Premier League Review
As the top end of the league is almost over (apart from one or two Champions League places), I’m going to start at the bottom where the race to defy the gravity of ‘the drop’ is on. The vital battle of the top four, and Monday nights’ battle between the champions and champions elect, will round off this review.
Game of the week= ‘Creme de la Prem’
MoM= Man of the Match
QPR 1-1 Wigan Athletic:
Going into the game, QPR fans seemed somewhat hopeful that a victory against Wigan could’ve been the start of a revival in West London. However, a sending off in the 20th minute for Rangers forward, Bobby Zamora, left Rangers with an almost mission impossible of securing three Premier league points.
Wigan took advantage of the extra man with dominance in possession, but failed to make that possession count with numerous shots off target. QPR were holding on, with only a few chances on the break available to them.
The game seemed to be heading for a stalemate, but a brilliant Loic Remy goal in the 85th minute for the ‘R’s sent the stadium into a choir of faith and hope.
It was almost too good to be true for QPR fans. Down to 10 men, with a clean sheet almost on for all three points! Well at least they managed one of three.
After scoring late winners in their last two games against Norwich and Newcastle, it was inevitable that this Wigan team was going to fight all the way to 90 minutes.
Nerves started to rise in a shaky QPR defense, and the 10-man wall that held strong for a majority of the game, was shattered by a brilliant Shaun Maloney free-kick in the 94th minute.
This result surely means that survival is a step too far for QPR, with the result leaving them 7 points adrift with only six games to play. Fans can only hope now that their four remaining home games can bring back some pride to the club; if not the vital points for an unlikely survival.
Wigan and their manager Roberto Martinez will surely not be happy with only a point from this crucial game, but will know exactly what it takes to have a solid run in to the season. Wigan have a crucial game in hand against their relegation rivals, and are certainly the in form team at the bottom end of the Premiership.
MoM: Andros Townsend- was the only real driving force in QPR’s attack and is really starting to come of age with his consistent first team opportunities.
Reading 0-2 Southampton:
Nigel Atkins welcomed his old club, Southampton; to his new club Reading who were oh too hospitable to their visitors. From the first to the last minute, the link-up play between the saints strike force was seemingly overwhelming for a Reading side who have now lost all of their last seven games.
It was one of Atkins summer signings for the saints, Jay Rodriguez, who was crucial to almost everything going forward for the saints and capitalized with a goal in the 34th minute and an assist to Adam Lallana in the 72nd to get his side three points.
The recent calls from the Southampton fans of ‘Lambert for England’, will surely be echoed by ‘Rodriguez for England’ if the young lad continues in his scoring form of three in three games. At 23 years old, he’s probably the more likely to get a call from England manger Roy Hodgson.
As the praise for Southampton’s strike force rings around St Mary’s, manager Mauricio Pochettino is surely on his way to becoming a fans favorite. With four wins and three draws out of ten games, confidence at Southampton is up, as they will remain if they continue to play like they have.
As for Reading, well there’s surely only hope now that they can re-group to bounce back into the Premier League with new manager Nigel Atkins. The Madejski Stadium was just as subdued as the Reading side’s performance. Both conceded goals were easy balls through the heart of their defense, which you just can’t excuse when you’re up against the crème de la crème of the Premier League.
MoM: Jay Rodriguez- Took Readings defense on time after time with his dribbling and running in behind, and got his rewards with a goal and an assist to add to his tally.
Stoke 1-3 Aston Villa
Paul Lamberts Aston Villa have been as hopeful as Tony Pulis’ Stoke City have been hopeless. The Britannia faithful seemed to have lost faith in their sides ability at the moment, and unfortunately that wont help them with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur still to visit in the coming weeks.
Stoke really didn’t start well and were punished when Matthew Lowton was able to stroll down Stokes left, and Gabriel Agbonlahor was given two chances by Stoke’s Geoff Cameron to score from inside the six yard area. Boo’s and groans began to ring out as Villa pilled forward for what seemed an inevitable second goal.
However, Stoke seemed to be saved by an unlikely goal from Michael Kightly in the 80th minute to give the Britannia hope. It was only minutes later though that a 30 yard super volley from Villa’s right back, Lowton, which left Stoke’s keeper Asmir Begovic with no chance of saving it.
Stoke tried to regain some pride by sending almost everyone forward for a corner kick, and were cut open again when Villa’s Christian Benteke ran on to score his 15th Premier League goal. Lamberts boys had won another vital game in the relegation scrap, and will probably feel that they are now one of the likelier candidates of staying up.
Villa are looking better and better as we reach the end of the season. Stoke will have to worry with only one win since boxing day and no real encouragement in their performance to say that results will change in these vital few weeks.
MoM: Matthew Lowton- scored an absolute stunner, set up the crucial first goal, and worked hard up and down the right all day long for his side.
Newcastle 1-0 Fulham
Going into the game, Newcastle were on a worrying downward slope after losing both their previous League fixtures. However, those games were away and a return St. James Park seemed to be the impetus to drive Alan Pardew’s men for a victory against a comfortable mid-table Fulham team.
The first half was a pretty even affair, with Fulham coming out on top with a few more chances at goal than the home side. After what seemed to be an encouraging speech from Pardew at halftime, Newcastle began to take control and hit the post and cross bar early on. A great save from Newcastle keeper, Tim Krul, kept the ‘Toon Army’ in the game before a late winner from Papiss Cisse sent the stadium wild with joy.
Newcastle United have had a strange season, even if it has been an injury hit season. After being Champions League hopefuls at this time last season, they’re now in and around a relegation scrap. The win on Sunday, however, was well deserved and the Geordies could have a ‘cherry-on-top’ moment this weekend if they manage to beat their North-east rivals and keep themselves a-float.
Fulham, on the other hand, have to be credited with at least another season safe in the Premier League under Martin Jol. The Dutchman, Jol, seems to have a knack for pulling gems out of the transfer market and will probably do so again in the summer to make sure that Fulham progress to the next level next season.
MoM: Papiss Cisse- should’ve grabbed an earlier goal but persisted to win his side a crucial three points. They’ll need him scoring if they’re to stay up, as their squad players drop like flies.
Norwich 2-2 Swansea
Norwich is another team who are well out of sorts this year. With one win in the whole of 2013, a Swansea side with nothing to play for should’ve been a welcome visit for the canaries. However, Swansea haven’t had a great run-in to the end of the season and have lost every game since early February against QPR.
Swansea started brightly, with their main man Miguel Michu scoring his 17th Premier League goal of the season. The joy was short lived for the visitors though, as Norwich came back before the break through Robert Snodgrass’ diving header after the Swans seemed to fall asleep.
Swansea were the better side in the second half, and probably should have won the game. An Elliot Bennett free-kick to Michael Turner, who was unmarked at the back post, let the Norwich defender give his side a much needed lead; if not a deserved one.
The swans didn’t let their heads drop, and fought back with an easy tap in for striker Luke Moore, who seemed to take advantage of a ball watching Norwich defense.
Swansea will only be looking for pride from their remaining six games, and Michael Laudrup will be able to pat his players on the back for a historic season second season in the top flight for the Welsh club.
Norwich will be looking for a glimmer of hope that those teams below them are worse than they have been, going into the end of the season. Chris Houghton will have to hope that the confidence of scoring again will continue and bring them the goals and fortune they need to stay up.
MoM: Elliot Bennett- Put in a real shift for his side and provided both the assists to get a point for his team.
Relegation and the fight for fourth:
Chelsea 2-1 Sunderland
After a somewhat turbulent week off the field for Sunderland Athletic with the appointment of manager Paolo Di Canio, it was surprising to see them take a controlled approach to early proceedings. Although Sunderland sat back for most of the first half, they were able to regain possession well and use the ball well to create a few counter attacks to worry the Chelsea defense.
Sunderland managed to win a corner at the end of the first half and score through a misjudged clearance from Chelsea’s right back, Cesar Azpilicueta, who converted into his own net.
All that ball chasing from the Sunderland players in the first half certainly took its toll, as Chelsea came out in the second half reinvigorated. A Benitez substitution seemed to finally work for him, as Fernando Torres came on to show a touch of class and instinct to set up a strange own goal from Sunderland’s Matthew Kilgallon.
It wasn’t long until the inevitable happened and Chelsea grabbed a second goal through a shot from David Luis, which was deflected smartly by his teammate, Branislav Ivanovic. Sunderland only began to tire as the game wore on and they were probably lucky to come away with only losing by one goal.
Paolo’s ‘Black Cats’ will be hoping for a repeat of the first half performance of this game till the end of the season, but will really have to pull together and start putting a few victories together. I would like to say too big to go down, but really Sunderland are in free-fall and will need some goals from all over the pitch if they’re to stay up.
The only hope that I can give Paolo is that he has given this team a bit more energy and enthusiasm, which is vital if Sunderland are to stay up. The first half performance was a remainder of the days when Steve Bruce’s Sunderland side went to Stamford Bridge, and stormed past Chelsea in a 3-0 win of pure counter attacking football.
Chelsea will be pleased with a victory of course, but it must be worrying that their fixture list is beginning to pile up in domestic and European competition.Rafa Benitez can hope that this solitary win can turn into a run of good league form for Chelsea, and push them into a top four position.
MoM: Fernando Torres- I know people may not agree, but Torres came on with the energy and movement to enable his side to create more and more chances as the game went on.
Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Everton *Crème de la Prem
Those who thought Spurs were a one-man team were wrong; even if they couldn’t win without him for the past four months. Andre Villas Boas side had a lot to contend with going into this game, with their star man Gareth Bale out for a few weeks, and the visit of top four hopefuls, Everton, looking to snatch three precious away points.
It was Tottenham who surprised their critics to score the opener in the first minute of the game. The goal came from a tap in from their only recognized striker, Emmanuel Adebayor, who grabbed only his third Premier League goal of the campaign.
The opening goal set the tone for this game, with end-to-end stuff from both sides throughout. Everton only had to wait till the 15th minute before a corner from Leighton Baines was converted into a goal from Phil Jagielka’s far post header.
The second half started off with David Moyes’ Everton team talk proving the more vital, as Everton put some early pressure on the Spurs back line. Although Everton were passing the ball well, it was a mazy run from their winger, Kevin Mirallas, who managed to drive the ball low past a diving Hugo Lloris for his second goal in eight days.
Everton could’ve won this game, as they pushed forward for a third goal that would’ve been the nail in the coffin for Tottenham. However, it was Tottenham who managed to pluck up the courage and take the game back to Everton with chance after chance eventually ending up with a tap in for Gylfi Sigurosson.
Although it was an enthralling game, neither manager will be too pleased with not picking up all three points, as both will feel their team had chances to win. Andre Villas Boas’ side will need to find a way to start winning without Gareth Bale if they’re to make a good season, a great season. Everton now look a step to far in terms of the top four, but until it is mathematically impossible, I don’t think Moyes will let his players know that.
MoM: Kyle Walker- Left Leighton Baines stuck at left back for most of the game. Played hard for his team going forward and tracking back, and will be crucial to Spurs width in the next couple of games.
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenals’ manager, Arsene Wenger, is a manager more than most who is used to using the word ‘spirit’ after nearly every game. After the game against West Brom, he was surely justified in his use of the word in a positive manner. West Brom manager, Steve Clarke, will probably not bemoan his players for a lack of spirit, but a lack of quality in the final third.
The Gunners were good for their victory, and took the lead in the 20th minute through Tomas Rosicky’s header from close range. Arsenal then began to assert their dominance in the second half, and capitalized with another Rosicky goal in the 50th minute. It seemed a long way back for the Baggies.
The fumble of the day then came from Arsenal defender, Per Mertasaker, who brought down Shane Long for a simple penalty decision and a red card. James Morrison stepped up to convert the penalty, and the fight was suddenly on for West Brom to grab at least a point.
Steve Clarke saw the opportunity, and tried to seize it by bringing on their top hit-man, Romelu Lukaku. With thirteen Premier league goals to his name, the Belgian striker would’ve hoped to add to his tally, but missed a sitter with his right foot just before time.
Arsene Wenger has certainly had his critics this season, but if Arsenal manage to sneak into the top four , it will surely be his greatest achievement at the club considering the start they had to the season.
Steve Clarke has had nothing but praise for his first season as a manager in the top flight. His side were once in for a shout of a Champions League place next season, but may have to just stick to a good end of the season with hopes for next year.
MoM: Tomas Rosicky- got back when asked, and really took the ball through the heart of West Broms midfield to give his strikers the chance to set him up.
Liverpool 0-0 West Ham
Liverpool have had a point to prove, ever since the invention of the Premier League. This season, unfortunately for Liverpool fans, it’s been all about getting back into the top four and securing European football at Anfield again. As for newly promoted West Ham United, it was surely a job of surviving for Sam Allardyce men.
Liverpool started the game well, by passing the ball around comfortably and managing to get a good shot on target through their left-wing playmaker, Philippe Coutinho, who had his low shot saved well by West Ham’s Jussi Jaaskelainen.
The game was a quiet one for the next 20 minutes until Mohammed Diame managed to break through three or four Liverpool players, to smash a shot over Pepe Reina’s cross bar.
West Ham were then forced to defend well for the last ten minutes before the interval, when chances for Liverpool strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were saved well by West Hams goalie. Coutiniho was a constant nascence in the first half down the right side of West Hams defense, and would’ve surely seen one of his passes converted into a goal had it not been for West Hams resilience.
In the second half, West Hams defense and goalie showed why they’re going to be in the premier league next season. In the 55th minute, Steven Gerrard was denied a goal by a off the line block from West Ham’s James Tompkins. And if it wasn’t West Ham’s defense, it was Liverpool’s inability to score goals to win games.
West Ham may come away from the game believing they deserved at least a chance to win this game, when Tompkins was taken down in the box by Liverpool left-back, Jose Enrique. Tompkins, however, could’ve ended up giving away the game through when he brought down Steven Gerrard in the penalty box. The referee again decided no penalty, and the game simmered to a stalemate.
West Ham will probably be the happier team coming away from Anfield with a point, which is a point closer to their ultimate survival in their first season back. A string of strong performances like this to the end of the season will see the east London club through to next season with ease.
Liverpool had to win this game, and probably every other game until the end of the season if they had any hope of nicking a top four spot. It wasn’t to be against West Ham, but there are certainly encouraging signs from Brendan Rogers’ side for a good end to the season, and a hope for better next.
MoM: Jussi Jaaskelainen – made a string of vital saves to keep a clean sheet for the Hammers.
Manchester United 1-2 Manchester City
It should’ve been one of the games of the season, but with Manchester City lagging 15 points behind their city rivals in second, the game was surely just a showpiece for the Premier League purists.
City came out of the blocks well, and managed to force goal keeper David De Gea into an early save through a well driven James Milner cross. It was then City’s goalie, Joe Hart, who was given a scare when Robin Van Persie just missed the target to net his 20th league goal of the season.
The game was a pretty end to end affair before the break, with City just edging it in terms of chances and possession. Both teams defenses did their jobs well, with the like of Phil Jones and Javi Garcia putting in vital blocks for their teams to remain level at the break.
In the second half, Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City were quick to gain the ascendancy, and scored a goal through a James Milner left-foot drive from just behind the 18 yard line after 50 minutes. Although City had control for the majority of the game, this was a Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United team at Old Trafford, and united would not go down without a fight.
The fight to win the game was on, after a perfectly delivered ball from Robin Van Persie set up confusion at the back post for City, and saw Phil Jones head the ball into the back of Vincent Komapany to score an own goal.
United managed to get at the City defense for a little while after their equalizer, but never really had a clear-cut chance to score. City striker Sergio Aguero seemed to have the same problem when he received the ball outside the box, but managed to sweep past three United defenders to blast the ball high into the net with 10 minutes to go.
City then held on well for the win, but will wonder where this type of form has been all season. The game itself summed up City’s season; really good in patches but not able to keep focus for 90 minutes consistently.
Sir Alex Ferguson will be worried that City were able to come to Old Trafford, and win for a successive season. His side were certainly second best in a game that was probably tipped in their favor before the start. However, if golden boots Robin Van Persie can find the net after missing it in his last 10 games, maybe this result will merely be a consolation for his ‘noisy neighbors’ and push united to their strongest points total ever.
MoM: James Milner – Got forward at every occasion for his team and worked hard, even after his brilliant strike to give his side the lead.