31 December, 2015

Gameweek 18: No rest for the blue wicked..............

Right, this'll be a quickie as we've got more on Monday............

Manchester United Vs Stoke City: The walking dead trample a feeble United..........
It wasn't looking like being a good Christmas for Van Gaal. With confidence in his team at an all-time low and confidence in him essentially gone he really needed a solid performance, or a scrappy win, against a Stoke team that, while riding high with confidence, haven't exactly been banging them in with merry abandon. In fact, Stoke started this match among the lowest-scorers in the league so it was hoped that a brittle United defence wouldn't be tested too much or, if it was, De Gea should be more than able for whatever gets thrown at them. Van Gaal took the unusual step of benching Rooney. Unfortunately this meant fielding Fellaini as the focus point for Martial and Depay to run off him. Stoke are looking to really stamp their authority on the bigger teams to assert the transformation they've undergone and to let people know that they're a force to be reckoned with for anybody. The first half started off quite well in that regard. While United kept most of the possession (naturally) they never seemed to be able to do anything with it and got quite desperate at times to force something to happen. Stoke looked dangerous on the break and with Johnson bossing the right flank just behind Shaquiri, it was obvious the Swiss was set up to be the orchestrator of their attack.

The first half saw Stoke carve open the thin United defence (I would mention the midfield but it was non-existent) which led directly to the first goal in the 19th minute. It was a total shambles. A harmless chip down the right flank for Johnson to chase finds Memphis instead which he should clear. He doesn't however, gets caught by Johnson, had his pocket picked and Johnson is loose in the box. He squares across the goal for Krkic who toe-pokes the ball through Jones' legs and into the goal. Stoke then pour on the pressure and force the free kick in the 26th which leads to the second goal. Krkic hits a freekick straight into the wall, the ball bobbles to Arnautovic on the edge of the box, he takes a touch and smashes it top left corner. The next chance falls to Arnautovic again ten minutes later when he was put through one-on-one and decides to shoot from distance. He drags his shot fractionally wide with De Gea stranded. The half trickled out with little more from either side. The second half saw the introduction of Rooney and some fight to the United team. Outside of a gilt-edged chance for Arnautovic which he scuffed by just falling over the second half was mostly all United with Stoke pinned back and defending stoutly. Only rarely did Stoke manage to foray into the United half that was their hunting ground in the first half. But, then again, they were two goals to the good and didn't need to go all-out. Rooney presented more problems for the ref rather than Butland. Fellani came very close with a shot that required a fantastic reflex save from Butland. Martial stretched Butland towards the end but united never really looked like scoring and were almost hilariously vulnerable to any Stoke counter. United were feeble and Van Gaal will be lucky to see out this year as Manager let alone the season .He'll have Chelsea in three days to try to rescue his job. Stoke will have Everton to contend with.

Aston Villa Vs West Ham: Late Villa fightback claws them a much-needed point....
Despite Villa extending their winless run to seventeen games now, there will be something to take some hope from in their performance today. Or, at least, in the last half hour anyway. Having fumbled their way through the opening half and managing to concede just before the break, the awarding and conversion of a penalty and the glimpse of victory was enough to rouse the players into something resembling a team. They now lie nine points clear at the bottom, there nearest team, Norwich, are their next opponents on Monday. A loss or draw there would surely cement relegation., even at this early stage. West Ham will be left to rue the drop in form that comes with losing most of your best players all at once. Without Sakho, Lanzini and Payet they're reduced to looking for clean sheets and grinding out results until the new year when their treatment room will hopefully be empty.

The hammers took the lead just on the stroke of half time when Cresswell received the ball from Antonio, 20 yards out, and had all the time in the world to tee up his excellent low shot. The second half featured some controversial non-awards of penalties which, considering the one that was given, seem a trite bit unfair on second viewing. Villa pulled one back when Ogbonna was judged to have pulled Gestede down in the box. The replay shows that Ogbonna did not pull him down but rather touched his back allowing Gestede to tumble to the turf like he'd been shot. Ayew stepped up and converted the penalty to cap off his fine performance in the game. Villa then got their act together and, sensing West Ham were down, poured on the pressure for the winner. It was not to be for them though. It's probably all too little too late but, from the last half hour, the main problem at Villa seems to be a lack of belief rather than ability. But it's make-or-break for them now and there's no denying it. They simply have to win their next two or they're screwed. Norwich will provide more of a challenge than West Ham did as they're in roughly the same position as Villa are. The Hammers have Southampton next and, after their result, won't be looking forward to it as much as they were yesterday.

Bournemouth Vs Crystal Palace: Scrappy but fun 0-0 draw keeps the Eagles flying high....
This was always going to be a testing one for the Eagles. Shorn of Wickham and Bolasie, their two main attacking threats, they were forced to rely on their defence to bail them out. Which they did admirably. The Palace back four were rock solid and Bournemouth could only find their way through on scant occasions and even then they had not much to work with. But it was only in defence that Palace could claim the upper hand. Bournemouth, without the need to contain a strong centre-forward, stuck to nullifying Palace's other main attacking threat: the wingers, and it worked. Palace failed to register a single shot on target, although they were unlucky not to score in the ninth minute when Campbell's shot looped off Smith and nearly caught the badly out-of-position Boruc. Fortunately it went over.

Bournemouth were playing a little more care-free given they've won three on the bounce until today, although it at times strayed into care-less. Arter was lucky not to receive a red card after lunging in late on Zaha and was subbed off at half-time. Their main focus seemed to be stemming Palace's wide players, possibly in preparation for Arsenal on Monday. Should they have this level of success at the Emirates then they can foster hopes of something more than a rough 0-0 draw. Palace will need their replacement centre-forwards, Zaha especially, to step up and provide the goals that will keep them chasing a top five finish this season. They sit only two points outside of the top four. They will find Swansea obdurate opponents on Monday, no doubt, but should find the win easy enough. Bournemouth will hope they can suffocate Arsenal as well as they did Palace today.

Chelsea Vs Watford: Oscar slips up as the hornets fight for the point.............
If Hiddink wanted a sign of times to come as the new Chelsea boss he could not have gotten a more complete one than today. His side showed the weaknesses that got his predecessor sacked and that will keep the vultures circling the club for a while now and that are his priority to eliminate. Watford will be thankful for the point but will be mindful of the fact they only got it through sheer luck and will not steam into any match such as this with the near reckless abandon they showed today. While they can boast two in-form strikers and a robust midfield, their defence showed a soft underbelly with hints of headless turkey syndrome. Both teams today seemed to cancel one another out rather than clash as each registered only two shots on target apiece with two goals apiece also.

Indeed, after a good opening half hour Watford seemed to be enjoying a decent spell when their marking went to shit as a Willian corner was headed onto Costa. His volley, from little more than six yards out, was crisp and he was gifted way too much time get the shot off. They pulled one back when Matic handled a corner and conceded a penalty. Chelsea can have no complaints other than to ask why the fuck Matic was waving his arm around, like he was being electrocuted, like that in the first place. Deeney converted and the first half ended all square. The second half brought changes with Fabregas getting hooked to prevent being tortured anymore by the Watford midfield. It proved for naught as Watford pulled in front eleven minutes after the restart with Jurado finding Ighalo in acres of space near the Chelsea box. His shot spun off Cahill and wrong-footed Courtois who could only look on as the ball looped into the net. Then Watford let their good play go to waste by switching off again, nine minutes later. Willian played a superb diagonal ball between the sleeping centre-backs and Costa was first onto it. His goal spoke of the Costa of last season when he drew Gomes out and slotted the ball into the far corner. Then, with eleven minutes left, Berami steamed into Hazard in the box, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Oscar who's deft staggering run probably did him no favours as he slipped and skied the ball. Costa then bookended the game by picking up his fifth yellow which will see him suspended for next weeks game at Old Trafford, which will be serious test of Hiddink and his new charges. Watford will take on Spurs knowing that to play as recklessly as they did here, will leave them facing a trouncing.

Liverpool Vs Leicester City: Klopp finally starts a striker as Liverpool stop the foxes.....
Looks like there's another way to beat Leicester then. Prior to this the only way known was to out-gun them and hope your defence wasn't too porous. Here, with the improbable combination of Lovren and Sahko, Liverpool held firm and notched up a clean sheet against a team that has scored in every game so far. Despite the win, Klopp will not look on this result with rose-tinted glasses, it could've ended so differently in more ways than one. It could've ended much better were Liverpool able to convert any of the chances they were gifted when the surprisingly lethargic Leicester defence failed to close down anyone in front of goal. Coutinho, in particular, had two chances curve narrowly wide and Lallana hit the side netting. It could've also been worse had Mignolet not gotten to Mahrez's shot in the first half. But overall Liverpool can be happy that their plan worked and Leicester's didn't.

The plan was to use Leicester’s' readiness to cede possession against them and work-rate the foxes into the ground while closing off their counter-attack. While it didn't pan out as cut-and-dry as that, it did see results as Leicester were unable to get anything going until they went behind and had left themselves far too much to do at that point. They absorbed nearly constant pressure until the hour mark when their defence went to sleep for the only time and Benteke latched onto a floated Firmino cross and smashed the volley home. The ease at which Benteke, not exactly the smallest guy, ghosted past and was left unmarked will be remarked about. Leicester then roused themselves after that and tried one of their legendary comebacks but, by now, they had been sussed out by the Liverpool defence who gave them no quarter. Leicester laid siege to the Liverpool box when, having sent Schmeichel up for a throw in, Benteke was loosed clear on goal. With a completely empty net, fuck that he had an empty half of the pitch, he somehow contrived to hit Morgan instead for the most laughable miss in recent history. He was spared his blushes by the full-time whistle moments later which confirmed his goal, his sixth, was the match-winner. Leicester now have to press on against City on Monday knowing they'll still be top by that time. Liverpool have their just rewards against Sunderland and what really should be three points.
Manchester City Vs Sunderland: Pointless Sunderland get turned over at the Etihad....
It's fair to say that Big Sam knew that he was going to have a tough job of it at Sunderland. But he's been given repeated viewings of just how bad the team is he's been given. Right now, the task of keeping them up looks like bailing out a boat with a teaspoon. Mannone was in goal today and it looks as if he's got a hoodoo regarding City, he's started only two games and shipped four goals to City each time. Sunderland started with a back four this time and did no better than when they started with five, the defenders marked poorly and committed nothing to the task of actually stopping the opposition scoring goals, which was personified in the opening goal when Sterling outjumped Jones, a man almost half a foot taller, to nod home.

De Bruyne called the shots today and against opposition this abjectly awful it's not hard to look good. Both his assists came from pretty much the exact same spot on the right wing, and he scored the fourth himself when a deflected Bony shot bounced straight to him. This game also saw the return of Kompany, only for him to go off nine minutes later with the exact same injury. Toure is showing signs that contract negotiations are on the horizon as he's starting to actually play again, he scored the third with another trademark 20-yarder and, in all bar the recurrence of Kompany's injury and Borini's consolation goal highlighting the shambles left behind in the injured captain's absence, the match was the cake-walk we all expected it to be. City will have more of a challenge next week against Leicester and will need a win to try to take the lead in the three-way crush at the top. Sunderland have bowed out of this match with barely a whimper and will struggle to muster one against Liverpool.

Spurs Vs Norwich: Spurs rout the Canaries to go top four.........
Spurs fans are trying nervously to suppress the urge to claim themselves as serious title contenders but there's no doubt they're certainly favourites to finish top-four and enter the Champions league. Despite routinely fielding the youngest team in the league, they've managed to drum up a level of consistency that the other teams around them would kill for. That they've also added the ability to kill off lesser teams is the bonus that should see them in the top-tier of European football next season. Today they faced a Norwich team filled with pluck having yet to come down from a Euphoric win at Old Trafford and looking to scalp another big team. And, until the 26th minute at least, it looked like they'd do it.

Norwich shuffled the team that soundly beat Manchester United by stacking the midfield in an attempt to stifle the main avenue of the Spurs threat. They also sought to isolate Kane and force him out of the game whilst countering the Spurs' heavy press tactic with one of their own. For the most part, it worked. Norwich were testing Lloris from as early as the fifth minute with a curled shot from the edge of the box by Ofoe. Unfortunately they failed to make their early dominance pay and Spurs eventually stirred and their midfield clicked into life. On the 26th Alli shifted past a number of defenders and played in Kane who tapped it past Rudd and was promptly cleared out by the advancing keeper. Kane stepped up himself to fire home the penalty. Then Spurs did not so much as shift up a gear but rather shifted up an entire level and Norwich never had a look in for the rest of the game. After a number of near-misses Kane eventually added his second on the 42nd when Alli fed the ball to him after a breakaway attack and Kane stroked the ball in from a tough angle. The second saw Spurs take the piss with rabona attempts and bicycle kicks, clearly not giving a fuck and loving it. Norwich's misery was compounded when Lloris made a superb save and Carroll fired home the third from outside the box, swerving the ball into the bottom corner. Spurs are now on the march and have another team with moxie to beat, Watford. Norwich have the ideal team to lick their wounds against as they play Aston Villa.

Swansea Vs West Brom: Swans out of the relegation zone with a scrappy win.........
Swansea lifted themselves out of the quagmire with a win today that bore no hallmarks of their previous winning form. Not that they'll give a shit if anyone is being honest. Three points are all they wanted from this and they'll savour the ends regardless of the means. Another plus point from this game is the new-found solidity in defence organised around Williams. He's been a bedrock in the last three games, helping them not to concede the idiotic goals that were routine only a month ago. For West Brom this leaves them only two points above their opponents today and not facing a particularly happy Christmas schedule.

A well-taken ninth minute goal by Ki ended up settling the match. Routeledge sliding the ball into the box for Rangel to run onto it and smashing a shot off the post. Myhill couldn't react in time to prevent the ball ricocheting off his elbow and out of his grasp. Ki was less than three yards away and tapped home. West Brom couldn't find a way back into the game and could barely get past the Swansea backline at all. Bar two penalty calls, one strong, the other laughable, Brommie never did much to bother Fabianski. Swansea will hope this result turns their low fortunes around and will go to Palace next week to hope for further progress and some points. West Brom host a confident (or at least more confident) Newcastle and will seek to make amends for their lack of edge today.

Newcastle Vs Everton: Last gasp header sinks the magpies.........
It's often said that football is a cruel sport sometimes. Sometimes your team is mercilessly slaughtered (See Sunderland), sometimes your super team plays like garbage(See Arsenal) and other times your team clings on and plays their guts out only to be stung right at the end from a speculative attempt. What happened today was so cruel to the long-suffering Newcastle fans. They'll be forced to make due with the fact that they held a rampant Everton team for a full half and then began to out-play them in the second. For Everton this match will highlight both a massive strength and a glaring weakness in their side. For Newcastle they can see that this never happens again by improving their finishing.

Everton started much the brighter. Their version of tiki-taka took them around the Newcastle midfielder as if they weren't there at times. The full-backs bombed forward with reckless aplomb, at times giving Everton a 2-5-3 formation, and Lukaku had the run of the central area. Were it not for Elliot having a great game, Everton could've been out of sight by half-time. However after a succession of saves Newcastle went into the break dead even. It was after the re-start that the tide began with Mitrovic heading narrowly wide when he found Janmaat's cross under no pressure, then the penny dropped for Newcastle, Everton aren't that good in the air. Newcastle's new plan was to get the ball up and keep it up as often as possible and it nearly worked towards the end when an Elliot long ball befuddled the entire Everton defence and Perez was almost through. His shot was, again, narrowly wide. Sissoko would set up Mitrovic for another header before the 92nd minute only for him to send it wide also. Then Elliot tamely punched a speculative punt into the box which left him badly out of position, Cleverly headed the ball straight back over him and into the net to seal the deal.

Southampton Vs Arsenal: Welcome to the new Arsenal, same as the old Arsenal.....
Whether it be complacency over playing a team that hadn't won in six matches (losing five of those) or too much partying over Christmas or whatever, Arsenal choose one hell of a time to put in their worst performance to date. Literally to a man, they were dire. Southampton put in a good shift and played well but by no means applied the sort of pressure needed to cause Arsenal to crack asunder like they did time and time again. It was a curious scene, a team that had just beaten the favourites for the league who had a bench worth more than the entire Arsenal starting XI, was sliced apart almost at will by a team who's best performance in the last six games was a draw to Aston Villa. One thing is for certain, if Arsenal are to win the league this year, they plan on doing the hard way.

Southampton successfully overturned one their worst runs in recent memory with a solid, muscular first half and a perfect second half. Their first goal was a bolt from the blue and it goes without saying that Martina will never, ever, hit the ball as well as he did in the 19th minute and will never, ever, score a goal like that again. After 18 opening minutes, in which Arsenal resembled a waxworks exhibition that had somehow been mistaken for a football team, Martina collected the ball just outside the box and just hit it. The ball swerved from outside the far post back in and left Cech with no chance. The second half was all Southampton. Koscielny went down in the 55th, claiming he was tripped by Long, and Mane's cross was perfect for Long to slot home. Ten minutes later Fonte scored a training ground header-from-a-corner and then Long iced the cake again in the dying minutes, outpacing the defence and tucking home the fourth. Southampton will need the boost heading to West Ham next week and Arsenal will need to hope other results go their way and a win at Bournemouth will see them top at the end of the year.

26 December, 2015

Gameweek 17: "Onward into the Christmas schedule!!!" cried the FA.................

This weekend marks the start of officially the most insane schedule in all of world sports: The premier league Christmas rumble. While every other league is giving their teams most of Christmas off to rest, recuperate and be with their loved ones, the premier league is saying “Fuck that shit, we pay you chimps to play so you'll fucking play”. This bank balance management leads to teams playing games on the 26th through to the 30th and onto the 3rd. So enjoy this weekend as it's the last time most players will get to have the guts of a week off in-between matches for a while. So let's crack into this weekend while the league prepares to crack the whip..........................

Chelsea Vs Sunderland: Headless team of prima-donnas trundle pathetic Sunderland.....
Chelsea's first match without Mourihno (again) was a loaded one. Win and look good and they'd be denounced as mercenaries who revolted against a popular ( popular amongst Chelsea fans, anyway) manager, lose and they'd still be denounced as it would confirm they really are as shit as they've been making out. So Chelsea's only hope is to scrape a win and not look too convincing whilst doing so. Pity they were up against one of the few teams playing worse football then them. Sunderland are coming off the back of two losses (after winning twice on the trot) and are firmly locked into a relegation battle already. Hilariously they go into a match against the current champions only two place below them and looking like they could possibly get something here. Sadly Sunderland were Sunderland and contrived to give Chelsea everything, including a few scares. Even as the Chelsea fans loudly booed their own players, Sunderland managed to be worse. For the new guy, Hiddink (again), it was not a match that would tell him anything other than how toxic the atmosphere is currently at Chelsea with three of his biggest star players (Hazard, Fabregas and Costa) singled out for torrents of abuse and subsequently labelled “The Three Rats”

It took less than five minutes for Chelsea to take the lead and in the style that befit the day it came from one of their serial under-achievers this season, Ivanovic. He rifled a Willian corner into the roof of the net. Coates was completely at fault, letting Ivanovic go and gave him plenty of room for the header. Coates was at fault for the second too, eight minutes later, when he was caught horrendously out of position for Ivanovic to sling in a cross for Pedro to thump in, leaving Pantillimon no chance. Coates was subbed off seven minutes later having shambled his way around for 23 paltry minutes. His removal led to the restoration of some sense of stability and Sunderland managed to scrape into the break at 2-0 despite Costa coming close with two gilt-edged chances. The second half started as a continuation of the first with Chelsea dominating and pouring forward with Sunderland desperately trying to keep afloat. Five minutes in, Willian was hauled down in the box and Oscar converted from the spot to make it 3-0. Then the scares came in. Borini pulled one goal back two minutes later after Courtois flapped a Kaboul header onto his leg and Borini nearly capitalised on some more suspect handling from Courtois and Whatmore could've racked up one too after another gaffe. He somewhat atoned for those shakes with a solid save from Defoe late on but that second half passage only served to highlight the weak points in this Chelsea team that any team better than Sunderland (and there's quite a few of them) would've exploited. Chelsea have Hiddink fully in charge for their next match to Watford and he'll need to bolster that defence to keep out Deeney, Ighalo and Co. Sunderland limp onto their next match against Manchester City like their walking to a gallows and, in a sense, they really are......

Everton Vs Leicester: Foxes chew up the brittle toffee defence........
I've spoken before about the Everton defence not exactly being something you'd make the bedrock of an entire season. It's been the chief source of headaches for toffee fans and staff alike and also the chief reason they languish in 10th despite possessing far more talent than a lot of the teams above them. For all the bright sparks they've got upfront there's an evident dullness at the back (Stones not withstanding) and it's really starting to get to them and this match was proof pudding of that fact. In fact, it was embarrassing at times to see how easily Everton self-destructed in defence. The first goal came from a Fuchs throw that Vardy had lobbed speculatively into the box. Any other defender would've put his foot through it but Funes-Mori decided (for some reason) to try to play the ball out. In the process he wound up hanging out of Okazaki and the referee correctly pointed to the spot. Mahrez tucked it away. Everton then showcased the better side of their game by equalising five minutes later, with some nice interplay between Kone, Lukaku and Deulofeu (when he wasn't rolling around like a twat every time he was tipped) found Barkley who's low shot was saved. The re-bound went straight back to him but he again couldn't convert thanks to King. That rebound went to Lukaku who made no mistake and slotted home. The rest of the goals came in the second half, along with the Everton midfield totally ignoring their defence, with the first coming after twenty minutes. A sustained bout of Leicester pressure led to Mahrez sliding a neat ball for Vardy who was then cleared out by Howard. Mahrez converted that one too. Leicester had hit there stride and racked up the third, four minutes later. A lame Everton throw to Coleman was following by an equally lame clearance attempt. Albrighton charged it down and the ball broke to Vardy who's square ball across the box to Okazaki was finished well. Spurred on somehow (maybe from the screams of more than a few Arsenal fans) Everton began to apply some pressure and Leicester broke in the 89th when a Lukaku shot was pinballed around the box and fell to Mirallas who fired home to set up a nerve-wracking last few minutes. Leicester now have to contend with going into a tough fixture run at the top starting with Liverpool next week, Everton have the revitalised Newcastle.

Manchester United Vs Norwich: Canaries outplay the Red Devils to ramp up the heat......
Oh how United needed a win here, and how badly they played to spite themselves. Mnay were expecting that, with their back seriously to the walls and about to slip out of the top four, some semblance of the old United would creep back and secure at least a point. Maybe a win even, most were thinking, against a team second from bottom and mired in a relegation race already would not be too much for a team of this calibre, no matter how badly they're playing. Sixty minutes later and United are two nil down having not registered a single shot on target and not looking like doing so either. Norwich had a defensive, counter-attacking gameplan to operate and they stuck to it and got a much-deserved win. For everyone harping on about Norwich and their defensive tactics today I ask: “Did any other method make any sense for them?” Seriously, just look at their team and tell me how they'd have gone about playing open football. The gameplan had a nous of simple psychology to it: Don't concede and United will panic, then strike. Norwich gave over possession (they had the ball a mere three minutes out of every ten) and didn't even manage to win a corner yet had slotted home twice and won.

For United, looking back, it's obvious the main weak point was tactics. Playing Fellaini and Carrick in front of Jones and Smalling was asking for trouble. With Smalling the only one with pace it left the centre wide open for Norwich's forwards to exploit. And exploit they did. The first goal was a showcase of how easy this current setup was to by pass. Redmond picked up the ball just inside his own half and made up around thirty yards before any tackle was put in, he slid the ball off to Jerome on his right. Jerome then skipped past the desperate obvious tackle from Young and, with Carrick plodding behind him and Smalling trying to get in front, had pretty much the entire box to himself and his shot still found the back of the net even though De Gea got a hand to it. Th efirst half ended with lots of United possession, no shots and plenty of boos. The second half kicked off the same way until fourteen minutes later when Rooney got caught in possession in the centre circle and had hid pocket picked by Tettey. He played a short ball to Jerome and continued his run, tracked by literally no-one. Jerome covered around ten yards and slid a superb through-ball back for Tettey and his finish was low and hard into the bottom left corner to sent Old Trafford into a chorus of boos. United then finally got their first shot on target and their first goal twelve minutes later. Young pegged it to the byline to keep in an errant pass and his cross was delivered just a fraction to high for Rooney. Rooney's attempt, however, helped the ball onto Martial who held off a series of increasingly desperate tackles to fire the ball into the roof of the net. Mata got the second shot on target in the 78th minute when Martial was fouled in a good position for a free kick and Rudd did well to keep it out. Full time trudged on and the boos rang out once again. United have to start the Chirstmas schedule against who will really fancy their chances of taking all three points. Norwich are out of the relegation zone and will have a job of staying out against Spurs.

Southampton Vs Spurs: Saints go limping in as Spurs go top four...........
It's been a bit of a familiar story with regards to Southampton. The feelings from the wondrous season they had and the subsequent fending off (well, mostly) of the predators who tried to poach virtually their entire fucking team has given way to a feeling that's definitely more “sinking” than anything else. They're 12th and not up shit creek by any stretch but any more results like today and the alarm bells will be ringing. Today saw their fourth defeat in their last five games and, more worryingly, no signs that the team are learning from their mistakes. Suicidal defending, complete lack of finishing and running out of gas in the final third of the game have been hallmarks of their previous performances. So strange for a team that used to pride itself on relentless intensity. Spurs have halted a winless run of three games and are now top four and will be looking to stay there given how generally awful their surrounding opposition have been. They will definitely feel if Pochettino can wring some of his trademark consistency from this team, Europe's premier club competition will be a reasonable target for them, which will certainly help them retain some of their prized assets coming into the summer transfer window.

The start of this match didn't showcase the result and it would've been a far different match had Southampton's aforementioned finishing issues not reared their head so early. Mane was put through in the sixth minute, albeit at a tight angle, and his shot was deflected wide by Alderweireld. The resultant corner came to nothing. Two minutes later a Lloris punt forward was headed to Tadic who ran down a totally clear left flank and squared the ball across perfectly for Mane on the edge of the box. Mane was unmarked and the pass had caught the entire Spurs backline in the middle of their “statue” routine. His side-footed shot was strong but too near Lloris who got down well to save it. It was a golden opportunity. Spurs began playing themselves back into the game and got their first real attempt through Kane when he played a neat one-two with Eriksson and Gazzaniga could only parry his shot out for a corner. Then in the 40th minute Lamela and Alli moved the ball forward in a swift counter-attack and Alli was cleaved out of it. The ball bobbled to Kane and, with the Southampton defence expecting the whistle, the ref played advantage. He strode forward, yards clear of anyone else and placed the ball into the far corner of the net. Three minutes later another Spurs counter caught the entire Southampton defence napping when Walker ran down the right flank with three other Spurs to his left. Not a single challenge was put in and his neat, low cross went straight to Alli's feet, totally unmarked at the back post, and he slotted home while the defenders still had their hands in the air. Fitting returns for the horrendous tackle put on him earlier. The second half petered out mostly event-free as Spurs shifted down a few gears and Southampton contrived to almost shoot themselves in the foot again with some calamitous defending. Spurs will take on Norwich next week and will be in fine spirits following this comically easy win, Southampton will hope to avoid another North London nightmare as they have Arsenal next.

Stoke Vs Crystal Palace: Eagles get justice thanks to Lee screamer............
Both teams today lined out dizzy from recent highs. Stoke's 0-0- draw at West Ham last week has not deflated the good mood they picked up with their comprehensive 2-0 win over Man City and Palace have been sitting pretty towards the upper end of the table for a while now. Pardew's lofty goal of a top-six finish seems not as nakedly flippant as it did at the start of the season. It's clear both teams have overhauled their images as of late and both are reliant on key pivot signings; Stoke have Shaquiri who returned today, Palace have Cabaye who was injured. If Stoke had one issue it was their inability to perform in the final third (they're the joint lowest scorers) and while they definitely performed better in that regard, they could do with a more clinical approach. And not encountering goalkeepers like Hennessey. Palace needed to maintain their shrewd away form and defended compactly, happy to allow Stoke possession, only applying pressure in their own half and only breaking forward when it seemed it would lead to a sure thing. This approach, of course, resulted in a game in which nothing much really happened outside of some strong midfield duels and periods of Stoke pressure. Stoke actually had their best chances in the first half with their main one coming on the 38th minute when Van Ginkel flicked a cross off the outside of the post. It would be the closest they would come to scoring the entire game.

With the first half end looming, added time brought the respite. A lobbed free-kick was poorly dealt with and Delaney helped the ball to Zaha. While it cannot be disputed that Zaha was moving away from the goal when Whelan's tackle came in, it also cannot be disputed that he got Zaha's ankle rather than the ball. Zaha went down and the ref pointed to the spot. Up stepped Wickham to produce quite possibly the most thumping fucking penalty I've seen in ages. He hit that ball like it fucking owed him money. The second started off with more spice as five minutes after the restart Johnson came close with an arrowed shot that Hennessey palmed away for a defender to put clear. Seventeen minutes later Arnautovic came within an inch of levelling it when his shot skimmed off two defenders and brushed the side of the post with Hennessey (for once) well beaten. The 74th saw Krkic somehow completely unmarked in the box and when a horde of penalty appeals went up for a foul he had only Hennessey to worry about. Unfortunately Hennessey was more than able to get low to his left to parry out the shot. Then, in the 75th minute, what could've been the turning point of the game happened. After affording Shaquri far too much time and space on the flank to just swing in crosses, one of them bounced straight up in the air and when it came down Delaney and Whelan jumped for it. The ball missed both heads and instead came down on Delaney's arm. The referee pointed to the spot. Krkic stepped up and Hennessey nearly kept it out but it was hit too strongly. Palace then applied their own pressure and should've scored when Bolasie was put clean through when McArther cleverly dummied a Lee pass. Butland got out just in time to save. The corner led to some penalty box pinball and when it was eventually cleared as far as Lee, over twenty-five yards out, no-one expected what happened next. Lee ran onto the ball and caught it sweetly for a shot that soared into the far corner of the net. It was unbelievable and a sure-fire candidate for goal of the season. Butland, even at full stretch, could do nothing. What a fucking to seal the win. Stoke can take heart form their performance, if not the result, and will fancy that another one like this will see them rewards against a languid Man United next week. Palace will be looking to get their foot firmly in the top spots against Bournemouth.

West Brom Vs Bournemouth: Cherries bite twice as the Baggies lose their heads........
It's now three on the trot for Bournemouth. Their industrious hard-work ethic had been getting a going over in the press (and by his own board and fans too) a month back. Fast forward to today and they've racked up straight wins over Chelsea, Man United and West Brom. They've added good attacking play onto the solid team ethic and it's now paying huge dividends back in the form of nine points from games they'd no right to expect anything from. That they're doing it whilst in the midst of an injury crisis speaks volumes about the atmosphere Howe has borne into this team. West Brom, on the other hand, look just inches from a crisis. It must be incredibly disheartening to their fans that the clubs' sole aim is to stay up, there's not even a token effort to live up to the aspirations of entertaining, expansive football. Also the petulant way they went down to nine men today will not boost the flagging spirit in the dressing room. Now shorn of one of their few specialist wingers and their main goal threat until mid-January it remains to be seen how Pulis will re-jig his team to compensate. Berahino cannot play the lone striker role Pulis favours and it's clear that, after whining for weeks about how much he wanted him on loan, he would rather field ten men then put Gnabry on the pitch. There's a weird method to how Pulis uses the so-called “flair” players he has. He seems to collect them purely on the basis that everyone else has them, yet can't bring himself to field any of them, and won't consider ending the loans early to avoid paying their wages. It's baffling.

Bournemouth sure wasted no time here, Murray teeing up Stanislas for a ferocious drive that Myhill could only palm away. He wasn't catching that one, it would've broken his wrists. The match cantered around until the 34th when a 50-50 challenge between McClean and Smith left McClean holding his foot in pain. When nothing was given he promptly got up, ran to the byline and scythed a tackle over the ball onto Smith's shins. Fuck a red card, that tackle deserved an assault charge. He walked and Brommie were down to ten. A week after calling Klopp “a bit of an idiot” for refusing to shake Pulis' hand. Karma can be a quick bitch when she wants to be. The first half with Bournemouth squandering a late chance when Ritchie was clear in the box only to head wide with the goal at his mercy. The second half would present most of the action in this game with West Brom making a rare foray into the Bournemouth box. Evans lofted in a superb ball straight to Rondon who brilliantly chested it down, turned and fired first-time a the top corner. It required a fantastic reflex save from Boruc. The 52nd saw the first goal when Surman's diagonal long-ball found Smith wide right. He trapped the ball well and ran straight across the face of the box. With everyone expecting a pass, no-one put in a tackle, and his shot was perfectly placed into the bottom right corner. West Brom equalised in the 79th when Dawson won a corner and Gardner swung in a great cross for McAuley to glance it in across the goal line and in off the post. The 83rd saw Bournemouth's set-piece defending again so to shit when a floated free-kick left Dawson free and clear with a header that he somehow put wide. Bournemouth would score the defining goal five minutes later. A Bournemouth corner was well cleared to Lambert who succeeded only in getting his feet caught up and lost the ball to Gosling, who he never bothered chasing down. This left Gosling running full steam past Fletcher who's attempt to foul him outside the box was so slow they were both inside the box when he made contact. The ref pointed to the spot and Daniels smashed home the penalty. Bournemouth are looking well out of danger and are riding high and will need every ounce of drive to get past Palace next week, West Brom will need quite the Christmas miracle to see anything from Swansea.

Newcastle Vs Aston Villa: Point apiece in the monsoon rain............
Relegation haunts both of these teams like a vengeful spectre so the imperative was probably more on “don't lose” than “must win” which meant that any hope of free-flowing scintillating football today was diminished. It was snuffed out even further thanks to rain so heavy it made accurate passing next to impossible. The start of the first half bore this out as both teams lost possession without any hint of strong counter-attacking going on. Indeed the first chance came in the 28th when Janmaat's cross was met by Cisse in the box. His header was straight at Guzan. Cisse's next act would be to injure himself chasing a lobbed pass and he replaced with Mitrovic. Mitrovic then comically missed a Sissoko cross. His improvised header, with the ball slightly behind his head, in the 36th forced a good tip-over save from Guzan. That led to a Colback corner which bobbled it's way through every player and arrived for Colocinni completely unmarked at the back post to smash home.

The second half saw an easing in the rain and a super shot in the first minute from Vertout that Elliot needed to be good to keep out. That parry led to a Newcastle counter-attack that ended with Sissoko attempting a left-foot shot and scuffing it harmlessly wide. The 56th saw a pivitol moment when an over-hit Janmaat cross was kept in by Wjinaldum (and the water-logged pitch) his lobbed cross fell to De Jong, unmarked and three yards out, at the back post. Somehow he headed wide. It was a chance they'd come to rue. The 60th saw his substitution for Perez and Villa introducing Gestede. It was the latter that proved to be influential as he spurred Villa to life. He forced a tip over from Elliot with his first touch. Vertout's corner didn't make it past Colback who headed it clear to Hutton who gave it back to Vertout. He slung in another cross which found Ayew on the far corner of the box. He jinked around a tackle and shifted the ball onto his right foot and then unleashed a curling shot into the far corner of the net. A goal from no-where that kept Villa in it. Villa fought back with Gestede narrowly missing a cross that would have been a tap in. the 74th saw Wjinaldum fluff his lines from seven yards out after being found by Perez, the resultant shot will only be classed as “on target” solely by virtue of Guzan having to pick it up. The 88th saw Gestede latch onto a Vertout corner with a header that Elliot had be alert to tip over. Sissoko and Perez then combined in the box, in the 90th minute, only for Perez to baloon the ball over the bar. Newcastle have Everton to contend with next week and it'll be a very unhappy Christmas if they defend this roughshod again. Villa will take this glimmer of hope (they're still bottom remember) and will seek to find some more against the Hammers.

Watford Vs Liverpool: Klopp gets it wrong as the Hornets help themselves............
Watford are flying high it has to be said. Their fourth win on the trot has seen them to within a point and some (okay, quite a bit) goal difference off the top four. In doing so they handed a dour Liverpool team a thumping that reminds them that, for all the talent and cash, they're still a work in progress. Although, after this display, quite what they're working towards or progressing to remains a mystery. True to their nickname Watford swarmed Liverpool, from the off, forcing error after error. The backline were totally unable to deal with either Deeney or Ighalo let alone both at the same time and Bogdan choose one hell of a game to produce a gaffe. He wasted no time in producing it either, the third minute, when he fumbled a Carson cross, under zero pressure and Ake simply kicked the ball in. Bogdan later claimed that he had both hands on the ball when it was kicked but he never looked even remotely confident that the ball was under his control. Watford continued hustling Liverpool all over the pitch, with Ake pretty much laying claim to the entire left flank, and the second goal was pure persistence. Deeney ran Lucas ragged and stole the ball from him and immediately clipped it over the top for Ighalo to chase. Despite Skrtel having a brief headstart he didn't count on Ighalo's persistence and the ball broke wide, Ighalo reacted first, collecting it and looping it into the far corner of the net.

Klopp started this match with no recognised strikers for some reason. It's obvious Liverpool have a goal problem as they remain the only top-ten team with a negative goal difference so quite why he started with Benteke and Origi on the bench is beyond me. Origi got on when Skrtel injured himself in the 41st minute. This restored some fight to the team after the break and Moreno and Origi himself went close. Ibe and Benteke were subbed on in the 74th with the hopes that simply “going for it” would produce something, anything. The second half did have a goal in it but it was for Watford as Behrami stole down the right and crossed for Ighalo in the box. He buried his header to seal the three points. Liverpool have a worrying conundrum ahead of them next week as they take on Leicester, play with no attackers again and they're doomed. Play with some and they may be handed a trouncing that'll sting far more than this one. Watford will be taking their brand-own blend of muscle and skill to Chelsea next week and they'll fancy taking all three there as well.

Arsenal Vs Manchester City: Battle of the favourites opens up a gap at the top............
This was the early one for Arsenal. Their first game against City, while undergoing their annual injury crisis, would prove their credentials as title contenders this season. Win, and they're set as favourites; lose, and they'll just be another pretender Arsenal team imploding as per usual. This was the time for Arsenal to show that they can truly mix it up and stay in the race, even when everything is going wrong for them. And how they did. Arsenal employed a tactic that suits their players to a tee, counter-attack. Utterly ruthless on the counter they showed why they are head and shoulders above all other (except maybe Leicester) when moving forward. They cut straight through the City midfield and defence at will and should've been four clear by half-time but for some, unfortunately also trademark, Arsenal profligacy. It also helps that they were up against a City team that seemed just not interested in the game and had already gone on holidays. Also, without Kompany, the central pairing of Otamendi and Mangala were, again, nothing more than 50 million worth of useless tripe. City again thought that they could defend with reckless abandon and get away with it and were punished for it. They can have noexcuses about squad depth or injuries: their bench cost more than the entire Arsenal team they faced.

Simply put, they afforded far too much space to Ozil. Without Alexis and with Ramsey and Flamini in place of Coquelin and Cazorla, it was plainly obvious that everything Arsenal planned to do was going through Ozil. Yet City refused to man-mark or even press him. Instead Toure blundered about like a race horse that's bucked it's jockey leaving Fernandinho alone to try to screen a shaky defence from Ramsey, Walcott, Campbell and Giroud whilst also contending with Ozil. No chance, pal. To make matters worse, Arsenal were set up to counter, meaning that the overloaded backline had to contend with the pure pace on the break, when most of the other players were out of position and gaps open up. On the 33rd minute Ozil interplayed with Giroud to receive the ball in the box, he played it slightly back to Walcott on the edge who shifted onto his right and swerved the ball far corner to open the scoring. That was Ozil's 14th assist of the season so far. He notched up No.15 twelve minutes later when he collected a shanked clearance from Mangala (who had no need to do so as he was under no pressure) and his through-ball for Giroud was so perfect that he did not even need to break stride, he rode over Otamendi's idiotic, desperate slide block and thumped the ball across the goal into the net. One of the key aspects of Arsenal's new-found forward game is a defensive stability and calmness unlike anything they've had in a while. They kept Silva under wraps meaning that anything that was going to happen was coming from De Bruyne. In an attempt to free him up some more, the two drifted right to tag-team Monreal. Ramsey's powerful running from deep was causing City all sorts of problems and he really should've scored when one-on-one with Hart only to see his shot bounce off the keepers face. City pulled one back and set a nervy endgame in place in the 83rd minute when, of all people, Toure woke up to realise he was actually playing a match. He took the ball on the edge of the and his shot couldn't have been better placed had it been on remote control. City spurred into life and Arsenal compacted and hit on the break. The match ended with Arsenal victorious. They now take on Southampton next week for a fairly winnable (if their title claims are to have any weight) run of games. City have to go back to the drawing board and have no better team to do that against then Sunderland.

19 December, 2015

Gameweek 16: Jose's swansong.....again.....

Well the league is showing that there are still some twists and turns left in it. Chief among them being Leicester's win over Chelsea, Palace beating Southampton and Bournemouth winning. City were very lucky to claim all three points, Newcastle beat Spurs and as for Arsenal......well they won but they were up against Villa and there's only so far you can stretch reality before it starts to crack open and the nameless ones can get at us. Yet for all the new spice there is still the old tastes that will never go away; Villa being dire, Sunderland losing, Manchester United being absolute tripe and Jose blaming everyone but himself and getting sacked. SO let's plunge headlong into the this mire of hilarity and mediocrity...............

Norwich Vs Everton: Score draw as Toffees get stuck against the Canaries...........
Martinez lamented after this match that he'd “swap any record for a clean sheet” when asked about his thoughts on Lukaku potentially challenging Vardy's eleven game scoring streak and it's clear that he viewed today results as two points dropped rather than one gained. In fact, Everton should've been put of sight by half time such was their domination of the opening 45 minutes. On another day Lukaku would've netted a hat-trick at least from the glut of chances he was afforded by a particularly porous Norwich defence, today he netted only the once when he met Deulofeu's cross at the back post. The goal was a showcase of hopeless defending. His team-mates were also lining up for chances as Baines smacked the post and Kone had two great chances saved.

Neil stated that he had “good discussion in terms of what's acceptable” with his players at half-time which usually translates to “gave the fuckers the hairdryer” and it worked as Norwich came out of the second half and changed team. The second half ran at a total opposite to the first. Norwich now pressed with intent and Everton found it much more difficult to get through the previously accommodating Norwich backline. Everton also seemed to shift down in terms of workrate and allowed Norwich to run at them and find spaces in the back. This was shown after only the first two minutes of the second half as Norwich equalised. Jerome had found his feet and ran down the right flank, cutting in. His low cross was cut out by Baines but had the two Norwich players in support actually put the effort in there could've been serious trouble. Norwich need not have bothered as the corner led to the goal. Brady delivered a fine ball to Bennett at the back post who thumped a header goalward. It was cleared by Barkley but only as far as Hoolihan who bundled it through Barkley's legs and into the net. The second half played itself out with chances from either side but Everton will be aggrieved to let more points slip away. Norwich will travel to Old Trafford and that pluck they showed in the second half will stand good if they can muster it for 90 minutes instead of 45. Everton will hope to have their defensive lapses sorted by the time Leicester swash-buckle into town next week.

Crystal Palace Vs Southampton: More misery for the Saints as the eagles strike...........
It's been a good last few weeks for Palace. After this win they now sit sixth, level points with fifth and three off the top four. Their performance today was rock-solid from front to back but they really have their goalkeeper, Hennessey, to thank for the three point haul today. For all their lamenting about a lack of a proven goalscorer (which isn't to throw shade onto Wickham's solid workrate, but Palace could do with a forward who can,at least, hit a barn door) they can rejoice more that they've such a proven goalkeeper. Twice today he kept them in it, pulling off the kind of saves that have even the opposition applauding. He superbly backed up a stalwart defence in front of him which ably supports a rampant midfield. A decisive striker would be the cherry on top of this wonderful cake Pardew has going. Not that what he's serving up is bad by any means, yet they still relied on the Southampton defence completely going to sleep to score and they can't be relying on lapses of such a comedic nature regularly.

Southampton had big spells of pressure but, even considering the two great saves, they never seemed like scoring. There was no air of “keep this up and we'll definitely score”. They too, were heavily reliant on their own keeper, stand-in Gazzaniga, to provide some quality saves when his defence and midfield let him down, which they did frequently. There was one particular moment where he had to pull of three saves in quick succession from Cabaye, Bolasie and Wickham. This then led to the goal when a long goal kick from Hennessey was played to Cabaye who released Bolasie down the right. He left Fonte on his heels and dashed to the byline to cross low for Cabaye, who had managed to wander straight through the midfield and defence without a single player noticing him, who couldn't miss from two yards out. The re-start saw Palace pour forward with Cabaye pulling the strings. Gazzaniga had to be wide to a fantastic Wickham shot. He later pulled off a save that defied belief when a Cabaye (who else?) corner fell to Bolasie. It was the perfect height for a volley and he absolutely put his foot through it. Somehow Gazzaniga got a hand to it and kept it out. Long then had the last opportunity of the game when put through one-on-one and opted to try to slot the ball between Hennessey's legs. The keeper got down quickly and saved to secure all three points. Palace are in fine form and will be looking forward to the match against Stoke next week which would put them within a hair's breadth of top four. Southampton need to salvage themselves for the visit of the other major top-four hopeful: Spurs.

Manchester City Vs Swansea: The money team lucks out against headless Swans......
An awful game matched only by the weather and the result. City skated the line today in how crap a team can be and still take all three points, I'd have thought United were odds on for that award. Make no mistake, they did not deserve this and probably didn't even deserve the draw that seemed nailed on when Gomis equalised in the 90th minute. Swansea succumbed to a goal they could not prevent having gone behind from a goal they really should have. Monk was sacked after 22 months in which he took them to the premier league and had them mixing it with the “big” teams but was unable to sustain a series of results that his board considered good enough. Why they sacked the manager just before they faced one of the league favourites though is beyond me. Maybe there's no Welsh word for “timing”. City themselves haven't had a good run of form although their results have not suffered too much. They remain firmly in the title race and still have some key players to return yet the paucity of their performance today will not be leaving them too happy. They play like this against Arsenal next week and they'll get shredded.

Swansea, however, started with much more impetus and should've been one up inside of five minutes. Routeledge left Otamendi for dead to leave himself one-on-one with Hart. Unfortunately Hart was equal to his attempt and saved well. Silva remained City's only real source of drive forward and he set up Bony well in the 14th only for the striker to scuff the shot straight to Fabianski. Swansea attacked again with Routeledge found Sigurdsson on the edge of the box and completely open. He took his shot first time and it was straight at Hart. Navas forced a corner in the 26th and he took the corner himself. Swansea completely switched off and Bony was unmarked as he ran onto the ball and scored. The first half ended with Swansea attacking again through Sigurdsson and he found Ayew who hit narrowly over. The second half started with more Swans pressure and they came close when Hart saved well from a textbook Sigurdsson free kick. Hart was, by far, the busier keeper having to make twice as many saves as his counterpart. In the 90th minute, with Swansea still pouring forward, Fernandez hit a cutting long ball right down the middle of the field to leave Gomis with just Hart to beat having left Mangala in his dust. He hit his shot just over Hart but with such power that he couldn't keep it out. The cheers from the Swan crowd were still ringing around the half-empty Etihad when, 90 seconds later, Toure picked the ball up on the edge of the box and his shot bounced off the back of Iheanacho and looped over the helpless Fabianski. Swansea will have made a lot of Arsenal fans happy by making City look really bad today and will be hoping West Ham suffer a similar drop in form next week. City travel to Arsenal and will need a performance much better than this if they are to survive.

Sunderland Vs Watford: Slim pickings at the stadium of light..........
A relegation six-pointer” Sam Allardyce claimed this match to be, which is a bit odd considering Watford came into the match in the top half of the table and, afterwards, now sit in seventh. Whether the comment was a blissfully ignorant assessment or the world's shittest wind-up we will never know. One thing we are closer to knowing is how difficult it will be for Sunderland to stay up this season. As it so often does the slim scoreline betrays the reality of the game, with Watford having more than three times as many attempts on target as their hosts and were unfortunate not to walk away with at least four goals. This was down to a combination of the profligacy of Ighalo (even though he scored) and the skill of Pantillimon (even though he was partially at fault for the goal). Watford have now won three on the trot and five out of their last seven and are starting to play some seriously good football. Sunderland are still mired in the same problems that have dogged them all season although they can look to the strong ending they had today for heart, even though it yielded no points in the end.

It took a mere four minutes for the Sunderland defence to concede and it came from a routine looking passage of play. Nyom galloped down the right flank, as he would continue to do the entire match, and crossed low for Ighalo who had gotten in front of a dozy Coates at the near post. His connection to the ball wasn't great but with the Sunderland defence and Keeper still asleep, it didn't need to be. The ball squeaked past Pantillimon at his near post. Seven minutes later the lead should've been doubled when Ighalo turned O'Shea inside out and just skipped past him and fired into the goal. A last ditch slide from Coates cleared the ball off the line and the ensuing goalmouth scramble ended with Jurado glancing a shot off the post. Allardyce scrapped his five man defence idea after 20 minutes to try to stack the midfield and see more of the ball and it somewhat worked, well, at least they didn't concede again. The second half started off with more of the same but Sunderland were beginning to play themselves into the game. It all turned when Defoe came on and prompted fevered questions as to why he wasn't put on earlier. He had the ball in the net from practically his first touch, although it was ruled out for offside, and he spurred Sunderland into a frenzy in the last twenty minutes. They pressed the life out of Watford and fired ball after ball at the goal with Gomes required to produce a brilliant stop to deny Defoe. Watford will be pleased with their point haul so far and a win over Liverpool next week will be incredible for them, even if they'd take a point at this stage. Sunderland have a long slog to continue and have the beleaguered Chelsea next week.

West Ham Vs Stoke City: One hell of a scoreless shoot-out...................
In one of the most entertaining 0-0 matches you're likely to see (ever) we caught a glimpse into Bilic's mindset with regards to his team and how he wants them to play; attack! In the second half he slung on Valencia and Jelavic for two attacking substitutions at 0-0, when he's got a sizeable amount of his first team missing. The man has got balls I'll say that. Yet his plan very nearly worked. That Hughes also had the same plan with Stoke and it nearly worked too made for some compelling viewing in a fixture that, in the past, could've been used as a riot suppressant. West Ham left this match grateful, again, to their goalkeeper Adrian for keeping Stoke's few chances at bay and Stoke were grateful that Butland was more than equal to the horde of chances West Ham had to score including a heart-wrenching moment in the 43rd minute when Shawcross his pass straight to Noble who surged past him. Thankfully Shawcross got back in time to foul Noble off the ball and walked away with the goal kick.

The match started off brightly with the Hammers having first chance with Koyate absolutely plastering a ball from 30 yards out. It took a slight deflection but Butland got to it. Stoke got into it afterwards to start off their only spell of serious pressure in the match when Van Hinkel fired narrowly wide with the goal at his mercy and Arnoutovic latching onto an excellent Afellay cross only to have mis-judged where he was and his first-time shot flew wide. The half ended with Antonio somehow missing from two yards when he slid onto a Cresswell cross that had everyone fooled. The second half started off well too with Antonio coming close with a volley that was straight at Butland. The last 20 minutes saw both teams make ever increasingly attacking subs and the match began to really heat up. Arnatovic smacked a free-kick off the crossbar on the 67th minute and Cresswell had a good shot ten minutes later which Butland needed to be alert to keep out.
Then the moment of the match came when Zarate was allowed to jink the ball around the entire outside of the box without a single tackle being put in and his crisp shot cannoned off the post with Butland well beaten. The last kick of the game was a corner which pin-balled it's way around the Stoke box unitl it got to Koyate who headed it on goal only for Butland to punch away as the ref blew the final whistle. Stoke will need to continue their renaissance next week against a team who are in the midst of their own revival, Palace. The Hammers travel to a headless team in Swansea next week that really should be three points for them if they play like this again.

Bournemouth Vs Manchester United: United's sleepy play finally gets its' just desserts.........
I've banged on about United's stodgy play for months now. I mean, who hasn't? Van Gaal and his team of Diazepam players have been playing god-awful horrendous football for a while now. But they still sit in the top four. The fact always remained that, yeah they're playing shit, but they're not losing. That's the key. Until now. It seems this match could turn out to be something of a turning point. After today, United can no longer sleep-walk their way through games. They were comprehensively out-hustled today by a Bournemouth team that was buoyed by their win over Chelsea last week and have now added Manchester United's name to their kill-list. It's been a great few weeks for Bournemouth, even if some of their players haven't had the best of times. Bournemouth's best performer was Arter, who elected to play despite losing his baby daughter a week ago, and he could've been forgiven for not showing up to play. It speaks volumes about this team and their spirit that such a tragedy actually binds them closer together and makes them stronger.

United, on the other hand, look like a disparate group of strangers who just all happened to show up to a speed-dating session all wearing the same clothes. They also look like they don't know what their supposed to be doing, whether as a group or individuals. Van Gaals claims that injuries have severely weakened his team will fall on deaf ears as he faced a team who have not a tenth of the resources yet have just as crippling an injury list. Nevertheless Bournemouth had sought to go at United from the off, knowing that sitting back was to invite danger, and promptly got their reward after two minute with a sublime rarity: A goal straight from a corner. Stanilas had helped win the corner from a free kick and his whipped in delivery to the far post was flapped at by De Gea who could then only watch as the ball pinged in off the post. Boruc kept this lead for as long as he could, making a superb double save from Fellani and Carrick two minutes later and Martial firing an inch wide on the 18th minute. On the 24th a floated ball in from Carrick left Menphis on and his shot was well saved by Boruc. He could do nothing about Fellani and his follow-up however and United were level. The second half brought more Bournemouth pressure with Francis running virtually the entire pitch and through the whole midfield and defence only for De Gea to save well. The corner was fired low to King who slapped home to make it 2-1. United got desperate in their hunt for a second and left themselves wide open at times, with Murray missing a golden chance late on. The match ended as it should have, with the better team winning. Bournemouth now travel to West Brom and will hope for three on the bounce to really give them a huge boost in the league, Manchester United have a lot of questions to answer before Norwich arrive.

Aston Villa Vs Arsenal: Gunners coast to victory over lifeless corpse otherwise known as Villa
Most Arsenal fans would say that these are the types of matches they need to win to be title-contenders. And they have to be won convincingly. It's no good crawling past a team like Villa, devoid of any kind of spirit and cohesion, and expect people to give you a chance against teams like Manchester City. And that's just what they did. Despite starting quite slowly, which is odd considering the “pure speed” output of a lot of the players, they grew to dominate utterly a team that expects to be so. In Villa they found a nice resting game before a week long break and the match against City. Villa had the opportunity to show that they've got some pluck if people are willing to believe in them and while they did play much better in the second half, they were never in this game and always looked worse off.

Arsenal have had to re-jig their lineup in recent months thanks to a plethora of injuries which gave rise to the sight of Walcott back on the right wing and Ramsey in his preferred central role. Ramsey was a machine today. Full of running and energy and drive, yet it was Walcott who secured the early first goal when his run onto a brilliant Flamini ball resulted in him being hauled down in the box by Hutton. For all the “controversy” surrounding how Friend took so long to make up his mind it remains that he made the correct decision, it still begs the question why he began by running away and then blowing up for the penalty. Giroud stepped up and fired the ball to the right to make it 1-0. Arsenal then went full counter attack mode, ceding possession knowing that they really couldn't be hurt unless they fucked up major styleee. Giroud came close to adding a second with a header only for Gestede to clear off the line. Their toying with Villa culminated in a scything counter attack in the 38th minute which saw Ramsey tackle Gana to release the ball to Ozil who fed Walcott. Walcott waited for Ozil to run by him and played a superb through-ball to leave Ozil one-on-one. Make that three-on-one as he had Ramsey and Giroud to his left. He got close to Guzan and squared around him to Ramsey who had an open goal. The second half saw Arsenal shift right down in preparation for City on Monday and they played well within themselves, comfortable in the knowledge that Villa had nothing left. Villa have a trip to Newcastle and will need to show more fight to hope for anything, and it's the two favourites on Monday as Arsenal host City.

Liverpool Vs West Brom: Good times and bad tempers.................
Klopp's much celebrated tenuous grip on reality was pushed to the limit today. He wound up celebrating Origi's 95th minute equaliser (at Anfield, no less) like he'd just won the world cup and stood staring at the West Brom bench with a manic, near-insane, look in his eyes. Had he pulled out a chainsaw and set about carving the backroom staff up into sandwich meat I don't think anyone would've been surprised, they'd probably be surprised that it hadn't happened sooner. He then ended by refusing to shake hands and leading his team in a group bow that left everyone confused as to what the fuck was going on and running for the exits lest they hear the sounds of a chainsaw buzzing. West Brom, in the meantime, will rue the momentary lapses that allowed Liverpool to snatch a point in what would have been a landmark victory for them this season. They conceded horrific amounts of possession (probably the lowest in the league so far) and had only two shots on target. Thankfully they scored with both of them.

It was Liverpool who opened the scoring first though. In the 21st Coutinho was afforded some rare space and he floated a sublime cross for Lallana. Everyone expected him to go for goal with the header and, as he was some distance from goal, everyone backed off him. This meant no-one tracked the run of Henderson who was Lallana's actual target. He dinked his header straight onto his feet and Henderson's first-time shot was unstoppable form around six yards out. It was a brilliantly worked team goal. The lead lasted only nine minutes however when Rondon won a corner and Brunt sent it to him at the far post. Mignolet came out to punch away and missed it completely, leaving him badly out of position. The ball fell to Dawson who fired in to level the score. In the 45th minute Olsson latched onto Gardner's free kick and volleyed it home, the flag staying down despite there being four Brommie players offside. The celebration went on and as the player jogged back into their half, the flag then went up and the goal was correctly ruled out. The second half saw Olsson get his goal for real this time, on the 73rd minute, when he glanced home a Brunt corner. The 75th minute saw Lovren stretchered off after a tackle with Gardner saw his follow-through end up on Lovren's knee. The extra time from this tackle would prove decisive. Myhill saved well from Lallana and when eight minutes added was signalled, everyone knew this match was going down to the wire. Origi, subbed on in place of Lovren, picked the ball up in the 96th and ran through a blatant foul. He got the advantage and his shot looped in off McAuley to seal the point. Liverpool will hope they don't need as much added time next week against Watford and West Brom will hope to seal up the defensive gaps when Bournemouth come to town.
Spurs Vs Newcastle: That's it, it's official, McClaren is some kind of sorcerer..............
Newcastle went into this game looking to win two-in-a-row for the first time since last Novemeber. This against a team that had only lost once so far this season. Safe to say, it wasn't looking good for McClaren and a draw was considered the best he'd get from this, if not avoiding a humbling would be second.. A win was not on the cards. Spurs were hoping to capitalise on Manchester United's slip up to Bournemouth and a win would have put them level on points and establish them as a top-four team finally. Dier's 39th minute opener seemed to cement that notion until it all fell apart in the last half hour. This result makes it three in a row at White Hart Lane for Newcastle. Though they arrived at the win via the very hardest route, typical Newcastle fashion, it was well deserved by the end and they can thank whatever gods they want that Spurs did not take full advantage of the entire first half of domination to really put them to the sword and round out the half much more that the 1-0 they did. For that, they have Elliot to thank as he made some unbelievable saves with one from a looping Lamela shot being the most eye-catching.

Spurs started the half on top and it stayed that way until midway through the second. Dier's goal was your typical front-post delivery from Lamela and the Newcastle defence ignored both of the Spurs players there. Dier was first up and he thudded his header across the goal and over Elliot who could do nothing. Mitrovic came on and the whole dynamic of Newcastle's game changed. They started to build towards the Spurs goal and, on the 72nd minute, they got their equaliser. Rose stupidly stopped a Janmaat cross with his hands and the free-kick was slung in by Colback to the back post where Colocinni headed back across. Mbemba got down and stooped towards the goal where Lloris could only half save it. Mitrovic, from around three inches out, poked home. Newcastle smelled blood and went on the offensive. Mitrovic narrowly missed a Sissoko cross which would've settled it in the 90th minute. Then, in the 94th minute, Mitrovic headed over to Perez who seemingly over ran it and his angle was too tight for a shot. Or so we thought. His shot was low and hard and Lloris, again, couldn't connect cleanly with the ball and keep it out. Newcastle will have some new challenges to overcome next week against Villa as it'll be the first time in a long time that they'll be clear favourites heading into a game. Spurs will need to analyse where they went wrong and patch up for their visit to Southampton.

Leicester City Vs Chelsea: Hahhahahahahahahahahahaha...........................
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hahahahahahahahahahhahahahaahahahahhaahahahahahahahhahahahah...... 2-1 to Leicester.....hahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahaahahhahahahahaahahahahaaahaha
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hahahhahahahaahahahahhaahahahahah. Chelsea now a point off the relegation zone......ahahhahahahahaahahahahaaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahaaha
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hahahahahahahahhahahahaahahahahhaahahahahah Jose has been sacked!!!!! haahahhaahahahahhaahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahhaahahhaahaahahahahaha