Here’s what happened in the English Premiership over the weekend, in case you missed it…
Gerry Dobson and Craig Forrest review Saturday’s action, including Chelsea’s loss to West Ham United, and the battle at the top between the two Manchester clubs.
Robin van Persie’s goal for Manchester United against Reading was your choice for Twitter Play of the Day on Soccer Central Matchday.
Craig Forrest answered fans’ Twitter questions during Saturday’s Soccer Central Matchday broadcast.
Talk about a tale of two halves. Chelsea was brilliant in the first half, totally dominating the Hammers and appeared to be flying when Juan Mata scored in the 13th minute, finishing off the fantastic move after being set up by Fernando Torres. But it was all West Ham in the second half, as the influence of Mata and Eden Hazard lessened. It could have been so different had Torres finished off his glorious scoring chance in the first half and given the Blues a comfortable 2-0 lead. Instead, he skied his shot way over the crossbar after a great set up from Ramires. The Spaniard hasn’t scored a league goal in two months, and with Oscar and Hazard having cooled off after blazing starts to the season, Chelsea is in genuine danger of slipping further down the table.
Match fact: Twenty six points from 15 matches represents Chelsea’s worst start to a Premiership season during the Roman Abramovich era. Also, Fernando Torres has gone 12 hours and 19 minutes without a league goal.
Instead of pontificating about Arsenal’s troubles, let’s focus on something else, namely the remarkable finishing displayed by Michu. It’s easy to look at his two chances coming on 1-on-1 breaks and expect him to bury them. But one of the hardest things to do for strikers when they’re in that situation is keep their composure. On the first goal, he had the presence of mind to shift his body so he could take the shot with his favoured left foot instead of rushing it. And on the second one, he kept cool despite a heavy first touch that nearly saw him spurn the chance. That takes real skill and genuine class, two qualities Michu has in abundance.
Match fact: This is Arsenal’s worst start to a Premiership season under Arsene Wenger (21 points after 15 matches). Also, 22 of Swansea’s 23 league goals this season have come from open play.
How often have we seen single moments of lunacy turn a game in an opponent’s favour? In Fulham’s case, it’s happened twice in their last four outings. A few weeks ago, a Brede Hangeland red card swung the momentum firmly in Sunderland’s favour, and allowed the Black Cats to steal three points from Craven Cottage. This week, it was Mark Schwarzer’s turn to play the goat, as he let a 40-yard striker from the boot of Sandro beat him inside the post. The honours were all even up until then, but the Australian keeper’s miscue opened the door for Spurs to take over and forced Fulham to chase.
Match fact: Fulham is winless in their last eight Premiership matches against Tottenham, losing six in a row. Also, Gareth Bale has been booked more than any other player in the league for simulation since the start of last season (four times).
Now we’ll find out what Liverpool is made of and how they’ll survive without Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan hit man picked up his fifth booking of the season against the Saints, ruling himself out for the Reds next match, a tricky fixture away to West Ham United. It’ll be interesting to see how Liverpool does without its top scorer and the one player whose form is so closely linked to this team’s fortunes. The Reds managed 19 shots against Southampton but only scored one goal, and it’s hard to imagine them creating that many chances against the Hammers without Suarez.
Match fact: Daniel Agger has scored all five of his Premiership goals at Anfield. Also, Liverpool previously won back-to-back league games at Anfield in September 2011.
Kudos to referee Lee Probert for pointing to the spot after Marouane Fellaini tugged on the shirt of Edin Dzeko. No doubt the Bosnian sold it by going to ground far too easily, but Fellaini was still guilty of the foul on a call that isn’t made that often but should. Jersey grabbing and all of the wrestling moves that have become the norm inside the penalty area is one of the modern game’s biggest scourge. Referees need to take a hard line with this, which is why Probert’s decision was so refreshing – how often have we seen the officials simply turn a blind eye, as if to say, “it’s just part of the game.” It’s not, it shouldn’t be and there should be no tolerance for it. Period.
Match fact: Manchester City is unbeaten in the 35 Premiership games in which Carlos Tevez has scored (with 31 wins). Also, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini has been involved in nine goals (six goals, three assists) in his last nine league appearances.
QPR is capable of playing some wonderful soccer, their sweeping move down the right side instigated by Jose Bosingwa and finished off by Jamie Mackie in the 18th minute allowing them to get back into this one after conceding early. But the reason why they have the worst offence in the league (11 goals) is not because they don’t create chances but rather they don’t convert them. Twice Shaun Wright-Phillips was in alone on Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and twice he failed to give QPR the lead in the first half. And then more spurned chances after the restart. QPR can’t continue on like this anymore if they’re going to claw their way out of the drop zone.
Match fact: Harry Redknapp is unbeaten in his last 13 games against Aston Villa as a manager in the Premiership (six wins and seven draws). Also, QPR has tied the record for the longest run from the start of a league season without a win — Swindon (15 games) in 1993-94.
No doubt about it that West Brom has been the surprise of the season, the Baggies firmly in the conversation for a top four spot after 15 matches. But there’s been an underlying sense that this is all too good to be true, and eventually they’ll slide down the table. And if they do, it’ll be because once they concede, chances are they’re not going to be able to rescue anything – the Baggies have earned just one point from a losing position in the Premiership this season, a league low. When you can’t come from behind against Stoke at home to at least earn a point, you know you have issues once you’ve conceded first.
Match fact: This was Stoke’s first away win in the league since beating Blackburn back in January. Also, Stoke has won five of their last seven league meetings with West Brom, with just one loss.
You know who was salivating after watching this seven-goal fest that featured plenty of horrific defending? Manchester City, that’s who. The champions welcome their city rivals to the Etihad next Sunday, and don’t think for a moment City can’t wait to have a go at a United side that conceded three goals in 23 minutes to a team that competed in the Championship a season ago. United have conceded in eight of their last 11 matches, and have looked pretty hopeless at the back. City, meanwhile, boasts the league’s best defence (just 11 goals against) and is tied for the second-best offensive record in the Premiership. It’s not going to be another 6-1 win, but expect United to conced once or twice as they struggle to contain City’s potent and quick attack.
Match fact: Seven goals in the first half of this match tied the Premiership record held jointly by Blackburn vs. Leeds (Sept. 1997) and Bradford vs. Derby (April 2000). Also, Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal was the 400th in the league this season.
Norwich looked like sure candidates for relegation after going winless through their first seven matches of the campaign. But there the Canaries are, in 12th place and only two points out of 10th, after extending their unbeaten run to eight consecutive games. Why the turnaround? In a word: defence. Norwich gave up 17 goals in their first seven matches, including twice conceding five times in one game, and recorded just one clean sheet. This eight-game run has seen them be breach only four times, and they’ve managed four clean sheets. They are also the best disciplined team in the topflight, with only 12 yellow cards and not a single red.
Match fact: Sunderland has won just twice in 21 league visits to Carrow Road in their history. Also, the home side has won in the last eight league meetings between these teams, with the last draw coming in September 1998.