After a first quarter-season that continually produced shocks, Game Week 9 represented a return to tradition.
To a disquieting extent, Manchester United looked like the treble-winning team of 1999 during their 3-0 victory at a subdued Goodison Park. To win without playing particularly well is the age-old mark of a team with championship credentials, and United simply performed as a team unit without any notable moments of showboating.
Meanwhile, under the glare of Sky’s merciless cameras, Newcastle United’s 6-2 win over Norwich temporarily lifted the misery on Tyneside. It was a scoreline that served to remind the Toon faithful of better days, when the likes of Andrew Cole would score a hat trick without breaking a sweat.
Scoreline apart, a return to those days is as distant as ever, and there is much work to be done. With a trip to Sunderland on the horizon, there is every opportunity to pile the misery on their reviled neighbours who are now (incidentally) the only winless team in the entire Football League.
Subsequently, two members of the Newcastle squad contribute to this week’s shortlist.
1/2. Georgino Wijnaldum & Ayoze Perez – vs Sunderland (A)
The duo combined to great effect against Norwich and the level of commitment from the attacking duo was a potent force from the first whistle. A trip to the Stadium of Light will be a daunting prospect for Newcastle, with rivals Sunderland boasting a 100% record from the last five encounters.
The priceless 1-0 win six months ago was attained in nerve-wracking fashion, and the stakes are even higher this time around. Sam Allardyce will undoubtedly go for a team that ‘will not lose’ rather than one that ‘will win’, but the newfound chemistry between the Newcastle players in the latter half of the field will undoubtedly cause problems.
This Tyne-Wear derby is set to be a fraught spectacle, with chances coming at a premium, but Wijnaldum is likely to win plenty of frontline battles during the game.
Other Key Players:
3, Danny Rose – vs Bournemouth (A)
Rose outperformed every one of his defensive colleagues in what was a drab performance against a Liverpool side in transition. He was the source of a few notable forward moves from Spurs, yet he also provided a robust barrier to attack.
Now a lowly seventeenth in the league, reality may finally be dawning for Spurs’ weekend hosts AFC Bournemouth – a shadow outfit since the long-term injury to Callum Wilson. For all their bravery, the remaining Bournemouth players still lack the ruthless edge required to survive in the Premier League, and it is difficult to envision many clear chances against Spurs.
4. Geoff Cameron – vs Watford (H)
Watford’s reliability on striker Odion Ighalo makes him a marked man in every game. In the absence of another effective outlet, an opposing defence with ample top flight experience has little trouble contending with such a one-dimensional attack.
Ever the ‘quiet man’, Cameron has become a mainstay for Stoke, yet his value has changed little, making him an affordable alternative to other defenders in the squad.
5. Emre Can – vs Southampton (H)
Although Jürgen Klopp’s debut did not produce the devastating performance that was so widely expected by the red half of Merseyside, it cannot be denied that Liverpool’s defence demonstrated a much better degree of composure and maturity at White Hart Lane.
The Reds’ third successive clean sheet at the ground was credited largely to Mamadou Sakho, a player that has been criticised of late by many Liverpool fans. Without the interventions of Can however, the Frenchman would have experienced a far less enjoyable afternoon.
It is only a matter of time before the German midfielder’s stock soars and, on Saturday’s evidence, it is clear that Klopp intends to utilise Can as the transitional player for quick-fire attack from a defensive situation. Under Ronald Koeman, Saturday’s visitors Southampton will attack Liverpool without fear, having already felled a ‘giant’ this season, at Stamford Bridge.
It is the sort of opposition setup that should suit an all-rounder like Can, and he is expected to make an impact in Klopp’s home debut.
6, Andre Ayew – vs Aston Villa (A)
Opposing his brother Jordan will be a surreal experience for the Ghanaian midfielder, but there will be no quarter given from any of the Swansea players at Villa Park. There is no end in sight to Villa’s misery, and an early goal for the men in claret will be the only way to silence the malcontents in the Holte End.
Ayew returned to goalscoring ways in the 2-2 draw against Tottenham, and he appears to have regained a modicum of the form that saw his value rocket in the early weeks of the season.