Premier League: Big six rated

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Another round of Barclays Premier League action brought with it more torment and heartache for defending champions Manchester United. It seems like David Moyes just cannot catch a break as Newcastle picked up where Everton left off.

Newcastle broke a 41 year old record, matching the Toffees’ result in mid-week at The Theatre of Dreams which, it must be said, is becoming more of a cauldron of nightmares for United fans.

They could take some solace from the fact that Chelsea were given the blues as well by an enterprising Stoke City side at the Britannia and Manchester City dropped more points on the road at St. Mary’s against Southampton.

Liverpool were the big winners of the weekend in the grand scheme of things, winning convincingly at home as Luis Suarez continued his red-hot form.

Arsenal missed out on a chance to open up a formidable seven point lead at the top of the table, a quick-fire equaliser from substitute Gerard Deulofeu ensuring Roberto Martinez left the Emirates Stadium with a point. Tottenham had to come from behind for the second time in a week away at Sunderland as they start to build some much-needed momentum.

Here are the 'big six' rated...

1. Manchester United

Beleaguered manager David Moyes must have been looking forward to the arrival of the Toon for some respite after his former side had left Old Trafford with a shock win two days earlier.

Robbed of the suspended Wayne Rooney, it was always going to be that much harder but the return of Robin van Persie could not have been better timed.

The Scot mad wholesale changes from mid-week, Chris Smalling replaced by Johnny Evans in defence while Luis Nani, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Adnan Januzaj were all brought in. Van Persie was paired up front with Mexican Javier Hernandez.

United lacked spark in the absence of Rooney as they struggled against Newcastle’s five-man midfield in a dire first half that failed to produce any real chances for either side. Tim Krul made a smart save from Hernandez early in the second period.

Patrice Evra once again displayed the considerable threat aerial he possesses when his header from a corner was cleared off the line by a combination of Anita and the post.

Moyes had bemoaned his side’s apparent bad luck against Everton when United struck the post twice and the he must have been cursing at lady luck once more when Newcastle took the lead.

A harmless long ball from Krul was challenged by Evra and Sissoko but as the left-back won it, it bounced off the Newcastle’s winger’s chest for him to chase down and square for the un-marked Cabaye to slot home. De ja vu all over again.

Van Persie, despite clearly not being fully match fit, had a goal correctly ruled out after his looping header was flagged off-side. He almost mad amends for that though, but his swerving free-kick evaded everyone and was inches into sneaking in at the back post.

There was no goal in ‘Fergie time’ and United slumped to a first home defeat to Newcastle in 41 years and their first back to back home defeats since 2002. The pressure is well and truly on for Moyes after overseeing another flat performance which leaves United 13 points off the leaders.

United grade: D

2. Liverpool

The Reds continued their title push with a second convincing win in three days thanks to strikes from the irrepressible Luis Suarez and Mahamadou Sakho as well as two own goals from the Hammers.

Brendan Rodger’s side went ahead after piling the pressure for most of the first half when Suarez’s shot was parried by Jaaskelainen into the path of the unfortunate Guy Demel and trickled into the net. Suarez wasted a golden opportunity to double the lead, uncharacteristically blasting wildly over with only the goalkeeper to beat.

The Anfield faithful did not have to wait too long however. Steven Gerrard’s in-swinging free-kick was met by Sakho who mis-kicked but the ball went into the net in spite of James Collins' valiant efforts.

Liverpool spurned more opportunities to add to the score before Martin Skrtel contrived to turn the ball into his own net, for the second time in three games to give West Ham a life-line.

It was not to be however, as Suarez powered home a header from a superb Johnson cross and then saw his shot deflected into the net off Joey O’Brien for the fourth after Hammers captain Kevin Nolan was sent off for a poor challenge on Jordan Henderson.

A perfect weekend for Liverpool sees them leap-frog Chelsea and City into second, just five points off Arsenal.

Liverpool grade: A

3. Chelsea

Jose Mourinho travelled to the Britannia for the first time and looked to keep in touch with Arsenal with a win. The Portuguese had lauded the performance of Eden Hazard in their win over Sunderland but witnessed his defence let in three goals at the Stadium of Light.

He made two changes for this fixture as John Obi Mikel and Andre Schurrle were recalled in place of Frank Lampard and Willian.

The visitors had the first sight of goal but Ramires wasted the opportunity. Minutes later, Schurrle, looking to cement a place in the starting XI, gave Mourinho a reason after he turned Ryan Shawcross inside out, twice, before angling a shot into the bottom corner.

Mata was next but his effort was straight down the throat of Asmir Begovic who easily gathered. Chelsea wasted more opportunities and were made to pay after another set-piece undid Chelsea.

Peter Crouch pounced on a loose ball in a crowded penalty area before firing past Petr Cech and through the legs of upto three players into the net. Cech was at fault for the goal, coming off his line then changing his mind half-way through. Stoke went into the break level.

Stephen Ireland gave Stoke the lead minutes after the restart after Jonathan Walters, who had had the beating of Cesar Azpilicueta down the right for most of the match, easily barged the Spaniard off the ball before squaring for Ireland to take a touch and finish expertly into the corner.

The lead was short-lived however, when Stoke failed to clear Hazard’s free-kick and
the ball fell for Schurrle to thunder home from 20 yards.

Both teams wasted chance after chance as the game got stretched but it was Mark Hughes who prevailed after his inspired substitution sealed three points for his side.

Oussama Assaidi was brought on with just over four minutes left to play and scored the late winner, drifting in from the left before smashing into the top corner past a hapless Cech.

Hughes inflicted Mourinho’s first ever Premier League defeat in the month of December and with six goals shipped in the last two games, thing aren’t looking all that good at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea grade: C

4. Manchester City

The Citizens travelled to St. Mary’s looking to put to bed their away blues but, despite a blistering start to the game, had to settle for a point after Dani Osvaldo’s stunning
goal cancelled out Sergio Aguero’s 10th minute opener.

City dominated the first half and really should have made more of possession against an injury-hit Southampton side that were deprived of the services of Victor Wanyama and Nathaniel Clyne with leg and pelvic injuries respectively.

Southampton, despite being on a three match losing streak, played fantastically well, Adam Lallana having one of his best games in the middle of the park. After a rocky start, the Saints settled and caused City problems before Osvaldo’s moment of magic led to the equaliser.

After Aguero had tapped in for City, Osvaldo superbly brought down Davis’ long ball, turned Kompany inside out leaving the City captain reeling on the floor before stepping inside both Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis and curling expertly beyond Costel Pantilimon.

Both teams squandered opportunities in the second period, with Samir Nasri, Aguero and Yaya Toure all coming close. Osvaldo and Jay Rodriguez also passed up good opportunities to win it for the home side but ultimately the points were shared and City’s away woes persist.

Manchester City grade: C

5. Tottenham and Arsenal

The Londoners played on Sunday, Spurs travelling to Sunderland while Arsenal hosted Old Trafford conquerors Everton. Tottenham fared the better of the two sides, coming from behind again to win against Gus Poyet's side.

Adam Johnson capitalised on Hugo Lloris’ error to pounce after Celustka’s cross was mis-judged by the French stopper who parried it into the feet of the England man.

Paulinho equalised before the break however, diverting the ball into the net after Nacer Chadli had nodded down Holtby’s free-kick.

Mousa Dembele put his side ahead minutes into the second half after his attempted cross was diverted into his own net by John O’Shea. The Irishman’s own goal, coincidentally, was scored at the exact same minute as he scored against Chelsea in midweek.

Defoe spurned two great opportunities to seal the game, heading against the bar before dragging wide after Holtby’s brilliant pass sliced Sunderland open. Defoe struck the post again in the dying embers of the game but Villas-Boas’ men held on for an important three points that see them climb to fifth.

Arsenal on the other hand, welcomed an Everton side with a spring in their step, fresh off conquering Manchester United at Old Trafford. The Gunners were looking to extend their lead at the top to seven points but were in for a tough time against a new-look Everton side that is growing in belief of achieving a top-four spot.

Arsene Wenger welcomed back Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs while Everton remained un-changed.

The Toffees carried on where they left off against United, dominating the early stages with their short, crisp passing. Despite all their superiority, they could not muster a clear-cut chance and were almost punished for it when Gibbs came agonisingly close to diverting Santi Cazorla’s cross into the net.

Arsenal awoke from their slumber in the final five minutes of the first-half, forcing Everton keeper, Tim Howard into making two good saves, rushing off his line to thwart Aaron Ramsey and Giroud.

The second half was a little bit more open with Arsenal starting on the offensive. Cazorla headed straight at Howard after a brilliant flick from Wilshere before Steven Pienaar stung Wojciech Szczesny’s palms after being set free by the brilliant Barkley.

Wenger mad a triple substitution, bringing on Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky. The Frenchman almost had an immediate impact, shooting just wide before Kevin Mirallas, who was having a quiet game, and Sylvain Distin both went close.

Mesut Özil finally broke the deadlock after a combination of the substitutes, Rosicky and Walcott, opened up Everton and Giroud missed the ball only for the German to fire home on the follow up.

The Emirates Stadium went wild as the prospect of having a seven point cushion began to dawn on the Arsenal faithful. However, it was not to be as Gerard Deulofeu came on to score a fantastic goal, smashing the ball home from the edge of the six-yard box.

The 18-year-old loan acquisition is proving to be a fantastic piece of business for Roberto
Martinez as he almost set up Lukaku for the winner but a deflection off Koscielny diverted the path of the ball, allowing Szczesny to smother.

Lukaku wanted another opportunity late on, firing over before Flamini missed his kick with the goal gaping then Giroud struck the corner of post and bar from a rasping drive.

Both teams will be satisfied with the outcome of the match, a fair result from a competitive and brilliant game of football. Everton will feel even more confident of their top-four chances this term after beating Chelsea, United and drawing with Arsenal while the Gunners extend their lead at the top to five points.

Arsenal grade: B

Tottenham grade: B

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