Heroes and Villains: Van Persie makes good for United, Costa close to red
With week 13 of the Premier League in the books, Iain Macintosh brings us his latest installment of Heroes and Villains.
Ah, there he is! There's the real Robin van Persie. After donning a cloak of invisibility for Manchester United's trip to the Emirates last weekend, he whipped it off at Old Trafford and unleashed his best goal of the season. Not that it's been a particularly strong field thus far. The 31-year-old said afterwards that he, "needed," that goal and he wasn't wrong. It was his first for United in a month and it was getting to the stage where young James Wilson was threatening his place in the team. Wilson will have to wait a little while longer now.
Glen Johnson has been an easy target for frustrated Liverpool fans of late, in much the same way that he's made an easy target for any opposing wingers hoping to impress their manager. But while his awareness and positioning can still be questioned, his courage certainly can't. Johnson knew that he was going to take a boot in the face when he threw himself in to score Liverpool's winner, but he didn't shirk his responsibility. The fact that he took his lumps right in front of the Kop will only help his reputation.
It didn't look good for Brendan Rodgers before kick-off. A stream of nonsense in the match programme and the club captain relegated to the bench along with most of this summer's misfiring signings; it felt like an era might be coming to an end. By the full-time whistle, he had three points, a happy stadium and 45 minutes of football that at least looked a little bit like the stuff from last season. Was this a turning point? It's too early to say. For now, Rodgers will settle for the fact that it was a gamble that paid off.
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You could easily squeeze the whole Sunderland team in here, but perhaps Lee Cattermole best typified their efforts against Chelsea. Manager Gus Poyet said afterwards that the 26-year-old terrier was a much underrated player and could play for England. He's right too, Cattermole is a far more talented footballer than people realise and, deployed in front of the back four, he proved an insurmountable obstacle for Chelsea. He still needs to work on his discipline though. Saturday was the first game in five in which he didn't get booked.
He did it! Robert Soldado finally scored a goal in the league! This was only Soldado's second league goal of 2014, but what he lacks in consistency, he makes up for in timing. Tottenham desperately needed this victory, their first back-to-back pair of wins since the opening fortnight of the season. As Soldado powered through on goal, he had all the time necessary to dwell on his poor form, overcomplicate matters and trip over his own feet. Instead, he held his nerve, waited for his moment and then clipped the ball home as if he'd been doing it week in, week out all season.
Were it not for the fact that John O'Shea is an old fashioned sort of chap who doesn't grass or tumble, Diego Costa would be looking at three matches on the naughty step right now and not just one. The Chelsea striker has been a revelation in front of goal, though not this weekend, but he needs to watch himself. Shown a yellow card for an arm across the face of Wes Brown that might have been an accident, there's no question that he would have seen red had O'Shea gone full James Tomkins, clutched his face and collapsed lifelessly to the ground.
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The best thing to do when you've just been booked is to scurry away, reflect upon the tightrope on which you now walk and stay out of trouble. This weekend, Moussa Sissoko opted to scurry away and needlessly clatter into Andy Carroll just 46 seconds later. All of a sudden, the Newcastle midfielder had a matching set of yellow cards and a first run at the bath tub. It's a real shame for Sissoko, who had impressed during the Magpies' unexpected rise up the table, but Alan Pardew said afterwards that he will learn from the episode. Newcastle fans would certainly hope so.
So near and yet so far for Stoke City at Anfield. Again. The Potters haven't scored a league goal there since 1983. But while most of their players gave solid performances, the contribution of Marko Arnautovic certainly stood out and for all the wrong reasons. He stood and watched as Glen Johnson ran to score the winner, he gave the ball away for another major chance and he offered very little to the attack. Little wonder that he hadn't started a league game for Stoke since October 4. He may not get another for a while.
Southampton are heading into choppy waters with Arsenal and Manchester United on the horizon. They could do with having an in-form striker to call upon. Unfortunately Graziano Pelle's early season form seems to have deserted him. It's been five games since he last hit the back of the net and, on the evidence of his efforts on Sunday, it could be at least five more before he does so again. The way he waved his foot absently at the ball when found in the City box would have concerned all Saints fans. He needs a goal and he needs one sharpish.
Referee Mike Jones might find himself with a weekend off after dropping quite the clanger at the St Marys. Sergio Aguero, hardly a man with a reputation for diving, was wiped out in the penalty area by Jose Fonte right in front of the referee, but instead of awarding the spot-kick, Jones booked the City striker for simulation. Now, refereeing is a very difficult job and it would be far easier if the hundreds of players who do dive stopped cheating, but...Mike, man, he chopped his legs off at the knees!
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.