So who came out of this week’s games smiling widest? Probably Manchester United, since a set of fortuitous results meant that their win against West Brom got them to within two points of the Premier League summit.
But, the weekend started off with a rather laboured win for Newcastle, but one that they’ll take all the same as the victory saw them claw their way out of the relegation zone, albeit by only two points. Bournemouth spent the entire game dominating possession and creating a host of chances but through bad luck and incredibly exhilarating last ditch defending from the Geordies they couldn’t manage to register a goal. In stark contrast Newcastle created almost no chances, but when a rare one fell to Ayoze Perez, he toe poked the ball past the Bournemouth keeper, despite the flailing stopper managing to get a hand to the ball. Bournemouth’s efforts justified at least a point, but games like this prove that performance isn’t nearly as important as converting your chances – however few there may be.
Another massive result, if you’re a Villa fan anyways, was Manchester City’s draw at Villa Park. Remi Garde, former Olympique Lyonnais manager, arrived at Aston Villa with the sole objective of helping them escape the drop into the Championship. They sat dead last at the beginning of the weekend, and remain there still, but will have taken a lot of confidence from this result. Not only did they manage to get a point after five defeats in a row, but, they managed to do it against the best attacking lineup in the league. City were relentless in their assault of the Villa goal and yet the £100m pair of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling could not break down a now apparently resolute Villa defence. The result is significant for both teams, a performance like that from Villa against most other teams in the league could just see them survive in the division, while City will feel like they lost a great opportunity to go two points clear at the top.
United on the other hand managed to take full advantage of other teams dropping points by scoring their first goals in the league for three games. After a very bland and uninspired performance against Crystal Palace fans were beginning to grumble about van Gaal’s negative and lethargic style of play, but his approach was vindicated when that same methodical build-up allowed Jesse Lingard to open the scoring with a deft, curling effort to put the hosts into the lead. United looked tentative and a little skittish at 1-0, but at the death Martial made a run through on goal only to be brought down inside the box, followed swiftly by a penalty for the Red Devils and a red card for the offending defender. Mata dispatched the penalty confidently, giving van Gaal a little more breathing room from the dissatisfied fans and bringing them to within two points of first place.
The biggest game of the weekend had a one-all score line, but none of the boredom usually associated with a draw. Arsenal hosted Tottenham at the Emirates, with intent to continuing a winning trend against Spurs, but a tireless midfield and composed defense got the visitors a well-deserved draw that could’ve easily been a victory. Somewhat naïve defending from Koscielny allowed Harry Kane to break the offside trap and run onto a great through ball from Danny Rose, a quick look up and an ice cold finish later and Spurs were 1-0 to the good at the half hour mark. Arsenal’s creative attackers made good attempts to break down the Spurs defense, but energetic performances from the defensive midfield pair of Alli and Dier foiled each attempt, until the 77th minute when a quality cross from Ozil was met at the back post by Kieran Gibbs and bungled into the goal despite a flailing Lloris’s attempt to keep it out. Overall the game had thrilling back and forth attacks, but predictably enough two teams with great defensive records remained difficult to break down. Spurs will be ecstatic at the result and performance; they’re an incredibly young side, and the youngsters like Kane and Alli showed they’re every bit as capable as their more experienced counterparts.
I predicted that Mourinho’s tenure at Chelsea could become even more difficult by Sunday evening, and it did. Fortunately he wasn’t in the stadium to witness it due to a ban imposed by the FA, but I doubt that will console him much. In all fairness Chelsea weren’t that bad, but Jack Butland’s four outstanding saves meant that Chelsea were prevented from scoring. At the opposite end of the field, Stoke’s continuous attacks paid dividends after a haphazard cross eventually found its way to Arnautovic, who heaped some more misery on his former Inter boss by volleying the ball home. This result means Mourinho has totted up 7 defeats in 12 games, a horrible statistic by his standards. The Chelsea camp has been quite quiet following the loss, but murmurs of Abramovich approaching Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone continue to crop up. The last time an international break rolled around Brendan Rodgers lost his job at Liverpool, could a similar fate be awaiting Mourinho?
We’re taking a short break for some frankly pointless international games, but games resume on the 21st of this month, with Manchester City looking forward to a visit from Jurgen Klopp’s developing Liverpool team. The German’s start at the Kop hasn’t been fantastic, but it’s clear the team are adjusting and improving, three points at the league leaders fortress may very well jump-start a run into good form, while a defeat would put unnecessary pressure on him this early into his Merseyside career. Elsewhere United travel to Watford, Chelsea host Norwich, Arsenal travel to West Brom, and West Ham head to White Hart Lane for another London Derby. The big question is: will Mourinho be at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight?
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