Premier League Saturday Wrap: Liverpool Win Easy; Manchester City Win Ugly
It's Week 23 of the Premier League, and we have one of the most important footballing weekends of the season.
With Tottenham Hotspur taking on Manchester United in a clash of the Premier League's two form teams and Spurs' Champions League rivals Chelsea and Arsenal facing each other at Stamford Bridge, the focus on Saturday was firmly on Manchester City's chase of United and the ever-interesting relegation battle.
The Citizens would have the very real chance to reduce their deficit to the Red Devils by four points, but only if they beat Fulham at Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge took on a Norwich City side who have conceded eight goals in their last two games against the Reds. Could Liverpool hammer them again?
Loic Remy, in one of the Premier League's more prominent debuts, would travel to West Ham United with his new team, Queens Park Rangers, firmly intent on bridging their four-point gap with Wigan Athletic at the bottom of the table.
For their part, the Latics welcomed a rapidly improving Sunderland side, and their 5,000 travelling support without the injured and influential Ivan Ramis. Would the loss of the Spaniard combined with the Rangers' capture of Remy leave Wigan in trouble?
Elsewhere, Newcastle, smarting from Remy choosing Rangers and London over the North East, saw Reading, hot off the back of last week's amazing comeback against West Brom, come to town.
Swansea City, with one eye on their midweek League Cup semifinal clash with Chelsea, went into battle against Stoke City, who were coming off the back of their worst result of the season—a 4-0 home loss to Chelsea.
The return of the late kickoff then saw struggling Aston Villa make the short journey to the Hawthornes, where the equally struggling West Bromwich Albion lay in wait.
Put everything together and it promised to be another amazing Premier League weekend.
Read on to find out what happened...
West Ham United 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
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QPR hung on for a valuable point at West Ham after the home side came back from a Loic Remy-debut goal to draw with the relegation strugglers.
West Ham have won two of their last 12 games. So when QPR, unbeaten in five and with new signing Remy in tow, ventured to the East End, their hopes were high for a morale boosting win.
However, Sam Allardyce's side had not read the script and dominated the game from start to finish.
Remy opened the scoring in the 14th minute with a sublime finish, after he latched onto Adel Taarabt's through-ball to score past Jussi Jääskeläinen.
In response, the Hammers immediately upped the tempo and forced Rangers on the back foot, as they created chance after chance. As with Arsenal, Marouane Chamakh failed to convert or create any of the better opportunities that came his way.
For all of West Ham's dominance, they needed something special to break down the resolute QPR defence, which came in the form of 62nd minute substitute Carlton Cole.
The English international replaced the misfiring Chamakh, and almost immediately, the Hammers were back in the game. Hometown hero Joe Cole scored the all-important equalizer on 68, when he bundled home Cole's saved header from just two yards.
The goal queued wild celebrations, but it also initiated a 20-minute siege of the QPR goal that saw Julio Cesar make some wonderful saves, as his desperate defenders gave away chance after chance.
In the end, the Rangers hung on for the valuable point that will suit both teams going forward.
Wigan Athletic 2-3 Sunderland
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Wigan, having conceded the first goal in 11 of their last 14 matches, made a dream start when David Vaughan scored the tamest of own goals likely to be seen this season.
The Black Cats, however, are a much different prospect since Christmas. In front of an amazing 5,000 fans, who braved the Arctic conditions to travel to Wigan, they roared back into the match and scored three goals before the break.
The first came from the penalty spot after the referee, Anthony Taylor, deemed that Seb Larsson's free kick had hit James McCarthy on the arm. Craig Gardner stepped up and stroked home a superb penalty that gave Ali Al-Habsi no chance, as it smashed in off the post in the bottom corner.
Just three minutes later, new Sunderland signee Alfred N'Diaye got clear down the left and put in a superb cross for Steven Fletcher. The Scottish international's first effort was brilliantly saved by Al-Habsi, but he could do nothing about the goal, as Fletcher reacted quickest to smash the ball into the roof of the net.
Rampant and dominating the game in every facet, it was little surprise when Martin O'Neill's side added a third just two minutes before halftime.
A long free, from deep in their own half, found Fletcher, who flicked the ball on to Adam Johnson who immediately laid it back on for the Scot with a neat one-two.
Fletcher, just inside the penalty area, then curled a beautiful whipped effort into the top corner to give Sunderland an unassailable lead.
To their credit, Wigan never laid down and dominated the second half as Sunderland defended their lead.
The Latics' pulled one back with just 11 minutes to go when on-loan Manchester United youngster, Angelo Henriquez, scored within seven minutes of coming on.
Despite a grandstand finish that saw Wigan pile everyone forward in search of the equalizer, they could not make the breakthrough, and the game finished at 3-2 to Sunderland.
Manchester City 2-0 Fulham
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Manchester City bridged the gap to Manchester United to just four points when they beat Fulham, but it was hardly the performance of champions or title contenders.
City were given a dream start when David Silva scored his first of the day after just two minutes. Fulham, playing sloppily across midfield, gave the ball away needlessly to James Milner who instantly fed Edin Dzeko.
The on-form Bosnian striker shot at goal, but his shot was well saved by Mark Schwarzer, only for Silva to follow up and tuck the loose ball home from close range.
City failed to capitalize on that quick and perfect start by playing within themselves for much of the rest of the first half. As the game progressed, Fulham became a bigger influence and started to dominate possession.
However, another moment of poor concentration saw the Cottagers go two behind. Once again the ball was given away in midfield.
Silva was put through on goal, and as Schwarzer advanced, the Spanish international chipped the ball over the 'keeper and into the net off the far post.
Mere seconds later, and Silva was put through in exactly the same position. This time, however, his effort glided past the post and wide with Schwarzer well beaten.
Fulham, to their credit, kept playing, but for all their possession, they did not trouble Joe Hart once all game.
Newcastle United 1-2 Reading
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Reading pulled off another remarkable comeback to beat Newcastle and record their first away win of the season.
The Royals had Adam Le Fondre to thank once again after his quickfire double, after coming on as substitute, saw Brian McDermott's side win from the unlikeliest of positions.
Newcastle dominated the opening 70 minutes and really should have added to Yohan Cabaye's 35th-minute strike before Le Fondre was introduced.
Cabaye was particularly outstanding. He dominated midfield and showed the Toon Army what they have missed over the past two months. The inspirational midfielder has been injured since November and only returned to action last week as a late substitute.
Profligate finishing and a virtuoso display from Adam Federici in the Reading goal kept the Magpies lead to just one as the final act began.
Le Fondre entered the fray in the 70th minute and scored with his first touch of the ball after he converted Jimmy Kébé's low cross. Just seven minutes later and he had his second when he ran into Hope Akpan's miss-kick to curl the ball in from outside the box.
The key moment of the game wasn't Le Fondre's introduction, though. It was Cabaye being replaced in the 73rd minute.
The second the French international left the pitch, Reading, high from having equalised, roared forward and dominated midfield and the rest of the game.
Reading crawled out of the bottom three but only on goal difference.
Swansea City 3-1 Stoke City
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Swansea City scored an impressive win on the eve of their League Cup semifinal second leg with Chelsea, when they brushed Stoke City aside at Liberty Stadium.
Jonathan De Guzmán was the main hero for the Swans with two superb goals, but in reality, every single Swansea player was outstanding, as they completely outplayed the Potters.
Stoke have won only one of their last 14 away league matches and came into this game off the back of their worst defeat of the season—a 4-0 loss to Chelsea.
Ben Davies' goal, just four minutes after the interval, set the Swans on their way to an easy three points.
The 19-year-old nipped in ahead of Ryan Shawross to fire a low shot in past the on-form Asmir Begovic, and with Stoke having only scored eight goals on the road all season, the game was as good as over.
Michu, having an off day, missed a couple of chances before De Guzmán started.
Michu, as with most of Swansea's goals this season, played a part when he was tripped just outside the box. De Guzmán duly stepped up and whipped an unstoppable shot into the top corner with Begovic well beaten.
The Dutchman then added his second after the best team goal you are likely to see all season. With almost every one of Michael Laudrup's players playing a part, De Guzmán collected Danny Graham's slick pass to slide the ball home.
With the game all but over, Stoke scored a late consolation goal when Michael Owen headed in with an injury. The goal was a small reminder that the ex-English international may still have a part to play this season.
The game, though, belonged to Swansea, who welcome Chelsea in the League Cup semifinal on Wednesday.
Liverpool 5-0 Norwich City
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Daniel Sturridge, on his home debut for Liverpool, and Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool to an easy win over an insipid Norwich side at Anfield.
The Reds have lost just once in their last 12 games against teams in the bottom half of the Premier League. With Chris Hughton inexplicably dropping Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan to the bench, that record was always going to be increased.
Out of form Norwich have only collected one point from the last five games, have conceded eight goals to Liverpool over their last two games and have not beaten the Reds since 1994.
Brendan Rodgers, sensing that the visiting side would be rightly bereft of confidence, decided to start with a traditional 4-4-2 for the first time this season, and it paid huge dividends.
Suarez and Sturridge worked incredibly well together, with the Uruguayan playing the more creative role, as he dropped off into midfield to initiate many of Liverpool's attacks as the Reds overloaded Norwich in the middle.
Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard dominated proceedings in midfield against the Canaries three-man system and really provided the foundation for the easy win.
Jordan Henderson scored the first goal, and it was a goal of real craft. The young midfielder collected a pass from Suarez, and instead of passing it on, he whipped the ball into the top corner with a sensational finish.
From there the game was as good as over. Suarez and Sturridge, the Premier League's new SAS combination, dovetailed beautifully and combined in the best possible fashion to increase the Reds' lead.
Gerrard picked the ball up in the centre of his own half and played a laser-like pass to Sturridge, who let it run through his legs. The dummy fooled everyone with the exception of Suarez, who raced onto the free ball like his life depended upon it.
A poor first touch made his angle to goal slightly more difficult, but the Uruguayan steered the ball expertly into the far post to leave Mark Bunn rooted to the spot.
With Liverpool coasting, Sturridge then got in on the action, when he tapped home the revived Stewart Downing's cross. It was the forward's third goal in three games since joining from Chelsea.
The scoring wasn't over, and Steven Gerrard scored an incredible fourth, after he drove the ball home from fully 30-yards, before Ryan Bennett capped off a miserable day for the Canaries when he scored a forgettable own goal.
The win elevates Liverpool to eighth in the table.
West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa
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West Bromwich Albion came from two goals down against Aston Villa to draw. Peter Odemwengie scored the all-vital 83rd minute equalizer after Christian Benteke's and Gabriel Agbonlahor's goals had set the Villains up for an unlikely win.
Goals were always going to be on the agenda in this game. Aston Villa have not kept a clean sheet in nine games while the Baggies have not kept a clean sheet in seven so nobody was surprised when the game finished with both sides scoring.
Christian Benteke opened the scoring with one of the goals of the season after just 12 minutes. Receiving the ball with his back to goal around 30-yards out, the Belgian international dropped a shoulder and sent his marker completely the wrong way. He then unleashed an unstoppable thunderbolt of a shot into the top corner as Villa took the lead.
Paul Lambert's side then doubled their advantage when Gabriel Agbonlahor scored his first goal since November 3, after a sweeping end-to-end counter attack.
To their credit, the Baggies came out fighting in the second half and scored with their first real attack.
Peter Odemwengie, a constant threat to Villa all match, broke down the flank and crossed to Romelu Lukaku who had his back to goal. West Brom's Belgian then laid the ball off to Chris Brunt who stroked the ball in off the post with consummate ease.
With only one goal separating the two teams West Brom went on to dominate the lions-share of possession and really should have equalised long before Odemwengie's 83rd minute effort.
When the goal did come it was directly from the training ground. Benteke utterly lost Gareth McCauley at a corner and the centre-half headed the ball down into the six-yard box where Odemwengie applied the finishing touch.
The Baggies weren't finished there though and could have won the game in injury time if it were not for Matt Lowton's goal-line clearance when Odemwengie had Brad Guzan well beaten.
The draw will suit both teams here as Villa crawl above Reading and out of the drop-zone while West Brom will celebrate the end of a three game losing streak that had seen them fall out of European contention.
Premier League Results: Week 23
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Premier League Results: Week 23
|West Ham United||1-1||QPR|
|Swansea City||3-0||Stoke City|
|West Bromwich Albion||2-2||Aston Villa|
|Tottenham Hotspur||1-1||Manchester United|
Premier League Table: Week 23
Happy Man that Brendan Rodgers.
Clive Mason/Getty Images
|8||West Bromwich Albion||23||10||3||9||33||32||1||34|
|12||West Ham United||22||7||6||9||25||28||-3||27|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||23||2||9||12||18||37||-19||15|
Statistics provided by www.soccerbase.com and www.premierleague.com.
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