Tottenham's mettle tested after stutter
Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Tottenham bouncing back
The fallout from Tottenham Hotspur's 3-0 loss at home to West Ham United was unusual. The focus was on praising the slayer of the giant -- not even in a patronising "aw, bless them" tone -- rather than questioning the fallen. West Ham (more on them further below) were worthy of the win and the plaudits that came their way, but Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas might consider himself fortunate having escaped largely criticism-free.
"It's a wake-up call that we have to react to," said the Portuguese, after a result that followed the 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea. Indeed, for their last one-and-a-half Premier League games AVB's side have been second-best, after they failed to react to the tide turning against Jose Mourinho's team before managing only four shots on target versus West Ham, as goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen enjoyed a relatively untroubled Sunday afternoon despite the attacking options at Villas-Boas' disposal.
Of course, Spurs are only three points off the top spot, and their stumble shouldn't fully detract from what has been an encouraging start, even if question marks remain over their strike force, with Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe totalling two league goals between them. The club's chance to respond comes at Aston Villa, who beat Manchester City in their last match on their own turf before playing out one of the least memorable games in history against, erm, somebody. On a sidenote, keep a close eye on Villa's Fabian Delph on Sunday, for the midfielder's impressive start to the season deserves more attention.
Southampton could upset United
Southampton are fourth in the table. They also have the best defensive record in the division, with the unshapely yet agile Artur Boruc picking the ball out of his own net just twice in seven appearances. The Saints had Boruc to thank in their previous outing, as a 2-0 win over Swansea City was ground out thanks to some marvellous shot-stopping. So perhaps that concession record is a touch misleading about how watertight their defence is, considering how often the backline was breached by the visitors.
Regardless, a victory was secured by Mauricio Pochettino's men, as Adam Lallana again impressed, to make it three on the bounce -- Manchester United be warned. Indeed, Southampton might fancy their chances against the champions, who, Adnan Januzaj aside, were unconvincing in their 2-1 win over Sunderland, while in their last match at Old Trafford they were outplayed by West Bromwich Albion, a side with similar strengths to this weekend's opponents, as they too like to spring forward on the break.
The growing Ravel Morrison hype
There is a tiresome habit in England to get carried away when a talented youngster emerges, for they do not weekly roll off the conveyor belt like in Spain, for example. There's been some precaution with Morrison, considering his well-documented transgressions, but the potential for excitement has remained, such is the level of his footballing gift.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce said after Morrison scored a beautiful goal at White Hart Lane: "When I signed him Sir Alex [Ferguson] said 'I hope you can sort him out because if you can he will be a genius'." The 20-year-old has since scored a brace for the England under-21s, the second of which again demonstrated his ability to breeze past defenders, with such balance, and then to remain composed by slotting home.
Expect Morrison to make his fifth Premier League start for West Ham when they host Manchester City on Saturday evening in the 4-6-0 formation that served Allardyce so well at Spurs. With Andy Carroll injured and Modibo Maiga effectively making it a zero up front when involved anyway, Morrison's ability to burst from deep means he is the perfect fit for this system that took many by surprise.
Poyet makes his Sunderland debut
The appointment of Gus Poyet is a risk. On the face of it, Sunderland have replaced one hot-headed manager with another not shy in coming forward. That said, it could be surmised that Poyet is more the type of coach to indulge his players, rather than criticising them in public or banning the eating of ketchup -- so perhaps they will continue the improvement (it couldn't have gotten much worse) as shown under former caretaker boss Kevin Ball.
Speaking of Ball, he was left to pick up the pieces for matches against Liverpool and Manchester United -- cheers, lads! -- before Poyet was confirmed. One theory is that Sunderland wanted these tricky games out of the way before appointing Poyet, thus stemming any potential early negativity that would have come with two (probable) defeats. If true, the ideals behind the theory are somewhat flawed: Poyet has been chosen from a group of several to be the man to dig them out of this one-point-so-far mess, hence surely you'd want him in as soon as possible, because Liverpool and United are hardly bulletproof. Anyway, the former Brighton boss's bow comes at Swansea on Saturday, which will hardly be a walk in the park.
Crystal Palace vs. Fulham is big
Not the prettiest game on paper, but certainly an important one. Crystal Palace look doomed already. It feels like there is a touch of the "Readings" about them, as they head into their home game against Fulham off the back of four straight defeats. But all hope is not lost, not least because there are 31 matches left to play, because they take on a Fulham side hardly oozing confidence, and momentum can quickly change in football -- perhaps not so quickly if your players are worse than others in the division, though. Darren Bent's winning goal in Fulham's last outing lifted the pressure on boss Martin Jol, but it feels like only a temporary respite, meaning Palace could pounce.
Stoke's wobble under Hughes
The initial signs were promising for Stoke and manager Mark Hughes after seven points from a possible nine were followed by a trip to Arsenal that may have ended in a first defeat but also provided many positives. Since then, however, uninspiring performances have followed versus Norwich and Fulham, leaving some to wonder whether Hughes should have Plan Tony Pulis up his sleeve when the little passes aren't working. They will welcome to the Britannia Stadium an improved West Brom, whom they can climb above with a scalp.