Now well into the second half of the season, the Premier League is really beginning to fire up as top sides turn it up a gear to cement their title challenges, whilst other teams are keeping an eye on those below them with early fears of a relegation dogfight looming. This weekend’s round of Premier League action was no let-down with goals, milestones and controversy, leaving us with plenty of talking points to mull over.
Saturday 18th January 2014
Manchester City 4-2 Cardiff City
100 goals is the figure: Manchester City went into their home tie with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff City needed one goal to set the record for reaching 100 goals in one campaign faster than any other side in Premier League history. That record-setting goal came early on as Edin Dzeko’s shot was cleared from the goal line, only for new technology to reveal that the ball crossed the line and to confirm that City had set a new record with a remarkable 8 games fewer than the previous holders of the record Chelsea. City were given a scare not too long after as Cardiff’s Craig Noone drew the visitors level, only for City to step it up and do what they seem to do best: score goals. Jesus Navas re-established City’s lead after the ball fell to him as he charged into the box, but City’s next goal did not come until the final 15 minutes when the superb Yaya Toure made a trademark powerful run and one-two with Aguero to smash the ball across goal and into the back of the net. Sergio Aguero made his Premier League return from injury to score not soon after, a sight that City fans will rejoice at as the little Argentinean only adds to their already impressive attacking options. Cardiff did get a late consolation through Fraizer Campbell, but City’s quality shined through on the day as the game ended 4-2 in their favour.
Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa
Diving has been a grey area in the Premier League for far too long, and the diving row was sparked once more this weekend when Luis Suarez went down to earn Liverpool a penalty which Steven Gerrard promptly converted to draw the scores level ad deny Aston Villa a massive win in Merseyside. Villa went 1-0 ahead through Andreas Weimann mid-way through the first half when the Austrian striker prodded home a Gabby Agbonlahor cross, and Christian Benteke doubled Villa’s deserved lead when another Agbonlahor cross was this time met by the Belgian’s head after Mignolet misjudged the flight of the ball. Liverpool came out in the second half a better, more cohesive team and created a few more chances, and Daniel Sturridge was soon on the score sheet with a well-timed finish to give Liverpool a fighting chance. The controversy came soon after when Luis Suarez attempted to round Brad Guzan, and although contact was made, the significance of it has been questioned as Suarez went down and saw his side awarded a penalty. Steven Gerrard stepped up to fire home his second penalty in as many games to give Liverpool the equaliser they needed, and ‘The Reds’ could very well have won the game as Suarez went close with a free kick, but the 2-2 score line remained and the sides shared the spoils come the final whistle.
Arsenal 2-0 Fulham
It’s been an impressive season for Arsenal thus far, and despite coming under pressure at the top of the table from Chelsea and Manchester City recently, ‘The Gunners’ still look well-positioned to battle for the title. When struggling Fulham travelled to The Emirates, few would have predicted Fulham to make the game as difficult as they did for Arsenal, with the hosts having to grind out the victory against the fantastic defensive midfield displays of Scott Parker and Steve Sidwell in particular. Mesut Ozil is the headline man at Arsenal this season, but their other midfield maestro has not been forgotten as Santi Cazorla scored twice in 5 minutes to put Arsenal 2-0 in front. Cazorla’s first came when he slotted home off a good move between himself, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud in a display of Arsenal’s attractive football, before Cazorla’s well-placed effort beat Stekelenburg minutes later to finish off ‘The Cottagers’. Fulham did have a chance to get back into the game through Darren Bent late on, but the on-loan Villa striker’s touch deserted him and ensured that the most he could do with the chance was splice it wide. Arsenal remain top of the table after this weekend, whilst Fulham languish in 17th, with the pressure very much remaining on both sides going into the next round of games for very different reasons.
Sunderland 2-2 Southampton
Following on from his impressive performance a week prior at Fulham, Adam John scored to salvage a point for Sunderland as Southampton slipped up vs. Gus Poyet’s ‘Black Cats’. Jay Rodriguez put the south coast side ahead early on when he hit home a strike from 20 yards, before Dejan Lovren scored halfway through the first half with a volley of a ‘Saints’ set piece. Keeping the ball well, it seemed that Southampton were not likely to throw away a 2-0 lead, but they did just that as only a minute after Lovren’s goal, Fabio Borini scoring to get Sunderland back in it. Southampton had many more chances to score through the rest of the game, but they couldn’t find the required standard of finishing to put the game to bed and they were punished when a powerful strike from Adam Johnson sent the Sunderland fans into pandemonium and drew the hosts level to give them a vital point.
West Ham 1-3 Newcastle United
West Ham’s season has been an odd one – despite getting to the Capital One Cup semi-finals, they have failed to put in the quality of performance in the league that has left them in the relegation zone, whilst Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United have excelled and find themselves in the top half of the table. Despite some slippery form as of late, Newcastle were a good bet to give West Ham a very tough test, and West Ham were no doubt dreading the second half when it seemed they would be going into the break 2-0 down after goals from Newcastle’s French stars Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy, but a Mike Williamson own goal gave ‘The Hammers’ hope. They had the chances to go ahead too, as Carlton Cole missed a great chance when he fired wide a Taylor cross, with his substitute strike partner Andy Carroll sending a volley high into the sky rather than the back of the net. Cabaye popped up with a great free kick in injury time to kill the game off with a 3-1 score line, keeping the pressure on Big Sam and West Ham down in East London.
Norwich City 1-0 Hull City
It’s been a tough season for Norwich City, whilst Hull City have stood out as the league’s overachievers thus far. Despite surprising many however, Hull have been in poor form away from home and Norwich capitalised through a late Ryan Bennett header to put them 1-0 ahead. It wasn’t as if Hull had not had the chances however – record signing Nikica Jelavic hit the post early on and Liam Rosenior fired wide , but they could not make the chances they did have count and Norwich perhaps deservedly came out winners. Hull will be without their standout player this season in Tom Huddlestone for their next game, as the ex-Spurs midfield was sent off late on for his second bookable offence of the game, whilst these 3 points for Norwich could turn out to be massive ones come May.
Crystal Palace 1-0 Stoke City
Tony Pulis came face to face with his old side for the first time since he departed the Britannia Stadium, as Stoke travelled the Selhurst Park in search of a win. Without a win in 5, Stoke were desperate to defeat their former boss’ side, but it wasn’t to be as Jason Puncheon latched onto a very risky pass from Assaidi to fire home with his second goal of the season – a week after his terrible penalty miss at Tottenham. Stoke did have a few chances to get back in the game but struggled to make them count, with on-loan Manchester City striker John Guidetti coming on and failing to turn Stoke’s fortunes. A fantastic Jack Butland triple save off of Puncheon, O’Keefe and Ward ensured that his side didn’t fall further behind, but when the game’s final whistle went, Stoke had not grabbed themselves a vital goal and Palace won 1-0.
Sunday 18th January 2014
Swansea 1-3 Tottenham
Unbeaten in the league since Tim Sherwood has taken over, Tottenham Hotspur have hit some great form at the right time whilst Swansea have faltered somewhat this season, setting up for this encounter to be one that the home fans probably weren’t hotly anticipating. Revived under Sherwood, Emmanuel Adebayor put the visitors ahead with a header after Spurs had held on after some good chances from their Welsh opponents, before a Chico own goal doubled Spurs’ lead not long after the break. Adebayor popped up again with a second goal in the 71st minute, as Spurs broke and the Togolese striker slotted past Tremmel to make it 3-0. Wilfried Bony has been Swansea’s standout player as of late, with the striker’s performances impressing many in performances vs. Manchester United and Manchester City, and the Ivorian forward got on the score sheet again with a consolation for Swansea, but it wasn’t enough to get something from the game for a Swansea side who are slowly slipping down the table.
Chelsea 3-1 Manchester United
A Samuel Eto’o hat-trick secured Chelsea the victory for Mourinho’s side as David Moyes’ Manchester United fell to another defeat. Right up until Eto’o’s first goal, United were the better side, moving forward well and forging some decent chances that could have gone much more different if Van Persie and Rooney were fit and on the pitch for the visitors, but it was Chelsea who struck first with Eto’o’s deflected effort flying in past David De Gea. Eto’o struck again on the stroke of half time when he tapped home off a corner, before the Cameroonian striker added his third and completed the hat trick just after half time when United failed to clear their lines well and advance up the pitch, giving Gary Cahill the chance to cross for Eto’o to score. There seemed little chance of a United comeback, but Javier Hernandez did come on to score in the 78th minute with a goal that has become so typical of the Mexican striker as he found himself in the right place at the right time to score. However, all hope of a late revival was squashed when Nemanja Vidic was perhaps harshly sent off for a late – but not x-rated – tackle on Eden Hazard, ensuring that it was comfortable for Chelsea to see out the final few minutes and walk out 3-1 winners.
Monday 20th January 2014
West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Everton
Pepe Mel’s first game in charge of West Bromwich Albion saw a clear change in playing style, as the Spaniard’s ‘Baggies’ pressed high up the pitch and pressure Everton well. It was the visitors however who went ahead, as a gap formed in the West Brom defence and ex-Baggies favourite – who received a standing ovation on his Hawthorns return – flicked a lofted ball on for Kevin Mirallas to run onto and scored to make it 1-0. Everton remained the better side for the first half, but Albion looked the better side in the second half and the introduction of Victor Anichebe turned their fortunes around. The ex-Everton target man held the ball up well for James Morrison to nip it off his toes and cross for Diego Lugano to hit home with a thunderous header. ‘The Baggies’ held on for the rest of the game as Everton introduced new-signing Aiden McGeady to try and score the win, with both teams desperate to find a winning goal, but the score remained 1-1 with a late offside goal from Sylvain Dustin correctly ruled out. It’s been a fantastic season for Everton thus far, whilst Albion will want to push on under Pepe Mel’s guidance and end the season in much better fashion to how they started it.
Table courtesy of Fifa.com
Click on Jack’s name above to follow him on Twitter