- Team of the Week
Liverpool cope without Suarez as Lampard lights up Bridge
Fulham's season has been a tale of inconsistency. Good one minute, bad the next, they have hit one of their rockier spells of late - but, despite that, there has been no inconsistency whatsoever about the performances of their goalkeeper. Mark Schwarzer, now 40, is playing as well as ever in the Fulham goal, and only he stood between his side and a heavier defeat at Everton. The Aussie set the tone for his contribution early on, making an instinctive block from Marouane Fellaini's header, and following that up with a fine stop from Kevin Mirallas and a one-on-one save to deny Ross Barkley.
Pablo Zabaleta enjoyed one of his many, many sound afternoons for Manchester City as they beat West Ham in routine fashion at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, finding, at times, the sort of zip to their play that has been absent too often in what has been a disappointing title defence. Zabaleta was always in the right place at the right time as Roberto Mancini's men controlled large chunks of the game, and - as ever - came forward to good effect to augment their attacking efforts, seeing an effort stopped by Jussi Jaasekelainen and often playing a big part of some of City's slicker passing football.
Laurent Koscielny was crucial to Arsenal as the fire and brimstone of their first-half performance against Manchester United was replaced with a more difficult second half in which the visitors carried much more threat. Koscielny and Co had been pretty peripheral in that first 45 minutes: after it, though, the French centre-back won a string of important challenges and made more interceptions than anyone else as the Gunners earned a point against the new champions and the returning Robin van Persie.
Zabaleta's consistency on the right this season has been matched by that of Everton's Leighton Baines on the left. Like Zabaleta, Baines was his usual reliable self as Everton claimed the points at Goodison Park. Cottagers defender Stanislav Manolev didn't have an enjoyable afternoon at all as the full-back, ganging up with the excellent Steven Pienaar, roamed forward at will. He also contributed his usual repertoire of dangerous free-kicks and snuffed out threats from the Londoners in his normal composed fashion.
Okay, first things first - you have to say that Newcastle were alarmingly terrible against Liverpool, even before they went down to ten men. But you have to say that Liverpool were very, very good, and that the main reason for that was Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho has produced numerous fine performances since arriving at Anfield, but none better than this one. Everything flowed through him; his touch, vision and passing were sublime; his assist for Daniel Sturridge's first goal was wonderful; only the crossbar denied him Liverpool's seventh, and his trickery prompted a despairing Mathieu Debuchy to commit the foul that saw him sent off.
Coutinho's colleague Jordan Henderson has often been maligned, but he had one of his very good days in the Liverpool midfield and, as a former Sunderland man, may well have enjoyed this mangling of Newcastle more than most. Henderson was neat, constructive and effective in everything he did, passing the ball tidily as the Magpies floundered and finding and using space well. He weighed in with a couple of goals to boot, the first of them rounding off the most flowing of moves, the second far scrappier as his free-kick into the area found its way into the far corner.
Talking of effective, Samir Nasri was exactly that as Manchester City strolled their way to a win against Big Sam Allardyce's gang. The Hammers were in danger almost every time the former Arsenal man had the ball: he was in the mood to constantly make things happen. Both City goals owed much to him: he cut the pass back after a delightful passage of play that enabled Sergio Aguero to open the scoring, and he teed up Yaya Toure to finish the contest. He also made chances for Pablo Zabaleta and Carlos Tevez, and even found time to miss a couple himself.
Wigan will feel they should have taken all three points against Tottenham at the DW Stadium, and few could have done much more to make that happen than Shaun Maloney, whose all-action style and willingness to take risks embodies much of what his team try to do. The Latics snapped at their Champions League-chasing opponents all afternoon and, when they won the ball, often used it well thanks to Maloney, whose shrewd running and adroit passing stretched Spurs. His corner led to Wigan's equaliser from Emmerson Boyce, whose late own goal denied them a three-point haul, and he didn't give the North Londoners a moment's rest.
Frank Lampard changed the game for Chelsea against Swansea at Stamford Bridge after coming off the bench to replace the injured Ramires. Prior to his arrival, things - a Demba Ba effort apart - had been drifting. Soon after it, Chelsea were in front. Lampard had already threatened, drawing a save from Michel Vorm, before threading a wonderful pass through for Oscar to open the scoring. And when Chelsea won a penalty, he was always going to be the man to take it - and made no mistake, moving to within one goal of Bobby Tambling's all-time Blues record. He kept Chelsea ticking over nicely throughout his time on the pitch, underlining the fact that he is, quite simply, a class act.
When West Brom play well, the fact that Romelu Lukaku is playing well often has a lot to do with that. The on-loan Chelsea forward was at his best on Saturday, bullying and out-skilling a Southampton defence that just didn't know how to deal with him. His rampaging performance saw him make two and score one as he headed a corner (which he had won) down for Marc-Antoine Fortune to open the scoring, breezed past his marker to score the second and then played Shane Long in to round it all off. The Baggies would like to extend the loan but, with Lukaku playing like this, it appears unlikely.
Who needs Luis Suarez? Liverpool racked up the goals without the banned, toothsome Uruguayan, and Daniel Sturridge looked like a man enjoying the chance to take centre stage up front. As Liverpool cut through their ragged, disjointed opponents at will and with swagger, Sturridge's running and link play was one of many parts of the Reds' team display to catch the eye. Coutinho's brilliant skill provided the first of his double, Newcastle's horrible laxness his second. Both were well taken as the former Chelsea man made a strong case to be Suarez-less Liverpool's lone striker.
It would be fair to say that Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool have not had an easy week. Nobody would have predicted that the Northern Irishman with the consistent line in middle management-speak and his "group" could respond in such devastating fashion. Great to watch and ruthlessly effective, the Reds' dismantling of Newcastle puts Brendan in the dug-out this week. Helicopter views all round.