1. Good on Rafa Benitez. Plenty of managers would have bleated on about one of the strangest goals you are ever likely to see rather than admitting that their team played poorly. The goal clearly shouldn’t have stood, but Liverpool were lucky to lose 1-0 in truth. Benitez’s problem is that he suddenly looks to have run out of ideas. It’s all too easy to see his team are average without Gerrard and Torres – they’ve looked poor with them at times this season. Not for the first team some of the Spaniard’s decisions were baffling. Switching to a back three clearly didn’t work and neither Lucas or Jay Spearing got a hold of the game in midfield. The writing appears to on the wall for Liverpool’s title challenge already and, however supportive the Anfield crowd historically are of their manager, questions must now be asked about whether Benitez has taken them as far as he can.
2. Of course, you can’t discuss that game without giving Sunderland a lot of credit. Steve Bruce has had money to spend but they look an entirely different proposition to the side that sailed a little too close to the wind last season. Bent and Jones are a hell of a partnership up front, but for me Andy Reid and Steed Malbranque are two criminally underrated creative players. With Lee Cattermole biting into tackles too, you can’t see too many teams coming away from the Stadium of Light with the points this term.
3. There are clear chinks in Chelsea’s armour as well. Defensive lapses, especially at set pieces, cost Luis Felipe Scolari his job and at times Carlo Ancelotti looked an angry man at Villa Park yesterday afternoon. I half expected Chelsea to go on and roll past Villa once Didier Drogba had shot them ahead but, as well as the home side played, they were the architects of their own downfall. Twice they conceded from corners and twice the marking was shabby. Fingers might well be pointed at Drogba for losing his man, but Petr Cech has to take some of the blame for the second goal. Villa have bounced back from that opening day defeat by Wigan awfully well – and what a pair of signings Martin O’Neill’s made in Dunne and Collins.
4. Manchester United made things a little more difficult for themselves than they perhaps should have been at Old Trafford yesterday, but there were glimpses of real star quality. The way in which Evra and Giggs linked up down the left presented Bolton with a real problem and Antonio Valencia sparkled on the opposite flank. Dimitar Berbatov was a much more vibrant presence up front too – it remains difficult to see beyond Ferguson’s side for the title.
5. I’m out this afternoon but I’ll set the video recorder for Blackburn and Burnley, an old-fashioned derby with plenty of passion and history. Two founder members of the Football League – and neither are out of place dining at football’s top table. Blackburn could do with some points though (and the Clarets might like to end an ominous away sequence that reads 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0). It should be a good watch.