Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds.
Moyes' wrinkled brow furrows further
To think, only recently positive words were being written about Manchester United manager David Moyes. The Scot looked to have discovered/stumbled upon a less worse formula as the champions went unbeaten in 12 matches across all competitions.
But amid that run were seeds of doubt, which were sprinkled with water when late goals were conceded against Southampton and Cardiff to deny United points that could not be dropped, considering the start made by Arsenal. The concern that followed a 2-2 draw in Wales was quelled thanks to a 5-0 pasting of Bayer Leverkusen -- but as good as United were, the Bundesliga side were shocking.
A 2-2 draw at Tottenham Hotspur was not to be sniffed at, but the tipping point came on Wednesday night when Moyes was beaten by his successor at former club Everton, Roberto Martinez. Moyes has since come in for an intense level of criticism, as is the price for being the face of a team that rarely suffered such disappointment under his predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson. Such a loss rightfully should be dissected, for it reiterated the worries about whether Moyes is capable of moulding what seems a weak United squad into a strong one.
And dissected it was, with the alarm bells sounding about Moyes' failure to produce against Martinez. If you'd not seen the match then you could have been forgiven for thinking the Scot was taught a lesson by his Spanish counterpart. Truth be told, United had chances to go in front, hitting the woodwork twice among a handful of other chances.
Perhaps, though, the real concern was the lack of response after going behind with four minutes of normal time remaining. There was no siege on Everton's goal. The smarting Moyes must bounce back at home to Newcastle United on Saturday lunchtime, when he will have to make do without the suspended Wayne Rooney and injured Robin van Persie. Marouane Fellaini up front, anyone?
Wounded Southampton seek the cure
The trouble with being on the crest of a wave is that when you tumble it stings that bit more. After going eight league matches unbeaten, Southampton have endured three losses on the bounce. A caveat: Two of those stumbles were against Arsenal and Chelsea, when the Saints gave a good account of themselves. The performance at home to Aston Villa, however, was out of this campaign's character. Throw into the mix a growing injury list and Argentine coach Mauricio Pochettino might indeed mutter an expletive in Spanish.
The endearingly portly Artur Boruc may be prone to the odd gaffe, but by Jove is he a good shot-stopper -- yet now he's sidelined with a broken hand, meaning Paulo Gazzaniga takes his place. Morgan Schneiderlin also missed out against Villa, while Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne sustained knocks. News of these woes has led to talk of bolstering in January, for it seems that beyond the first-choice XI the quality begins to waver. Trouble is, Southampton spent more than 30 million pounds in the summer, so it remains to be seen whether the powers that be would give the green light for another splurge.
The Saints are looking to stop the rot at home to Manchester City, who remembered that the footballing gift possessed at home doesn't get flushed down the toilet when you play away from the Etihad Stadium -- as they made it a total of two league wins on the road this season during midweek. Boosted by the return of influential captain and defender Vincent Kompany and spearheaded by the utterly superb Sergio Aguero, should this winning on their travels lark become a habit in conjunction with their swashbuckling at home then Manuel Pellegrini's men just might be about to mount a proper title charge.
West Ham wait for knight in shining armour
Goals win games. Not possession, not pass completion, not duels won. Goals. You score more goals than the other team and you win the match. That's football. The problem for West Ham is they are finding goals hard to come by and hence they are sliding down the league table. Sam Allardyce, whose future is the subject of speculation at the moment, was boosted by three goals scored and none conceded against Fulham on Saturday. But that was against Fulham in the final chapter of the grey Martin Jol era.
On Tuesday night the Hammers were beaten by fellow strugglers Crystal Palace, meaning the gap between these two sides -- one of which has widely been spoken about as already doomed -- is just three points. West Ham and Allardyce, though, apparently have a knight in shining armour. Andy Carroll returned to training on Thursday, the man the club paid an awful lot of money for in the summer to secure his services permanently. A fit Carroll will be a boost to the side, no doubt, but there is a concern too much is being placed on his return. It is a risky tactic to put all of your eggs in one, admittedly huge, basket. Without Carroll, they travel to Liverpool on Saturday.
Hughton on the chopping block?
Norwich are away from home this weekend, which is bad news for their increasingly under pressure manager Chris Hughton. Regardless that they have faced Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool in three of their past four matches on the road, they have conceded 18 goals during that run -- which is putrid. After spending money to address their lack of goals last season (41 in 38 fixtures) it seems defensive reinforcements were grossly overlooked. They face a West Brom side that are surprisingly second from bottom in the form table, and with the bookmakers ranking Hughton as the next boss to get the ax, the pressure dial is set to "holy cow."
Cause for Meulensteen optimism
There were encouraging signs for Fulham and their new head coach Rene Meulensteen in the Dutchman's first game in charge following Martin Jol's sacking, despite their letting slip of a lead and therefore a sixth straight loss suffered. There was more fight about the Cottagers for starters, while Meulensteen might indeed rue a brilliant display from opposing goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Even Dimitar Berbatov looked in the mood, after his agent said the striker is unhappy at Fulham. On Sunday, they host an unpredictable Aston Villa, who have a better record away from Villa Park this term perhaps due to their counterattacking style suiting being the non-commanding team.