The English Premier League title race was supposed to be a two-horse race, with Chelsea and Manchester United battling all the way to the end. Well, one team has stepped up and beaten both on the way to first place.
Liverpool, that loveable team that hasn’t been taken seriously as a title contender for a decade, must now be taken very seriously. Despite the absence of star striker Fernando Torres, Liverpool went into Stamford Bridge and beat the Blues to gain sole possession of first place. It may still just be October but the Reds are for real and look poised to contest the race until season’s end.
The Liverpool-Chelsea clash was just one of several top storylines from the past weekend. You had Hull City winning again and moving into a tie for second place in the EPL with Chelsea (can you believe you just read that?). You had Harry Redknapp leave Portsmouth to replace Juande Ramos at Tottenham and win in his debut. You also had Clint Dempsey come off the bench to help Fulham salvage a draw with a late goal.
SBI EPL correspondent James Tyler of The Unprofessional Foul discusses Liverpool’s triumph (and yes, he’s a Liverpool fan) and goes over all of the weekend’s 10 EPL matches:
The Reds are for real
By JAMES TYLER
First, there was beating Manchester United, now there is beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Questions about Liverpool’s legitimacy as a title contender should be silenced for the rest of the season. Can you argue with the fact that Liverpool has answered just about every question thus far in the season? To be undefeated in all competitions with November just around the corner? After 9 games in the world’s toughest league, Liverpool remains unbeaten. What more needs to be said?
Whether you’re neutral or passionate for Red or Blue, the Chelsea/Liverpool contest yesterday was rare in that it actually provided a pulsating contest. Liverpool’s early threats led to a goal on 10 minutes after Xabi Alonso’s shot took a wicked deflection to wrongfoot Cech, but they resisted the urge to put 9 in the box and sit back the rest of the match. They pressed on the break wherever possible, and Alonso could have doubled the lead after half-time as his free-kick hit the post with Cech frozen.
At the other end, Chelsea missed the poise and inventiveness of Ballack and Joe Cole, as well as the absence of an actual striker (at this point, with 15 million pounds invested in him, we can hardly call Anelka a striker… he’s simply a less-expensive Shevchenko). Malouda and Kalou were ineffective down the flanks, Lampard couldn’t assert himself on the midfield, and they resorted to hopeful long balls into the area and speculative 40-yard volleys for the last half-hour. Jamie Carragher was a titan in defense, and aside from one chance for Ashley Cole, the Blues rarely threatened Reina’s goal, and their 86-game unbeaten home streak is no more.
Liverpool haven’t been stellar this season. Their resilience to score late goals and snatch unlikely, undeserved wins has been a hallmark of the season to date, although the two games in which they truly dominated and deserved their wins were this one and the Anfield visit of Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson will be the first to admit that luck plays a major part in winning an EPL title, and so far, it’s all been Liverpool’s.
There’s still a long way to go (29 games, to be exact), but it’s patently clear that we’re seeing a different Liverpool. This one might even finish third!
As much as I’d love to ramble about this one for eternity, there were other good storylines emerging this weekend:
West Bromwich Albion 0, Hull City 3
The fairytale continues for the Tigers with another impressive away performance. They’ve won 4 on the road to date, which is simply unheard of at this early stage in the year. Geovanni and King scored again, and even if Phil Brown’s side eventually slide down the table, they’ve nearly half the points they’d need to avoid relegation already! They host Chelsea on Wednesday. As for West Brom, they will feel aggrieved, particularly after dominating the first half but failing to score. Their difficult start to the year continues.
Sunderland 2, Newcastle 1
If you’re going to break a Wear-Tyne derby winless streak of 8 years, what better way than with Kieran Richardson’s stunning free-kick 15 minutes from time? A major positive for Newcastle is Joe Kinnear. It’s clear that his presence is having a positive effect on his downtrodden squad, but even the return of Joey Barton couldn’t secure points at the Stadium of Light. I also fancy Roy Keane to get a crack at the Manchester United manager’s job in the next 10 years or so; I’m very impressed with his leadership.
Everton 1, Manchester United 1
Another difficult day for SAF and co, with Rooney drawing the ire of the Goodison fans with his "kiss the badge" routine that led him to be hastily subbed off in the second half. Everton harassed and harangued the Devils all afternoon and fully deserved the draw. Marouane Fellaini’s towering header over Vidic secured a point. And of course, whenever Man U drop points, Fergie has a problem with the ref.
Blackburn 1, Middlesbrough 1
zzzzzzzzzzzzzOh Benni McCarthy stole a point with a last-minute header for the home sidezzzzzzzzzzzz
Wigan 0, Aston Villa 4
Isn’t this the Villa we’ve been expecting to see all season? They are sitting comfortably in 5th after a drubbing at the JJB. It was probably Titus Bramble’s fault.
West Ham 0, Arsenal 2
The Gunners pulled a Liverpool, stealing 2 goals in the last 15 minutes to deflate Zola’s side who fully deserved something from the match. The Hammers were bright on the attack, and several speedy breakaways by Bellamy and Parker should have ended in goals. Almunia’s heroics kept Arsenal in it, and it took a Julien Faubert own goal (he didn’t need to even touch it as it was going wide!), and a late Adebayor strike padded another stylish, yet unconvincing, performance.
Tottenham 2, Bolton 0
Maybe Spurs just needed a good ol’ Lahndahn boy in charge, because he made the game look exceedingly easy in his first game as Spurs manager. Pavlyuchenko looked good up-front with Bent, and both of them scored to undermine Ramos’ earlier assertion that he couldn’t play the two together. Really, Juande? That’s why you’re now unemployed.
Portsmouth 1, Fulham 1
Soul-sucking, but must be noted on due to Fulhamerica’s remaining Yank, Clint Dempsey, whose 87-minute goal stole Pompey’s thunder. Peter Crouch scored on the hour mark with his head, to no-one’s surprise. Will Crouch and Defoe end up joining ‘Arry in January?
Manchester City 3, Stoke City 0
The Potters will definitely be relegated this season, but who’s going with them? Robinho scored a hat-trick for the home side, and they could easily have scored 3 or 4 more. The big question for Mark Hughes is, where are these performances every week? Brilliance one Saturday, and confounding ineptitude the next. There’s more work to be done at Eastlands, but if anyone has the money to fix their problems after Christmas, it’s this lot.