The EPL clubs were focused on getting a positive result from the fixtures of Gameweek 11 as they headed into the international break and as always the results were a mixed bag of the expected and the unexpected with a healthy mix of ridiculous added in for good measure.
Chelsea returned to the venue of the infamous Steven Gerrard slip that inadvertently cost Liverpool the league title last season and Brendan Rodgers and his men were more than eager to banish those upsetting memories. They started on a positive footing pushing back the league leaders before Emre Can opened the score for the Reds via a deflected shot on goal just before the ten minute mark. The Kop faithful started getting their hopes up for an improbable Liverpool win but these hopes were dashed as Chelsea took control of the game and equalised within five minutes through Cahill. Diego Costa netted his 10th goal of this season as he fired home a rebound at point blank range with just about 20 minutes on the clock before Chelsea withdrew to their half and shut shop for the evening. Liverpool’s attacks lacked bite going forward with Ramires effectively nullifying the threat of Raheem Sterling. It deserves a mention that Chelsea were helped on the way by more than one dubious refereeing decision with Diego Costa and Gary Cahill the biggest beneficiaries of Anthony Taylor’s benevolence. Diego Costa was engaged in a virtual wrestling match with the Liverpool centre backs while Cahill escaped two very good penalty shouts, the second of which came right at the end of the game and seemed quite blatant and premeditated. Nevertheless, Chelsea march on retaining their unbeaten streak that has now stretched to 11 games prompting increasing hints from the Chelsea supporters towards their club emulating Arsenal’s Invincible season of 2003-04.
Aguero brace saves City the blushes against QPR
Harry Redknapp’s side showed the defending champions exactly why Loftus Road is not an easy venue to travel to as they held Manchester City to a hard fought 2-2 draw. Charlie Austin had two goals disallowed before he finally slotted home past a flailing Joe Hart to open the account for QPR just after 20 minutes in the game as his side built up a head of steam and pegged back their more illustrious opponents. It took a display of sheer individual brilliance from Sergio Aguero to pull City back on level terms as he brought down Mangala’s long range pass expertly before beating the last man and coolly slotting past the keeper. City’s defense without their talismanic captain Vincent Kompany looked far from confident as Sagna and Mangala failed to communicate effectively while Clichy and Demichelis were caught napping more than once by Zamora and friends as they continued to try and restore QPR’s lead. City had just about started gaining control of the game after the break when things went pear shaped for them again. Edin Dzeko, brought on as a substitute, had to limp off 4 minutes later without a single touch of the ball and their misery was complete when Zamora pressured Demichelis enough for the Argentinian defender to turn Charlie Austin’s cross into his own net. Apart from the obvious culprit, Fernando was also at fault as he ceded possession to Vargas that started the move that eventually ended in the own goal. Sergio Aguero’s heroics were required again at the same ground where he had scored his iconic injury time goal to snatch the title away from cross town rival, United three seasons ago and the Argentinian did not disappoint as he leveled the score with seven minutes to go on the clock, taking his personal goal tally for this season to 12 and salvaging a point for his side.
Manchester United huff and puff their way to a win against Crystal Palace
United returned to familiar grounds, after their away loss to Manchester City, in search of their first win in four games. What would have been an easy game a few seasons ago, however, looked a far more equally matched contest as Neil Warnock’s side refused to step down from the challenge or get over awed by the ground and its 75,000 capacity crowd. Though Crystal Palace resolutely refused to get drawn out of their own half, defending by putting bodies behind the ball, they held their formation well and the combined skill of Angel di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj was insufficient to break down the dogged defense. United, who added to their list of injuries over the previous weekend, were missing the services of Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling and were forced to field a defense that may be described as makeshift at best. In fact, the pair nearly gifted a goal to Crystal Palace as they were found out by Joel Ward’s long ball giving ex-United youngster Frazier Campbell the best chance in the first half as he failed to lob over the head of David de Gea in a one on one situation, instead shooting the ball over the crossbar at short range. Going into the half time break, the match had been decidedly soporific with Palace sitting so deep that defenders Luke Shaw and Paddy McNair both ran with the ball on individual runs unchecked till they reached Palace’s box. Luke Shaw, in fact, even managed to fire off a shot that narrowly missed the goal. Returning from the break saw a more determined United as the home side looked to break down Palace’s defense and they came quite close on a couple of occasions though the final finish was always lacking. Fellaini in particular came close to breaking the deadlock on more than one occasion. It, however, took the heroics of Mata who came off the substitute bench to finally score for United, in the process staking a bigger claim to a starting spot for the club.
Southampton kept pace with Chelsea with a clinical 2-0 win over Leicester City
Shane Long scored twice to secure the fifth win in a row for his side as Southampton eased past Leicester City without breaking a sweat. Southampton dominated the possession and the game for almost the entirety of the one sided contest though Leicester put in a brilliant defensive shift to frustrate the home side for 75 minutes before Shane Long netted twice in the space of five minutes to seal another three point finish for his club, thus putting them only four points adrift of league leaders Chelsea. Southampton have surely surprised many EPL fans by their improved performance inspite of the movement of former manager Mauricio Pochettino and many of his more illustrious wards away from St. Mary’s during the summer transfer window and this game continued their sensational run of form that has seen them win eight of their last nine EPL games. Ronald Koeman’s side would need all the momentum they can gather as on return from international break they will enter a two week period when they play both the Manchester clubs at home and travel to Emirates Stadium in London to take on Arsenal.
Tottenham Hotspur were subjected to their fourth defeat on home turf as Mauricio Pochettino’s side went down 1-2 to Stoke City. Bojan Krkic ended a mazy dribble with a classic finish to put the visitors ahead inside 6 minutes while compatriot Jonathan Walters doubled their lead with just over half an hour played. Spurs defending was called into question for both the goals. For the first goal, they allowed Bojan to run with the ball from the half line unchallenged even allowing him to take the low shot from 20 yards out that went past Hugo Lloris into the back of the net. For the second goal, Spurs allowed Mame Biram Diouf acres of space as he latched onto a Ryan Shawcross header before squaring the ball to an unmarked Walters for a tap in at close range. Stoke had their share of bad luck in terms of injuries as two players had to be substituted within the first 30 minutes. Pochettino affected two changes at half time trying to lift his side but the hosts failed to take a grip of the match while the defense almost shipped a third goal when N’Zonzi received the ball inside the penalty box only to fire his shot wide of the post. Spurs tried to build momentum but were broken down more than once before Nacer Chadli finally broke Asmir Begovic’s defense and volleyed in at the far post from a tight angle to give Spurs what was to be their only goal of the game. Eventually the goal was little more than consolation as the third loss in four outings dropped Spurs into the bottom half of the table while the three points lifted their opponents into the top half.
Arsenal are making a habit out of throwing away leads in games that might very well come back to bite them come the end of season and the fight for European spots in the league. If it was wasting a three goal advantage against Anderlecht mid week in the Champions League, Swansea City were the beneficiaries of the Gunners’ latest benevolence over the weekend. Alexis Sanchez’s seventh goal in his last six games was practically wasted by Arsenal as they succumbed to 4 minutes of defensive madness that allowed Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bafetimbi Gomis to bag the game and three points for the Swans on a super rainy day at the Liberty Stadium. The visitors started cautiously gaining confidence as the game progressed. The pelting rain made for very slippery conditions and more than once players lost control of the ball and their footing as the rain refused to abate. Arsenal went into the half time break ruing more than one missed opportunity while the Swans had hopes of their own as Montero had troubled righ-back Chambers throughout the opening 45 minutes. Welbeck was at his industrious best for Arsenal with many link up plays with Oxlade-Chamberlain that threatened to break the home side’s defense during the half. The English striker returned for the second half and took up from where he had left off, eventually squaring the ball to Alexis Sanchez for the latter to apply a simple finish and open the scoring for the visiting side. The game seemed to be in the bag given the Swans’ overall lackluster possession play so far but the hosts were galvanised by the goal deficit and in a blinding 15 minutes not only equalised but also grabbed the lead to beat Arsenal 2-1. Sigurdsson’s long range free kick proved unstoppable for Szczesny to level the score and then Gomis rose highest among the defenders to head a Montero cross into the back of Arsenal’s goal to condemn Arsenal to only their second league defeat this season. With this defeat, Arsenal have now dropped 9 points from a winning position this season, the highest so far in the league.
Newcastle continue their upward charge, Burnley stay at the bottom of table despite win and Everton slip further with draw against Sunderland
Alan Pardew’s resurgent Newcastle won their fifth EPL game in a row as they continued their surprising renaissance. From being relegation threatened just a couple of months ago, Newcastle now sit just outside the top 6 and behind United only on goal difference.
Burnley, who went into the weekend without an EPL win, broke that run by beating Hull City thanks to a single goal scored by Ashley Barnes in a game that saw Steve Bruce’s side finish with 10 men when Curtis Davies had to be taken off with a back injury as a result of a botched overhead kick.
Everton slipped further down the EPL table after failing to bag all three points against Gus Poyet’s Sunderland. In fact, it took penalty specialist Leighton Baines to convert from the spot to secure the single point for the visitors as the Stadium of Light again lived up to its reputation of being a difficult venue to score points on the road. Everton controlled midfield and the game tempo well but the clinical ball in the final third was lacking throughout the game as the Merseyside club have dropped to 10th spot in the league table.
Elsewhere, West Ham and Aston Villa shared points in a goalless draw as Brad Guzan’s heroics saved Paul Lambert’s side from a seventh consecutive defeat in the EPL. To be fair, the home side were profligate with both Stewart Downing and Sakho being let down by their finishing with the Villan’s goal at their mercy. The draw lifts the Hammers into 4th spot in the league table while keeping Aston Villa dangerously close to the relegation drop zone.