English Premier League: 10 Things We Learned from EPL Week 24
Another huge week of Premier League action concluded Wednesday night, with plenty of takeaways and points to ponder from the week's matches.
Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United all climbed their way back into the points after conceding early goals, whilst defending champions Manchester City dropped further behind United in the title race courtesy of a scoreless draw.
At the other end of the table, QPR picked up valuable points on their relegation rivals, with Newcastle United the only other team to score a win.
It was a big week right across the board for the English Premier League; here's 10 things we learned from the action right across the league this week.
1. Swansea City Tough on the Road
Swansea might have finished with a scoreless draw away at the Stadium of Light, but the result further reinforced just how strong the Swans are defensively away from home.
Perhaps known more for their attacking prowess through the likes of Michu and Danny Graham, Michael Laudrup's side have been incredibly tough to break down in defense all season, but particularly when playing away from Liberty Stadium.
Swansea have conceded just nine goals away from home this year—keeping a clean sheet in a staggering 41.7 percent of their away matches in 2013.
Their last eight away matches have produced just four goals against, with just one defeat coming in that time period also (against Tottenham Hotspur).
It won't get the praise or the recognition that their attack might, but Swansea's defense has been a huge reason behind their strong season this year.
2. Alan Pardew Has Bought Well
After a disastrous season so far, Newcastle United entered the winter transfer window desperately needing some new additions—something that was heightened even further when the Magpies sold Demba Ba to European champions Chelsea.
Manager Alan Pardew's response was to bring in a handful of new players, and judging by their first outing against Aston Villa this week, he looks to have done a very good job.
Moussa Sissoko sizzled in midfield and provided a sparkling pass for Papiss Cisse to net home the opening goal of the match. Yoan Gouffran provided great link-up play going forward as well, with Mathieu Debuchy contributing nicely out on the right flank.
The trio were instrumental in both attack and defense as Newcastle hung on for their first away win of the season, picking up a huge win over their relegation rivals in the process.
Padew's ability to bring in good players for next-to-no cost will be huge in the Magpies' survival plans this year, as he seeks to use the "French Revolution" to keep them alive.
So far, you'd have to say he's done a pretty good job with it all.
3. QPR Continue to Hang in There
Harry Redknapp's Queens Park Rangers have suddenly become one heck of a defensive unit.
After going winless through their opening 16 games, the former Tottenham Hotspur manager has turned the London club around throughout 2013 and is doing everything he can to avoid relegation—starting with fixing the Rangers' defense.
QPR's last four matches have produced just one goal against—a Joe Cole tap-in for West Ham after an initial save from Julio Cesar at the back.
Their other three matches—against three of the best attacking teams in the Premier League—have all produced clean sheets at the back for Redknapp.
Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City have all been shut out.
Simply incredible from Queens Park Rangers, and something that few would have predicted occurring after the first 16 or so weeks of the 2012-13 season.
4. David De Gea Is Under Pressure
After one mistake last week against Tottenham Hotspur led to an equalizing goal, and a mistake the week before allowed Liverpool to come into the match, David de Gea would not want to have started this week's fixture with the error that he did.
Granted it wasn't all his fault—Michael Carrick did under-hit the pass—but De Gea simply wasn't quick enough off his line and allowed Southampton to get on the board early.
And in doing so, he simply heaped more pressure on himself.
The Spanish international has shown his skills at the back for United and has proven himself to be a top goalkeeper in terms of pure reflexes, but his innate ability to concede errors and allow opponents to net simple goals continues to hurt him.
Part of that is on the Red Devils' defense, which hasn't really looked solid all season, but the responsibility must also rest on the 22-year-old's shoulders as well.
De Gea is clearly under pressure at Old Trafford at the moment, though the end of the transfer window and subsequent whisperings might do him a world of good.
Hopefully for United's sake, anyway.
5. What Has Happened to Arsenal's Defense?
Arsenal again turned in a horrendous defensive display, as they allowed Liverpool two very soft goals en route to a 2-2 draw.
The Gunners will likely be left to rue what could have been, given their sloppy marking and clearing, which allowed simple goals for Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson.
Suarez's goal saw key errors from Andre Santos, Thomas Vermaelen and even Aaron Ramsey as seven Gunners clambered around inside the box watching the striker's shot find the back of the net and celebrate the opening goal of the game.
But as poor as that was, it was nothing on Henderson's goal, which saw the midfielder just hold off Andre Santos with strength and then finish, after Santos and Ramsey had essentially collided with each other in their attempts to prevent the shot.
Kieran Gibbs' presence was clearly missed, with there being no doubt as to Santos' inability to achieve anything close to success in the Premier League.
But the other three—Vermaelen, Per Metresacker and Sagna—need to improve their cohesion at the back and limit mistakes. As does goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, whose strong saves throughout were seemingly cancelled out due to his error-riddled game.
The Gunners have conceded the opening goal in seven of their past eight matches, and could be in a much stronger position this year if they eliminate the simple goals.
Could we see some last-minute transfer action on this?
Wenger: 'Gibbs has at thigh strain & he is out for 3 weeks'. Can you get a left-back before the deadline? Wenger: 'I will see overnight'— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) January 30, 2013
6. Why Won't McDermott Start LeFondre?
Adam Le Fondre must be wondering what he has to do to get a starting gig at Reading.
Another game off the bench for the striker saw more goals, more comebacks and more points for the Royals, yet Brian McDermott simply refuses to play him as a starting striker.
Surely there comes a point when the Reading manager sees that he's wasting his best and most in-form striker by playing him a substitute week-in and week-out.
Pavel Pogrebnyak over Le Fondre? Seriously?
He came off the bench to nab a goal against Arsenal; he did the same thing three weeks later to get the game-tying goal against Southampton in their incredible comeback.
Le Fondre netted both goals against Newcastle Untied to give Reading their first away win in six Premier League seasons last week, and then followed that up with an incredible double in the waning minutes against Chelsea to give the Royals a point.
He has netted six goals in his past three games, despite only playing 67 minutes of football. By comparison, Pogrebnyak has played 1,241 minutes for only five goals.
Do the math, McDermott.
7. This Was a Big Week for the Top Four
Whichever way you look at the results, Week 24 of the English Premier League was a huge week in terms of the different races going on in the top four.
Manchester United were fortunate to pick up all three points after a spirited Southampton side almost netted an equalizer in their encounter. However, they didn't, and the Red Devils walked away from Old Trafford with all three points in hand.
Second-place Manchester City dropped points away from home—something that both third-place Chelsea and fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur did also.
Arsenal (sixth), Liverpool (seventh) and Swansea (eighth) all drawing means that Everton's victory over West Brom puts them on level points as the fourth-place Spurs—four points clear of the chasing teams.
There now appears to be a two-way race for first and a three-way race for the top four, and that's pretty much it for the Premier League this season.
Granted much could still happen in those respective races, but judging on the way they all played this week, most of those positions in the top four seem pretty much set now.
All that remains now is to see who finishes where.
8. Frank Lampard Is Still Going Strong
Whether he stays or goes at the end of the season still remains to be seen, but right now Frank Lampard is playing some of his best football for Chelsea.
Amidst the transfer rumors and contract-negotiation talks, Lampard continues to impress for the West London club—particularly when it comes to finding the back of the net.
The 34-year-old has nine goals on the season so far, despite starting just 11 games for the Blues, and is yet to suffer defeat when finding the back of the net.
He is the club's leading goalscorer (tied with Juan Mata) and yet has featured in significantly less matches than his counterparts, as the table below shows.
9. So Too Is Wayne Rooney
From one England legend to another, Wayne Rooney proved again this week that he is no slouch in United's attack this season, and that he is a more than valuable contributor to their roster.
Rooney netted a brace in the Red Devils' 2-1 win over Southampton—showing that Robin van Persie isn't the only star striker in the Manchester club's lineup this season, and that the pair combined are the deadliest attack in the league.
The goal was Rooney's ninth for the year, despite making just 13 league starts, as well as his seventh goal in as many matches for the Red Devils.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is the significance of those seven goals—some in key matches against Reading, Manchester City and now Southampton.
United win 4-3 against the Royals, and Rooney scores a brace. They win 3-2 over City and he scores a brace. They win 2-1 over the Saints and, yup, he scores a brace.
Talk about perfect timing.
10. Benitez Left Singing the Blues
Oh, Rafa Benitez.
It just hasn't gone well for him since moving to Chelsea—not even in the slightest regard—with this week just further proof of his current slump at the London club.
The Blues looked to be cruising past Reading, although perhaps undeservedly, and seemed on course to record a comfortable two- or three-goal victory against the Royals.
Despite playing away from home, Reading were relegation fodder, and the West London club desperately needed a win to make amends for their midweek humiliation, so a result seemed pretty much given once they went up 2-0 late.
But this is Rafa Benitez we're talking about here.
Two late goals from the Royals saw another result slip out of Chelsea's grasp and further confidence slip away from the current Blues manager and their fans.
It started with a ridiculous home loss to Queens Park Rangers, but what has followed has been simply horrendous from all involved at Chelsea. A loss to Swansea and draws against lowly sides such as Southampton, Reading and even Brentford. Plus an elimination from the Capital One Cup last weekend—it really hasn't been a good month or so for Benitez.
The fault cannot entirely be his own but the buck must start and end with him—that is part and parcel of being a manager of a strong and successful club like Chelsea.
The players are responsible for the results on the pitch, but so is he, and at the moment he simply isn't getting it done at the West London club.
I wrote prior to their shock draw to Brentford that the Blues would be wise to give Benitez a new contract—stating that the events and results have been out of his control and that he has done nothing to not deserve a new contract.
Now even I'm reconsidering that stance.
I can only imagine how Roman Abramovich must be feeling.
What did you learn from Week 24 of the English Premier League?
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