Our long national nightmare is over. The latest international break has passed, Euro 2016 qualifiers are all but finished, and the Premier League has returned. And Matchweek 9 did not disappoint. This was a weekend for new managers, consolidating positions, and seeking redemption. We saw the start of a new era at Liverpool, a win and more controversy at Chelsea, and the passing of a vital piece of history at Everton. If you missed anything from Matchweek 9, don’t worry— we’ll get you caught up.
(And if you’ve got some time this afternoon, be sure to check out the last match of the round as Swansea host Stoke. Kickoff is at 3pm EST on NBC Sports Network.)
1. The Jurgen Klopp Era Begins
Apart from the unenviable task of getting acquainted with a new team and prepping them for an important future with very little time, Jurgen Klopp’s main focus has been on managing expectations. He’s not a miracle worker, he insists, and it’s going to take some time to get Liverpool to the level he wants them at. Some thought he was just being modest. It’s hard to think they still believe that after watching Saturday’s performance at Tottenham. They showed flashes of quality and ambition that have been all too rare this season so far, but they also fell into old habits. It was also clear that Klopp’s gegenpressing style will take some getting used to, as more than a few players looked gassed by the 60th minute. Still; despite Simon Mignolet being called into action a few times, the back line looked more solid than it has in awhile, and was composed enough to earn Liverpool a clean sheet (which one wonders whether they had forgotten what those were). Nevertheless, some Liverpool fans will find the goalless draw a disappointment, considering the team’s comprehensive wins against Tottenham in recent seasons (most notably the 0-6 at White Hart Lane less than two years ago). But this is a new team, and everyone, from players to fans to opponents, are still finding their way through some uncharted territory.
2. Even In Victory, Jose Mourinho Raises Eyebrows
The story should have been about Chelsea securing a vital win against a sometimes-tricky opponent, and how this signals the beginning of an expected comeback. The story should have been Diego Costa’s return from suspension and his return to scoreline. The story should have been about Willian’s exceptional form, and the composed and professional performance by a backline under tremendous pressure this season, and the emergence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Instead, the story ended up being about Jose Mourinho, yet again, and his decision to leave Eden Hazard—arguably the best player on the roster and most likely a future Ballon d’Or winner—on the bench, bringing him on him in the 83rd minute as effectively a time-wasting substitute. In the post-match press conference Mourinho yet again threw one of his players under the bus, declaring that his decision was based on Hazard’s defensive performances. He went on to say that he’ll continue to leave the attacking midfielder out of the starting eleven until he gets better at tracking back. The remarks overshadowed an encouraging performance and result from a struggling team, as Mourinho yet again made himself the center of the story. With the win, Chelsea pulled themselves into 11th place—fans celebrated with chants of “We are staying up!”
3. A Tough Day At Everton
Hoping to build on an impressive defensive display in the Merseyside Derby two weeks ago, Everton were looking to make a statement at home against Manchester United. Instead, United established a firm stranglehold early on and never let go, shutting down Everton’s forward momentum while making good use of Tim Howard’s executive override code. Wayne Rooney even got a few monkeys off his back with the gamewinner in the second half as Everton lost decisively. Yet the result wasn’t even the most difficult part of the day for Evertonians, as word filtered out before kickoff that legendary manager Howard Kendall passed away on Saturday morning. For loyal Everton fans—and indeed anyone who follows the English game—it was an exceptionally grievous loss.
4. Manchester City Continue their Rampage
For those who shook their head at the transfer fee Manchester City paid for Raheem Sterling: this game is why they paid it. While he struggled last season with Liverpool, there was always a sense that Sterling had a lot more in store. He proved it at home against Bournemouth, netting his first hat trick for City. All three goals came in the first half as well, firing the Sky Blues to an unassailable lead before the break. The second half was much quieter save for a late salt-in-wound goal from Wilfried Bony, his second of the match, but City didn’t need to do much in the latter 45 minutes thanks to Sterling. And that, ultimately, is what the young England international brings to his team. Breathing room. Insurance. Thanks to the win, City remain firmly on top right as the table starts to actually mean something, and sit in a very strong position heading into the Manchester Derby next weekend.
5. Sam Allardyce Has His Work Cut Out
While everyone seems willing to give Jurgen Klopp some time at Liverpool, the same can’t be said for Sam Allardyce at Sunderland. Their 1-0 away loss at West Brom shows just how steep the climb will be. The sheer scope of the project was revealed, not just in the result, with his team having given up the lone goal of the match after a defensive error by Costel Pantilimon served up the ball for Saido Berahino to poke home from close range, but in the way his team comported themselves. The Black Cats’ “performance” was summed up after the final whistle, when former Sunderland winger James McClean (who had a difficult relationship with fans at the Stadium Of Light) decided to celebrate his new team’s win in front of the away supporters. Several Sunderland players took exception to that, with Danny Graham and Lee Cattermole escalating the incident to a physical confrontation. It was an ignominious end to a dismal outing from Sunderland. If Sam Allardyce didn’t know what he had signed up for last week, he does now.
BONUS: Dimitri Payet— Cool Like The Underside Of The Pillow