Premier League Saturday Wrap: Man Utd, Spurs, Pool Win; Chelsea, Arsenal Lose
In the busiest week of Premier League football this season, the main fixtures all fell on Saturday. With all 20 teams having played three matches in seven days, the chances were there for certain teams to put some daylight between them and their main rivals.
The early kickoff saw the action started at the Boleyn Ground, where Rafael Benitez and Sam Allardyce, the respective managers of Chelsea and West Ham United, renewed a rivalry that has run since 2009 after Fernando Torres scored for Liverpool against Blackburn.
The under-pressure Spaniard led his team to West Ham's lair after just two games in charge and with a team who last won in October against Tottenham Hotspur.
From there it was on to the six 3 p.m. kickoffs (GMT), which saw Arsenal take on Swansea in a game that could leave the purists purring—while leaving everyone else snoring.
Spurs, off the back of two successive victories against West Ham and Liverpool, travelled to the graveyard that is Craven Cottage to take on Martin Jol and flamboyant Fulham.
Would the game turn out to be the grudge match many were predicting? Jol was unceremoniously sacked by Spurs in 2007, while this week he claimed that American international Clint Dempsey only joined Spurs for the money during the summer.
Lucas Leiva made all the headlines at Anfield when he returned to the Liverpool team for the first time since August 26. Would his appearance be enough to inspire the, so far, uninspired Reds against lowly Southampton?
West Brom, fourth in the table prior to today's matches, welcomed a Stoke City side who were slowly starting to warm to the pace of this season's Premier League.
Harry Redknapp led QPR out at Loftus Road for the first time against an Aston Villa side with the hottest young striking prospect in the league—Christian Benteke. Would the crafty Cockney lead his team to a much-needed win?
The biggest fixture of the day saw Manchester City face an Everton side at the Etihad Stadium. City are unbeaten at home since December 20, 2010—Everton won 2-1—while the Toffees have only won once in their last eight games.
The late kickoff saw Manchester United, the highest away-scoring team in the Premier League, take on Reading, who have conceded 23 goals in just 13 matches.
Read on to find out what happened.
West Ham United 3-1 Chelsea
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West Ham and Sam Allardyce heaped misery on Rafael Benitez and Chelsea after they came from behind to beat the Blues at Upton Park in the early afternoon kickoff.
Having failed to score in their two home games under Benitez, the Blues went on the road in search of the first goal of his reign.
Chelsea dominated the opening period and deservedly took the lead after a superb team goal. Fernando Torres was released just down the side of the Hammers' static defence by Victor Moses and his smart cut-back found Juan Mata, who made no mistake to give his team the lead.
The Blues, on top and dominating the game, then only had themselves to blame as they missed a number of chances to double their lead with the likes of Torres and Mata most guilty.
Sensing the game was as good as over at halftime given Chelsea's dominance, Sam Allardyce made two brave substitutions at halftime and introduced Matt Taylor and Mohammed Diame as he reshuffled his team.
The changes proved inspired, as all of a sudden the Hammers were winning the 50-50 challenges they had previously lost, while Diame offered greater penetration going forward.
The Senegalese midfielder started causing the Blues' defence and midfield all kinds of problems with his direct running, while Mark Noble was dictating the tempo of the game from midfield.
When the equalising goal did come, it was no surprise, and as Carlton Cole stooped to nod home Matt Jarvis' deflected cross, you could feel the balance of the game shift.
The now-confident Hammers kept pouring forward in search of their second as Chelsea struggled to stay in the game.
In a rare late chance, Juan Mata smashed a thunderous free kick off the post, with Jussi Jaaskelainen little more than a spectator in the Irons' goal.
That miss proved pivotal, as just minutes later Diame fired home to give West Ham a deserved lead with just five minutes to go.
From there, the Blues just about gave up completely and the Hammers' third and final goal came as no surprise as the game entered injury time.
The loss leaves Rafael Benitez under severe pressure from the Chelsea fans, as he is now without a win in three games in charge, while Chelsea are now on their longest Premier League run without a win since 1995.
West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Stoke City
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With Chelsea having lost to West Ham earlier, West Brom only needed to draw against Stoke City to move back up to third. However, the Potters, unbeaten at the Hawthornes since 2003, had other ideas and came away with a superb 1-0 win.
Stoke City have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League, having only lost three games this term. They travelled to the Baggies full in the knowledge that they currently hold a hoodoo over Steve Clarke's side and that they have also not conceded a goal from their rivals since both teams played in the Championship.
Dean Whitehead's solitary strike was enough to separate the sides as the Potters picked up their first away win of the season.
Having frustrated West Brom with a superb defensive performance, they capitalised on poor defending from the Baggies' back line to score.
Kenwyne Jones chased a lost cause down the left and found Michael Kightly in plenty of space. The ex-Wolves winger then sprinted into the box and squared for Dean Whitehead to side-foot in from the edge of the six-yard box.
The goal was simplicity in itself and was a perfect example of the two teams' contrasting styles.
While West Brom created plenty of chances and forced Asmir Begovic to make a number of saves, they were overindulgent when compared to Tony Pulis' team, who capitalised on their sparse possession.
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
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Tottenham Hotspur brushed Fulham aside at Craven Cottage thanks to a speculative Sandro goal from fully 30 yards and a Jermain Defoe double—the 149th and 150th goals of his league career.
In truth, the first half was a forgettable affair with neither goalkeeper being forced into action of any real kind.
Spurs set out in Andre Villas-Boas' patented narrow 4-2-3-1, while the Cottagers matched up almost exactly to cancel out their Champions League-chasing opponents.
If anything, the stalemate in the first 45 minutes suited Spurs. Prior to the Fulham match, Spurs had only kept one Premier League clean sheet all term, and with the two teams cancelling each other in midfield, the advantage was handed to the away side.
Building from the back has always been one of Tottenham's best attributes, and new manager Villas-Boas insists on this indoctrinated method.
With that simple but entirely effective tactic in mind, it was always going to be a matter of time before Spurs overloaded Fulham in midfield and made the breakthrough.
The inevitable happened just after half time, when Sandro's stunning shot from distance evaded Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal. While the shot was good—and on target—it was exactly the kind of save a 'keeper should make.
With Spurs in the lead, confidence flooded into Villas-Boas' team while it flooded out of Jol's team—who are now without a win in seven Premier League games.
As the away side bombed on Clint Dempsey, enjoying the No. 10 role behind Defoe became more and more effective.
Last season at the Cottagers, he was primarily used as an inside-left behind the striker, where his skill at reading the game helped him conjure up 23 goals in 46 games. This year, at Spurs, he is being utilised in a completely different way and is seen more in the buildup than at Fulham, where he was primarily used as a finisher.
This could be seen in Defoe's opening goal, where his excellent threaded pass found Gylfi Sigurdsson, on for the injured Gareth Bale, who the squared for the England striker to score.
Defoe, inevitably, added his 14th of the season and his 150th League goal just five minutes later when Dempsey, once again the main protagonist in Spurs' attack, set up the striker to score into the bottom corner.
In the end, the win gave Spurs their third win in three games and lifted them above West Brom, who lost to Stoke, into fourth place.
Liverpool 1-0 Southampton
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Liverpool, once again, dominated proceedings in a Premier League game and, once again, struggled to score a second goal as they beat a dreadful Southampton side at Anfield.
As is the case with many of the Reds' games this season, especially against teams in the bottom half of the table, they thoroughly enjoyed the vast majority of possession and chances on goal. But, as has been the case on more than one occasion, they struggled to kill the game off having taken the lead.
During the first period, Liverpool hit the woodwork twice, through a Luis Suarez free kick and a Jonjo Shelvey shot, and literally played the Saints off the park.
Southampton, to their embarrassment, only managed one shot on target all day and barely even managed to get a shot off in an insipid second half that will leave many questioning Nigel Adkin's role during what will be an inevitable relegation battle after Christmas.
The Reds took the lead right on the stroke of halftime, when Daniel Agger found the back of the net following Glen Johnson's deep cross.
After the goal, Southampton's slim resistance was utterly broken, with Liverpool's fans hoping for a second-half mauling of their submissive opponents.
Strangely, it did not happen.
Liverpool continued to dominate possession and created the vast majority of chances, but they significantly failed to create anything of real note against an opponent who was already on the bus home to the south coast.
Substitutions and bookings helped fracture a poor second half, as the Reds gained only their third home win of the season and climbed to 11th in the process.
QPR 1-1 Aston Villa
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Harry Redknapp remains unbeaten as QPR manager. However, he could do little about his team equalling the Premier League record for the most games without a win, as Aston Villa managed to hold Rangers to a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road.
QPR were the better side throughout and created the far better chances, but Villa's resilience held firm under pressure to earn Paul Lambert's team a valuable point.
Most spectators expected Rangers to come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders, but in an opening period that saw Aston Villa claim the momentum—and the lead—they were strangely mute.
Rob Green, in goal for the injured Julio Cesar and after a superb performance against Sunderland, failed to deal with Brett Holman's speculative 25-yard shot as Villa took an early lead.
The Australian international, signed on a free transfer from AZ Alkmaar during the summer, cut inside and advanced towards goal without the slightest of challenges before letting loose the shot.
The goal was enough to send Harry Redknapp apoplectic on the sideline, and it wasn't long before his team were back in the match.
Surprisingly, Redknapp chose Jamie Mackie to start up front instead of Djibril Cisse, and Mackie rewarded his faith in the 18th minute.
The Scottish international scored his second goal in two games when he evaded his marker to head home Samba Diakite's floated cross.
From there, QPR were firmly in the driver's seat and went on to boss the match—if not the score line.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, also recalled to the starting XI under Redknapp, was a constant thorn in the Villa rear guard and should have done better when Brad Guzan smothered his shot. However, the American 'keeper could do little about the diminutive winger's effort that cannoned off the base of the post.
As Rangers pushed on, Villa fell back and tried to defend the valuable point, with Guzan the main reason the away side came away with their heads held high.
Time after time, he was called into action to deny Diakite, Hill, Park and Mackie as Rangers kept pushing forward.
He denied Redknapp and QPR each and every time, and as the clock ticked down, Rangers threw one final attack forward that saw a Clint Hill header cannon off the crossbar.
Simply put, it was not going to be QPR's day. With the point, Villa move two points clear of Southampton in 18th.
Arsenal 0-2 Swansea
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Arsenal are down to 10th in the Premier League after Swansea pulled off a stunning, and well-deserved, 2-0 win at the Emirates. Michu scored both goals as Arsene Wenger's team laboured throughout.
Michu's late goals settled what had become a repetitive match. Both Arsenal and Swansea employ similar styles, the Swans now more than ever under Michael Laudrup. With that in mind, the game was always likely to become an affair more akin to poker than to football.
In the end, it was Arsene Wenger who blinked first after the Frenchman made a trio of late substitutions in an effort at chasing the game.
Jack Wilshere, Lukas Podolski and Gervinho were all removed from action for Tomas Rosicky, Olivier Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as the Gunners opened up to become more forward thinking.
If anything, the substitutions unsettled an Arsenal team which had settled into a groove against an opponent just waiting to strike.
Wenger's side enjoyed the better possession throughout the match, but it was always Swansea who threatened more. The Welsh side were far more effective in possession and carried the threat that the Gunners did not.
With the game entering its final scene, Swansea sensationally stole all the headlines with two carbon-copy goals from the Premier League signing of the season, Michu.
If anything, the Swans looked far more comfortable on the ball than their nervous opponents, who always seemed to be struggling with the weight of expectation.
To play in the Arsenal style, players require a fundamental belief in the system and the manager.
There was only one side on show with that level of belief and it wasn't Arsenal.
The wins means that Swansea climbs to seventh while Arsenal drop to 10th. The loss also means that this is the Gunners' worst start to a season since 1996, the year Arsene Wenger took over.
Manchester City 1-1 Everton
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Manchester City were forced to come from behind to share the spoils against Everton at the Etihad. The visitors took the lead through Marouane Fellaini, only to be pegged back when Carlos Tevez converted a soft penalty.
Unbeaten in 36 home games prior to Everton's visit, the Citizens were always going to be wary of the visitors. Everton were the last team to beat City at the Etihad, in December 2010, and have never shown any fear when playing champions in the past.
With that in mind, the Toffees lined up in their traditional 4-4-1-1 formation that can become 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 at the drop of a hat.
Their flexible approach and outright honesty are two of the main reasons David Moyes' teams are always difficult to beat, and in the past they have proven a tough team for Roberto Mancini to counter.
In six previous games between the two managers, Mancini has only ever managed to win once, so it was more than surprising that he chose to make so many changes to his first XI from last week.
Jolean Lescott, for many one of the best defenders in the Premier League last season, was given only his seventh start of the season, as Mancini made numerous changes to his setup.
Unsurprisingly, the game almost became a battle of wills right from the start. Everton's attitude said City would have to win the battle before being allowed to play, while City seemed unsure on how to approach this kind of opponent.
As both sides felt each other out, it was the Toffees who took the lead.
Leighton Baines tore down the flank and delivered a pinpoint cross to Fellaini, who headed towards goal. Joe Hart, somehow, managed to keep the ball out, but he could do little about the giant Belgian following up on his effort as he forced the ball over the line.
City upped the tempo as they went in search of the equaliser, and it came from the unlikeliest of places when they were awarded a very soft penalty. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot as Fellaini tussled with Vincent Kompany. However, he could equally have pointed to a free out, as a number of City players were also involved with Everton players in similar tangles.
Under pressure, Carlos Tevez showed no sign of nerves as he expertly guided the ball home for the equaliser from the spot.
In the second period, City dominated possession but created nothing of note, as Everton's determined defence kept the Blues at arm's length.
The result leaves City in second place just behind Manchester United, while Everton drop to sixth.
Reading 3-4 Manchester United
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Reading and Manchester United played out the most ridiculously entertaining half of football seen this season. Trading goals like they were confetti, the two Premier League clubs scored seven goals between them in a 26-minute spell that left onlookers stunned.
Reading are no stranger to high-scoring games this season, having lost 7-5 to Arsenal in the Capital One Cup. At one stage, the Royals even led the Gunners by 4-0, so when Hal Robson-Kanu fired home a brilliant half-volley on eight minutes, everyone waited with baited breath.
The avalanche of goals people were hoping for duly arrived.
Anderson equalised in the 13th minute after a one-two with Ashley Young set him up to fire in at the near post. His effort fizzed past Adam Federici, but the Royals' 'keeper will feel very aggrieved to have been beaten at his near post despite the power of the shot.
Wayne Rooney then restored parity to the football universe by scoring a penalty in the 16th minute, but, to their credit, the home side were not finished yet.
Brian McDermott's side fired back through Adam Le Fondre just three minutes later after sloppy defending from Jonny Evans following a Reading corner.
Minutes later, Sean Morrison scored his second goal in three games, as Reading amazingly went in front. Once again, the goal came from poor defending from another corner.
Not to be outdone, Rooney then scored his second of the game from a Patrice Evra cross, just minutes before Robin van Persie scored what turned out to be the winning goal.
As the two teams went in at halftime, everyone wondered what score the game was going to end in, and not one person would have predicted a scoreless second period.
But that was exactly what happened despite the best efforts of the two teams involved.
United tried to kill the game off through Rooney and van Persie, but Federici and poor finishing conspired to keep United's score the same. Reading continued to cause problems at set-pieces without ever really threatening.
Eventually, the game finished with the score line at 4-3, which was enough to move United three points clear of City at the summit of the Premier League, while McDermott’s side will take heart from another excellent performance.