Heroes and Villains: David de Gea lights up the weekend
With matchday 16 of the Premier League all but in the bag, Iain Macintosh brings us his latest instalment of Heroes and Villains...
Brendan Rodgers insisted that Liverpool had enough chances to beat Manchester United, and he was absolutely right. It is, however, just as accurate to say that Liverpool allowed United more than enough chances to beat them. One of the key differences between the two sides was the excellent David de Gea, whose positioning and composure were without fault. Every time Liverpool broke through, the willowy Spaniard was in exactly the right place to stop them. When they eventually name the PFA team of the year, choosing between him and Thibaut Courtois is not going to be easy.
You have to hand it to Louis van Gaal, the man knows how to give an estimate. Back in the summer, he insisted to journalists that it would be three months before his new players settled under his rule. He was absolutely right. In August, September and October, Manchester United won only three of 12 games in all competitions. Since the start of November, they've won six. That's like hustling at the pool table, cleaning up, nominating a pocket for the black ball and then sinking it with your eyes closed.
Ah, there you are, Arsenal! Where have you been hiding? After sustained attack from his own supporters, Arsene Wenger was able to offer up a reminder of what exactly it is that he's been trying to create for so long. Free-flowing, inventive, spontaneous attacking football and a barrel load of goals. Of course, it helped that Newcastle seemed in no mood to offer resistance, but who among us didn't feel at least a slight stir of emotion as the Emirates Stadium sang the Frenchman's name? He's had a tough fortnight and he deserved this.
Frank Lampard is not a natural world-class footballer and that's actually a compliment. Everything he has achieved in his career has been the result of hard work and constant practice. You can see it even more now that time is taking its toll on his legs. All of that experience and knowledge is evident in his movement. He alone had the wherewithal to unlock a determined Leicester side. With City's other stars dropping like flies, it's hardly surprising that Manuel Pellegrini would like to keep him around until the end of the season.
Burnley went 11 games without a win in all competitions from the start of this season, a grim run that must have drained their self-belief and made them question whether they had any right to be in the Premier League. Throughout it all, manager Sean Dyche remained calm, instructing his players to keep putting the effort in, promising them that it would turn around eventually. After Saturday's win over Southampton, they have now won three of their last six games and they are no longer in the relegation zone. In fact, they're only six points behind Liverpool and Tottenham.
If we presume that Liverpool didn't leak news of Raheem Sterling's rejection of a new 70,000 pounds-a-week contract, then the finger of blame has only one other direction in which to point. Fair enough. That's how modern football works. But the effects of a sneaky story like that are rather spoiled if swiftly followed by a performance like this. While his movement was impressive, Sterling had two glorious chances to score for Liverpool on Sunday and fluffed them both. Any potential suitors roused by the leak may now be having second thoughts. Sterling's camp should do the same.
To isolate Sterling on a day like this is, of course, entirely unfair. When it comes to Liverpool, there is plenty of criticism to go around. From Brad Jones at the back to Steven Gerrard in the middle to Brendan Rodgers on the bench, that fabled transfer committee in the stands and a scattergun spray of blame everywhere else. Ironically, two of Liverpool's most recently naughty boys, Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic, offered the only tiny reasons to be even slightly positive. They at least had a small effect on proceedings. Liverpool really are in trouble.
There is an art to diving and Gary Cahill is yet to master it. If you look at the real talents of the genre, you'll see their clever movement, the way they use their angles and the curve of their body. You have to invite the contact and then smoothly roll into it before crashing lifelessly to the ground. You can't just run over, jump in the air, drop to the floor and turn to appeal to the referee before you've even stopped skidding along the turf. That just cheapens it for all of us.
Oh, Dusan Tadic, what have you done? Southampton don't miss penalties. Up until Saturday, they'd scored their last 29 spot-kicks in succession. It was a run that went all the way back to April 1997 when poor Jim Magilton, standing in for Matt Le Tissier, missed against West Ham. But Southampton won that game 2-0. They were not so fortunate against Burnley. Defeats to Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United could be understood. This was rather more damaging. It's four losses on the spin for Ronald Koeman's side.
Brilliant for AZ Alkmaar, dynamic for the USMNT, utterly hopeless in the Premier League. Poor old Jozy Altidore. He runs himself into the ground and his movement is smart, but it takes a special kind of talent to latch onto a ball in the six-yard box and backheel it into your own buttocks. There's something wrong here. The green fields of England are quite obviously kryptonite to the 25-year-old. He needs a move and he needs it quickly. It's uncomfortable watching him suffer like this.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.