October 17, 2017

FREE KICKS: An epic South London upset

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Crystal Palace hadn’t even scored a goal in seven games heading into its tilt with defending champion Chelsea on Saturday.

Well, the Eagles picked one hell of a time to finally find the back of the net.

An own goal by Cesar Azpilicueta opened scoring, followed by an equalizer by Tiemoue Bakayoko. But just before the stroke of halftime, Wilfried Zaha put Palace ahead for good.

It was the most stunning upset of the season so far, bar none. The defending champions losing to a team ranked among the worst in Premier League history.

Chelsea sorely missed Alvaro Morata up front and Eden Hazard couldn’t provide the superstar performance that the Blues needed in this one.

The result goes to show you that anything can happen in soccer and that home-field advantage can truly matter. That little boost, even for a team that has disappointed its fans and is already on its second manager, can make a difference.

A trip north to Newcastle is next for Palace and should be a good test to see if the Eagles are going to turn things around.

Chelsea, on the other hand, prepare for a Champions League date with Roma before taking on fourth-place Watford next weekend.

There’s no time to rest with the fixtures flying fast and furious for Antonio Conte’s men.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

When a team scores seven goals, chances are that one of its attackers will take this honour. While Gabriel Jesus would be a fine candidate, we’re going to go with Raheem Sterling this time.

With his goal against Stoke, the English winger already has six goals this year after scoring seven all last season. He also added two assists in the game – his first two of the season, in fact.

Sterling’s name has been bandied about in transfer rumours involving Alexis Sanchez, but with the way that the City winger has been playing and the fact he is six years younger than the Chilean, a straight swap may not be in Sky Blues’ best interest.

But good luck getting Arsene Wenger to pony up some cash in any type of deal like that.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Anybody that trust Jose Mourinho that his Red Devils would be attack-minded against Liverpool clearly doesn’t know the Special One. A frustrating 0-0 was always in the cards between these two heated rivals … The Reds losing Sadio Mane to another injury is just more bad news for the struggling side. Sure, Liverpool has some depth in attackers, but Mane is something special … Granit Xhaka was literally picking his nose when Watford scored the winning goal against Arsenal. That pretty much sums up the Gunners season so far … Troy Deeney didn’t think much of the Gunners CBs, either. The Hornets forward was able to boss that trio around when he wanted … Christian Eriksen might be Spurs’ best player. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are too prone to disappear at times while the Dane is incredibly consistent … Tammy Abraham’s brace gives him four goals on the season. That might not sound too amazing, but the Swans only have one other goal so far. How about a little support for the Chelsea loanee? … A dumb foul by Seagulls captain Bruno probably cost Brighton three points against a lacklustre Everton side. That penalty by Wayne Rooney could make the difference between staying up and relegation later this season … West Brom could have an issue between the sticks. Ben Foster missed Monday’s game with a knee injury – to which manager Tony Pulis didn’t know the extent of – and backup keeper Boaz Myhill also picked up a knock … Leicester City needs to start winning games. The Foxes have just one victory this season and are in the relegation zone after failing to beat the Baggies. What happened to the plucky underdogs that ran away with the league two years ago? … Mike Ashley is finally putting Newcastle up for sale and I’m sure that fans couldn’t be happier. One of the most hated owners in the Prem won’t be missed.

THE LAST WORD

After that 7-2 demolition of Stoke, Manchester City now has an astounding goal differential of +25 through eight games. That’s actually a record for this point of the season in the Premier League era.

Second-place United isn’t doing so bad either – its +19 differential is tied for fourth best all time.

The Citizens are no strangers to this sort of thing: They have led in GD through five weeks in five of the past seven season.

But here’s where things get interesting from an historical standpoint: Of the eight teams to be at +15 or better through eight games, only two have won title, Chelsea in 2005-06 and City in 2011-12. And since 2002-03, only four of 15 teams to lead in GD at this point have won the league.

What does it mean, though? Early season strength of schedule can play a role in this, with more difficult fixtures potentially on the horizon.

Players aren’t as worn down yet, either, and some sides are just starting to come together.

Whether or not City goes on to win the league remains to be seen, but what we do know is that we haven’t seen a team this good, this early.

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