Premier League Saturday Wrap: Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City All Come from Behind
The pick of the Premier League fixtures fell on Saturday this week, with all of this season's pretenders and contenders on the menu and a couple of serious performances to digest.
From there it was on to the six 3 p.m. kickoffs (U.K. time), which saw Manchester United and Wayne Rooney (celebrating his 10th year as a professional) host Stoke City, West Brom take on champions Manchester City, and Liverpool go in search of a first home win of the season versus Reading.
Here's what happened...
Tottenham Hotspur 2-4 Chelsea
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Chelsea stretched their lead at the top of the Premier League after a well-deserved 4-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
Spurs were facing an uphill battle right from the start, as Mousa Dembele got injured midweek while playing for Belgium, and Gareth Bale missed the game to be with his girlfriend at the birth of their first child.
Andre Villas-Boas' team were second best for most of the match and could not contend with Chelsea when they stepped up a gear.
The Blues took the lead through a brilliant Gary Cahill volley, his fourth goal in just nine games this season, but were pegged back by Spurs early in the second half.
Losing 1-0 at halftime and playing as poorly as they have all season, Andre Villas-Boas must have absolutely roasted his depleted team—and William Gallas in particular—during the break.
So when the French veteran and Jermaine Defoe put Spurs 2-1 up, the White Hart Lane faithful could be forgiven for thinking they were on the verge of a famous comeback.
However, Chelsea just stepped the game up a level, and when Juan Mata, pulling the strings in a fluid 4-2-3-1, scored twice in the space of three minutes, the game was as good as over.
Villas-Boas, playing against his former club for the first time since he was sacked last season, made changes to bring his team back into the game; but a series of superb saves by Petr Cech, who appears to be returning to top form, kept Spurs at bay.
Mata, the Man of the Match, then turned provider in the 90th minute as Daniel Sturridge scored to leave Spurs outside the top four, while Chelsea continued their good early-season form that has seen them become viable title contenders.
Liverpool 1-0 Reading
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Raheem Sterling scored what will surely be the first of many for Liverpool today, as Brendan Rodgers' team recorded their first home win of the season over Reading.
The 17-year-old put in the kind of display that will have Liverpool fans salivating about the youngster's future. But, once again, the Reds struggled to score, and as a result this game was closer than it had any right to be.
Sterling was a constant threat through his jinking runs, and the Reading defenders struggled to deal with him in any way, shape or form. He constantly caused havoc when on the ball, and when off it, the likes of Shaun Cummings and Kaspars Gorkss were pulled all over the place in an effort to contain him.
However, despite all Sterling's good work, it was almost another case of the same old thing for the Reds.
They dominated possession and had 23 shots on goal, but could only find the back of the net once. Reading, sensing that vulnerability and perhaps showing too much respect to their rivals, went in search of an equaliser. Brad Jones, in for the injured Pepe Reina, was forced to make two saves that he should never have had to make.
In the end, Liverpool held on for the much-needed victory, as they now embark on a run of fixtures that will see them face Everton, Newcastle, Chelsea, Spurs and Brendan Rodgers' former club Swansea all before the end of November.
Add in three Europa League games and a tricky fixture against Wigan, and the next five weeks will be incredibly tough for the Reds.
West Ham 4-1 Southampton
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Before today, Southampton had conceded the most amount of goals in the Premier League (20). So when they travelled to London to take on Sam Allardyce's West Ham, a home win looked certain.
However, Nigel Adkins' team had other things on its mind and managed to put in a resilient first-half performance where both teams were as impotent as each other.
The game was going to hinge on the half-time talk from both managers, and one wonders what was said—both negatively for the Saints and positively for the Hammers—because the second period was pretty much one-way traffic all the way.
From the very moment the excellent Mark Noble thundered home a free kick in the very first minute of the second half, there was always going to be only one winner.
Minutes later, Kevin Nolan latched onto the impressive shot of Yossi Benayoun—the Israeli international making his first appearance of the season—after Artur Boruc, also making his first appearance of the season in goal for Southampton, failed to deal with the stinging shot.
The Saints pulled a consolation goal back through Adam Lallana. The superb Noble then fired home his second and the Hammers' third from the spot on 72, before Modibo Maiga slotted home for the fourth with just minutes left on the clock.
All in all, it was an easy win for an average West Ham side that is developing a reputation of being hard to beat and putting weak teams like the Saints to the sword.
Happy days at the Boleyn ground as the Hammers climb to eighth.
West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Manchester City
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Super-sub Edin Dzeko was the hero for Roberto Mancini's team, as the Bosnian international scored a late brace to steal all three points for the 10-man Citizens after they had dominated the game.
West Brom took the lead against City after Irish international Shane Long latched onto Peter Odemwengie's scuffed shot from outside the box. The on-form centre-forward calmly slotted home after the on-form Joe Hart was wrong footed by the Irishman's superb reading of the situation.
To their credit, City were the better side throughout, despite being down to 10 men after just 23 minutes. James Milner received a straight red for taking down Long in the first half when he was the last man.
They dominated possession, but struggled to make any kind of breakthrough until Mario Balotelli was removed from play after 64 minutes. Sergio Aguero was Mancini's first throw of the dice, but his all-Argentine partnership with Carlos Tevez was kept at bay by an ever-retreating Baggies backline.
Dzeko entered the foray on 79 (for Gareth Barry), and within one minute he had levelled the score after guiding Tevez's superb in-swinging free kick home with his head.
Sensing blood and with the home side reeling, City then went all out for the winner and got the goal their play deserved, with Dzeko scoring a superb goal that left Foster rooted to the spot as the ball billowed in the net in injury time.
It was a tremendous result for City, who have started to look good as the season settles and today had the performance of a champion.
Fulham 1-0 Aston Villa
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The ever-present Chris Baird scored the late winner after he latched onto John Arne Riise's 84th-minute corner to smartly finish past Brad Guzan in the Villa goal.
Villa, for their part, never really threatened to breach the back line of the Cottagers, who were comfortable for most of the day. However, Gabriel Agbonlahor was guilty for missing two gilt-edged chances that would have taken the points for Paul Lambert's men on another day.
Swansea 2-1 Wigan
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With neither side having won since August, this game always had the potential of being a dour affair, and the first half sadly lived up to all those expectations.
Neither side threatened or seemed capable of threatening during the opening 45 of this limp squib of a game.
The second half offered slightly better fare, as Swansea's Spanish duo, Pablo Hernandez and Michu, both scored within two minutes of each other to throw the game into another direction completely.
It was a huge victory for Michael Laudrup following rumours of dressing room unrest, and moves the Swans up to 10th in the table ahead of Liverpool and ex-manager Brendan Rodgers.
For Roberto Martinez, the loss will be a hard one to take, especially as Arouna Kone had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside following Emerson Boyce's goal.
Add that to the fact that Michael Vorm put in another excellent performance in the Swansea goal, and the Latics boss will feel badly aggrieved as his side slip closer to the relegation zone.
Manchester United 4-2 Stoke City
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On the 10th anniversary of his first goal as a professional, Wayne Rooney went through the full gamut of football emotions against Stoke today. The England striker scored an own-goal, scored a brace and then added an assist as Manchester, like Chelsea before them, came from behind to win 4-2.
Rooney looked distinctly off-colour in a week where his potential, whether or not he has fulfilled it, has been the element of great debate.
Sir Alex Ferguson, expecting a flaccid Stoke performance, sent out his team in an attack-minded-looking 4-3-3, but they got more than they bargained for after their star player, Rooney, nodded into his own net following a trademark deep cross from Charlie Adam.
Stoke then looked the better side and really should have gone 2-0 up before Rooney's equaliser after Jonathan Walters' tame finish after a couple of superb one-twos.
Rooney was slow to the break off the ball during the entire first half. It was almost as if the magnitude of the 26-year-old's 10th anniversary, his early own-goal and his late England game on Thursday were all conspiring against him to make him look heavy-legged.
Despite all that, he scored right on the stroke of halftime to record his 199th club goal.
The Red Devils No. 10 then had a hand in the move that saw Robin van Persie turn provider immediately after the break.
Danny Welbeck latching onto van Persie's smashed cross to put United in the driving seat against a Stoke team who only scored 36 goals during the entirety of last season.
Michael Kightly, briefly, gave Stoke a chance after yet another Rio Ferdinand mistake, only for Rooney to score again.
The England international put the game beyond doubt with his 200th career goal on Paul Scholes' 400th league appearance to leave dead and buried.
Despite some impressive statistics involving two goals and an assist, Wayne Rooney was far from his best today.
He struggled to capture the form he is capable of, and at times he looked as if he was going through the motions.
If he was playing against a proper team that would have met him head-on in a challenge instead of skirting around the edges, his influence would have been negligible. This, perhaps, can be put down to the relative poor quality of teams below the recognised top five in the Premier League.
In essence, this game almost looks like a microcosm of Rooney's 10-year career at the top.
He has limitless potential but rarely hits that level, and when he plays poorly, he is still better than most players on the planet. Just like today.
Norwich City 1-0 Arsenal
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The big news for Arsenal fans heading into the match against Norwich was that Jack Wilshere was to return to the first team squad for the first time since getting injured in June, 2011.
The bigger news for Arsenal fans after the match was that their title tilt is pretty much over after the Canaries beat their illustrious counterparts 1-0.
The Gunners, as expected, dominated possession but Chris Hughton's side intelligently gave Arsenal the ball and created two barriers in front of the 18-yard box that was impossible to break through.
Norwich, with Irish manager Giovani Trappatoni an interested observer in the stands, used Ireland style tactics and man-marked Santi Cazorla completely out of the game. With the Spaniard neutralised Arsenal were little more than a blunt instrument.
Grant Holt, who has made a habit of taking weak central defensive partnerships apart, then caused all manner of problems for Thomas Vermaelan and Per Mertesacker and it was no surprise to see the striker bag his third goal in three games.
From there Norwich sat back as if taunting the Gunners to find a way through and in the end they finished quite comfortable and deserved winners.