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Aug 31, 2014

Heroes and Villains: Premier League week three

While Everton vs. Chelsea had pretty much everything you could want from a football match, it was a miserable weekend for clubs from Manchester. Here's a look at the best and worst from the Premier League.

HEROES

Diego Costa, it must be said, has settled very quickly into life with Chelsea. With four Premier League goals to his name already, the contrast between the present and the past couldn't be starker. Last season, it took Fernando Torres until mid-January to score that many. It's not that Costa is quicker than his predecessors or even more technically gifted. It's that he wants it more. He chases everything, he fights for everything, he fears nothing. He's nasty, too, as Seamus Coleman discovered. No wonder Jose Mourinho loves him so much.

Diego Costa and Tim Howard get to know each other. It should be noted they did hug and make up at full-time.

Tim Howard is not a man you want to cross. Not only does the Everton goalkeeper look like he's spent the past six months marooned on a desert island, but he's fearless, too. When Costa cruelly taunted young Coleman for his own goal, a taunt that followed an extended period of niggle between the two players, Howard was immediately off his line and right up in Costa's grill, as the kids might put it. Now remember: Costa is 6-foot-2-inches of snarling muscles. Howard, no small man himself, picked him up by his lapels. Do not make Howard angry. You won't like him when he's angry.

Mame Biram Diouf didn't make the grade with Manchester United, and he didn't make the grade with Blackburn Rovers, but if he scores many more goals like his match-winning effort Saturday, he'll do just fine for Stoke. Diouf "meep-meeped" his way 70 yards up the pitch and evaded Fernandinho largely by ignoring him before slipping the ball underneath Joe Hart. Although Hart should take a very long look in the mirror and think about what he's done, there's no escaping this was a glorious effort. It evoked memories of a young Dalian Atkinson, and there can be no higher praise.

Alberto Moreno of Liverpool had an exhilarating run of his own on Sunday, when he picked Andros Townsend's pocket and then screamed up the field like a guided missile. His finish, perfectly angled and powerfully struck, was followed by an unwise fist-pumping dash through the air space of Tottenham supporters, but perhaps we can forgive him his recklessness. After his calamitous decision to dawdle on a clearance against Manchester City on Monday -- not to mention the criticism he took in some quarters for his part in the other goals -- there was a fear that his confidence would slump and he'd never recover. Those fears were clearly misplaced.

Paul Lambert was supposed to be a dead man walking when the season began. He even had his own shark-eyed executioner installed as his assistant manager. And yet it hasn't turned out like that. You could say Aston Villa's three games (Stoke, Newcastle and Hull) have all been winnable, but if football were as simple as that, Villa wouldn't have flirted with relegation for two years running. They look confident, they're dangerous on the counterattack and, for the moment at least, Lambert can breathe easily. Or as easy as anyone can breathe when Roy Keane sits next to him.

- Brewin: Gunners held at Leicester
- Delaney: Liverpool coast past Spurs
- Brewin: Man United's bleak Burnley visit
- Tyler: Chelsea win nine-goal thriller

VILLAINS

Manchester United offered up so many candidates for the villains section this weekend that we thought it was fairer just to throw the whole club in there. David de Gea can wait outside -- he's blameless, but the rest of them? Well, where do you start? The defence looks absolutely terrified, the wing-backs couldn't get a cross in all day, the midfield was unbalanced and incoherent, and Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie seemed to be playing in clogs. It's early days, and Louis van Gaal always said he needed three months, but United have two points from three games, and frankly, they don't deserve to have won more.

Another weekend, another dreadful result and performance for Manchester United.

Alan Pardew is not a popular man with the Newcastle supporters, something that often puzzles outsiders. After all, he did take the Magpies to 10th the past season, which is pretty much where you would expect the club to finish. But Pardew has a habit of opening his mouth and jamming both feet in it whenever possible, something he did Saturday after a late Wilfried Zaha goal robbed the Toon of their first win of the season. "Perhaps we got wrapped up in the crowd trying to get a fourth," he said. Yes. He really did just blame the Newcastle fans for being too enthusiastic. That should go down splendidly.

Mohamed Besic has just learned a very, very important lesson in common sense. You might recall the young Bosnian midfielder's first touch for Everton in preseason was a delightful little twist and turn that instantly marked him as a potential crowd favourite. However, though you can mess around like that in preseason friendlies without fear of reprisal, it's best not to attempt the same routine against one of the best teams in the country. Otherwise, there's a very real danger you might screw up and accidentally backheel the ball straight to Chelsea's Diego Costa. Silly boy. Still, a look at Moreno will show him how best to recover.

Yaya Sanogo has much in his favour. He works hard, he pressurises defenders, he makes space for his colleagues, and somewhere in there lurks a proper striker. But it's not enough. Not for a club such as Arsenal. Not if they have realistic ambitions of winning either of the primary trophies. The 21-year-old French striker might have claimed an assist against Leicester, but it was indirect, the accidental result of his flailing limbs failing to engage. He might be good enough one day, but he isn't good enough now and with Olivier Giroud out for so long, Arsenal need more. Wenger has to go shopping. It might be time to gamble on the fitness of Radamel Falcao.

Joe Hart alone can explain how Diouf's shot slipped through his legs. It promises to be a fascinating discussion. All goalkeepers make errors, and given that they almost always end in goals, it's hardly surprising they receive a disproportionate level of attention. But this was a real stinker. England now have two players who, for reasons of depth or of armband ownership, are essentially undroppable. With Wayne Rooney in miserable form and Hart letting weak shots pass through his legs, it's a good thing their European Championship qualifying group is a parade lap.

Iain Macintosh

Iain Macintosh is a U.K. football correspondent for The New Paper in Singapore, writer for ESPN and co-author of "Football Manager Stole My Life" from @backpagepress. You can follow him on Twitter @iainmacintosh.

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