The Premier League in England returned after the international break and it's like nothing changed. More specifically, through the nine fixtures played Saturday and Sunday, we didn't gain any huge revelations.
Instead, there was confirmation of what we already thought we knew about the league this season.
* Robin van Persie can score.
* Manchester City are still the best team.
* Chelsea don't want to play defense any more.
* Liverpool remain the most maddeningly, inconsistently entertaining team in the league.
* Manchester United are the new kings of winning ugly.
* Mario Balotelli loves scowling and spending more money than my yearly salary entirely on haircuts.
* Sad John Terry never -- ever -- gets old.
If there was one semi-revealing takeaway it's the Newcastle United, despite losing 3-1 at Manchester City, didn't look that bad in the loss.
First things first, these two teams are not once what they were when they played almost every year in the Champions League knockout stages. After Sunday you'd have to feel a little more bullish on the future of the Reds vs. that of the Blues, if only for Kenny Dalglish proving that a manager tinkering with a lineup can still yield a direct result.
Good looks to Liverpool for using the entirety of its squad to field a starting XI including Craig Bellamy, goal-scoring Maxi Rodriguez as well as keeping Jamie Carragher on the bench to play a faster, quicker lineup that would trouble Chelsea's insanely high defensive line. Liverpool have so many pieces -- at least in the midfield and forward lines -- it should be able to mix-and-match. (Insert your own Rafa Benitez rotation joke here.)
For all the wild mood swings Liverpool seem to posses on a weekly basis, the four-way battle for the Champions League spots between the Reds, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal will be fun, so a win over one of those rivals goes a long way for Liverpool.
Curious to see if Dalglish will stick with Maxi in the starting lineup over the disappointing Stewart Downing. Guess that's a nice luxury to have.
Chelsea? The problem of reacting after one game is dangerous, though the defense of the once mighty club is a shell of itself. Or more accurately the change in the way the game is played at Stamford Bridge could be seen in Petr Cech's increasingly robotic face -- sort of a Officer Murphy/Robocop scenario.
The bloom appears to be off the rose on David Luiz, who's marauding runs forward are being offset by his increasingly lax defense. With John Terry getting older and more weepy, Alex slow-footed and stuck to the bench, the Blues' once vaunted defense isn't what it once was.
Throw in the new manager Andre Villas-Boas is stuck with the Fernando Torres/Daniel Sturridge/Didier Drogba (a little) issue, plus trying to find a place for Juan Mata in the Chelsea formation (and hegemony) and there are clear issues at Stamford Bridge. The club has been borderline great for almost a decade, eventually its bound to have a semi-down season.
The Blues are unbeatable, nor even feared so much any more. They're certainly still dangerous and maybe it works out that this is the year the team finally can win the Champions League.
Possess the Night Away:
Somebody smarter -- or more prominent -- than me could draw a nice parallel to England defeating Spain 1-0 last week in a friendly and Manchester United winning 1-0 at Swansea City, which pundits are trying to position as the Barcelona of England.
Both winning teams won ugly, but didn't earn style points in the process.
United did enough and made the early Chicharito gifted goal hold up, while Swansea played a lot of passes, but didn't create too many chances to trouble United.
The Red Devils are playing more-and-more close games as goals have been harder to come by. Since defeating Chelsea 3-1 in mid-September United have only scored multiple goals in games against this murderers row: Leeds United, FC Basel, Norwich City, Otelu Galati and Aldershot town. That Chelsea result was the last time Wayne Rooney scored in a Premier League game, too.
Swansea? For all the nice talk about how well this team passes and possesses, it's still relying on unproven Danny Graham for goals. It's not too crazy to see this team sinking as the season progresses like a Burnley or Hull City or even Blackpool.
Great vs. Good:
Take heed if you're a Newcastle United fan. Sure the Magpies lost 3-1 at Manchester City, but remember, too, how the goals came. The first was a penalty on a Ryan Taylor handball, the second, Taylor got torched on a run by Michah Richards and the final was another spot kick.
Not a disaster, they even got a late goal from Dan Gosling.
Newcastle probably doesn't have enough quality to hang with the top four in the league all year, but this team isn't terrible. Is seventh or eighth place a season to celebrate?
It won't get any easier for the club with next week's game at Old Trafford followed by a home game against Chelsea. Maybe the best word for the Magpies at this juncture is solid.
Around the League:
If you're not following Joey Barton on Twitter, it's your loss. His incendiary comments to Stoke fans who threw money at him during QPR's 3-2 win at the Britianna Stadium are what the service was created for. Two goals by Icelandic hero Heidar Helguson were key for QPR. ... Wigan coughed up a late 3-2 lead and Blackburn got a 3-3 draw from the two bottom teams in the league, aka the "You're a Loser and a Loser" match. ... Sunderland 0, Fulham 0, if a Premier League match falls in the woods, does it make a sound? ... Everton got a semi-weak penalty late against Wolves at Goodison Park, but Leighton Baines converted it and the Toffees can breath easier for a couple days. The idea David Moyes will have money to spend in January is somewhat laughable. Guess they'll be sending scouts to the Cypriot second division post haste. ...
Fantasy Team O' the week:
Mark Chambers Nott Real FC put up 65 points this week with captain Robin van Persie (hint, hint) leading the way. Also contributing were Phil Jones, Sergio Aguero and Jon Walters.
Bummer of the Week:
Today's Tottenham/Aston Villa game is only available on ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes. Boo. Hiss. The only saving grant is that the game is being bumped for college basketball on ESPN, not a show were idiots yell at each other.
With Sunday night's historic MLS Cup in the books, it's probably worth tipping the cap in the direction of David Beckham as he heroically lifts the Phil Anchultz Trophy and rides off into the Parisian night. I just feel so proud that I'll be able to tell my grandkids I was alive during the Beckham era.
As purely life-affirming as sports get.
Also can't wait until they release a "Moneyball" style movie about Beckham's five years in America. Hell, they can use most of the same cast. Brad Pitt can play Beckham and if Jonah Hill gains a little weight he's Bruce Arena. Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane can play themselves since they've both looked the same at age 20 as they do now at age 30.
Random Thing of the Week:
Keep an eye and ear open for a new phrase that seems to be gaining traction at all levels of soccer, where people comment how a forward or striker, "comes back to get the ball." Should be a good trope soon enough.