Five things we learned from the Premier League this weekend
1) King Kenny's reign needs to become full-time
Sunday in west London was all about two world class strikers: one who failed to live up to his £50million price-tag, and the other, stood on the sideline, proving the doubters wrong. I have to admit, initially I was one of those doubters, but it seems Kenny Dalglish is far from out of his depth in current-day Premier League management. Yesterday's 1-0 win over Chelsea showed Dalglish to be both a brilliant tactician and, as Jamie Carragher will protest, a wonderful man-manager.
Yesterday's victory means it is now four straight wins for Dalglish since taking over from Roy Hodgson, with his team's triumph at Stamford Bridge the most impressive of the lot. Liverpool not only beat Chelsea at Fortress Bridge; they did in such a fashion that the hosts could of played till next Sunday and they still wouldn't have scored.
The 5-4-1 Dalglish employed was a masterstroke. A central defensive three of Skrtel, Agger and Carragher smothered Chelsea's attacking options. And the wing-backs, Johnson and Kelly, provided width and crossing chances constantly. Many frowned when it was announced that Dirk Kuyt would be the lone striker, but as has been common with Dalglish's Liverpool, the midfield trident: Gerrard, Meireles and Maxi, poured forward at every opportunity, supporting the tireless striker. It was Meireles who struck the killer blow mid-way through the second half; a man re-born under the King, he has now scored 4 goals in as many games.
This tactical balance and fluidity has come from a man many claimed - including myself - to be past his best. A man football had forgot. But the formation, not really seen to any effect since Germany won Euro 96 with a back five, was a product of careful consideration and know-how: two qualities time can't diminish. But on a day when Liverpool were meant to be rueing the loss of their star striker they instead benefited from the wisdom of their greatest ever player. Surely, his appointment as manager full-time can't be too far away?
2) If Leon Best and Nile Ranger can induce such panic, Arsenal need to start worrying
Only in the Premier League could a team lose a 4-0 half-time lead and still end up one point closer to the top of the table; but such were events at St James' Park on Saturday. It was a truly wonderful advert for England's top division. As both Alan Shearer and L'Equipe contested: "the best game I've ever seen." But surely, when all's said and done, Arsenal's title challenge is now over.
It would be fantastic to see a team so full of attacking intent win the Premier League, but Arsenal's persistent mental frailties mean, unfortunately, that it is never likely to happen. These traits were on full show on Saturday as the visitors stormed to a four-goal lead and then, having lost Abou Diaby, capitulated in memorable fashion. Barcelona, who face Arsenal in the Champions League this month, must be licking their lips.
That this memorable draw should come so soon after the close of yet another quiet transfer window for the Gunners was somewhat ironic. The need for a top goalkeeper and world-class centre half were made abundantly clear to Wenger over January, but yet again, he decided to keep the club's cheque book firmly in his back pocket. So focused is the Frenchman on the club's future, he seeems to have forgotten the present altogether.
3) West Brom have shot themselves in the foot
The surprise departure of Roberto Di Matteo on Saturday evening was probably the most shocking managerial change this season. Admittedly, a baron spell of results: seven losses in nine, is not the most ideal of records for a club looking to avoid relegation. But the powers-that-be at the Hawthorns seem to have forgotten all the good work the Italian instigated at the start of the season.
Wins over Arsenal and Everton, as well as a superb draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford had many lauding Di Matteo and his gung-ho attacking style. Having won the Championship last season, fans' and pundits' alike presumed the world was Di Matteo's oyster. But a dip in form at the beginning of November has seen the east Midlands club slide down the league: culminating in Di Matteo being placed on gardening leave. "If this run continues much longer, achieving our goal of retaining our Premier League status will become increasingly difficult," read a club statement. "That is why we felt compelled to act now."
Changing managers' halfway through the season is always a gamble, but with West Brom two points outside of the relegation zone and - in this most open of campaigns - more than capable of staying there, you can't help but feel the Baggies have shot themselves in the foot.
4) Manchester United's frailties are finally laid bare
The worst unbeaten side in history? That they've gone this far without losing is unbelievable, but finally Sir Alex's side have lost. And to the team bottom of the league with that. It always seemed unlikely that a team containing an underperforming Wayne Rooney and an underwhelming midfield four would remain unbeaten for the entire season, but that it should come to an end in the Midlands was quite appropriate. They really should have lost to a quick-footed Aston Villa side in November. And continued to struggle against West Brom on New Year's Day. Other games at Tottenham and Blackpool also saw the Red Devils looking vulnerable.
They didn't lose those games, and such resilience is to be admired. However, in United teams gone by that never-say-die attitude characterised a team that was as strong in will as it was talent; in this team it felt more precarious. Like a teenager who keeps passing his exams without any revision. Eventually he's going to fail.
5) The romance may have gone from football, but it's still bloody good
In a week full of newspaper coloumns dedicated to player loyalties, £50million transfers and youths burning polyester shirts, it seemed nice to get back to the actual playing of football. It started at the Britannia and ended at the Bridge, but the weekend of 5th/6th February will go down in English top-flight football history.
A total of 42 goals were scored and 7 penalties were successfully taken. Both record-breaking figures. Both the sort of statisitcs that make our European cousins green with envy; as Corriere Dello Sport said in this morning's paper: "This would never happen in Italy." It was a truly fantastic weekend, one where Everton's 5-3 win over Blackpool wasn't even the best game; where Wigan 4-3 Blackburn was dismissed towards the end of Match of the Day. It may never happen again, so let's savour it when it does.