The ossremier League has never ceased to amaze the denizens of fans who watch from all corners of the globe and the English top-flight’s latest round of fixtures sprung a few surprises for all concerned.
A high-profile derby had an unexpected winner, another well-regarded manager got the sack and The Statesman has covered all the bases from Gameweek 12 for you:
Defensive crisis on the horizon for Manchester City?
Record’s (and teams) continue to crumble in front of Pep Guardola’s irresistible Sky Blues, but ahead of a busy winter schedule, there appear to be storm clouds on the horizon.
Captain Vincent Kompany returned from an injury lay-off to play a vital role in their 2-0 win over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, but the loss of John Stones blighted their 11th win of the 2017-18 Premier League season.
The Belgian, when fit, greatly improves the Sky Blues vulnerable backline, but his injury record suggests the 31-year-old isn’t the most reliable player out there.
Pep confirmed Stones (who has arguably been their best central defender this season) is looking at a layoff about six weeks and that would mean City have to manage with three central defenders—Vincent Kompany, Elaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi— till the end of the year.
Stones is certain to miss the Sky Blues’ remaining UEFA Champions League games and with City not yet assured of top spot, there could be some complications in store for Guardiola’s men in Europe.
Back home, they are topping the Premier League charts with a healthy eight-point lead, but the Sky Blues have some testing fixtures lined up in December.
The Citizens travel to Old Trafford for a summit clash with Manchester United on December 10 and host Tottenham Hotspur six days later.
An EFL Cup quarterfinal with Leicester follows in the span of 72 hours and these three fixtures will test City’s mettle for sure.
Right now, a lead of eight points seems impossible to overhaul, but in football and particularly in the Premier League, it isn’t over till it’s over.
Especially if one considers left-back Benjamin Mendy has effectively been ruled out till the end of the season and City are using defensive midfielder Fabian Delph as a stand-in at the moment.
From the three defenders the Sky Blues have, only one (Otamendi) has consistently played at a high level this season.
Kompany, as mentioned earlier, is susceptible to injuries and Mangala was effectively on his way out in the summer but somehow got a stay of execution after City’s move for West Brom defenders Jonny Evans collapsed. The former Porto man hasn’t impressed since his shift to England in 2014 and the 26-year-old Frenchman is widely regarded as an expensive flop.
Currently City are blowing everyone away, courtesy the sensational attackers they possess, but the loss of Stones could derail their title-charge in the weeks to come.
Paul Pogba’s sensational return almost overshadowed by Zlatan ‘Lion’ Ibrahimovic!
Paul Pogba returned from injury to inspire Manchester United to a 4-1 win over Newcastle United, lifting spirits of the Red Devils faithful at a time when their title hopes had begin to look fade away.
Since his absence, United lost against the likes of Huddersfield and Chelsea to fall behind Manchester City in the title-race but Pogba’s sterling performance (he got a goal and an assist) against Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle was just the tonic the Red Devils needed.
However, the loudest roar of the night was reserved for the ‘lion’ aka Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibrahimovic’s ACL tear last season had sparked fears that he wouldn’t feature till 2018, but the Swede made a miraculous recovery, at the age of 36 no less, to come back way ahead of his expected time.
And his acrobatic volley, bare minutes after his introduction in the second-half, came within inches of scoring what might have been the Premier League Goal of the Season.
Old Trafford has seen some special goals over the years, but that strike may just have topped them all and while he narrowly missed out, expect the veteran Swede’s return to galvanise the Red Devils.
Tony Pulis latest victim of underperforming players?
Tony Pulis is still an excellent manager but even the best suffer the ignominy of a mid-season sacking and on Monday, the 59-year-old was sacked by the Baggies after a 4-0 home loss had seen them fall to 17th place in the Premier League table.
Pulis wasn’t the first and most certainly won’t be the last manager to pay the price for a group of players who weren’t putting in an ideal amount of effort.
Yes, the 59-year-old doesn’t play an imaginative style of football, but under him the Baggies had transformed into a well-drilled unit that were difficult to beat.
Considering the relatively-modest resources the West Midlands club possess, despite the change in ownership, their 10th place finish last season was nothing short of stupendous.
However, job safety is an unheard of concept these days and the Baggies’ fourth loss in a row saw Pulis part ways with West Brom and it is a precarious time for the club as their next appointment better bring about an upswing in fortunes else a relegation dog-fight is on the cards.
North London is Red…
Just as talk of Tottenham eclipsing their eternal rivals Arsenal had started to become routine, the Gunners sprung a surprise as they beat the Lilywhites 2-0 in a strangely subdued North London Derby on Saturday.
Harry Kane and Dele Alli, criticised for dropping out of England’s squad from the international break, proved that their injury complaints were genuine as they were shadows of their usual mercurial selves at the Emirates.
Scant comfort for the Lilywhites, who would have preferred that the duo sparkled after a restive two-week period but goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez gave the Gunners bragging rights.
Already way off the pace set by runaway leaders Manchester City, Spurs were desperate to avoid falling further behind, but with their biggest assets decidedly off colour, Maurico Pochettino’s men were effectively ruled out of this season’s title race.
An 11-point deficit is nearly impossible to overhaul and Gooners will be delighted that it was their side that sounded the death knell for the Lilywhites’ 2017-18 Premier League title hopes.
And a Reds midfielder is topping the Premier League scoring charts
Move aside Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Morata and Harry Kane.
Mohamed Salah has put the aforementioned hitmen in the shade with his scintillating goalscoring exploits for Liverpool.
A tally of nine goals would be a decent total at the end of the season, but after just 12 games?
Phenomenal stuff and while Salah’s manager Jurgen Klopp was quick to point out that Salah can’t possibly maintain this ridiculous form, the 25-year-old is clearly enjoying his football and thanks to him, fans are getting bang for their buck.
Klopp had earlier stated that the good work done by Liverpool’s scouts in pushing Salah’s CV to him and they deserve credit as does the German tactician for unleashing Salah to wreak havoc.
Salah’s finishing skills still aren’t quite polished and hence, the Egyptian can only get better and better.
As Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal proved last year, wingers can outscore traditional forwards over the course of the season and there’s no reason why Salah won’t be up there giving the likes of Kane and Aguero a run for their money at the end of the season.