We at the Diary are called many things. “Unfunny chancers,” for example. “The defendants.” Or sometimes, “That one I quite like and that one I can’t stand.” But of all the praise and abuse hurled our way, the one that hurts the most is when we’re brought to task for the supposed crime of being excessively negative. For as we keep trying to make clear, it’s not our fault that the Premier League is an appalling mess, and it’s not our fault we have to write about it. Fusion have our [deleted].
Fortunately for everybody, not least our [deleted], this weekend the Premier League decided to roar back from the international break with a showcase of all the things that make the Premier League actually, even if infrequently, good: own goals, comedy defending, and the sight of extremely expensive footballers looking like extremely expensive buffoons.
To Manchester, first, where the stage was set for Raheem Sterling to reinforce that he had made the right decision to leave Liverpool for Manchester City. His new club was sitting on top of the league; his old had spent two weeks reflecting on the indignity of being reduced to just another bit-part in When You’re The King: The Alan Pardew Story. His new club could offer him the company of Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure; his old was still paying Jose Enrique a salary, even though nobody at Melwood has seen him in five months.
So, obviously, Liverpool thrashed City in resounding and amusing style, a win that began with Eliaquim Mangala essaying a stiff-legged, maladroit jab into the wrong net, and ended with Martin Skrtel slamming the ball into the right one. In between, Liverpool buzzed around, getting in City faces, disrupting possession, and generally making the City players look like a collection of weary old men. Though that might be projection on our part.
They’re an odd team, this City side. In theory, they’re the strongest side in the league, and in practice, they can look absolutely devastating. But first Tottenham and now Liverpool have demonstrated that they can be disrupted to great and hilarious effect, and assuming the rest of the Premier League was paying attention, this might not be such an easy stroll to the title.
As for Sterling, well, he may be a young man, but he came face to face with one of life’s great truths on Saturday afternoon: You can leave Dejan Lovren behind, but the spirit that animates Dejan Lovren lives in all central defenders, however many millions of pounds they might have cost.
Speaking of weary old men, let’s move on—with sympathy and understanding—to Arsenal and the curious case of Mikel Arteta. We have all had poor days at the office; here at Diary Towers we still look back with horror at that day when we got our dates confused and accidentally wrote two of the funniest and most insightful columns of the weekend. How embarrassing! But to come on following an injury, corporeally vanish during West Brom’s equalizer, score an own goal, and then go off injured just after halftime is, by anybody’s standards, exceptional work. He may not be as quick as he was, but by God, the man’s efficient.
However, Arteta’s heroics have been rudely overshadowed by his so-called colleagues. During the game itself, Santi Cazorla stole the onfield glory by falling on his arse while gently chipping a late penalty over the bar. And afterwards, the news that Francis Coquelin’s injury will keep him out for at least two months has dragged all the attention back to Arsene Wenger’s adorably idiosyncratic decision-making, and his firm belief that squad depth is for cowards. Still, not to worry. He may have had to share the limelight at the weekend, but we’re in for plenty more Arteta action in the weeks to come.
Games that contain own goals are always better than those that don’t. Own goals are not just funny, they are the finest expression of what it means to be human. But everyone can’t score them, especially some of the weaker teams that played in the weekend’s second-class matches. Nevertheless, the second-class games didn’t fail to entertain. Everton and Tottenham did horrible things to the Premier League’s stocks of claret, Gerard Deulofeu did horrible things to Kieran Richardson, and a rampaging Kyle Walker curled home an exquisite first-time outside-of-the-right-foot. Once again, for those of you who read that last sentence having not seen the game and probably momentarily fainted in surprise: A rampaging Kyle Walker curled home an exquisite first-time outside-of-the-right-foot.
But we should probably end this brief dalliance with positivity by acknowledging Leicester, who are officially the highest league team in the country for the first time since … look, we’ll level with you, we have no idea. Let’s go with the seventies; that sounds plausible*. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have taken most of the praise. With his goal on Saturday, the former has set a new record for the most consecutive goals scored in English league football by a man generally known by the diminutive form of his first name who generally wears blue (but sometimes wears an away kit as dictated by circumstances).
Leicester put two other goals past an appalling Newcastle, however, and one of them was quite the thing. Shinji Okazaki hasn’t scored as many as his strike partner, but his goal on Saturday should guarantee him the Goal of the Month competition, and maybe even Goal of the Year, assuming Jack Wilshere doesn’t score another irrelevant pile driver on the last day of the season. As a rule, footballers, being animate creatures, head footballs, which are the inanimate party in that relationship. But here, Okazaki missed his header, and was caught cold by the ball on the way back up. Or, to put it another way, the football headed him, using his face as a springboard to bounce into the goal. That’s how fun Leicester is, and how bad Newcastle is. Even the ball wants to get into the net.
* October 1, 2000. Huh.
Not everybody got involved in the Premier League’s weekend of fun. For Chelsea and Manchester United, for different reasons, this season is not about excitement. Chelsea will spend the rest of the campaign trying not to be a mess, which is obviously dull, and victory over Norwich fits neatly into that ambition. And wasn’t it pleasingly retro to see Diego Costa scoring, having been set up by Cesc Fabregas? Like 2014-15 all over again.
United, meanwhile, weren’t as dull as they have been but are still some distance from anything that might be called entertaining. But in the spirit of the age, here are two things we learned from their last-minute win over Watford. Jesse Lingard, who isn’t a striker, is a better striker than Wayne Rooney. And Memphis Depay, who is also not a striker, is a better striker than Wayne Rooney.
Anyway, we’re off to look for some “Don’t Get Well Soon” cards.