games to help players understand what types of competitions are available for them in one convenient location.  If you’re interested in a soccer/Premier League version of this type of community, you can click here and select “Soccer” (top right hand corner of the screen) to see the various flavors of Daily game that are available to you. 

 

Be sure to share anything interesting that you think fantasy managers should know about with me via Twitter.


 

Random Closing Thoughts - Well, this one's pretty obvious and it will be how we close out the column each week at least until a better idea comes along. 

  • My Second Club – Solid effort for the Saints at the Bridge but the season will still likely end outside the top four.  It is interesting to contemplate whether Europa Cup, with all of the obligations associated with it, is actually a reward or penalty if they manage to achieve that.  Spurs, Liverpool and Everton could all be used as examples of it being a negative rather than a positive.
  • This Week’s Good Points: Burnley for sure with three, Southampton with one and we’ll give Aston Villa three because any road points for them are good ones this season.   
  • The Good Points Table:  Crystal Palace 20; Burnley 17; Leicester City 15; Hull City 13; Swansea City 12; Newcastle 10; Stoke City 10; Sunderland 10; Aston Villa 10; West Ham 9; Spurs 8; Liverpool 7; West Brom 7; Arsenal 6; QPR 5; Manchester United 4; Southampton 4; Chelsea 3; Everton 1.
  • This Week’s Bad Points: Three awful points for City with two to Chelsea and one to Sunderland who should have expected no worse than a draw at home against Villa.  
  • The Bad Points Table: Manchester United 22; Manchester City 21; Liverpool 18; Spurs 18; Everton 14; Southampton 14, Chelsea 14; Arsenal 13; Newcastle 9; Swansea City 7; Sunderland 7; Stoke City 6; Aston Villa 5; West Ham 5; Burnley 3; Hull City 3; West Brom 3; QPR 2; and Crystal Palace 2. 
  • Player of the Week – I’m torn between awarding this to the entire Burnley squad who overcame a significant talent gap to beat Manchester City and awarding it jointly to Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor for their braces in the win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.  Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini deserve credit for their work against Spurs as well with Yannick Bolasie getting a nod for two strong assists to put away QPR early.  I’m giving it to Burnley an letting George Boyd accept it for the group because he’s been a marvel of industry over talent all season.
  • My Favorite Things – How can you not start this list with Matt Philips’ goal?...Michael Carrick’s precision…Marouane Fellaini’s controlled (for once) physicality…Olivier Giroud’s backheel to Walcott early…Aaron Ramsey looking back in form…A Leighton Baines revival…Brown Ideye keeping the goals coming (Tony Pulis is a GENIUS)…All “New Stoke over Stoke Classic” jokes that anyone chose to use…The Schneiderlin Wall…Tim Sherwood reaction shots.
  • My Least Favorite Things – The state of right back play in North London (Kyle Walker was hideous and it killed Spurs and Calum Chambers wasn’t any better but Arsenal overcame it)…Theo Walcott not finishing off Giroud’s backheel (he may have been fouled but he still hesitated for no good reason and it allowed Collins to tackle/foul him)…everything that Newcastle did on Sunday…Gus Poyet reaction shots (although I guess we won’t have to worry about any more of them this season). 
  • What did we find out? City haven’t guaranteed themselves a Champions League spot just yet but Sunderland have passed Aston Villa on the way down to the bottom and Burnley could be next if the managerial shake-up doesn’t work some serious magic at the Stadium of Light.
  • What’s Next? We still have Swansea vs. Liverpool to go later today and then Arsenal and Manchester City get to try their best to overturn big Champions League deficits on the road in mid-week.  Next week is headlined by the fascinating Liverpool vs. Manchester United early on Sunday at Anfield.  Manchester City are also dealt a tough test with Tony Pulis’ resurgent Baggies (nearing the top half rapidly) traveling to the Etihad to kick off the weekend on Saturday. 

 

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Neal Thurman
Neal Thurman manages the Rotoworld's Premier League coverage and contributes to Never Manage Alone which he co-founded. He is also a diehard Arsenal supporter. You can find him on Twitter @NealJThurman.