English Premier League: 10 Things We Learned from EPL Week 12
With losses to Manchester United and Chelsea over the weekend, the English Premier League took on a whole new look at the end of Week 12, as defending champions Manchester City take over the mantle as the team to beat in England.
The Citizens ran riot over a poor Aston Villa side, whilst several of the league's top sides struggled to pick up victories, with United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Fulham and Newcastle all beaten by their opponents over the weekend.
It was a week full of memorable matchups and fascinating outcomes, and once again, we learned plenty from the Premier League's matches.
Here are 10 things we learned about the league, the clubs and the players within them.
1. Mark Hughes Will Be Gone by Xmas
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Coming into Week 12 without a win, just eight goals scored for the entire season and sitting dead last on the Premier League, it's safe to say that the pressure was beginning to mount on Queens Park Rangers.
More to the point, the pressure was beginning to mount on manager Mark Hughes, who simply wasn't looking like the right man to take the London club forward this year.
Speculation was growing about a possible departure from the club in the near future—unless he could turn their season around and string some wins together.
A home game against the second-worst team in the Premier League, Southampton, was their best opportunity to open up their campaign for the 2012/13 season. But like so much of what QPR has done this year, they simply were not good enough for their opponents.
The Saints finished with a 3-1 victory on the night, and they might very well have given Mark Hughes a Christmas present he didn't really want.
2. St. James' Park Isn't a Fortress Anymore
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Newcastle United were the surprise team of the English Premier League last year—finishing much higher than many expected and turning out to be a much more difficult team than anticipated.
Part of that was due to the fact that their home ground, St. James' Park, was simply a fortress. Teams simply could not make the trip up north with confidence that they were going to walk away with any points, or dignity, after facing Alan Pardew's men at home.
However, such is not the case this season.
The Magpies were beaten at home for the second week in a row following their loss to West Ham last week, leading many to question whether the Toon, at home, are as strong as they once were.
They've now won less than half of their home matches this year and have scored fewer goals in front of their home fans than they have done away from home.
Granted they have played some tough teams at home this year—Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United—but they have also played some poor teams too in West Ham, Swansea City, Norwich City and Aston Villa and simply haven't looked convincing in any of those matches.
And with the Magpies set to lose some of their attacking potency due to the African Cup of Nations, their home form doesn't look like improving any time soon.
3. But Carrow Road Could Be...
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But just as quickly as St. James' Park is losing its status as a fortress, Norwich City are doing their best to make Carrow Road theirs—and it's starting to work for the Canaries.
Having defeated Arsenal at home little over a month ago, Chris Hughton's men recorded their biggest victory of the season to date—a 1-0 victory over Manchester United, who came into this match as the league leaders and one of the hottest teams in world football.
And having now won their last three home matches, all without conceding a goal, perhaps it's time that we all stopped and gave Norwich a little more credit when they're playing at Carrow Road than we have done in weeks gone by.
Other than an off night against a hot Liverpool side, Norwich haven't been beaten at home yet, and have played several sides in the top eight in the process.
Definitely something to watch for over the coming weeks, as the Canaries continue to be an interesting revelation at home this season.
4. Are Everton in a Mini Form Slump?
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It seemed like only yesterday that we were discussing the high-flying Everton and pondering whether or not they were a top-four candidate in the Premier League this year.
Their defense was solid, and with the likes of Kevin Mirallas, Nikica Jelavic, Steven Pienaar and Marouane Fellaini in attack, there was seemingly little doubt that the Toffees were going to be one of the top sides in the league this season.
However, with their shock 2-1 loss to Reading this week, it's worth noting that the Merseyside club are definitely in some sort of a slump—having won just one of their past six Premier League matches. And they had to come from behind late to win that one against Sunderland.
It's also worth nothing that during their streak, the Toffees haven't really played any of this season's top teams either, with the highest being ninth-placed Fulham earlier this month.
The question must be asked as to what is going on with David Moyes' team, and whether or not they are in some serious decline this season. They've already slipped out of the top four, and are in grave danger of slipping much further if they don't start winning football games soon.
5. Where Does Laurent Koscielny Fit?
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According to WhoScored, French international Laurent Koscielny lined up in the middle of the pitch for Arsenal's North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur on the weekend.
Manager Arsene Wenger's decision to play Koscielny in central defense meant that captain Thomas Vermaelen played out at left-back, and German international Per Mertesacker continued to hold on to his starting place in central defense also.
However, with the imminent return of Kieran Gibbs to left-back, Wenger faces a difficult conundrum as to what to do with his three centre-backs this year.
Last season, it was Koscielny and Vermaelen for the majority of the time, but given Mertesacker's run of fine form this year—including his first goal for the club this weekend—you wonder whether it will indeed be the French international who makes way this year.
Vermaelen, being the captain, has to keep his starting spot—meaning that the other two players will duke it out for starting honors in the other spot, barring any injuries of course.
And on this year's form, you'd have to give the nod to Mertesacker here. So the big question remains: where does Laurent Koscielny fit into Arsenal this season?
6. Red Cards Can Be and Are Costly
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It seems such a simple yet profound truth that we learned from the Premier League this week: Red cards are the most effective way to kill off a team's chances at success.
One bad tackle, one moment of not thinking clearly, and your team's shot at winning that week can be gone quicker than you can imagine—something that we saw to be true again this weekend.
Both Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham had players sent off this weekend, and both times, the clubs were in contention at the time of the dismissal. Spurs had taken an early 1-0 lead over Arsenal whilst Fulham were locked at 0-0 with Sunderland.
However, following the respective red cards, the two teams went on to concede eight goals between them and lose by two or more goals on both accounts.
Only one team has managed to win in the Premier League this year with 10 men—Manchester City against West Brom. Even then, it took them until the final minute of play to do so.
Out of the 21 red cards given so far this season, EPL teams stand with a combined record of one win, seven draws and 12 losses.
Simply put, red cards can be, and are, costly. We were reminded of that truth once again this weekend.
7. Manchester United Are Beatable
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Sure, Manchester United had already been beaten in the Premier League this year, but given their recent run of form and ability to simply "get out of jail" by scoring late goals, the Red Devils were seemingly unbeatable.
Yet, as Norwich City proved, that simply isn't the case. Sir Alex Ferguson's men are beatable, and it really wasn't that hard for the Canaries either.
Norwich simply controlled the middle of the pitch well and allowed their midfield to dominate the veterans that United had lined up in the middle.
Robin van Persie was forced to play further down the pitch than he would have liked, and because of it was unable to muster the same attacking potency he has done in recent weeks.
Granted, United were without David De Gea, Nemanja Vidic, Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney for this fixture, but even so, the result still gives teams hope that the Manchester giants are indeed beatable and won't always be able to come from behind and win this year.
As often as that still seems to happen.
8. Luis Suarez Is Worth His Weight in Gold
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Has there been a player in the Premier League this year who has carried/led/driven his side more than Luis Suarez has done for Liverpool?
I'd be surprised.
The Uruguayan international has simply been devastating for the Reds—netting 10 goals through their opening 12 games and bringing them back to the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham on the table this year, following their poor start.
Don't look now, but the Merseyside club are undefeated through their last seven Premier League fixtures, with their last loss coming in that controversial match against Manchester United at Anfield, where the Reds were undone by a late penalty for Robin van Persie.
Their stunning rise from the relegation zone to just one win outside of the top six has been simply incredible to track this season, and almost all of it can be put down to the skill and hard work of Luis Suarez, who is proving Brendan Rodgers right (to a degree) in letting Andy Carroll go this year.
9. Sunderland Can Actually Score Goals
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It might have taken 12 weeks of the Premier League season for it to happen, but Sunderland finally got going in attack this weekend with a three-goal night against Fulham.
The win was the first occasion that the Black Cats had scored three goals all season. It brought them to just 10 goals for the season to date, with just two goals in the five matches before their match against the Cottagers.
Though, according to Opta Sports, it might be a little while yet before we can start to consider the attacks as a "potent" offensive team—if they were ever considered that.
6 - Six players in the PL this season have had more shots on target than Sunderland (15): Ba, Suarez, Bale, RVP, Tevez & Giroud. Contrast.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 18, 2012
Still. Three goals. Baby steps.
10. West Brom Are the Real Deal
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That was the price that I was quoted at the beginning of the season when looking into whether or not West Bromwich Albion would finish in the top four this year.
And yet, 12 games through, there the Baggies are in fourth spot. With a huge 2-1 victory over Chelsea on the weekend, it's time to accept that Steve Clarke's men are the real deal this year.
They've performed well against several top teams in the league this season and have an incredible home record to boot, with just that unlucky match against Manchester City their only blemish at the Hawthorns this season in terms of games lost.
The Baggies might not have the star-studded squad or media attention that Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea receive, but they are still less than two wins away from the top of the table, and now a full win ahead of the fifth-placed Toffees.
Whether or not it's time to start believing in a dream European future is still yet to be seen. But for now, let's accept that West Brom are actually the real deal this season.
What did you learn from the Premier League this weekend?
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