Premier League still full of surprises, with Man City stumbling, Salah back on form, Arsenal on song
When it comes to the Premier League, we're all prone to jumping to conclusions and taking the latest preachings from the pundits as gospel. Well, predictions make fools of us all, and the action last weekend blew a few theories sky high. It turns out Manchester City are not invincible: Fancy that!
Likewise, Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri was able to laugh in the faces of those experts, who basically told him he did not know what he was doing using "the world's top holding midfielder," N'Golo Kante, in a more attacking role. Who turned up with a late run into the box and splendid finish to change Saturday's game against City? Why, it was none other than Kante.
Then there was the oft-repeated opinion that last season's 44-goal machine, Mohamed Salah, had lost the plot. A hat trick for Liverpool at Bournemouth, including a superb solo goal oozing composure for his third, suggested otherwise.
Tottenham, we were told by some after the North London derby defeat, were far too erratic and did not have the squad depth to hope for anything more than a top-four place. That might be right over time, but the maths are that they have won eight of their past nine games and are only six points off the top, with Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli all in top form. You can pour scorn on their chances, but they are entered in the race.
Arsenal struggled to beat Huddersfield and have a mounting injury list, but 21 games unbeaten makes them another team who are confounding the critics. You can get tired just watching Unai Emery, who reportedly stays up until 2 a.m. some nights analysing tapes of matches. He might be the only man in Britain who can't find time to keep up with the ever-present Brexit debate. But Emery has blown a hurricane through the corridors at The Emirates, and the fans who wanted change have been proved right.
What of Manchester United, widely seen by many usually good judges as a laboured outfit managed by a man heading for the exit? Cue an impressive 4-1 win (albeit against a hapless Fulham) and a hint that Jose Mourinho can let the leash off. Next week at Anfield will reveal far more.
Elsewhere, the received wisdom is that Marco Silva is producing a more successful and watchable Everton. So far it's true, yes, but Silva is yet to prove in England that he can have a lasting impact.
For all the justifiable plaudits, Bournemouth have been rather put in their place in recent weeks. The defence does not look quite good enough to sustain a challenge for European football. Meanwhile, those of us who thought Cardiff were relegation certainties are also being forced to reassess. Neil Warnock's team are starting to get the hang of the Premier League, with four wins from their past five home games.
Bottom club Fulham are currently being written off, with new manager Claudio Ranieri saying they played like "lambs facing wolves" in the first half at Old Trafford. But the Cottagers have scored more goals than any team in the bottom seven, which suggests they can climb if they ever mend their defence. You should back an Italian coach like Ranieri to solve that problem before too much longer. A comeback for his old Leicester hard case Robert Huth, though? Perhaps not.
The Premier League is about to enter its usual forest of festive fixtures while more sensible leagues take a well-earned midseason break. Stand by for a million opinions from journalists, ex-players and managers and, yes, TV commentators like me.
Yet the evidence of the past few days should persuade you not to believe everything you hear or read.