Here’s a look at the major story lines in the Premiership this weekend.
1. An explosion of offence
Sunderland entered last weekend’s play having scored just seven times in 990 minutes. Then, in a second half flurry against Fulham, they scored three times in 20 minutes.
If the Black Cats (with 12 goals against) can get any type of offence going, then they should rise up the table quite quickly. Only two clubs have allowed fewer goals this season: Stoke City (11) and Manchester City (10).
Alex Ferguson’s first match leading Manchester United onto the pitch came over 26 years ago, against QPR. This weekend, facing QPR again, Ferguson will be honoured with a statue outside Old Trafford in recognition of his years of exemplary results.
And in case you missed it, Mark Hughes was fired as QPR manager on Friday. Hughes is just a symbol for the fickle nature of Premier League ownership, as the Welshman is one of nine managers that have been at their current club less than a year.
3. Manchester midfield
When we talk about United, we normally talk about the guys up front, and with good reason. Rooney, van Persie, Hernandez, Welbeck – they’ve all provided many talking points.
However, the club’s loss to Norwich last week was the latest example of where this club struggled against pace in the midfield.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise with Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all on the wrong side of 30. In fact, Carrick and Giggs both started last week, and when that happens over the last couple seasons, United’s winning percentage hovers around 55 per cent. In all other games, the Red Devils win more than 80 per cent.
4. No Fellaini
Everton’s loss to Reading last week was a stinger for more than a few reasons. For one, they hit the woodwork for the 12th time this season, by far the highest total in the Premier League. But even more importantly, they lost Marouane Fellaini for this weekend’s matchup against Norwich because of yellow card accumulation. Fellaini is, of course, the Toffees leading scorer this season.
5. A defensive turnaround
Over the last month or so, most clubs have played five matches. During that time, three clubs have earned more than 10 points: Manchester United, Manchester City, and…. Norwich City????
The Canaries are undefeated in those five contests, beating Arsenal and Manchester United in the process. The biggest reason: a stingy defence. After allowing 17 goals in the first seven matches, Norwich has conceded just once during this quintet of games.
6. The other end of the spectrum
So Norwich is riding high, but Paul Lambert and Aston Villa are not. Lambert is suspended this weekend after criticizing the officials for some poor decisions in the Villans’ loss to Manchester City last Saturday.
And there is increasing evidence that this team is simply a bad side. Over the course of the last 28 Premier League matches for each club, Aston Villa has picked up just 20 points, the lowest total among the 17 clubs that have been involved in all of those matchdays.
7. Walcott’s impact grows
Last week, we talked about Theo Walcott’s increasing role within Arsenal. Let’s put that into proper perspective: The Gunners’ struggles this season are well documented, but those struggles aren’t nearly as evident when Walcott is in the starting 11. He has seven goals, and six assists in six starts, and Arsenal is undefeated in those games.
8. Suarez the creator
We’ve talked a lot about Luis Suarez’s goal scoring over the last few weeks, but in all fairness, he’s not a spectacular finisher. If that were the case, he would be leading the scoring race by an even wider margin.
Only four players in the league create more than 2.5 chances per game: Adel Taarabt, Santi Cazorla, Steven Pienaar, and Suarez, who leads with 2.92.
West Ham owners and manager Sam Allardyce both say they would welcome David Beckham to the club. The LA Galaxy superstar reportedly has offers from Australia and China, while PSG have denied they have interest.
Allardyce and West Ham will be looking to hand Spurs their third consecutive loss at White Hart Lane, something that hasn’t happened in over four years.
10. Benitez’ primary task
There’s no question that sparking Fernando Torres will be Rafa Benitez’ most important task.
Signing the Spaniard was a Roman Abramovich move, and the Blues owner wasn’t going to watch Roberto di Matteo give up on the expensive striker.
Here are the numbers: Torres scored around 0.6 goals per match under Benitez at Liverpool, and he has scored about one-third as often at Chelsea.
11. The Citizens return
It was heartening (well, not to the rest of the league) to see one of the league’s most dynamic offences awaken last week.
Manchester City’s 5-0 win against Aston Villa marked the first time in 15 matches that Carlos Tevez and company scored more than three times in a game.
To most clubs, that type of drought is typical, but not for this collection of gifted offensive players.
Roberto Mancini’s club started off the 2011-12 season by averaging more than three goals per game over the first four months of the season.