English Premier League: 10 Things We Learned from EPL Week 21
Once again, the English Premier League is complete for another week, with Week 21 of the EPL providing for another excellent round of matchups and results.
Both Manchester clubs recorded comfortable victories in their race for the title whilst the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal, Everton and Swansea all dropped points in their bid to finish in the top four.
On the other end of the table, Reading and Wigan Athletic all suffered further losses—continuing their position inside the relegation zone—whilst QPR picked up the upset of the round in their 1-0 defeat of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
It was another huge week of Premier League action; here's 10 things we learned from the competition this week.
1. Tottenham Have Some Good Momentum
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Tottenham Hotspur made it three wins in a row this week when they toppled a hapless Reading side 3-1 at White Hart Lane.
Andre Villas-Boas side are starting to play some consistent, quality football and are getting the results they deserve in the process—showing that they are one of the most in-form sides in the Premier League at the moment.
The win marked Tottenham's fifth game without a loss, with their only defeat in their past nine matches coming away to Everton, where they were somehow beaten by two goals in stoppage time by the Merseyside to lose 2-1 on the night.
In those past nine games, the North London club have scored 19 goals and conceded just six—an average of less than a goal per game in that time frame.
They currently sit in fourth position—five points clear of Arsenal—and in one of the strongest positions to challenge for a top-four spot down the stretch.
2. West Brom Are Starting to Slip
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Steve Clarke's West Bromwich Albion have surprised many teams (and fans) this season with their strong performances in the English Premier League.
The Baggies aren't in a relegation scrap like many predicted. They're competitive against the top teams in the league and have been pushing for a top-four finish all season.
However, it seems that run of good play and results is slowly starting to come to an end for West Brom, who are starting to seriously slip heading into the Christmas and New Year period.
Their 2-1 home loss to a poor Fulham side highlighted just how bad the Baggies can be at their worst, and it also signaled their slow decline and clear distance away from being a competitive top-half team.
West Brom have won just two of their past eight matches—one of which being against last-placed Queens Park Rangers—and have only won one of their last four home games.
The Baggies will no doubt still be competitive in the back half of the season. Just don't expect them to be playing with the big boys anymore. Their pipeline dream of a top-four finish is well and truly gone, for they'll be lucky to finish in the top six or seven places by the season's end.
3. There Is Still Hope at Aston Villa
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After back-to-back-to-back hammerings, anything other than a drubbing would have been seen as a positive result by Paul Lambert's Aston Villa.
What they showed against Swansea City was that, despite their recent results, they are still a quality team who can turn it on at times this season.
The Villans picked up a 2-2 draw at Liberty Stadium, a venue where the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool have all dropped points, and were perhaps unlucky not to pick up all three points after a late Swansea goal gave them a share of the points.
But considering their last three matches had read 8-0 loss, 4-0 loss and 3-0 loss, really anything would have been seen as an improvement by Aston Villa.
And this result certainly was that.
With Southampton, West Brom and Newcastle all due up in the Premier League this month, Villa will have a great chance to prove they are indeed a strong side this year, and not just relegation fodder for the remainder of the season.
4. There Is Still Hope at QPR
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Whilst this weekend's matches might have shown that there's still hope at Aston Villa despite recent performances, it also showed that similar hope exists at Queens Park Rangers.
Nobody—and we mean nobody—gave Harry Redknapp's men any chance in the world heading into Stamford Bridge this week, with the question not being whether Chelsea would win this match but rather how much they would win the match by, and with that simplicity.
The simple answer turned out to be neither.
After holding the European champions at bay for the opening 75 minutes of the match, repelling attack after attack, the London club finally got in good position to challenge the Chelsea net with an attacking corner, and attack it they did.
A superb finish from Shaun Wright-Phillips left the West London club stunned as what looked like an easy victory for Chelsea suddenly had finished in a 1-0 home defeat.
Rafa Benitez was back under pressure, Harry Redknapp was left looking like a genius, and QPR had just won their second game of the Premier League season.
To put the magnitude of the upset into perspective, QPR had not beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the English Premier League since April, 1983.
This is what happens when you pussy-foot about for 75mins, failing to take apart a shambles of a team. They rear-up and bite you.— Dan Levene (@BluesChronicle) January 2, 2013
5. Can Cleverley/Carrick Win the EPL?
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Look across the English Premier League and you'll see that all the top teams have their stars in central midfield. These are the players who can break open a game seemingly at will.
Manchester City have the likes of Yaya Toure; Chelsea have Juan Mata and Frank Lampard; Arsenal have Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere; Tottenham have Moussa Dembele and Sandro.
Manchester United have Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick, both of whom pale in comparison to the partnerships and success that the players mentioned above have had at their current clubs.
Up until now, that is.
The Cleverley/Carrick relationship in central midfield is finally starting to look the goods for United this season, with the Red Devils seven points clear on top of the table and undefeated through their past nine matches in the league.
The pair no doubt have plenty to learn in terms of playing together and holding a dynamic and prolific attack together, but so far, the signs are good for the United.
They might not have the big-name attraction and proven success that the names above do, but this could very well be the year that they make the jump into that category, especially if they can lead United all the way to Premier League glory in 2013.
6. Arsenal Are Not a Top Four Team
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Arsenal's recent 1-1 draw against Southampton this week proved what we've been thinking for some time now this year. They simply aren't a certain top-four team anymore.
I'm not saying that the Gunners won't make the top four and that they can't be a top-four team at their best. What I'm saying is that they aren't a regular in the Champions League positions anymore this year and that they have a real fight on their hands to finish that high up the table.
Their latest result proves that to be true.
The Gunners looked slow, lethargic and less than adequate against the Saints, finishing with a 1-1 draw that probably summed up the night for Arsenal to a tee.
They were simply not good enough and have not been good enough several times this year, leading to large questions about their inconsistencies in attack.
A 7-3 win over Newcastle is great, but not if you're going to drop points to Southampton next week. Just like a 5-2 over Tottenham is great but not if your can't score next week against Aston Villa.
It's all about consistency in the EPL, and this season, Arsenal simply don't have it. That's not to suggest that they can't win and it's not even suggesting that they won't finish in the top four—it's simply a statement as to how hard it will be to get there without proven, consistent wins on a regular basis.
7. It's Time for Papiss Cisse to Thrive
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It's no secret that Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, whilst both very talented and skillful individuals, simply don't play well together at Newcastle United.
Where one succeeds, the other will not. It's simply always been the case for the Magpies since the pair were brought together at the club last January.
This year, Cisse has struggled to have the same dominance as he had last year, with many naming the involvement of Ba at the top of the Newcastle attack as the key reason for his gradual demise.
However, now with Ba off to Stamford Bridge, Cisse once again has the freedom and luxury of being the club's top striker and attacking weapon—a position he loves to be in.
Cisse will need to step up for Newcastle over the back half of the season if the Magpies are to finish in the top half this year, something that we all know he's capable of doing, if given the right opportunity to show off his incredible goal-scoring prowess.
The striker started this week's match against Everton without Ba and as the club's top striker. He scored inside of two minutes to give Newcastle the lead.
8. Liverpool Still a Real European Chance
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After a more-than-sluggish start to the year under Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool are starting to play some quality football on a consistent basis this season in the Premier League.
The Reds made it back-to-back victories with a 3-0 win over Sunderland at Anfield this week—taking them well inside the top half of the table and in a real position to challenge for a European berth over the remaining half of the season.
Luis Suarez is having a career-best year for the Reds and is simply proving unstoppable in attack. With the imminent arrival of Daniel Sturridge from his transfer and Fabio Borini from injury, suddenly the Merseyside attack looks very strong and complete this season.
Especially with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen pulling the strings behind them in midfield, this team truly is a strong contender this season.
All it takes is a bit of momentum to make a strong run up the table, as the likes of Tottenham, Everton and West Brom have shown this year, as have Liverpool already to get to where they are.
If they can continue to thrive over the next two months in particular, there's no reason why Rodgers' men can't be considered a top-four or -five chance this season.
9. As Too Are the Other Merseyside Club
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However, as strong a run as it has been from the Reds over the past few months, the other Merseyside club—Everton—is having an equally as strong run of late in the Premier League.
Having lost last week at home to Chelsea, Everton bounced back to form with a commanding performance away from home, beating Newcastle United 2-1 after coming from behind.
The win now moves the Toffes into fifth place and just two points off fourth-placed Chelsea, who have a difficult month ahead in terms of scheduled matches.
It might not be perfect football from David Moyes' men, but they are certainly showing their attacking prowess and skills every time they take the field this season—failing to score in just one game so far this year and that was back in September.
They have only lost once in their past nine matches and twice since September. Even without Marouane Fellaini, the Toffees are riding a strong wave of good form at the moment and could well finish in the mix for a top-four spot at the end of the year because of it.
10. RVP Is the Difference in the Title Race
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Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini declared earlier this week that Robin van Persie was the difference between United and City this season (per Sports Illustrated).
At the moment, he is the difference between us. He has scored 14 Premier League goals and it is clear he has changed their situation.
We were very close three or four months before he joined United. We were sure he was for us but it didn't happen. We wanted Van Persie because we knew he was totally different from our other strikers. We wanted to improve our team, particularly for the Champions League. We were very close to signing him...
And after watching the Dutch international once again turn the game United's way in their most recent win against Wigan Athletic, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to admit that Mancini might just be right about the importance of RVP to the club.
We knew we were getting a top player who would make a difference to the team—that's why we went for him.
Robin's a completely rounded footballer. He has international experience, he's played for Arsenal for seven years and he came to us at the very peak of his career.
His ability to make and take goals is fantastic. His play was absolutely magnificent [against Wigan Athletic].
Little can be said other than the fact that Van Persie has been fundamental to United's seven-point lead this season. He will be fundamental to their Champions League chances against Real Madrid and will be fundamental to their quest at a 14th Premier League trophy.
If he does not succeed, United will not succeed.
He's just that good and that talented and, at the moment, he's the biggest difference between the two Manchester clubs in the title race.
What did you learn from the Premier League this weekend?
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