The fifth round of Premier League fixtures threw up two absolute pot boilers at those who watch English Football. If Liverpool squaring up against United, and Manchester City battling against Arsenal at the Etihad wasn’t enough – there was Swansea against Everton in a thoroughly intriguing fixture, while the mini league featuring London teams saw QPR make the short trip up to face Andre Villas Boas’ Spurs.
One glance at the League table post the fixtures this week and Chelsea still remain top, followed by Manchester United. An excellent Everton side deservedly occupy third place and surprisingly, it is West Brom who are placed 4th. The Baggies would do well not to get carried away by the start though. Who can forget the start Hull City had back in 2008-09 season? Unbeaten in their first nine games, Hull City dropped down the table like an anchor to the ocean bed, but narrowly avoided rock bottom. Speaking of those at the bottom, Liverpool are yet to register a win under Brendan Rodgers and find themselves in 18th spot with QPR and Reading below them. The current Premier League Champions, Manchester City are in 7th place. Let us take a look at what transpired to shape the table as it looks now.
First up, Liverpool and Manchester united faced each other at Anfield. On this occasion however, the focus remained on much more than football. The Hillsborough theme carried over to this weekend after the last and both clubs did their utmost to give an honourable tribute, with Manchester United conducting themselves in exemplary fashion throughout the build-up to one of the most anticipated and tense games in the calendar.
Match day saw United legend and ambassador Bobby Charlton present former Liverpool hero Ian Rush with a bouquet of flowers, while captains Steven Gerrard and Ryan Giggs released 96 balloons into the sky. The Anfield faithful then sang a tear jerking rendition of their famous club anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ while the players climbed out of their training jackets with 96 on the back and patiently waited for kick off. A small section of the United crowd disrespectfully marred proceedings with chants of their own, but it was fairly unremarkable as the poignant aura of overwhelming emotion and solidarity prevalent at Anfield supressed everything that stood against the cause.
Liverpool started the brighter of the two teams, motivated not just by the events leading up to the game but perhaps also by their poor position in the league table. United never really got going throughout the game but Liverpool’s naivete and subsequent refereeing errors cost them dearly. The game ended 1 – 2 in United’s favour but Alex Ferguson would definitely know that United will not be getting away with such a performance again in the season.
Jonjo Shelvey was red carded in the first half for Liverpool with a reckless two footed lunge on Jonny Evans (whose challenge was equally full blooded), but the referee’s angle of view of the incident forced Shelvey’s early retirement from the game. Steven Gerrard put Liverpool up early in the second half, only for United right back Rafael Da Silva to equalize within five minutes with a superbly taken curler off his weaker left foot. It was the second goal which Liverpool could really have avoided. After Daniel Agger lost the ball high up the pitch to Antonio Valencia, both him and Glen Johnson advanced towards the winger to retrieve the ball off him but collided in process. Johnson made a spectacular recovery run and made what looked like a last ditch tackle, with Antonio Valencia making the most of it by going to the ground. Daniel Agger ended up with an injury post the collision and Robin van Persie converted his penalty, which just about summed up the day for Liverpool. There was no doubt however, that Liverpool were indeed the better team on the day.
Back in Manchester, United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ were up against the Gunners at the Etihad Stadium. The first ten minutes or so saw both sides go at it in a bid to gain midfield supremacy. After that cagey phase, Arsenal’s Gervinho missed for the first time in the sixteenth minute. Arsenal then proceeded to take control of the game for a while with the hosts looking very tentative. Gervinho fashioned a chance for himself by cutting in from the left flank again but hit the side of the post. This game continued the ‘against the run of play’ theme like at Anfield with Lescott scoring for City from a corner in the 40th minute.
Second half saw City take Scott Sinclair off for Jack Rodwell and it looked like Mancini had played his cards well, as City slowly but surely started to dominate proceedings as the half progressed. With the game creeping towards the 80th minute mark, fingernails were being chewed all over the stadium when Yaya Toure burst forward on one of his trademark runs and played a delayed pass to Aguero who forced a save off Vito Mannone. It was end to end stuff as the very next minute saw Cazorla force a save off Joe Hart, and that resulted in a corner for Arsene Wenger’s team from which Laurent Koscienly scored to make it 1 – 1. It should’ve have finished there, but it did as Gervinho missed another chance right at the 90th minute, leaving the supporters wondering at what could have been if Robin van Persie was still at the club.
The other fixtures saw Everton comfortably beat Swansea 0 – 3 away from home, where new boy Kevin Mirallas scored while Chelsea saw off an impressive Stoke City side 1 – 0 at home with the goal coming from defender Ashley Cole. Stoke Boss Tony Pulis had a few complaints about the referee post this game. The Chelsea fans are not too happy about their misfiring striker Fernando Torres who missed yet another glaring chance for the blues this weekend, but Romelu Lukaku (on loan at the Hawthorns) scored for West Brom in a 1 – 0 win against Reading to rub salt in their wounds. Wigan Athletic lost 1 – 2 at home to Fulham with former player Hugo Rodallega scoring a penalty. Nigel Adkins’ Southampton impressed in a 4 – 1 victory against Aston Villa to get their first victory of the season. In London, it looked like Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham were in a spot of bother after being 0 -1 down at half time and were booed by their own fans. However, the tide turned – thanks to a goal from Jermain Defoe and an unfortunate own goal from Alejandro Faurlin.
Results: Liverpool 1-2 Manchester United, Newcastle United 1-0 Norwich City, Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City 0-3 Everton, Chelsea 1-0 Stoke City, Southampton 4-1 Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion 1-0 Reading, West Ham United 1-1 Sunderland, Wigan Athletic 1-2 Fulham