Another international break has been and gone. Purists far and wide will tell you that the two week break provided just as much entertainment as club football could have done, but they’re not fooling us.
The Premier League threw up a host of intriguing sub plots at the weekend as Liverpool travelled to Manchester United in pursuit of Manchester City’s 18-match winning run, while Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs future seemingly hung in the balance as woeful Watford rocked up at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Away from the elite tier of English football, the race for promotion in the Championship continued and La Liga’s inconsistent behemoths aimed to shift back into top gear.
There were plenty of talking points to emerge from the action, and our team of correspondents at Football FanCast have rounded up some of the key ones below…
As the Championship returned, so did Leeds to winning ways. A rather dismal afternoon against Millwall two weeks ago was put behind them thanks to “an act of God” as Marcelo Bielsa put it after the game.
Leeds marked their centenary on Saturday with various legends being seen at Elland Road. However, it was perhaps a future legend that turned in a moment that simply couldn’t have been scripted. Leeds’ very own Kalvin Phillips was the hero as he slid the ball under Lee Camp for what was a timely three points for the Whites against Birmingham.
The man dubbed the Yorkshire Pirlo was in supreme form as he also won a colossal six tackles throughout the match and showed signs of exactly why he attracted interest from the Premier League over the summer.
This was just their second win in five matches.
Matt Dawson – Leeds correspondent
In what was considered a ‘must-not-lose’ clash, Manchester United did exactly that. For 85 minutes of their contest against Liverpool, Solskjaer’s side were heading for all three points.
And that was in no small part thanks to the Norwegian’s tactical surprise. The Red Devils shied away from their tried-and-trusted set-up this season, and opted for a 5-3-2 formation aimed at nullifying the Reds’ best attacking threats from out wide.
The masterstroke saw wingers Sadio Mane and Divock Origi combine to muster up just one shot on goal in the entire game.The United boss has been questioned in recent weeks for his tactical judgements. But against Liverpool, he showed a bit of ingenuity that completed rattled his more illustrious counterpart in Jurgen Klopp.
– Manchester correspondent
Pep Guardiola has been ceremoniously revered throughout world football for a multitude of footballing achievements and defining traits, not least of which is his ability to prise versatility out of individuals.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, for example, has been transformed from an attacking midfielder to a left-back and is now thriving in his new-look role, and the weekend victory over Crystal Palace hinted that another transition could be lurking in the back of Guardiola’s mind.
Rodri slotted into central defence and looked assured in the role alongside Fernandinho, banishing any Nicolas Otamendi-related nightmares in the process.
Javier Mascherano completed the transition from central midfield to central defence under Guardiola at Barcelona and, while it’s unlikely the £63m summer signing will undergo a similar process this season, he certainly provides a trustworthy option at the heart of defence while Aymeric Laporte remains sidelined.
Jack Saville – Assistant Editor
Even though they experienced quite a rocky start to the ongoing 2019/20 season, Barcelona are finally back at the very peak of the mountain in La Liga. And while this is largely due to Real Madrid’s recent blip at Mallorca, it’s also thanks to their illustrious front three of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez finally finding their groove together.
All three of their forwards were on the scoresheet as Barcelona blazed past Eibar at Ipurua and if that game is any indication, that could mark a start of something huge for the Catalans moving forward. If Ernesto Valverde has finally found a formula to get the best out of his three superstars, it can only mean one thing – Barcelona are back in business.
Domagoj Kostanjsak – La Liga correspondent
Do Forest have enough strength in depth to compete across such a long season? The fact they had to put Grabban on the bench to start with symbolises their ‘load management’ of him, and that they don’t have sufficient backup for him to really compensate – Rafa Mir certainly could have done better given his number of opportunities.
The same point can be made across the rest of the XI, with Samba Sow also missing from the starting lineup at the weekend. Whilst they have a large squad, do they have the quality to go with it?
Matt Baldwin – Midlands correspondent
In Southampton’s case, not much changed at the weekend – a couple of consistent themes from the Saints’ season so far reared their head once again. As we’ve already seen twice this season against Liverpool and Tottenham, Danny Ings capitalised on an error from the opposition to score his fourth Premier League goal of the campaign and his fifth in the last four games in all competitions.
However, we also saw Southampton’s fragility at the back again. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side actually conceded three goals to Wolves, although the first two were chalked off after VAR had a look at them.
The south coast side have kept just two clean sheets so far this season in nine league games – even those came against sides who finished the game with 10-men in Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton.
Southampton simply must shore things up at the back – they cannot rely on Ings to wait for the opposition to slip up in every game.
Billy Meyers – London and south coast correspondent
Aston Villa banished any doubts that their rampant victory over Norwich City before the international break was merely pot-luck as they were coming up against one of the more injury-stricken sides in the division after they defeated Brighton and Hove Albion at Villa Park.
Jack Grealish ran the show, scoring an equalising goal right on half-time before providing a match-winning assist in injury time, leading to calls that he is ready for the Champions League.
Well, he still has a long way to go to prove those claims considering he’s unable to break into the England squad, despite them clearly lacking some creative options in the final third, but this performance certainly puts him on the right track.
No other player on Saturday created more chances than he did with six – not even Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ricardo Pereira, Joao Cancelo or Lucas Digne, who all have their own international accolades to shout about.
Villa fans will need to be cautious going into January, could another Spurs-like episode be on our hands?
Lewis Blain – Midlands correspondent
Tottenham Hotspur’s woes continued at the weekend as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home by bottom-of-the-table Watford, but Mauricio Pochettino once again made a troubling call during the game.
Toby Alderweireld lost his man for the opening goal by the Hornets, while Jan Vertonghen was extremely fortunate not to concede a penalty for his coming together with Gerard Deulofeu in the penalty area.
Yet, it was the third centre-back on the day in Davinson Sanchez who was hauled off at half-time, which was confusing in more ways than one even if the formation change was needed.
Pochettino should have been sacrificing either Alderweireld or Vertonghen instead given their recent performances and the fact they are both out of contract next summer, rather than a man who could be a big part of this Tottenham defence for a number of years.
The Argentine’s loyalty to underperforming senior players must come into question.
James Beavis – Editor
There are only two names on Liverpool fans’ lips after this weekend, and neither of them are very popular.
Martin Atkinson has left fans fuming over his decisions in the clash with Manchester United, as not a single foul went the Reds’ way between the 22nd and 72nd minute, quite remarkable considering the intensity and fieriness of any clash between these two sides. Liverpool won the foul race 14 to six.
The other man in Reds fans’ bad books is Jordan Henderson, who was utterly abysmal in his 71 minutes on the pitch. The skipper has been substituted in the second half of each of his last three starts, two of which have gone from a draw to a win after his removal and now most recently from a loss to a draw.
Ben Goodwin – Editor
Silva finally finds the formula
Everton are back to winning ways in the Premier League for the first time since they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers at the start of September, and it seems Marco Silva has finally found his formula. The 2-0 victory over West Ham United was Everton’s most comfortable of the season to date.
The biggest takeaway for the Toffees is that Silva has found his midfield duo after all. Gomes and Tom Davies were the best two on the pitch against the Hammers and they can finally give the Goodison Park faithful some confidence in the centre of the pitch.
Grant McQuillan – Everton correspondent