English Premier League Stock Watch
The title race is all but over after another weekend in which Manchester United put more space between themselves and the chasing pack.
United defeated Everton on Sunday at Old Trafford, a day after defending champions Manchester City slipped up at Southampton. Together, the results put United a massive 12 points clear atop the table.
Obviously, United's stock rose this weekend, but which other teams saw their stock rise and fall? Keep reading to find out in this week's edition of the B/R English Premier League Stock Watch.
Stock Down: Manchester City's Title Defense
Last week, after Manchester City came from behind to draw 2-2 with Liverpool, City boss Roberto Mancini refused to concede the title to Manchester United. City, according to Mancini, would merely need to win all their remaining matches to catch their crosstown rivals (via ESPN FC).
This week, after Manchester City lost 3-1 at relegation-threatened Southampton in an error-strewn, out-of-sorts performance, Mancini estimated City's title chances at a rather generous "10 percent" (via The Independent).
Keeper Joe Hart's fumble led to Southampton's second goal, and City's shocking loss left the champions nine points behind United, who made it 12 on Sunday.
"Twelve points would be too much. We are not playing well," said Mancini, whose team has taken two points from three matches. "Today was worse than poor. We did not play and I don't know why."
Stock Up: Chelsea's Champions League Push
Before the weekend, the prevailing wisdom held that Chelsea might risk falling off the pace in the race for Champions League football. A lack of leadership on the pitch, an unsettled managerial situation and an inconsistent run of form had left the Blues only one point ahead of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
After the weekend, Chelsea remained just one point ahead of Spurs, but the Blues got there with a 4-1 home win over Wigan that settled nerves and secured—for now at least—Rafa Benitez's position as interim manager.
Not that it was as easy as the scoreline suggests.
With the Blues leading 2-1 in the 71st minute, the ball struck Chelsea defender Ashley Cole's hand in the box. Referee Mike Dean ruled the handball was unintentional and waved away Wigan's penalty appeals.
“If we had got the equaliser the end of the game would have been very interesting,” said Wigan manager Roberto Martinez (via The Independent).
Frank Lampard then scored Chelsea's third in the 86th minute (moving him within four goals of Bobby Tambling's club record), and Marko Marin, making only his fifth league appearance of the season, made it 4-1 in stoppage time.
“We could have scored six," Benitez claimed. "There were a lot of positives.”
Question is: Were there enough positives to keep Benitez in his job until the end of the season?
Stock Down: Queens Park Rangers' Great Escape
The performances of late had been encouraging, if not entirely productive in terms of points. But on Saturday, nothing went right for Queens Park Rangers.
Bottom of the table nearly all season, QPR fell further behind the pack with an ugly 4-1 reverse at Swansea City. Michu (two), Angel Rangel and Pablo Hernandez scored the goals for the Swans, and Bobby Zamora's 48th-minute strike—which briefly made the score 2-1—turned out to be little more than a consolation.
Almost unbelievably, it was the first league defeat of 2013 for QPR. More believably, though, Rangers (17 points) now find themselves seven points from safety.
"We conceded sloppy goals," said QPR manager Harry Redknapp (via BBC Sport). "I love the way Swansea play. but I didn't think they had to work that hard for their goals. They should have been dealt with."
And yet, with their new manager and expensive new signings, QPR failed to do just that. Simply put, Rangers have not been good enough all season to warrant another in England's top flight.
Redknapp, according to The Guardian, said QPR can still survive by winning six of their final 12 matches. It's worth pointing out, however, that Rangers have won only two of their first 26 and face a date with champions-elect Manchester United in their next fixture (Feb. 23).
"It's going to be tight, but Wigan and Reading lost today and it's still all to play for," Redknapp said. "Yes, we can do it."
Stock Up: Arsenal's Grit
First they battered and beat Stoke. Then they huffed and puffed and somehow held off Sunderland. Both times, the score finished 1-0 to the Arsenal, and both times, the Gunners faced adversity.
Now, no one will mistake this version of the Gunners for the "boring, boring Arsenal" sides of days past, but longtime admirers will recognize—and deeply appreciate—the team's newfound grit these past two matches.
Saturday was especially and unexpectedly satisfying. Arsenal went ahead deservedly through Santi Cazorla's first-half goal following a flowing move. And then, to little surprise, the Gunners misfired.
Inconsistency has been Arsenal's calling card this season, and the blight hit once again in the Gunners' finishing Saturday. Nineteen shots flew in, and eight hit the target, but Simon Mignolet's stellar keeping and Arsenal's own wastefulness meant the second goal would not come.
Then Jack Wilshere limped off early in the second half of another high-quality display. Then Carl Jenkinson was sent off for his second yellow card. Suddenly, all the ingredients were present for disappointment as Sunderland surrounded Arsenal's goal.
But Arsene Wenger's team held its nerve in a way that hasn't been evident often in recent seasons. The defense stood firm, led by the heroics of Bacary Sagna playing out of position in central defense, and whatever they missed, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny cleaned up in his best performance in months.
Said Wenger (per Arsenal.com):
It was tight in the end. It was a game with a high level of intensity where we showed brilliance going forward, but unfortunately we couldn’t score the second goal. We had to show another side in the second half, especially being down to 10 men in the last 20 minutes. We needed to be resilient, committed and deal with everything.
As the Gunners continue to push for a top-four spot, they'll have to bring more of the same.
Stock Up: Aston Villa and Southampton
Aston Villa scored twice in four second-half minutes on the way to a 2-1 win over West Ham United on Sunday. Christian Benteke scored for his fifth straight match in all competitions, and victory moved the Villans one point clear of the drop zone.
On Saturday, Southampton stunned Manchester City 3-1 to move four points clear of the drop zone. The Saints have lost just once in their last nine matches, and new manager Mauricio Pochettino is quieting the calls for former boss Nigel Adkins.
Stock Up: Manchester United's Runaway Train
Manchester United won yet again Sunday, comfortably dispatching Everton 2-0 at Old Trafford. The victory was United's 21st in 26 league matches this season and it sent the Red Devils 12 points clear atop the table.
Ageless Welshman Ryan Giggs opened United's account, keeping alive his record of scoring in every single Premier League season to date. Dutch striker Robin van Persie then scored another, further proving his worth following a £24 million move from Arsenal over the summer.
With 12 matches left, the title race is far from finished in the mathematical sense. In reality, however, Manchester City have a better chance of seeing Mario Balotelli score for them again than they do of retaining their title this season.
With England looking secure, Europe and Real Madrid await.