Manchester United ground out an important 1-0 win at Southampton but, scratch under the surface, and there are players trending both upwards and downwards.
With European and domestic fixtures thick and fast which players are worth keeping a particular eye on? Read on below…
Social media never misses a beat when it comes to poking fun at Phil Jones and the comedy tumble which led to a Stoke goal a fortnight ago did the usual rounds.
It remained to be seen whether Jones, after such a good start to the season, could dust himself down and get back up – never a guarantee given his constant injury troubles.
Along with Eric Bailly, who was also wobbly in their last away day at the Potters, Jones was part of a successful last stand at St Mary’s with the Saints throwing everything they could at United in the second half.
At times this season United won’t look as good as their neighbours, the City slickers – but when the going gets tough they have clearly got the defence to sew up a hard-fought win.
At one point over the summer, the next time United fans thought they’d see Ashley Young was at an airport in China surrounded by a throng of excitable locals.
Instead he has eschewed interest from the Far East to take one last stab at resuscitating his Old Trafford career. On Saturday’s evidence it is well and truly alive.
Fresh from an impressive display against Basel from right-back, Young switched to the left for last weekend’s hammering of Everton and carried on in the same vein on the south coast.
Opposing full-backs know he is going to switch to his right foot, but he always seems to create enough space to whip a cross in – Romelu Lukaku connected to one of them in scoring the game’s only goal.
With Luke Shaw’s status still up in the air, Young has fresh air to really stamp his authority on the position much like another converted winger in Antonio Valencia has down the right.
This is less of a criticism of Marcus Rashford as it is the decision to start him at St Mary’s. Still 19, Rashford has already played more than 400 minutes of football for United this season – double that of Anthony Martial.
Rashford was subbed at half-time after a scintillating performance against Burton in midweek, but would it not have made sense to give the equally in-form Martial a go from the off on Saturday?
Yes, Martial played the entire 90 in the EFL Cup, but with fewer minutes in his legs it may have been best to use Rashford as the impact sub. The England international started brightly, but visibly tired.
With a trip to far-flung Moscow in store this week, it will be interesting to see how Jose Mourinho handles his playing time going forward.
‘Bad’ is perhaps going too far in describing Mkhitaryan’s performance, but relative to what Manchester City have been doing recently, you wonder if his shortcomings may be the difference between the clubs.
The Armenian, in general, has been very good this season – registering five assists and a goal in the Premier League – but his play pales into comparison to the magic David Silva is weaving in a Sky Blue shirt.
Both players are arguably their team’s chief creator yet Silva is more assured in possession, taking 0.5 poor touches a game compared to Mkhitaryan’s glaring 1.7, according to whoscored.com
Mkhitaryan is the better player on the counter, but when a lesser side digs in with two banks of four and you’re looking for a flash of inspiration – it is probably wise to bet on Silva.
That’s not to say things can’t change but there are always a few times a game when Mkhitaryan makes an exasperating decision rather than the simpler, more effective one, and the same went at Southampton.
If United and City are destined to be the runaway leaders in the EPL this season, small margins will make all the difference and Mkhitaryan certainly has room to improve.
Czech star Pavel Nedved, famous for his blonde locks and success with Juventus in Italy, has announced he is to come out of retirement and return to the game.
The 45-year-old, who hung up his boots at the end of the 2008-09 season after a trophy-laden career with the Old Lady which was topped off with the Ballon d’Or prize in 2003, will play alongside his son at Czech amateur club FK Skalna.
Nedved turned out for FK Skalna as a youth team player and has penned a short-term deal with the club.
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 23, 2017
Barcelona maintained their perfect start to La Liga with a sixth straight win as Luis Suarez and two own goals secured a 3-0 win at Girona.
Here are three things learned from the clash…
After the first instalment of their ‘rivalry’, and yes the inverted commas are deliberate, it’s pretty clear that the all-Catalan affair between Barcelona against Girona is not going to match the likes of Celtic vs Rangers or Liverpool vs Everton as one of the world’s most intense local derbies.
Until recently, nearly every football fan in Girona actually supported Barca rather than their local team, who rarely attracted more than two or three thousand fans.
Although that’s changed to an extent now, from the laid-back atmosphere at the Estadi Montilivi it was clear that many of the recent Girona converts still also hold their old allegiances dear, with Barca’s goals being roundly applauded and Lionel Messi getting a standing ovation when he went to take a corner.
Pointedly, the backdrop to the game was an increasingly dramatic political situation in Catalunya, where there is a strong local sentiment for independence from Spain, and in an unusual atmosphere the desires of both sets of fans to achieve statehood appeared to override footballing concerns as ‘independence’ chants regularly rang around the stadium.
Perhaps the biggest short-term loser at Barcelona from the departure of Neymar has been Luis Suarez, who has not only been deprived the services of a gifted provider of chances but has also been forced to adapt to a new position in the team as a consequence.
The reality at Barca is that Lionel Messi will always be the centrepiece, so he has not been adversely affected by Neymar’s leaving. But with the emphasis taken away from the spectacular ‘trident’ forward line and returning to the importance of ball retention in midfield, Suarez has often been isolated and out of sorts so far this season.
It hasn’t helped that he’s also been struggling physically after suffering an injury in the pre-season Super Cup against Real Madrid, and on the whole the first month of the season has been Suarez’s worst in Barca colours.
But Saturday’s game showed signs of a re-emergence, with Suarez hungrily hanging off the shoulders of Girona defenders throughout the game and, when a chance came, he took it with great assurance to grab his second goal of the season. He will hope the goal and his performance in general are a sign of things to come.
Even before Saturday’s game at Girona, Barca boss Ernesto Valverde had fielded Gerard Deulofeu, Ousmane Dembele, Denis Suarez, Luis Suarez and Paco Alcacer in wide positions this season in his attempt to compensate for the departure of Neymar with alternative attacking width.
None of them have particularly convinced, and with Dembele injured and Deulofeu dropped, the latest in line to face his audition for the vacant spot was Aleix Vidal.
The former Sevilla man did better than most, showing his intentions with an early burst down the flank to deliver a dangerous cross-shot, continuing to regularly threaten the Girona defence with determined running and eventually creating the second goal with a speedy burst and cheeky back-heeled cross.
In the long-run, it’s unlikely that Vidal will be a regular member of the starting eleven. From January onwards, certainly, Dembele will return from injury and be given an extended chance to prove himself.
But for now, Vidal has at least made himself a viable option – and given Valverde plenty to think about.