Here’s what happened in the English Premiership over the weekend, in case you missed it…
Liverpool’s big win
Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest review Saturday’s action on Soccer Central Matchday, including Liverpool’s big win over Norwich City.
Suarez scorches Norwich
Luis Suarez’s goal for Liverpool against the Canaries was your choice for Twitter Play of the Day on Soccer Central Matchday.
Tottenham 1, Manchester United 1
United was sitting on a seven-point lead over their city rivals ahead of the weekend, but the gap is down to five thanks to Clint Dempsey’s injury-time equalizer for Spurs at White Hart Lane. Frankly, United were lucky to leave London with a point, as David de Gea made several outstanding saves and Rio Ferdinand tracked back to make a fantastic last-ditch block to deny Jermain Defoe a clear shot on goal. A seven-point advantage is not insurmountable (City came back from eight points back last season) but it does provide extra breathing room and put pressure on those doing the chasing. Five points puts the pressure on the leaders. Can United withstand the pressure, or will they crumble like last year? And if so, will this prove to be the turning point in the season?
Match facts: Alex Ferguson has squared off against 14 different Spurs managers since taking over the managerial reins at Manchester United in 1986. Also, Robin van Persie has scored 10 goals in his last 10 league matches.
Chelsea 2, Arsenal 1
Sometimes we tend to focus on the finished product, while not appreciated the beauty it took to set up the scoring chance. The art of the pass was on full display on this one, with two goals coming about as a direct result of picture-perfect distribution from a teammate. Juan Mata finished off a great chance to put Chelsea up 1-0 in the sixth minute, but it was fellow Spaniard Cesar Azpilicueta who set him up when he chipped a gorgeous ball over Arsenal’s defence. Not to be outdone was Santi Cazorla, who delivered a perfectly weighted through ball for Theo Walcott to run onto and slip past Petr Cech. And Walcott should have been credited with an assist when he slid a devilish defence-splitting pass to Olivier Giroud, only to see the Frenchman pull his shot wide of the far post.
Match facts: Arsenal has fewer points this season after 21 games than in any previous Premiership campaign under Arsene Wenger. Also, Chelsea only earned eight points from London derbies last season. This campaign, they’ve already earned 11.
Liverpool 5, Norwich City 0
Last week, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers came in for some heavy criticism in this blog for lacking courage, and for not being brave in his tactics away to Manchester United. Specifically, he was taken to task for waiting until the second half to bring Daniel Sturridge into the game. This time around, Rodgers got it spot on, partnering Sturridge and Luis Suarez right from the start and the combination picked up where it left off by displaying more magical chemistry. Check out the dummy from Sturridge on the through ball that released Suarez on goal and allowed Liverpool to take a 2-0 lead. Sturridge later made it 3-0, making it three games in a row he’s scored since the move from Chelsea. The young England international was wasted at Stamford Bridge, made to toil on the bench while Fernando Torres spurned chances. This change of scenery was exactly what he needed, and though it’s still early days, the Sturridge-Suarez duo looks like it could become one of the most dangerous in the Premiership.
Match facts: Steven Gerrard has now scored against 30 different teams during his Premiership career. Also, Luis Suarez has now scored seven goals in four league games against Norwich City.
Manchester City 2, Fulham 0
The champions outplayed the Cottagers at home, getting a brace from David Silva who scored two goals in a game for the first time during his City career. More important, the win helped to close the gap on frontrunners Manchester United to just five points. Another encouraging sign for the Blues was the way they kept their opponent completely at arm’s length. Fulham enjoyed 56 per cent possession in this match (only Arsenal at 59 per cent, on the road in September) enjoyed greater possession against City this season. And yet Fulham only managed two shots during the game, and none on target. Credit must go to Vincent Kompany and his cohorts, especially Pablo Zabaleta, for their smothering of Fulham’s attack and snuffing out the danger before it ever was able gather steam.
Match facts: Manchester City has scored in each of its last 18 league games against Fulham. Also, Fulham has registered just one clean sheet in its last 15 league matches.
Newcastle United 1, Reading 2
Funny how just before Christmas that Reading was tagged by most pundits as a sure candidate for relegation. But since then, they’ve won three and drawn one (with only one loss) to make things interesting. Reading is still in the relegation zone, sitting 18th overall with 19 points. But their strong form over the last month, coupled with Aston Villa and Newcastle both stumbling, means the race for survival is wide open. If Reading is to survive, two things need to happen. First, they have to keep more clean sheets away from home, as they’ve conceded in all 12 of their away games this season. And second, leading scorer Adam Le Fondre, with eight goals including two on Saturday, will have to remain healthy and in a decent form.
Match facts: 21 points from the first 23 games of the season represents Newcastle’s worst ever start to a Premiership campaign. Also, Saturday marked Reading’s first ever win away to Newcastle (one win and seven losses).
Swansea City 3, Stoke City 1
Canadian soccer fans may not like to hear this, but Jonathan de Guzman has been sensational for Swansea this season, and has done enough to at least earn some consideration from the Netherlands’ national team, if not a call-up. Michu, of course, has been the story for the Swans, but de Guzman has also contributed to the cause by adapting seamlessly to the pace and physical nature of the Premiership. That was in full evidence Saturday when he scored two goals that were absolute peaches. The first exhibited his technical skill, as he curled a gorgeous free kick from 25 yards out past Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The second saw him latch onto a pass, keep his composure and fight off a defender who was draped all over him before slotting home with the cool finish. De Guzman is a class player, better than the current crop of Canadian midfielders, with the possible exception of Atiba Hutchinson. It’s only a pity he hasn’t committed to playing for Canada.
Match facts: Michael Owen is only the eighth player in the Premiership era to score 150 goals. Also, his goal on Saturday was his first in the Premiership since May of 2011.
West Ham United 1, Queens Park Rangers 1
It was quite the Premiership debut for Loic Remy, the French striker scoring with his first shot to give QPR the lead after 14 minutes at Upton Park. It was a sublime finish from Remy, who timed his run to perfection to latch onto a defence-splitting pass from Adel Taarabt before breaking on goal. If that play is any indication, the Remy-Taarabt combination should be a dangerous one. But that won’t be enough to keep QPR up. Simply put, the Hoops are a disaster in their end, sporting one of the worst defensive records in the league (37 goals against and minus-19). It’s interesting to note that of their four clean sheets, three have been 0-0 draws, underscoring the team’s inability to grind out victories. But with only 16 games left and sitting bottom of the table with 15 points, they’re going to have to figure out how to do that if they’re going to beat the drop.
Match facts: The previous QPR player before Loic Remy to score his first Premiership goal as a member of the Hoops was former Toronto FC star Danny Dichio, in 1994. Also, Joe Cole’s goal was his first in the Premiership for West Ham since Jan. 11, 2003.
Wigan Athletic 2, Sunderland 3
Wigan has a hard enough time beating opponents, and the last thing it needed Saturday was for James McCarthy to help out Sunderland. But that’s exactly what he did, carelessly raising his arm while in the defensive wall to block a free kick. His act of stupidity allowed Sunderland to score from the spot in the 20th minute, wiping out Wigan’s early lead and any momentum that it gathered at the DW Stadium. Mired in a relegation and boasting the second-worst defensive record in the topflight (44 goals against), Wigan can’t afford such calamitous individual errors in winnable games such as this one.
Match facts: Steven Fletcher has scored six goals in seven league games against Wigan. Also, Sunderland has won four of its last five league meetings with Wigan (with one loss).
West Bromwich Albion 2, Aston Villa 2
Aston Villa looked to be home and clear when it took a 2-0 lead into the break, courtesy of smartly-taken chances from Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor. But maybe it was inevitable that West Brom came back to earn a draw. For one, the Baggies have been very difficult to beat at the Hawthorns this season. And second, 77 per cent of the goals Villa has conceded this season have come in the second half, or 32 of 44. Only Tottenham, at 74 per cent, is worse. Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by this stat, as Paul Lambert’s side is one of the youngest in the Premiership. Their youth showed on Saturday, as the Baggies pulled two goals to drop Villa just one point above the drop zone. With Reading suddenly in form and Wigan only a point behind, Villa is in serious danger here. Is Villa too good to be relegated? No, not at all. They’ve been terrible all season, and they can hardly have any complaints if they eventually go down.
Match facts: Peter Odemwingie’s equalizer for West Brom ended his Premiership goal-scoring drought at 15 hours and 49 minutes. Also, Aston Villa has just one win in its last 13 Midlands derbies (with nine draws and three losses).