With just over half of the Premier League season gone and the January transfer window now open, there are plenty of talking points for fans of the 20 teams involved in the top flight. The weekend and Monday night game offered another highly entertaining round with plenty of footballing action to reflect upon.
After a fantastic home performance against the reigning Premier League champions in their last game at the KC Stadium, Hull were clearly up for the arrival of a Mourinho’s Chelsea – a side who have remained in the title hunt all season without every really ‘getting going’. The first half saw some decent saves from both keepers, with Alan McGregor’s brilliant reactionary save the pick of the bunch as he clawed an Oscar strike away from the Hull goal. 10 minutes into the second half, Ashley Cole’s clever flick followed by some tricky play from Eden Hazard saw the Belgian break the deadlock with a good finish to cap his man of the match display, before Fernando Torres added to Chelsea’s lead as he charged into the Hull area to score in back-to-back games for the first time in over a year. The game finished at 2-0 as Jose Mourinho’s men left Humberside with 3 points that took them to the top of the table for Saturday night at least.
Fulham fans were buoyed by the Premier League return of the long-time favourite Clint Dempsey, on loan from Seattle Sounders after a summer switch, but the American could not steer his side to victory as ‘The Black Cats’ clawed away to take the 3 points that would lift them off the bottom of the table. Adam Johnson’s scintillating display saw the ex-Man City winger hit a well-placed free kick into the top right corner of the net before the Sunderland-born wide man set up Ki Sung-Yeung for his second of the season. After a Steven Sidwell goal threatened Sunderland with a ‘Cottagers’ comeback, Ki turned provider as his precise pass split the West London side’s defence open, allowing Johnson to steer a shot under Stockdale for his second. When Jozy Altidore was fouled inside the Fulham box, there was only one man set to take the penalty, and Johnson stepped up to fire home the ball for his hat-trick, leaving no doubt that Sunderland would be taking the 3 points back to the North East.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first Premier League game in charge of Cardiff City is one that he won’t look back on with the fondest of memories: after a 6-0 thrashing in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final clash with Manchester City, West Ham travelled to South Wales desperate for 3 points. ‘The Bluebirds’ did create chances in the first half, but they were stung just before half time when Carlton Cole scored his fourth goal since returning to West Ham to put Sam Allardyce’s side in front. A fantastic Adrian save off of Frazer Campbell’s first time strike denied a Cardiff equaliser, leaving Cardiff to rue their missed chances as they couldn’t capitalise on James Tomkins’ sending off through a second bookable offence. In turn, the returning Andy Carroll assisted a late Mark Noble goal after a lengthy injury lay-off, compounding Cardiff’s misery and providing a beacon of hope for ‘Hammers’ fans in the back-end of the season.
Last week, Swansea City travelled to Old Trafford and left having knocked David Moyes’ Manchester United out of the FA Cup. Widely billed as ‘Groundhog Day’ for Moyes and United, the game was one with heaps of pressure mounting on the shoulders of the reigning Premier League champions, but as we saw so many times under Sir Alex Ferguson, United came up with the goods. 18 year old Adnan Januzaj has been the shining light in United’s season this far, displaying his quality with a free kick that would’ve nestled in the back of Swansea’s net had it been only a few inches lower, hitting the bar instead. Januzaj’s superb cross left the ‘Swans’ defence flapping, giving Antonio Valencia the space he needed to finish neatly as the ball ricocheted around the area. Januzaj again made his presence felt as he stopped a Swansea counter-attack, with the resulting Manchester United attack leading to Danny Welbeck’s 6th goal in his last 6 games, with the England forward combing his good work ethic with goals to fill in effectively for Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Chris Smalling should have made in 3-0 mid-way through the second half as Shinji Kagawa whipped a great ball in, with Kagawa himself having a chance to add another goal only to be denied by Leon Britton who cleared off the line. The game finished with the score line in United’s favour, suggesting that Moyes’ boys could yet make a surge for Champions League football.
Romelu Lukaku has struggled to replicate his early-season form over the last few games, as the big Belgian missed a great early chance to put ‘The Toffees’ ahead, with the first goal coming from an unlikely source in Gareth Barry. The on-loan Man City midfield surged onto the ball and strode towards the Norwich’s penalty box with all the energy of a player several years his junior and launched a superb curling effort into the far corner, putting Roberto Martinez’ side ahead. Ricky van Wolfswinkel couldn’t direct a decent chance on goal for Norwich in the second half, a miss that ‘The Canaries’ were made to regret as minutes later Kevin Mirallas struck a free kick past World Cup hopeful John Ruddy to double Everton’s lead. Everton have been the season’s surprise package to an extent, playing some great football and finding themselves competing for Champions League football – a realistic aim for Martinez’ team, whilst questions will continue to be asked of Norwich who are very much looking beneath them in hopes of staying away from the relegation zone.
Since Tim Sherwood took the job as Spurs boss, ‘The Lilywhites’ are yet to lose in the league and that record continued as the North London side hosted the struggling Crystal Palace. Palace have certainly become more difficult to beat since the arrival of Tony Pulis at Selhurst Park, but they have continued to wallow in the relegation zone nevertheless, and a trip to White Hart Lane was not the easiest of fixtures to have to play when in such form. However, Palace were given an excellent opportunity to go ahead when Jason Puncheon stepped up to take a penalty after Chamakh was fouled by Moussa Dembele, only for the on-loan Southampton winger to blast the ball well away from the goal with a poor effort. Palace did challenge Lloris several times in the first half, but Christian Eriksen punished the visitors after the break with his 4th goal of the season – a powerful finished after Adebayor flicked a high ball on – before Jermain Defoe came off the bench to scored his 143rd Tottenham goal amidst the news that he will be moving to Toronto FC in February. The match finished 2-0, extending Sherwood’s Spurs’ unbeaten Premier League run further whilst keeping the pressure on Pulis’ Palace.
Keith Downing took charge of West Brom for the last time before Spaniard Pepe Mel takes the reigns at The Hawthorns, with Downing having to deal with the tricky fixture away at Southampton first. Southampton have been impressive so far this, but it didn’t take much to deal with an uninspired first half performance by ‘The Baggies’. ‘The Saints’ displayed more quality on the day, and the deadlock was broken when Adam Lallana latched on to a good delivery from Gaston Ramirez, with England’s World Cup hopeful firing a shot under Ben Foster and in. Albion had a great chance to equalise late on through Shane Long as he got a foot to a Liam Ridgewell pass, but Artur Boruc made a good save – though perhaps made easier through Long’s aiming right through the centre of the goal – and ensured that Southampton ended the game as victors.
Title challengers Manchester City made the trip to the North East in Sunday’s early kick-off against a Newcastle side who’s good form may have stuttered slightly, but ‘The Toon’ faithful were still confident they could give the trophy hopefuls a run for their money. City got off to a great start 8 minutes in, as Edin Dzeko ran on to a good cross from Aleksandar Kolarov to slam the ball home from a few yards out. Pellegrini’s side were faced with a backlash from a Newcastle side who have proven the quality they possess at times this season, when a controversial and game-changing call was made by the referee, aided by the linesman. City cleared a Yohan Cabaye corner but the ball fella at the feet of Cheick Tiote, who slammed the ball home from 25 yards only for the referee to consult his assistant and the goal to be ruled out amidst claims that Yoan Gouffran was interfering with play. Boos rained down around St. James’ Park with the home fans aggrieved at the decision, but the action did not stop there – nor did the controversy. Mid-way through the second half, Newcastle’s Yanga-Mbiwa brought down Samir Nasri with a kick that has since ruled out the French international for an 8 week spell on the sidelines – Yanga-Mbiwa stayed on the pitch however, with the referee deeming the foul worthy of a yellow card only. City wrapped up the game with only a few minutes to spare, as Alvaro Negredo tapped home the ball after Krul’s save deflected the ball onto him, putting Manchester City at the top of the table for Sunday at least.
The goal-fest of the weekend saw Liverpool, without a win at Stoke since 1984, come out on top in an 8 goal thriller at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke City were pegged back early on when a deflected Aly Cissokho strike saw the ball tumble past Jack Butland after bouncing off of Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross, and things were looking bleak for the Staffordshire side as Luis Suarez capitalised on some poor defending soon after to make it 2-0. Stoke were not content with such a result however, fighting to claw back a goal through Peter Crouch as the 6 foot 7 striker headed the ball past Simon Mignolet to make it 2-1, followed by Charlie Adam sending a thunderous strike into the far corner of the Liverpool net, equalising and subsequently summoning a wave of motivating ovation from the Britannia. The fans’ energy clearly inspired the team to fight further, as when the two sides came out after the break, Stoke refused to lie down for Liverpool, with both sides playing for the win. Stoke were stunned however when Raheem Sterling went down inside the penalty area after contact was made by Marc Wilson, with Steven Gerrard hitting home to resulting penalty kick in front of the travelling fans. Daniel Sturridge made his return to the Liverpool side after an injury lay-off to come off the bench and set up a well-placed finish from Luis Suarez to make it 4-2. The game seemed all but done at that point, but Stoke were still hopeful as a result as they attacked once again, Marko Arnautovic’s pass finding Jon Walters who finished to make it 4-3, setting up a nail-biting last few minutes. It was Sturridge who ultimately killed the game off however, crushing Stoke’s hopes of getting something of a side they have performed well against in recent home encounters, as some clever play after a fantastic Jack Butland save allowed the England striker to finish well and ensure that Liverpool would travel back to Merseyside with 3 points.
After being replaced at the top of the table by both Manchester City and Chelsea at different points in the weekend, Arsenal were out for victory against a faltering Aston Villa side who have struggled to find a good run of form this season. As if coming up against a side that has held top spot for the majority of the season wasn’t bad enough, Villa were handed the misfortune of Nathan Bake being subbed off in the first half after being knocked out cold by a Serge Gnabry strike. It wasn’t long after play restarted that Jack Wilshere prodded home a Monreal cross created by a great Mesut Ozil pass, but things only got worse for the hosts as some poor defending off the restart allowed Olivier Giroud to add a quick fire second. Arsenal remained in control for the majority of the rest of the game, but Villa did stage a late rally as Christian Benteke scored his first goal since September with a headed effort to claw one back, but Arsenal held on to obtain victory and another week at the summit of the Premier League table.
Hull City 0-2 Chelsea
Fulham 1-4 Sunderland
Cardiff City 0-2 West Ham
Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City
Everton 2-0 Norwich City
Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester City
Stoke City 3-5 Liverpool
Aston Villa 1-2 Arsenal
Table courtesy of Fifa.com
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