Surprise of the weekend - Yaya Toure
We have all done it. This column very nearly didn’t happen when birthday wishes failed to arrive promptly, and no cake arrived at all. Then there was the time when despite a blog causing the author some pretty sore fingers, no moisturising balm or Deep Heat was dispatched by courier to provide urgent relief. Negotiations were held, and some pretty massive figures were thrown about, but in the end, we’re all still here, doing this.
That’s also what happened to Yaya Toure. He railed against poor treatment, and looked elsewhere for a payrise, with no luck. He was stuck at Manchester City, not playing a minute, as he stubbornly refused to tell his agent to stop acting like a complete weapon. After realising that it would probably do him some good to play proper football, if only to make sure he can attract a new club in January, Toure apologised to Pep Guardiola.
The surprise is not the apology. What is surprising is that Toure conjured up a performance which, though not the equal of his very best for City, was far from the doggerel he most recently served up. He was lean, he was accurate with his passing, the deftness of touch he often possessed had returned, and he was effective in attack. His two goals, one in each half, demonstrated his revitalised presence, which few could have expected.
A miserable weekend for - Wayne Rooney
After last weekend’s revelations, Rooney decided that after the match against Arsenal it was time to come out fighting. He claimed that the treatment he received was a disgrace, and that he was not finished yet. He made three errors with this gambit. One, Rooney is not finished now, because he has been finished for two years. Secondly, his substitute appearance against Arsenal demonstrated how far he has fallen. With their last attack of the game, United gave Rooney the chance to cross from a dangerous set piece play, only to see him blast it inside at, rather than to, Ander Herrera. And lastly, the Sun have come up with new embarrassing allegations over his behaviour while on international duty. If anything, he continues to receive ridiculously tame treatment from the press, rather than what his unprofessionalism clearly deserves.
The problem with Real Madrid is that they are too nice. With the exception of Pepe and Sergio Ramos, there’s nobody with bronca, with the desire to leave a foot in on a tackle, to call their opponent’s mum an EFFing CEE, or just be a terrible bastard. Costa is that man. He has 10 goals this season after a drab time last year under Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink. He looks faster, he looks to have controlled but not expunged his radge, and he still seems like a complete ESS. Costa almost returned to Atletico Madrid in the summer, perhaps at the end of this season he can leave with his reputation restored, and return to the city that he made his name.
Best goal of the weekend - Roberto Pereyra
Pereyra was at the heart of Watford’s victory over Leicester City, even if he contributed the only important moments in the opening quarter of an hour. It was his cross after 30 seconds which was headed back to Etienne Capoue to fashion past Ron-Robert Zieler. Even better than that, though, was his goal. Coming again from the left wing, he showed wit and creativity to beat a defender and find the top corner with a curling shot. To put Watford 2-0 up after such a short amount of time meant Leicester struggled to recover properly, even when Miguel Britos gifted them a penalty a couple of minutes later.
For Watford, they have now managed to go four games undefeated at home in the Premier League for the first time, but more significant is Leicester’s continual struggle away from home, where they have just one point. It is not obvious that Claudio Ranieri has actually done anything wrong with his recruitment, or that the team are dispirited. They are progressing well in the Champions League, too. Perhaps the only lesson is that Leicester achieved the near impossible last season, and to repeat the task is indeed not an option.
Most important goal of the weekend - Olivier Giroud
Giroud’s equaliser for Arsenal at Old Trafford came in the manner that people like to call undeserved, but isn’t really. You don’t deserve a goal if it doesn’t cross the line, or if the referee makes a ludicrous mistake to award a penalty. Beyond that, all results and goals are fair and deserved. United were punished for their inability to skewer an Arsenal side that had bottled yet another game against United, and yet another Premier League game against Jose Mourinho. As the game went on, and Arsenal offered nothing but neuroses, you could just imagine Paul Scholes and Roy Keane exchanging voice notes of their own sighs. This was the standard, rubbish Arsenal.
They scored their equaliser, and it was a fillip, the kind of equaliser that gets pundits to say that the sign of a good team is one that gets an unexpected point. And that’s true, but against a defence with Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, United were clearly there to be beaten. Arsenal are increasingly showing weaknesses that Chelsea are eradicating, and Manchester City are too good to worry about. Nevertheless, the goal was vital for Arsenal and for other challengers. It is a blow to United’s morale, struggling with poor players, a terrible captain and a reassembled squad and outlook. This could have been a win to give the players some belief, instead it just reminded them that they are lacking everything that used to make them great.