Five things we learned from the Premier league this weekend.
1) Gareth Bale has been found out
It's been a common theme over the past few weeks to see Tottenham's new star-turn Gareth Bale pull out great performances in the Champions League, only to be left floundering domestically the following weekend. And that pattern continued on Saturday, as Bale was dutifully out-marked and out-maneuvered by Bolton's Gretar Steinsson. It's become a worrying trend for the young Welshman, and one that has to stop if he is to become the 'third best player in the world' as Patrick Barclay so eloquently put it in last Wednesday's Times.
Firstly, a sub-standard performance against Everton at White Hart Lane in which Phil Neville used all his formative years to make sure Bale saw little, if any, of the ball throughout the entire game. Secondly, an absolute lesson in positioning and general wing-back brilliantness from Rafael da Silva against Man United. And lastly, this Saturday, where Owen Coyle, cleverly, doubled-up everytime Bale got the ball, with Chung-Yong Lee and Steinsson hassling the mercurial Welshman at every possible turn.
There's no doubting Bale's talents, his demolition of Maicon proves that, I just get the impression that Premier League defenders may have worked out how to nullify his electrifying pace and lung-busting runs, and that the praise lavished towards him over the past few weeks may have been too much too soon.
2) Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan deserve England call-ups later on this month
One looks like Hitler's slightly more sinister younger brother, the other, an Eddie Stobart driver. But together, along with Chiek Tiote, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan have been, without doubt, the best midfielder three in the Premier League this season. ( I may have got carried away there.) And it would be a real shame if neither of them were picked in Fabio Capello's England squad for the upcoming friendly against France later on this month.
Joey Barton has been at the heart of everything Newcastle have done well this season. He was the backbone to their 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa in August, getting on the score-sheet in the process. The cornerstone to their 2-1 win over West Ham, which may well prove to be a pivotal moment in their season. And was absolutely exceptional in Sunday's 1-0 win over Arsenal. It also seems as if Barton has turned a corner off-the-field, passing the tag of 'hellraiser' on to team-mate Andy Carroll.
A couple of years ago, whilst he was still at Bolton, Kevin Nolan was given a column on the BBC Sport website, where, once a week, he could comment of the past week's football, and talk, albeit simplistically, on the state of the English game. That was the idea anyway. After a promising start, it soon turned into absolute farce, as every week Nolan would use this outlet to beg to Sven-Goran Eriksson, the then current England manager, for a national team call-up. Needless to say, it never came. Well, nearly 8 years later, and with a Championship winners' medal under his belt, Kevin Nolan is finally turning into the player he always thought he was. As joint top-scorer in the Premier league, he is, at last, being recognised as a true talent, and one that deserve a call-up from Fabio Capello.
3) Torres may get all the headlines, but Lucas was Liverpool's best player against Chelsea
Yes, Torres was magnificent. Yes, he looked like a player reborn. Yes, his second goal was very good. But the best player on the pitch at Anfield on Sunday was Lucas Leiva.
Over the past 12 months Lucas has become the sort of player that many people, myself included, never could have imagined when he first arrived back in 2007. He was, by all accounts, a complete joke. Disregarded as one of the many flops that Rafael Benitez had brought to the club. His early performances for Liverpool were, in truth, comical. But the departures of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano have seen the young Brazilian take a whole lot more responsibility in the side, and his performances, as a result, have blossomed.
This season he has become a fulcrum for the side, and the player who gives Gerrard the freedom to go forward. Yesterday against Chelsea he was magnificent. Going 4-4-2 against Chelsea's three central-midfielders looked, initially, like suicide, but Lucas completely bossed the centre of the park; excellent in the tackle and more adventurous with his passing, he looked like a young Xabi Alonso. High praise indeed.
4) Balotelli carries on in England as he left off in Italy.
Petulant, aggressive, stroppy, yet absolutely brilliant. That sums up not only Balotelli's performance against West Brom on Sunday, but his entire career to date.
He is a truly wonderful talent. Still only 20, he has time on his side. A great athlete, who wouldn't look out of place at the starting blocks for an Olympic 100m final. Mario Barwuah Balotelli has everything it takes to become the world's best footballer. And yet, everyone already knew that. So why did Jose Mourinho let him leave Inter in the Summer? Because, like the Special One says: '"He needs to show that he has understood how to play football and that he should leave the pitch dead. Of course he's not going home dead because he didn't run much." This was said after Inter fans had booed Balotelli for not even breaking a sweat in their game against Chievo last year.
So he doesn't really try, and he wonders around the pitch looking for a scrap. But Balotelli needs to stop fighting it: the Premier League could be his natural home. Like Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona before him, Balotelli has come to these shores at a fairly young age, with the sense of an enigma wrapped around him. He may, like the previous two, find our open, physical, attack-minded league is just the platform he needs to express his considerable talents. Now all he has to do his calm down and let it happen.
5) Rio Ferdinand no longer deserves a starting place at Man United
I fully understand that Rio is coming back from injury, but if Saturday's performance is anything to go by, Man United would be better suited to giving Chris Smalling his chance to play.
I think it's a sad indictment on the mess that is Man United at the moment, that a man who is clearly unfit, has lost his ability to pass to a team-mate, and is at 32 only a few short years away from retirement, is seen as the heart of the team's defence. On Saturday against Wolves, both Kevin Doyle and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake gave Ferdinand the run-around, with Ebanks-Blake in particular making the England captain look like a man past his best. Surely Man United would be better served to give Chris Smalling his chance to prove his £10 million price-tag, and help the club build for a future without Ferdinand before they get merkked?