Manchester United and Chelsea are two of the best-known clubs in the world, their squads stuffed with superstars on super salaries, their trophy cabinets generously stocked with impressive silverware.
On the other hand, Norwich and West Brom have traditionally been known as Premier League makeweights, honest triers with workmanlike squads and few household names. These are normally clubs that migrate in and out of the Premier League, and in normal circumstances shouldn’t trouble the top teams unduly.
On Saturday, we saw a double reversal of fortunes that once again had the neutrals, purists and no doubt the marketing men espousing the special virtues of the English competition. United and Chelsea both tasted defeat, their conquerors Norwich and West Brom respectively.
United’s match was an odd one, in that we half expected them to concede an early goal or two and come roaring back and win it in much the same way they’ve done several times this season. Failing that, they would surely and simply ease to victory by demonstrating their superior personnel.
Neither happened. The game was pretty cagey, with Norwich benefitting from raucous home support and giving Sir Alex Ferguson’s side plenty of thinking to do.
This was not the best of times for United to be without the injured Wayne Rooney. His across-the-park versatility would have suited them well and kept Norwich centre-backs Sebastien Bassong and Michael Turner more occupied.
Robin van Persie had a few chances but wasn’t at his best, while Javier Hernandez, getting a rare start, was simply not located often enough by the Manchester United midfielders. The eventual introduction of Paul Scholes following Norwich’s well-taken goal finally gave Norwich a little more to worry about. But by then Ryan Giggs was tiring as any 38-year-old surely must at this level - and afterwards Ferguson was happy to commend United’s opponents on a well-deserved and notable victory.
Norwich’s win was a genuine surprise – even though they’d entered the game following a month of good form. But West Brom’s win over Chelsea was widely flagged as a possibility in a number of previews. This became something approaching a probability when Roberto Di Matteo opted to start without three of his most productive players of late - Ramires, Juan Mata and Oscar - presumably sensing the unwelcome potential for burn-out.
West Brom manager Steve Clarke is quietly producing some magic at the Hawthorns and one of the players he has really brought on is Irishman Shane Long. The striker calmly headed in James Morrison’s accurate cross for West Brom’s opener, and provided the assist for Peter Odemwingie’s winner after Eden Hazard had got a goal back for Chelsea late in the first half.
It was hard to find a single West Brom player who failed to produce the goods, while Chelsea never really clicked. Daniel Sturridge looked short of match time as he got into good positions to shoot several times without finding the back of the net and his striking partner Fernando Torres gave another embarrassingly mediocre performance.
Manchester City took full advantage of those high-profile defeats to secure a one-point lead at the top of the table, though they were flattered by a 5-0 scoreline against Aston Villa.
Their first goal followed two scuffed attempts, their next two came from dubious penalties (particularly the first one), and the last two came when Villa were already chasing the game. How they could use that sort of luck in the Champions League.
At the less fashionable end of the table, Mark Hughes saw his QPR side lose yet again, this time in a fixture many pundits were suggesting he had to win, a home tie against another struggling team, Southampton.
Worryingly for Hughes and everyone connected with Rangers, the lack of desire from the team was both jarring and unfathomable, as Southampton were given space and time to play attractive football and create chances throughout. Jason Puncheon’s goal for them was a particular delight but Adam Lallana regularly impressed too and the visitors’ fallible goalkeeper Paolo Gazzaniga was rarely given any work to do.
QPR owner Tony Fernandes can’t seriously believe he chose the right man when selecting Hughes as his manager. He’s right not to sack him just because a few bloggers and journalists think now is the time for a change, but it’s clear as day that the squad is easily good enough to avoid relegation so something is going very wrong somewhere along the line.
All that, and the day’s most anticipated fixture, the north London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham, gets only a footnote. It was a 5-2 win for the Gunners in case you don’t know, as the home team reacted brilliantly to the one-man advantage they had following Emmanuel Adebayor’s early sending off. Perhaps the one concern is that Per Mertesacker still defends very awkwardly at times, but Theo Walcott played quite delightfully at the Emirates.