Pitchside

7 Premier League truths – Rooney, Wenger, a new test for Liverpool

Pitchside

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1. Goal of the decade? Rooney’s strike wasn’t even the goal of the day

Enough with the David Beckham comparisons already. Wayne Rooney’s goal against West Ham was a wonderful strike, but its quality was diminished by the fact West Ham keeper Adrian should have easily saved it – just like when Steve Harper should have stopped Xabi Alonso’s from a similar range in 2006. Beckham’s – by contrast – was a perfectly executed, soaring effort which found the very back of the net over the despairing Neil Sullivan. The perfect shot. And all the people clamouring to announce that Rooney’s effort was the goal of the decade have failed to spot that it wasn't even the goal of the day: it was bettered on Saturday alone by Norwich’s Alex Tettey, who hit a spectacular dipping effort against Sunderland. Oh, and his was a genuine volley, unlike Rooney’s.

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2. No RVP, no problem?

Okay, having deflated the balloon of hyperbole surrounding Rooney's goal, now for the good bit. Robin van Persie's injury sustained against Olympiacos could yet prove bad enough to keep him out of the World Cup, something which originally seemed to spell further doom for Manchester United. But counter-intuitively they actually thrived without their star forward against West Ham, with Wayne Rooney clearly enjoying a return to the No. 9 role. There's nothing Rooney loves more than being top dog, and when he's feeling confident enough to try and out-Beckham Beckham on a day when Beckham was in the crowd at West Ham, something is right inside the striker's head.

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3. After 1,000 games, Wenger’s further from the top than ever

The Premier League table might suggest Arsenal are not an entirely spent force in the title race, but the head and heart say otherwise. Arsene Wenger celebrated his 1,000th game against Chelsea but a brutal 6-0 destruction means their aggregate score in away games against the top three of the Blues, Manchester City and Liverpool is now a disastrous 17-4. They have been taken apart by their rivals this season, suggesting that while they may yet win the FA Cup, when it comes to competing for the title the chasm in class between Arsenal and the teams above them is as pronounced as ever.

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4. The SAS will become officially Liverpool’s best ever strike partnership

A 6-3 hammering of Cardiff City saw the unstoppable pair of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez reach a combined total of 47 Premier League goals for the season (as well as 18 assists – largely to each other of course). Their frankly ridiculous form is historic in scale, with Liverpool’s club record partnership being Roger Hunt and Ian St John, who scored 52 league goals between themselves in the 1963-64 season. Given that struggling Sunderland visit Anfield on Wednesday, before Tottenham visit on Sunday, you wouldn’t bet against them surpassing that tally next week.

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5. But Liverpool also face a new challenge this week too…

Those two home games look like bankers on paper for Liverpool given the way they are playing, but the Tottenham game will be a rare occasion this season where they will go into a match with less preparation time than their opponents. Liverpool's lack of European football has undoubtedly helped them this season, but they will only have four days to prepare for the Spurs match in contrast to the entire week Tottenham have off. Liverpool dropped points during the busy Christmas period, admittedly against much better opposition, but it is still another challenge for Brendan Rodgers' side as they continue their surprising title tilt.

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6. The only thing consistent about Tottenham is their inconsistency

You never know what to expect from Tottenham over the space of 90 minutes let alone over the course of a season. Tim Sherwood's unique approach has made his team entirely unpredictable but in both good and bad ways. The Southampton match was a microcosm of their season. From flashes of brilliance to terrible mistakes it was a match they could have lost as easily as won it. Such schizophrenia does not give you any hope they can chase down Arsenal for fourth place, but there should at least be some interesting moments along the way.

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7. Mark Hughes is finding out it pays to be pragmatic

Mark Hughes' ego has often been his biggest problem as a manager: Feeling he was invincible at Manchester City; walking out on Fulham because he thought something bigger was around the corner; thinking that he could simply spend his way out of trouble at QPR; and uttering nonsense lines such as 'I don’t build football teams, I build football clubs.' However, he has been much quieter since taking over Stoke City and letting his work do the talking. At the start of the season it looked like he was trying to completely change the way the team played but he has now found that evolution from the Tony Pulis era, rather than revolution, was the answer. Stoke are now mixing long balls with neater play and both methods helped them pick up goals in a classy 4-1 win over Aston Villa. With safety now secured, Hughes can use the rest of the season to develop his philosophy. As long as he doesn't get any more delusions of grandeur, Stoke should have a bright future under the Welshman.

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