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GUARDIAN – Premier League: 10 talking points from the weekend’s action | Guardian writers

The days of Chelsea untouchables are long gone, Soldado needs a tonic and Lallana deserves his England chance1) Manchester United find reasons to be cheerful at centre-halfA lot of Manchester United supporters will probably be surprised to learn that the club’s senior executives have been talking behind the scenes for several months now about it being a priority to sign another centre-half next summer.The thinking is that David Moyes has five accomplished players for the two positions in Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans, but can the United manager trust any of them to last a full season?Everyone knows about the long-standing fitness issues of Vidic and Ferdinand but all three of their understudies have missed large parts of the last few seasons because of injury. Of the three, Evans has done the most to challenge Ferdinand for the right to be Vidic’s first-choice partner but there is a feeling behind the scenes that the changeover should have happened before now, or at least been closer.That is not to be confused with a lack of faith in the players’ talent. However, there is a sense that they have stalled, possibly because of the frequency with which they have been held back by absenteeism. Eliaquim Mangala of Porto is one of the players they are scouting, although he would not come cheap and they are far from alone.Against Arsenal, however, there was the clear evidence of their ability, fitness permitting, to take over those positions. Moyes identified Chris Smalling for special acclaim after the 1-0 victory, saying it was as well as he had played, while Jones excelled after Vidic took his whack to the head and Evans justified his selection ahead of Ferdinand. Olivier Giroud is a difficult opponent but the way United’s defence handled the Frenchman was one of the decisive factors in their win. What these players need now, collectively, is a run of injury-free football to allow them to stake their claims on a longer basis. If they can get that, maybe United will have a rethink. Daniel Taylor• Match report: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal• Amy Lawrence: five talking points from Old Trafford• Man United aim to be top by new year, says Rooney• Barney Ronay: Rooney gives Özil the run-around2) Days of Chelsea untouchables long goneLost amid complaints at the performance of Andre Marriner at Stamford Bridge was a familiar reminder from José Mourinho that his old guard must stay on their toes if they are to compete regularly for his Chelsea side. This time the chivvy-up – it could not really be called a warning – was fired at Ashley Cole, a player who has struggled to regain previous momentum since suffering a rib injury at Norwich last month.The 32-year-old, Mourinho pointed out, had endured a poor game in defeat at Newcastle United and, with Ryan Bertrand injured, had now lost his place to a natural right-back in César Azpilicueta. That will be a temporary arrangement, but Cole may have to be patient before returning to the fold.”I can make mistakes, I can be unfair, for sure I am and for sure I do that, but I always give a lot of thought to my decisions,” said Mourinho. “I decided for Azpilicueta to play against Schalke, and he was fantastic. On Saturday he was very good again. Ashley is a top professional, he is a fighter. He has to work hard, to fight hard because the place [in the team] is his place. Of course it is not Azpilicueta’s best position, and it is not a position where Ashley can think that he is in trouble now. No, he has to just to work and fight, and the position is there waiting for him, no problem.”The left-back will presumably feature for England against either Chile or Germany over the next 10 days before thoughts turn to West Ham United at Upton Park on 23 November, but his omission over recent weeks indicates no one is guaranteed a place at Chelsea these days. Cole or Frank Lampard, David Luiz or Juan Mata, the days of the untouchables are long gone. Dominic Fifield• Chelsea 2-2 West Bromwich Albion: read the match report• Steve Clarke flabbergasted by penalty awarded to Chelsea3) Agger’s return and a rare Liverpool clean sheet is no coincidenceYes, it was only Fulham, and an isolated, increasingly irritated Dimitar Berbatov for the Liverpool defence to contend with on Saturday but that should not detract from the understanding – and aggression – shown by Brendan Rodgers’ back-line. Liverpool failed to keep a clean sheet in the six games that Daniel Agger missed initially through injury and then while on the bench as Rodgers switched to a three-man central defence of Kolo Touré, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho. A first clean sheet in nine games – since the 1-0 defeat of Manchester United on 1 September – was never in doubt with Agger restored into a back four alongside Skrtel. Both the Denmark international and Skrtel have lost their first-team places in this calendar year and shown a clear determination to prove a point on their return. The Liverpool manager is receiving the right reaction to his occasional snubs. Andy Hunter• Liverpool 4-1 Fulham: read the match report• Video: ‘We are becoming relentless,’ says Rodgers4) Bony is finding his feet in the Premier LeagueThe difficulties most foreign imports face on arrival in the Premier League are exemplified by Wilfried Bony’s experience since joining Swansea for a club record £12m from Vitesse Arnhem last summer. The muscular Ivorian striker found goals easy to come by in the less intense surroundings of Dutch football, and continues to do so against European opposition in the Europa League, where he has five in seven appearances this season. In the Premier League however he needed two against struggling Stoke on Sunday to bring his return to a respectable four in 10, and the Swans’ manager, Michael Laudrup, said: “We are still trying to improve his physical condition and to help him to adapt to this league. You are always expected to have something special when you have a big price tag on your shoulders. In training, he is getting better and he really wants to improve.” Joe Lovejoy• Match report: Swansea City 3-3 Stoke City5) Soldado needs a tonicThe White Hart Lane crowd have been admonished this season by André Villas-Boas and, on Sunday against Newcastle United, they were determined to give the team their vocal backing; they stuck with them at 1-0 down and, only at full-time, did the defeat get the better of them and the boos come out.Yet there had been audible frustration at Roberto Soldado’s pair of second-half misses, which betrayed a niggling concern about the £26m striker. He was signed in the summer to make the difference in tight matches and, as a player whose game is almost exclusively tailored to what he does inside the area, it is natural that his impact will be measured by his goal ratio.So far, he has scored six in 12 appearances, which is perfectly respectable on the face of it. Yet two were in the Europa League qualifier at Dinamo Tbilisi and three of his four in the Premier League have been penalties. The Tottenham crowd want to love Soldado, as they do Jermain Defoe, and they have sung his name with gusto. He needs a big goal for them in open play. David Hytner• Match report: Tottenham 0-1 Newcastle United• Villas-Boas told to leave out Lloris after medical concerns6) Sunderland should make sure Colback staysJack Colback will be out of contract in the summer but, while avoiding being held to ransom, Sunderland should do their best to ensure he signs a mutually acceptable new deal because Colback is underrated. He and the excellent, sweet-passing, Ki Sung-Yueng – on loan from Swansea and rivalling Wes Brown as man of the match – shone in central midfield, putting Manchester City’s Yaya Touré in his place for protracted periods. Colback, a left-footer, who can also fill in at left back, is more valuable to Sunderland than many people probably imagine. The good news is that Gus Poyet seems poised to get the best out of him, Ki and several others. Louise Taylor• Match report: Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City• Pellegrini perplexed by Man City’s travel sickness7) Lallana deserves his chance against ChileIn a season that has so far provided jaw-droppingly brilliant goals on a weekly basis, Adam Lallana’s solo effort against Hull not only served to entirely justify his inclusion for England’s games against Chile and Germany but also rocketed the chances of him starting at Wembley on Friday. Seven months out from Brazil, now is the time for Roy Hodgson to experiment and, in Lallana, he has an attacking midfielder capable of offering something different and exciting. Jettisoning Rickie Lambert into the team against Scotland worked out well – there is no reason why another Southampton player can’t have a similar effect. And let’s not forget Jay Rodriguez either. Alan Smith• Southampton 4-1 Hull City: read the match report8) Play-acting as much a blight on the game as divingNorwich City midfielder Robert Snodgrass deserves huge praise for the brilliant curling free-kick which put the Canaries ahead against West Ham. Less admirable was the manner in which he stayed down clutching his face dramatically after an on-the-floor tangle with Hammers full-back Razvan Rat, whose leg might just have brushed his cheek. While it was true Snodgrass had received a boot in the face in an earlier incident, and had the swollen nose to prove it, feigning injury to get another player sent off is every bit as much of a blight on the game as diving. In this case the referee, Jon Moss, saw through it and refused to let the Norwich physio on to treat Snodgrass. But given referees are now much more prepared to book a player for diving, it would be good to extend the principle and show the yellow card when a player is quite obviously play-acting in an attempt to get another player sent off. Richard Rae• Norwich City 3-1 West Ham United: read the match report9) Moody blues for CardiffSo, Crystal Palace have secured the services of Iain Moody, the brains behind Cardiff’s transfer strategy, a negotiator and talent spotter and a man who is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish. Cardiff, on the other hand, have Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old Kazakh who was painting and decorating at the club in the summer and has never before worked in the world of football. Well, at least Cardiff will have Apsalyamov’s services when the Home Office is satisfied that he has the right paperwork to work in the UK. Any chance of Vincent Tan, Cardiff’s owner, providing an explanation for this nonsense? Stuart James• Aston Villa 2-0 Cardiff City: read the match report10) Martínez’s claim is not rooted in reality Roberto Martínez is an old hand at finding positives amid disappointment but his claim that Everton were so dominant against Crystal Palace on Saturday that “nine times out of 10 we would have won the game” was ridiculous. Everton fans must hope he does not actually believe it. A team with better finishers than Palace would have scored several goals against Martínez’s men – a team such as the Liverpool side they face next – and, even more alarming, Everton seldom looked likely to prise Palace open. With Romelu Lukaku subdued, Everton’s midfielders did not carry enough threat, with Leon Osman, Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy especially innocuous. The case for starting Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu in the Merseyside derby just got stronger. Paul Doyle• Match report: Crystal Palace 0-0 EvertonPremier LeagueChelseaLiverpoolNorwich CityCardiff CityDominic FifieldAndy HunterRichard RaeStuart JamesPaul DoyleLouise TaylorDavid HytnerJoe LovejoyDaniel Taylortheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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