This week’s set of fixtures didn’t appear to have too many surprises in store for us, but it ended up delivering a decent amount of drama and excitement despite that fact. Abundant changes occurred in the league table, with a few of the big guns on the receiving end of some rude awakenings.
The first game of the weekend, Watford vs Manchester United, had a couple of flashes of excitement punctuated by long periods of laboured build up from both teams. In uncharacteristically quick fashion, United managed to take the lead early in the first half through a Memphis volley from close range, assisted by a sweeping cross from Ander Herrera. From then onwards neither team offered much value going forward, although Jesse Lingard had an opportunity to double the lead but his attempted chip was too weak to beat Watford’s keeper. It took until the 87th minute for a change in the score line, brought on by the dramatic awarding of a penalty to the home side. Marcos Rojo swept Ighalo’s feet out from under him in an ill-disciplined attempt to get the ball, and Deeney confidently put away the spot-kick.
It looked set for the teams to split the points between them, but late into injury time a parried shot from Jesse Lingard was picked up by Schweinsteiger from a bad angle at the far post, where the German’s inaccurate shot was unluckily bundled into the Watford goal by none other than the penalty hero Troy Deeney. A win as dramatic as this hasn’t been seen by United fans since Ferguson’s time, but the fortuitous three points means the Red Devils are still in the leading pack and second in the table.
Chelsea managed to get a well-deserved 1-0 win at home against Norwich, courtesy of a lobbed through-ball by Fabregas and a competent finish from inside the box by Diego Costa. The scoreline might suggest a close game, but the Blues looked a little more like their old selves and could easily have had more than just the solitary goal. Hazard was near his best again, darting past players and looking for attempts on goal, and his fellow attackers all looked markedly sharper than in previous weeks. Although it’s not a landslide victory against a big team, this win will do the Chelsea dressing room a world of good as they look at trying to salvage something from this season.
Moving from one set of Blues to another; Everton put in another comprehensive display against Aston Villa. Young guns Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku ran the show, both grabbing two goals each and continuing the development of their effective attacking partnership. Everton’s whole team played well, but Barkley and Lukaku are increasingly looking to be the backbone that Everton’s climb up the table could be built on. The blue half of Merseyside ended the weekend on a high, but it’s probably nothing compared to what the red side experienced.
Prior to the weekend’s games most fans expected the Manchester City vs Liverpool match to be the pick of the bunch, and rather predictably that’s exactly what happened. Somewhat unpredictably though, is the fact that the bragging rights went in the away side’s favour, rather than to the inform hosts.
City started the game without captain Vincent Kompany, already a warning sign that their defence may be prone to lapses in concentration. South American flair would dominate the attacks from both sides, with Liverpool’s Brazilian duo Coutinho and Firmino creating a dangerous move down the right hand side that ended in Firmino’s cutback across the box being poked beyond Hart for the first goal – by City center back Eliaquim Mangala. An own goal within ten minutes is not the way to start a tough game. It would get worse as the two Brazilians linked up again and Firmino provided a quality cross from the right that Coutinho slid under Joe Hart to double the Reds’ lead.
City’s defence was clearly still on the bus and didn’t have their heads in the game, and were made to look foolish in the 32nd minute with a very clever back heel from Emre Can, which found Coutinho onside and beyond the City defense. He waited for the right moment to square the ball to Firmino, who tapped the ball into the empty net making it 3-0 with only a third of the game gone.
Sergio Aguero redeemed the hosts slightly with a curled effort from outside the box right before half time, but City were well and truly buried in the 81st minute when a ricocheting corner fell to Martin Skrtel’s feet. With a half volley one would expect from Luis Suarez or Karim Benzema he smashed the ball beyond Hart to earn his side three massive points and a dominant performance. This is definitely a turning point for Klopp’s team as they show with each passing game they’re getting closer to playing the dynamic, fast-paced football everyone associated with his successful Dortmund side.
With City recording their heavy loss Arsenal had a great opportunity to climb to the top of the league with a win, but they endured an even worse afternoon than City did as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat at West Brom. The Gunners went into the lead on 28 minutes from a Mesut Özil free kick that Olivier Giroud nodded beyond Myhill. They appeared in control, but a lofted free kick from West Brom was chipped over Cech at the far post to level the scores. The game went from bad to worse for the Gunners when a West Brom counter resulted in Arteta scoring an own goal from a James McClean cross before half time. The second half was frustrating for Wenger’s men, as they created decent opportunities, the best of which was a penalty that Santi Cazorla took, but an unlucky slip saw him loop it over the bar. Francis Coquelin sustained a bad injury that will sideline him for a couple of months too, capping a truly disappointing afternoon for Arsenal.
Spurs benefitted from Arsenal’s loss as they logged a resounding 4-1 win against London rivals West Ham. Harry Kane showed once again why he’s England’s best attacking prospect with two well taken centre forward’s goals, the first a strong turn and finish from inside the box, the other a calculating and accurate strike from outside the box that fizzed underneath West Ham’s keeper Adrián. Alderweireld and Kyle Walker contributed with the other two goals from defence, while Lanzini notched a consolation for the Hammers. The result puts Spurs just two points behind 4th place Arsenal, who are going to need a few good results if they are to remain in the top 4.
A fairly eventful set of fixtures sees a shake up of the table, the most surprising of which is that Leicester City top the league after an easy 3-0 win at St. James’s Park against Newcastle. Next weekend we’ll see first play second as Leicester host Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, while the pick of the fixtures is likely to be Arsenal’s trip to Spurs at White Hart Lane. The Gunners will be hurting after their defeat, while Spurs are entering a vein of confident form. Arsenal will have to increase their commitment and determination if they are to remain in the top four ahead of their bitter rivals, who could replace Arsenal in 4th place with a victory.