The following are talking points from the weekend’s Premier League action:
RODRIGO ANOTHER GUARDIOLA GEM
Manchester City’s success has been built on big spending on players plus manager Pep Guardiola’s heralded tactical genius.
City are not the only club to spend large amounts in the transfer market but they may well be the most astute.
The latest example is holding midfielder Rodrigo, signed for 70 million euros ($76.46 million) from Atletico Madrid and already looking like a key component in the side.
At Everton on Saturday, in a high-tempo game with the home side pushing hard across the field and City unable to take their usual control of possession, the Spaniard’s calmness and class on the ball stood out.
Rodrigo was not a signing that generated much talk in pre-season but the holding midfielder role is crucial in the modern game, as Fabinho has shown at Liverpool.
City still have a vulnerability in their injury-hit central defence but they are expertly protected by Rodrigo, who also has the technique and awareness to keep them ticking in games when they find themselves in more of a scrap than they would like.
Talk of Tottenham Hotspur’s demise as a trophy-chasing team would appear to be a little premature.
Spurs would almost certainly be third in the table now if their second goal at Leicester City last week had stood to put them 2-0 ahead and not been ruled out by a marginal VAR decision.
They bounced back from their eventual defeat at Leicester with a resilient defensive performance after being reduced to 10 men against Southampton when Serge Aurier was sent off after 31 minutes.
Their backs to the wall second half display indicated the collective unity and determination which has been a hallmark of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign.
The manager was upbeat afterwards and appeared to dismiss renewed talk of him leaving by specifically discussing tweaks to the squad in January.
NORWICH SWIFTLY BACK DOWN TO EARTH
Norwich City’s shock home win over Manchester City two weeks ago was hailed by some as an example of the Premier League at its best — a promoted club with limited resources bringing down the multi-millionaires and champions.
But the league also has a habit of providing swift and brutal reality checks — and so it has done for Norwich who have followed up their day of glory with defeats at Burnley and then Crystal Palace.
The Canaries are now in 17th place, one point above the relegation zone.
SOUTHGATE MAY REGRET VARDY’S ENGLAND RETIREMENT
Jamie Vardy struck twice for Leicester in their 5-0 crushing of 10-man Newcastle United and, with the Foxes looking a good bet to push for a return to the Champions League, the former England forward shows no signs of fading away.
Vardy is 32 but as a late developer who played non-league football until his move to Leicester as a 25-year-old, he looks to have plenty left in the tank.
He was under-used by England manager Gareth Southgate in the 2018 World Cup in Russia and decided after the tournament that there was little point in him being a constant fringe player in the national squad.
But England still have no established, proven alternative to Harry Kane in the number nine role and if they were to be denied the services of the Spurs man for crucial games in Euro 2020, Southgate might regret Vardy leaving the set-up so easily.
VILLA LACK KILLER TOUCH
Promoted Aston Villa twice gave up a lead in their 2-2 draw at home to Burnley, a disappointing result in the kind of game Dean Smith’s side have to be winning if they want to survive.
Villa also let leads slip away to Spurs and Arsenal and at home were held to a 0-0 draw by West Ham United and lost to Bournemouth with their solitary league win this season coming against visiting Everton.
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