It is rumoured, on good authority, that Jose Mourinho jettisoned a trouser press across his Stoke hotel room at the final whistle of his side’s 1-0 defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
A seventh defeat from twelve Premier League games leaves the reigning champions just three points away from the relegation zone and, in addition to Stoke’s well-marshalled victory over the fallen champions, there were further copycat giant-killings from other underdog teams this weekend.
GARDE V MAN CITY – 3 POINTS
Against a free-scoring Manchester City, the Premier League’s basement club produced an inspired performance. The eleven claret-clad heroes were unrecognisable from the shapeless apologists that contrived to lose game after game during the latter days of Tim Sherwood’s hapless tenure.
Though the Villans remain bottom of the league, the clean sheet yielded from this game strongly suggests that all may not yet be lost. On Sunday’s evidence, Remi Garde has his priorities in good order, returning to basics by making key changes to the beleaguered defence. Given their difficulty in scoring, winning by single goals is likely to be Villa’s only route to survival.
Ciaran Clark is one player that has recently been given brutal, but occasionally deserved, criticism from Villa fans across various forums. Just six days ago, against Tottenham, Clark played to the right of a now-jaded Joleon Lescott, with the central defensive duo performing pitifully in a 3-1 defeat. Against Manchester City, in his new left-sided role alongside Micah Richards, the Irishman was a revitalised force.
City dominated possession in the closing minutes, but Garde had the foresight to place his faith in the power of Premiership pedigree. Deploying players with greater Premier League experience, to replace Jordan Ayew and Carles Gil as the second half wore on, was a managerially sound decision from Garde that belied his own lack of experience in English football.
Premier League experience will be crucial if Villa find themselves under pressure in the late moments of their upcoming games, holding on to a precious lead that could contribute much to the club’s future – for better or worse.
Key Player: Ciaran Clark
NEIL V SWANSEA – 2 POINTS
Norwich have arrested a dire run of form and, though there are sterner challenges on the horizon, Saturday’s solid performance against Swansea suggests that the Canaries are once more playing like a team capable of survival in the top flight.
The Norwich defence has leaked goals with alarming regularity in recent weeks, but Alex Neil’s game plan enabled the defence to frustrate Swansea’s cultured attack on multiple occasions. The formation utilised by Neil was also well-balanced, playing to Norwich’s strengths.
Going into the final 20 minutes, the score was 0-0 but Norwich would settle for nothing less than three points. Since joining Norwich on loan, Djeumerci Mbokani’s power in attack has not been utilised to the fullest extent, yet it was no coincidence that he assisted the winning goal less than two minutes after his introduction.
Neil played his trump card as Swansea pressed for a late equaliser, bringing on midfield ‘enforcer’ Youssuf Mulumbu for attacking midfielder Wes Hoolahan in the closing minutes. This extra degree of strength and stamina in midfield served to safeguard Norwich’s first win in seven matches.
Key Player: Djeumerci Mbokani
PARDEW V LIVERPOOL – 1 POINT
Now celebrating their second win at Anfield in six months, Crystal Palace were as unified as ever during the course of Sunday’s pulsating game against Liverpool.
For Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew, being the first manager to defeat Jürgen Klopp in English football is an impressive feat, particularly when faced with ferocious, never-ending Liverpool pressure away from home. Ultimately, it was Pardew’s emphasis on balance down both of the Palace flanks that proved decisive in hitting the reds on the counter attack, claiming a win that further boosts the Eagles’ push for a European berth in 2016.
Key Player: Yannick Bolasie