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5 Things We Learned from Premier League Weekend

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2011

5 Things We Learned from Premier League Weekend

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    It was another excitement-filled weekend in the English Premier League with only three teams failing to score and none of the nine games ending in a draw. 

    Tottenham's 11-match unbeaten streak came to an end at the hands of Stoke (and referee Chris Foy), while Manchester United bounced back from being eliminated from the Champions League in midweek with a 4-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. 

    Martin O'Neill got the win in his first match in charge of Sunderland, Newcastle ran out of luck and Robin van Persie continued his run of amazing form. 

    Before Chelsea and Manchester City kick off Monday evening, let's look back at everything that went down in Week 15 in the EPL. 

Nani and Valencia Will Be Key for Manchester United

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    Manchester United got a much-needed 4-1 victory Saturday against Wolves, meaning they keep pace with Manchester City at the top, but there were still reasons to worry if you're a United fan.

    Wayne Rooney and Nani scored two goals apiece, and Antonio Valencia surely marked the starting spot as his own with a strong performance as Ashley Young rode the bench. 

    But the defense, which will be without captain Nemanja Vidic for the rest of the season, was anything but rock solid. 

    Chris Smalling in particular struggled at the back, and against a better team, United could've been in trouble. 

    Pacey wingers Nani and Valencia and a strong midfield will be key for United if the Red Devils hope to challenge for the title and other trophies, and given Valencia's injury history, Young will need to rediscover the form that set the Premier League alight to begin the season. 

Newcastle's Charm Has Worn Off...or Has It?

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    Newcastle was handed only their third loss of the season at the hands of Norwich City on Saturday, and it landed the Magpies at seventh in the table as their early season charm seems to have worn off. 

    Alan Pardew manufactured wins out of nothing until November, but in the last four games, they've collected just one point, from Manchester United of all teams. 

    Their next three matches, however, are home to Swansea and West Brom and at Bolton—three very winnable matches—before they travel to Liverpool and welcome United on Jan. 4. Nine points before the trip to Anfield would be a big boost to Newcastle.

    Looking at their last four matches, Newcastle have been anything but lucky. They struggled with injury and haven't had any help from the officials. 

    At the end of the day, we're starting to see the real Newcastle, and that is a team lacking depth. If they can finish the month strong, Pardew may be able to entice some new players to St. James Park come the January transfer window, but they'll need to stay within touching distance of European places to do that. 

Robin Van Persie Should've Been Nominated for Ballon d'Or

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    In any sport these days, it's hard to be nominated for the top individual awards if your team doesn't do well, but with the form he's been in since January, it's a travesty Robin van Persie wasn't at least shortlisted for the Ballon d'Or. 

    The Flying Dutchman has done nothing but score and create goals since the beginning of the year, and his goals this season in particular have been huge in pulling Arsenal back into Champions League contention, quite the feat considering how the club started the year. 

    He scored a stunning volley in the 70th minute against Everton Saturday to give the Gunners another win, giving him 19 total goals this season and 15 in 15 games in the Premier League. 

    Most importantly, van Persie hasn't spent much time on the injury table since the beginning of the year. His health has always been the only thing holding van Persie back, and if he really has put those problems behind him, there's no telling what he could do this season and in next summer's European Championships. 

Liverpool Still Dependent on One Player

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    Luis Suarez has undoubtedly been Liverpool's star of the season, but the problem is not many of his teammates have been on his level. When Liverpool is looking for a spark, it's always Suarez they look to. 

    Unfortunately, it's a story Reds fans are all too familiar with.

    From 2008-2010, Liverpool mainly went as Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres went. The difference now is that Kenny Dalglish's side has more depth, so dealing with a season-ending injury to Lucas Leiva isn't as horrible as it would've been a few years ago.  

    But depth doesn't guarantee success. Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll have all struggled to settle in on Merseyside, while veteran Dirk Kuyt has lost his scoring touch as well. 

    Suarez is a special player, but he can't be the only answer for Liverpool if they hope to win trophies and get back into the Champions League. 

    January will probably see Dalglish make at least one new signing, but those players whom Liverpool paid a steep price for earlier this year need to start proving their worth. 

Who Can Handle the Fixture Pileup?

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    Come December, the fixtures really start to pile up in England. The last two weeks of the year can define an entire season, and for those teams struggling at the bottom, it's hard to climb out once the calendar changes. 

    Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas has done himself a world of good with strong European performances, but his side can't afford to slip up in the league or the young Portuguese manager will be out by February. 

    Manchester United need to get over the loss of Nemanja Vidic right away because they can't afford to let Manchester City get any further ahead. 

    Wigan, Blackburn and Bolton may be languishing at the bottom, and if they can't notch a win or two over the Christmas holiday, they'll most likely be in the Championship come next season. 

    For teams struggling with injuries, this is the worst time of year, and the whole season can come down to just a few games. Who can handle the pressure, and who will crumble?

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