October review: Man City march on, Everton struggle, Bilic makes excuses
October saw one team take control of the Premier League as those below them took points off each other. Adam Hurrey looks back at the month's winners and losers.
Who won the month? Manchester City
Having ended September with a statement win over Chelsea -- that statement being that they had guile and game-management to go with their goal threat -- Pep Guardiola's rapidly settling side had, it seemed on paper, something of an easier ride in October.
Moreover, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool staged a round-robin between themselves. No matter what the outcome -- which, it turned out, was some sterile chess-football and Liverpool's defence collapsing at Wembley -- City were likely to be satisfied spectators. To cap it off, defending champions Chelsea managed not only to let Crystal Palace score, but beat them.
While their rivals strained, City let their collective hair down. Stoke were 3-0 down within half an hour and their punishment for daring to stage an unsophisticated comeback was met with a further four goals of increasingly unfathomable geometry. Six different scorers, seemingly dozens of options in the final third and, mercifully for opponents, just one Kevin De Bruyne.
Burnley and West Brom put up a tougher fight -- the latter exposing a hint of defensive carelessness that Napoli had also detected in the Champions League -- but both were counter-punched three times.
It all adds up to the best-ever Premier League start -- one that has opened a five-point lead -- and a goal tally -- 35 -- that's already a lap ahead of everyone else. Bearing in mind the recent malfunctions of the teams directly below them, it will take more than a blip to stop City cruising to a third Premier League title.
Who lost the month? Everton
Even on the boulevard of broken dreams, misplaced optimism and ill-advised spending that is the Premier League, few would have predicted Everton would be occupying a relegation spot with a goal difference worse than everyone except a team that took 11 hours of football to score at all.
The removal of Ronald Koeman, after his woefully unbalanced side folded in a 5-2 defeat to Arsenal at Goodison Park, was supposed to stem the bleeding caused by a £150 million spending spree that somehow forgot to replace £75m worth of Romelu Lukaku. Everton are now swamped by one-paced No. 10s, all ostensibly signed for their ability to create, but without anybody to create for.
In came David Unsworth, a caretaker boasting the most valuable cliche-heavy qualities: Knowing the club inside out, understanding the fans' demands and clapping earnestly and aimlessly on the touchline.
But the "New-Manager Bounce," let alone its caretaker manager equivalent, is a fast-fading myth, relied on one too many times by owners who want the quickest solution to their failed short-termism. Everton finished the month as they'd started it: surrendering meekly, this time at Leicester, themselves under new stewardship.
Player of the month: Raheem Sterling
The immaculate, surgeon-like dissections of De Bruyne apart, there's a healthy battle for top billing at Man City these days. Every other goal they score -- there were 15 of them in October, despite not resuming after the international break until halfway through the month -- seems to be an ensemble production.
While the likes of Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus continue to make their name, Sterling is somehow in the midst of re-making his. Still only 22, his latest chapter of football development has been more of a deconstruction under Pep Guardiola.
The adventurous dribbler has become an intuitive runner and Guardiola's message remains a simple one: "If you have the ball, don't lose the ball. I don't ask you to dribble, I don't ask for good crosses, I don't ask for good shots, simple things."
That uncluttered approach has certainly paid dividends for Sterling, who averages a goal for every 71 minutes of Premier League and Champions League football. He's just two goals shy of his best ever goalscoring campaign, with barely a quarter of the season gone.
Match of the month: Chelsea 4-2 Watford
It was tempting to dissect Manchester City's demolition-of-two-halves against Stoke, but that ceased to be a contest worthy of the name before the hour mark. Elsewhere, Man United were shackled by Liverpool and then did the same to Tottenham, prompting Jose Mourinho to place a silencing finger to his lips in response to those who continue to doubt his methods.
Marco Silva's Watford visited Stamford Bridge on the ascendancy, having outlasted Arsenal a week earlier. After back-to-back defeats and with a creaking squad, Chelsea were not enthusiastic hosts: another defeat here would have cast them five points adrift of opponents that finished 17th last season.
But Marco Silva had Watford playing with confidence and, a week after beating Arsenal, they began against Antonio Conte's side in a similar vein. Even Pedro's early opener -- a beautifully-controlled curler, in off the post from 25 yards -- served only to paper over the cracks of Chelsea's careless start, in which they had barely 40 percent of the ball.
An equaliser right on the cusp of half-time was justice served, but Watford weren't satisfied with that. The N'Golo Kante-less home midfield was being outrun and that led to a simple finish for Roberto Pereyra after he was given the freedom of the Chelsea box. Richarlison, meanwhile, was busy missing the sort of chances that keep strikers awake at night. And that turned out to be the break that a desperate-looking Chelsea needed.
Conte withdrew an exasperated Alvaro Morata after an hour and introduced Michy Batshuayi. Just as Chelsea looked like collapsing like a pack of commemorative 2015-16 season domino set, they found some fight. Batshuayi headed home superbly, the tireless Cesar Azpilicueta edged them ahead from a Willian cross, before Batshuayi made the scoreline look rather more emphatic than the performance.
You often hear of a game "needing a goal," as if any neutral would ever be satisfied by a 0-0 draw. Such deadlocks -- like the one plaguing West Brom's early-evening visit to Southampton -- often need someone to take decisive solo action.
Substitute Sofiane Boufal had barely had four minutes to digest the tedium of the game before he did something about it. Allan Nyom was sent to and fro before submitting, Jake Livermore could only let the accelerating Boufal past him with a gesture of resignation and, after Nyom raced back into contention, he went crashing into teammate Craig Dawson.
55 yards after taking the game by the scruff of its neck, Boufal stepped past the last remaining obstacle of Gareth McAuley and calmly dispatched the ball beyond Ben Foster. A chest-thumping celebration in front of manager Mauricio Pellegrino summed up his thoughts about being Southampton's back-up option almost as emphatically as the goal itself.
Good month: Homegrown English groundsmen
It's been one of the quieter revolutions of the Premier League era, but when was the last time a top-flight English fixture took place on a pitch anything less than immaculate? While English footballers continue their long-term game of catch-up to their continental counterparts, it seems that groundsman have long been the envy of the world.
Eight years after former Arsenal head groundsman Paul Burgess was "signed" by Real Madrid to oversee the fixing of the Bernabeu's perennially disastrous playing surface, another homegrown talent is being lured to La Liga.
Bournemouth's Dan Gonzalez was this month poached by Atletico Madrid to become their head groundsman at the new Estadio Wanda Metropolitano; welcome confirmation that the English game is still at the cutting edge of something.
Bad month: Creative excuses
First, a few words of mitigation for Slaven Bilic: He looks like a man who has tried everything, turned every stone twice and scraped every available barrel to turn West Ham into a competitive proposition.
But then, as his side prepared to welcome Brighton to the London Stadium -- a presentable enough fixture with which to jump-start league form -- he opened a curious can of worms.
"One idea we have had is to change the colour of a large part of the surrounding area which frames the pitch," he wrote in the London Evening Standard, words that had something of the please-bear-with-me-here about them.
"Imagine you are a player, you are running back to defend or you are joining the attack - you look up and it is not easy, because everything is green ahead of you, to appreciate exactly where is the end of the pitch and that can psychologically affect your willingness to do it."
What does November need to deliver?
The month begins with a doubleheader that promises drama -- Man City host Arsenal and Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge -- and it would be an opportune moment for the headliners to deliver, no matter what their game plans might be. Elsewhere, perhaps it's also time for Bilic to be put out of his extended West Ham misery.
Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.