A season of shocks and surprises continued at the weekend. The three promoted sides look more assured and confident with every passing week, yielding a total of seven points from a possible nine between them.
Less shockingly, Chelsea have now managed to avoid breaking Blackburn’s unwanted record, beating Arsenal 2-0 in a display which proved that Mourinho is still master of the mind game. Meanwhile, Anthony Martial continued his blistering start to life at Manchester United, but in terms of standout performances at the weekend there is only one place to start…
BILIC v MAN CITY – 3 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Victor Moses & Dimitri Payet
Elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Astra Giurgiu appears to have galvanised West Ham into a tight and disciplined unit. Following that ignominious exit just 46 days ago, Slaven Bilic’s odds in the sack race shortened drastically – now he leads the FLIP Sports Tac-Masters table.
The key to this latest triumph was the establishment of an attack-minded midfield trio with players that have a known ability to cover for one another and move into new positions to unnerve the opposition. This was a deliberate move by Bilic, who knew that the absence of Vincent Kompany would prove detrimental and give his attackers a competitive edge.
City have the players to break down a team that ‘parks the bus’, so West Ham had no choice but to attack and exploit the unfamiliarity between Ellaquim Mangala and City newcomer Nicolas Otamendi. A special mention must go to Dimitri Payet, who is more than sufficiently living up to his billing as the summer’s marquee signing after a second consecutive performance as the best player on the pitch.
Tip: If you have nothing to lose, consider players that can fill more than one position. This can unsettle even the strongest of teams and give you a competitive edge, since your rivals may not be willing to back a team that is playing a so-called ‘giant’ away from home.
MOURINHO v ARSENAL – 2 Points
Super Sub/Key Players: Cesc Fabregas & Pedro
Form is temporary, class is permanent – an old cliché but one that was fully backed by Jose Mourinho as he once again overcame Arsene Wenger in a Premier League meeting.
The old Mourinho, that consummate leader of the runaway champions last term, was in excellent form on Saturday, rallying his players at every opportunity. Everybody knows that derbies are fraught, physical affairs and it quickly became evident that Mourinho had long ago identified the weak links in Arsenal’s sprightly starting XI, learning much from his defeat in the Community Shield.
The right flank was utilised superbly by Mourinho, who deployed Pedro and Cesc Fabregas to great effect, providing a physical presence against Nacho Monreal, whose abilities were nullified by a duo that have a much greater pedigree at the very summit of European football. The loss of Santi Cazorla after 79 minutes deepened Arsenal’s woes on an already-weak left flank and a second Chelsea goal always looked inevitable.
Tip: In a high stakes derby, always pick players with experience and leadership qualities – especially if they have played for both sides. Cesc Fabregas was a prime example on Saturday, capping an assured display with an assist, indicating that he is ready to consign his recent poor form to history.
Also consider which players are likely to flourish in a highly physical game.
RANIERI v STOKE CITY – 1 Point
Super Sub/Key Players: Marc Albrighton
For the second consecutive week, Claudio Ranieri has masterminded a comeback from two goals down. Although another victory was not attained, the Leicester City team can look back with pride on a performance that tested their collective spirit at a ground once infamous for its intimidating atmosphere.
In a true game of two halves, the turning point came after the restart. A game against Stoke always requires substance over style, and new signing Gokhan Inler’s exit for Marc Albrighton proved a masterstroke.
Albrighton is often underrated, but he combined excellently with fellow Englishman Jamie Vardy, who employs a similarly high workrate which (with a bit of good fortune and persistence) matches any number of stepovers from Ronaldo. The use of this workrate has been made more efficient by Ranieri due to his vast managerial experience on the continent.
By contrast, Stoke’s backline was drastically short of the required level of stamina to deal with the duo, and it came as no surprise when Leicester began the fightback just five minutes after Albrighton’s introduction.