1 Kevin de Bruyne is a footballer in his own right.
With his man-of-the-match success against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the Manchester City midfielder showed that versatility does not need to be a detriment. In a role that Harry Kane has been lauded for all seasons, the Belgian played as a false nine – whisper it, but de Bruyne may have played that role even better – and by the final whistle he had a goal and an assist for Phil Foden, who added Ilkay Gundogan’s opening goal.
Frank Lampard had cautioned that when asked about a Covid outburst at the club, he did not believe there was such a thing as a ‘bad’ town, and how right he was proved. The side of Pep Guardiola may have been without five regulars, but they hardly let anything slip and demolished a side of Chelsea that had won only once since 12 December. The 3-1 defeat also underlined the title hopes of City and raised more concerns about the suitability of Lampard for the job.
It was only the second time in seven league games that City had conceded a goal, but while the team received a lot of praise for its defensive improvements, the Stamford Bridge performance was more in line with the darting soccer typically associated with the teams of Guardiola.
Chelsea did not pose much of an obstacle to their goals. At times, the visitors were in an offensive surplus scenario that questioned the tactical alignment of Lampard.
Later, City played with Chelsea with the game already secured, tightening the press and playing risky balls across the 18-yard field before stringing countless passes together. It was difficult to say who this meant more about: the general lethargy of Chelsea or the careless interplay of City.
At least there was an opportunity for Billy Gilmour to show off his passing skills. He displayed much of his potential – but even with a pass that almost led to the fourth goal, he made a mistake.
Uh, 2 Cor! What an explosion.
At The Hawthorns, there was the joy of a festive second leg. The game between West Brom and Arsenal saw the field coated in snow, causing the ground staff to sweep away the surplus that had made the pitch markings indistinguishable. Like a new wool sweater or a freshly ironed yearbook describing Billy Dane’s current adventures in Dead Shot Keen’s enchanted boots, when the orange ball was fished out of the groundskeeper’s wardrobe for its annual appearance, it brought back warm memories of winters past.
It also helped to see a modern-day Billy Boots on the court with his socks pulled down to his knees. In the visitors’ 4-0 victory, Arsenal FC’s Emile Smith-Rowe played one move after another, curling balls around the opposition defense.
3 Hunting bargain
For Premier League fans, West Ham’s recruitment strategy has long been a source of amusement. Sebastian Haller, for whom a record £45 million was paid to Eintracht Frankfurt last summer, was among the costly new signings in recent years. The French striker’s acquisition exceeded the previous record of 34 million pounds spent on winger Felipe Anderson by the London club. The Brazilian has been loaned out to Porto ever since.
The narrative has shifted considerably since last January. Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen came from Slavia Prague and Hull City respectively in the 2020 New Year window and the two were main performers for David Moyes as he secretly resurrected the Hammers for a fraction more than he spent on Haller.
Add Czech compatriot Vladimir Coufal to Soucek for £ 5 million in the summer, and it’s a great hat-trick from Moyes, who said he wants to transform the club’s staff structures by hiring a soccer director. He knows best, but Moyes himself seems to be doing a pretty decent job of getting new faces in.
4 They robbed Villa and Brighton
For one of the most egregious decisions of the season so far, United earned the already familiar penalty. That’s a fairly prestigious award given that English referees and their related VAR teams made some of the utterly ludicrous decisions.
It remains a mystery how the VAR managed to nullify the punishment of Michael Oliver for throwing Paul Pogba over himself. The United player had his arm in the face of Douglas Luiz, pushed his left leg into the right calf of the Aston Villa midfielder, and then kicked his own calf.