A challenger has arisen. Thrust into the limelight, hurled into the fray against the monied elite, they stand defiantly with sword drawn. The odds are against them. The laughter of their enemies echoes in their ears.
But they are Watford. And they are in fourth place. It probably won’t last (though we said that about Leicester), but they have done enough already to mock those foolhardy preseason predictions of relegation from idiot outsiders (again, I am so sorry).
While Manchester City hit their stride, demonstrating the full majesty of the union between unimaginable wealth and strategic brilliance, it’s reassuring to see what can still be achieved if you only have the latter.
Performance of the week
City fans might feel aggrieved their team can score seven in an afternoon and miss out on this, but total, utter, unadulterated homage must be paid to Crystal Palace. Their 2-1 win over champions Chelsea was not a freak result. No-one gave Roy Hodgson’s team a chance, but it was evident from the first whistle they believed they could win; no mean feat of motivation after eight games without either a point or a goal.
Hodgson’s use of wingers as strikers unsettled the Chelsea defence, and Luka Milivojevic was inspirational in the middle. All of a sudden, Palace are just five points from safety with 30 games to play. That’s not so bad, is it?
Goal of the week
“There is no real substitute for a ball hit firmly and squarely,” Billy Bragg once sang. And they don’t get hit much firmer or squarer than Fernandinho’s effort on Saturday. Manchester City, 7-2 winners against Stoke, are wonderful to watch, they scored goals that were the product of delightful passing moves, intricate movement and devil-may-care abandon. And yet … and yet … is there anything quite like someone stepping up and absolutely smashing one into the top corner from range? This is a simple column with simple pleasures.
Fool of the week
If we’re being generous, Andy Carroll’s first booking in West Ham’s 1-1 draw at Burnley could be considered a marginal decision. He certainly caught James Tarkowski in the face with an elbow, but the argument could conceivably be made that it was unfortunate rather than malicious. But the second one … what was he thinking? If you’ve just been booked for an elbow on one centre-back, you have to wait longer than 30 seconds before dropping another one on his partner. Carroll couldn’t have asked to be sent off more obviously without hiring a plane to trail a banner over Turf Moor that read: “Please will you send me off, love Andy,” in giant letters.
Sinking feeling of the week
Do you remember those glorious summer days when Huddersfield were in their pomp and the world looked warm and welcoming? They are gone. The skies have darkened. The Premier League is dark and full of terrors. Since beating Newcastle on Aug. 20, David Wagner’s terriers have played six, won none and scored only once. They are making defensive errors and they are being punished for them. Punished for their optimism too, punished for their hopes and their dreams. They are in miserable form and it’s not going to get any easier now.
Next up? Manchester United and Liverpool. Gulp.
Legitimate strategy of the week
Regular readers will know that this column has little patience for Jose Mourinho’s dark arts, but the criticism of his tactics at the weekend was a little harsh. No, United were not particularly ambitious or entertaining, but they are under no obligation to play sparkling football.
In a pinch, Mourinho will always opt for the plan that is least likely to end in defeat. He always has. That’s why he has so many titles. In this case, the plan was camping in their own half and waiting for Jurgen Klopp to get over-excited and swap midfielders for forwards. Then they’d pounce and exploit the gaps. It was a smart plan with only one minor drawback. Klopp was too smart to fall for it. No matter. A point and a clean sheet at Anfield is a perfectly acceptable result in a 38-game campaign.
Lifeline of the week
If Ronald Koeman gets a bonus for every point he wins, he should donate it to Anthony Knockaert and Bruno Saltor. The Brighton pair allowed Everton back into a game they appeared to have lost when the former gave away a silly free kick and the latter a silly penalty.
Wayne Rooney’s spot kick spared Koeman a very awkward conversation with the board. If he’d lost this game, having lost at home to Burnley before the international break, he would have been in real trouble.
Postmatch interview of the week
If Saturday is anything to go by, we eagerly await Watford striker Troy Deeney’s transition from the dressing room to the pundit’s sofa. If he speaks this frankly now, imagine how entertaining he’ll be when he’s actually paid to have opinions. And was he wrong about anything?
He said: “Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think: ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.'”
Per Mertesacker was the first, but not the last, to be duly whacked. Arsenal’s supporters will roil at Deeney’s words, but they’ll have a hard job arguing against them.
One to watch next week
Liverpool were the better team at Anfield, but it’s just one win in eight for the Reds now and they are already losing touch with the title contenders. If they fail to win at Wembley against Tottenham, they could find themselves more than 10 points behind the leaders. They’re already stuck behind Burnley and Watford. Spurs have won three of their last four Wembley fixtures, conceding only once in the process, and all that talk of a curse is finally fading.
Will Liverpool’s arrival mean the sort of open game in which Spurs can flex their muscles, as they did against Borussia Dortmund, or will they benefit from an opponent with more ambition than United showed? It’s going to be fun.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.