Another round of the Premier League served up a dish of the shocking and spectacular in equal measure.
There was late controversy at the Bridge in the Chelsea vs West Brom match, another disastrous outing for Martin Jol and his Fulham side at Anfield, history repeated itself when City travelled to a troubled Sunderland, another home defeat for an under-whelming Tottenham and resurgence at Old Trafford for one under-pressure David Moyes in the match of the weekend.
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Jose Mourinho rang the changes in a reactionary measure after his side’s defeat at Newcastle last time out for the mid-week Champions League fixture against Schalke, a game they won rather flatteringly at home. Eden Hazard was dropped for that match after his manager said it was punishment for missing training but was recalled into the starting line up together with
Frank Lampard, who replaced John Obi Mikel.
Chelsea had produced another unconvincing performance against the Germans, despite the 3-0 scoreline and Mourinho was looking for a much improved performance. The visitors welcomed Reid back for the injured Billy Jones and Claudio Yacob for James Morrison but Saido Berahino was surprisingly dropped despite scoring last time out against Palace. Steve Clarke was looking to add his former side to his list of impressive scalps after beating United and coming close against Arsenal.
However, his side started on the back foot and deservedly went into the break behind after Samuel Eto’o, for the umpteenth time this season, displayed once again his uncanny ability of football pick-pocketing when he stuck out a leg just as Liam Ridgewell was about to clear the ball after Myhill had parried Hazard’s shot into his path and diverted the ball into the net. Chelsea went into the break ahead but West Brom came back with renewed vigour and purpose, levelling just after the hour.
The warning signs were there for the Blues after Olsson and Long both missed chances but the latter took his second one, out jumping Cahill to head home at the back post after McAuley’s bullet header had been parried by Cech. The dust had barely settled before Chelsea found themselves trailing seven minutes later. Sessegnon side-stepped Terry and slotted home under Cech who should have done better after the ball squirmed under his body. The unthinkable was happening.
After a sustained period of pressure, goalmouth clearances by West Brom and not one but two guilt-edged opportunities to put the game to bed missed by the visitors on the break, a moment of sheer controversy rescued Chelsea. Ramires won a penalty after he went tumbling down after the slightest of contacts from Reid in the sixth minute of added time. Hazard stepped up in the midst of furious protestation from West Brom players and kept his cool to
slot home, preserving Jose Mourinho’s unblemished home record. Andre Marriner made a call, a controversial call in favour of a Chelsea side that in all honesty did not deserve to get anything from this game. West Brom were denied a famous victory and will feel hard done by. Jose Mourinho got lucky and at the moment, the ‘happy one’s’ second coming has not had that much happiness after all.
Chelsea grade : C.
Brendan Rogers had issued a rallying call for his troops after last weekend’s disappointing display in the defeat at Arsenal while his opposite number Martin Jol had insisted he was not feeling the heat after his team’s home defeat by United but he must have been sweating in his seat after Steven Gerrard’s vicious free-kick was headed into his own net by Amorebietta.
Fulham were undone by yet another free-kick after Martin Skrtel thumped home another Gerrard corner to score his first goal since December. Fulham were three goal down minutes later when the irrepressible Luis Suarez scored a brace for his seventh and eighth of the season with a glancing header after another Gerrard delivery and a clinical finish,
again courtesy of his captain and much like against United, the Cottagers had caved in within the first half-hour.
Rodgers’ side should really have won by a more emphatic margin, but have now won three in a row at Anfield – scoring 11 goals in the process – and Chelsea’s home draw in the process ensured they moved upto second, just two adrift of Arsenal. Fulham on the other hand have now lost their last four in all competitions and are languishing perilously close to the relegation zone.
Liverpool grade : B.
Tottenham have been rather inconsistent so far this season; understandably so, after the massive summer splurge. Andre Villas Boas had intimated that he is still yet to find his best eleven and most of the summer recruits had not settled at White Hart Lane. It is easy to see why, with most of the players having not had a chance to play in pre-season. However, time is quickly running out for the Portuguese to get his players firing again in the midst of impatient and expectant fans. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy will also surely been keeping a keen eye on the results after such expenditure in the summer. Against Newcastle though, Spurs once again flattered to deceive.
Alan Pardew fielded an unchanged side after their win over Chelsea while AVB was forced to rest Hugo Lloris following last weekend’s collision with Romelu Lukaku. Moussa Dembele was favoured over Sandro with Eriksen and Sigurdsson retained after impressive Europa League showings. Spurs started better but were soon trailing after Gouffran dispossessed Dembele and played in the in-form Loic Remy who calmly rounded keeper Friedel to slot home. What followed was one of the finest goalkeeping displays in the Premier League by Tim Krul.
The Dutchman thwarted Tottenham time and again in a heroic display of goalkeeping. Soldado, Paulinho, Townsend, Eriksen and Kaboul were all denied by the big Dutchman and was rightfully man of the match. Newcastle had once again beaten a London side with top-four ambitions and will head into the international break with renewed optimism after a brilliant seven days. Tottenham however, will be looking to the break for some soul-searching and AVB needs to get his team firing sooner rather than later.
Tottenham grade : C.
4. Manchester City
The Citizens travelled to what had become a daunting Stadium of Light in recent seasons for them in search of a first win in four games. Manuel Pellegrini made five changes after their impressive Champions League rout over CSKA in mid-week. Costel Pantilimon kept his place in the side ahead of Joe Hart while Wes Brown started his first Premier League match in 22 months. Steven Fletcher and Sebastian Larsson also returned for Gus Poyet’s side.
City were stunned in the 21st minute when a hopeful long ball forward from Brown was chased down by defender Phil Bardsley who shrugged off James Milner and slotted wonderfully past Pantilimon. City looked to respond and almost did through Aguero, who had been in scintillating form, but the striker fluffed his chance. Navas was next to come close but his effort was blocked by Bardsley on the line. City’s dominance intensified in the closing stages but Sunderland held firm to frustrate Pellegrini’s men and condemn them to their fourth defeat this season, stretching their unblemished home record against them to four games.
City’s away form will be cause for concern for Manuel Pellegrini after losses to Cardiff and Chelsea on the road. Gus Poyet will be hoping that this win will spark his team to a fine run after the break.
Manchester City’s grade : C.
5. Manchester United and Arsenal.
In the highlight match of the weekend, high flying Arsenal travelled to a Theatre of Dreams that had witnessed to difficult times in the post-Ferguson era. The David Moyes transition had been anything but smooth, as a surprise defeat by West Brom and a last-gasp, deflating draw against Southampton had people questioning whether the famous stadium had lost much of its
Arsenal were on a fantastic run heading into this fixture and were facing United, for the first time a long while, eight points ahead of them in the table and were coming off the back of a fantastic week having beaten Liverpool at home and Borussia Dortmund away. Arsene Wenger had spoken of the prospect of opening up an 11 point gap between them while David Moyes was desperate for a much needed three points that would bring his team right back into the title race.
A sickness bug forced Arsenal into two changes, Thomas Vermaelen and Mathieu Flamini came on for Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky. David Moyes made four changes from their goalless draw at Sociedad with Van Persie, Michael Carrick and Johnny Evans coming in.
A cagey opening preceded this much-anticipated fixture, both teams playing with a caution
associated with a continental fixture. Wayne Rooney was the only player to test a goal-keeper, albeit with a relatively tame effort from distance. But cometh the hour cometh the man, the Dutchman.
It was no surprise that Robin Van Persie was Arsenal’s nemesis when he rose highest to head home Rooney’s teasing corner in the 27th minute. The forward had scored in the last five matches between the two teams. His goal sparked wild celebration from the player and the fans as a huge roar erupted inside Old Trafford. Arsenal had looked flat and uninspiring throughout as the teams went into the tunnel for the half-time break.
Moyes was forced into a change after losing his captain, Nemanja Vidic, to a head collision with David de Gea at the end of the first half. Phil Jones was moved into centre-back with Tom Cleverley coming into the middle. Arsenal were much improved after the break, consequently having more of the possession in the second half but without testing De Gea in goal. Mesut
Ozil had their best chance midway through the second half but shot into the side netting after brilliant control to set him up.
The Gunners cranked up the pressure and had United on the back-foot for most of the second period but it was Rooney who had the most clear-cut chance when he side-stepped Sagna but dragged his shot narrowly wide. The Red Devils held on for a monumental victory that lifted them to fifth, just five behind the Gunners, and smack in the
middle of the title race. Arsenal will be disappointed with their performance after their recent run of form and will need to bounce back after the break.
United grade : A, Arsenal grade : B.
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