|Bolton players warm up with Muamba shirts|
This Weekend in the EPL....
Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur: Tottenham and Chelsea faced off in a historically heated London rivalry at Stamford Bridge in the first of the Saturday fixtures. This time, however, the fourth place spot and final shot at Champions League football was on the line and neither side could afford to drop points against the other and lose the final top four spot.
Visiting side Spurs had more breathing room than Chelsea did. Under former boss Andre Villas-Boas the Blues were suffering from poor league consistency and were not contenders for a Champions League spot until Villas-Boas was sacked and Roberto Di Matteo took over. Last weekend’s late loss to Manchester City just pushed them deeper into the hole they dug themselves earlier in the season. Spurs were looking to claim three points in their fixture with Stoke City, but they dropped two of the three possible points in the fixture.
The match was certainly played with the ferocity of two teams vying for Champions League football. Spurs went out of European football all together in the group stage of the EUROPA League but Chelsea squeaked by Napoli in the round of sixteen to reach the quarter finals.
Petr Cech and Brad Friedel were busy men, as were the defenders but Spurs had the better showing with 55% possession and at least seven good looks at goal. Cech and his defense were able to deny them on multiple occasions. Both sides conceded many fouls and no real flow ever came about during the fixture. The two sides were truly evenly matched. Harry Redknapp put on striker Luis Saha and attacking midfielder Jake Livermore in the 76th minute while Chelsea opted for a similar move, putting Torres onto the pitch and then Soloman Kalou in for Daniel Sturridge in the 88th minute after the youngster struggled to put the ball in the back of the net.
With the fixture finishing out in a 0-0 draw, Chelsea are now facing the possibility of being absent from the UEFA Champions League stage. They sit in fifth place five points below Tottenham. Spurs sit just inside the final top four spot but good results and a poor performance or two from hated rivals Arsenal could see them move up to third place before the end of the season.
Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa: Arsenal were able to put on a good show for the packed Emirates stadium against Birmingham side Aston Villa. Arsenal players and fans continued to show support for former academy player Fabrice Muamba as he recovered in a London hospital. Even Arsene Wenger himself admitting that during matches when Fabrice played against his side, he regretted letting him go.
Arsenal’s first goal of the match came from a cheeky give and go and composed individual skill from defender Kieran Gibbs in the 16th minute. His powerful near post shot bounced off of goalkeeper Shay Given and into the back of the net. Theo Walcott made it 2-0 in the 25th minute when he settled a long ball from Alex Song and tapped it past Given. Arsenal went into the halftime break with the 2-0 lead.
Arsenal continued to dominate into the second half, holding 72% of the overall possession and receiving fifteen corner kicks throughout the match. Mikel Arteta’s free kick nearly ripped the net off the crossbar in the third minute of stoppage time. He took the kick a good fifteen yards outside of the box but slammed it into the back of the net after the shot curled neatly around the Aston Villa wall. The shot was so powerful that Shay Given didn’t stand a chance. Arteta’s goal was the icing on the Arsenal cake as they enjoyed a beautiful, sunny afternoon at the Emirates. With the win they maintain their spot in third place three points ahead of Tottenham, but their hated rivals are breathing right down their necks and any slip in form could cost them the third place spot.
Bolton Wanderers 2-1 Blackburn Rovers: Bolton Wanderers have had an extremely emotional week and it was no surprise that the big win for them at the Reebok against Blackburn Rovers was dedicated to recovering teammate and talented midfielder Fabrice Muamba.
Bolton needed the three points desperately after QPR grabbed a late win against Liverpool in midweek fixtures. Their last completed match was a 2-1 win over QPR but going into the fixture against Blackburn they were sitting just inside the relegation zone.
David Wheater was the man to get the job done for the home side, netting two goals in the 29th and 35th minute. N’Zonzi made it 2-1 in the 56th minute and added some serious nerves to the fans in the Reebok but a strong defensive line, which included American star center back Tim Ream, were able to buckle down and fend off the Blackburn attack. Adam Bogdan was able to keep all but one of Blackburn’s six on-target shots out of the back of his net.
Despite the loss, the two point differential between the two sides is in Blackburn’s favor. The Rovers sit in 16th place with 28 points while Bolton are perched dangerously in 17th place just a single point away from the feared relegation zone. Due to the unfortunate event in their match against Spurs, however, Bolton do have a game in hand after their midweek match was postponed, so there is a chance for the, to overtake Blackburn and climb further away from the dreaded drop zone.
Liverpool 1-2 Wigan Athletic: Liverpool played out a disappointing home fixture against Wigan, who sit second from the bottom. The Reds were aching for consistency. They went from winning the Carling Cup and producing some good league games to losing out to QPR and lifting them out of the relegation zone.
It was apparent that the home side were struggling from the starting whistle. Liverpool’s back four were scattered and there was a major disconnect between the midfield and strikers Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez. Wigan took advantage of the fractured defense and in the 30th minute they earned themselves a penalty kick. Maloney stepped forward to take it, putting enough pace on the ball to send it past the outstretched arms of Pepe Reina. Wigan had the 1-0 lead going into the half.
Liverpool rallied and came out of the break strong. Luis Suarez put the sides level 1-1 just after the restart and the home side maintained possession, ultimately walking away with 56% total possession and nine shots on target but only one goal and no points. In the 63rd minute, Gary Caldwell found the breakthrough for Wigan and put his side in the lead.
Kenny Dalglish attempted to revive his squad with some young blood, putting on England U21 internationals Andy Carroll and Jonjo Shelvey in the 46th and 74th minutes before putting on the speedy teenager Raheem Sterling in the 85th minute. Sterling’s incredible speed and young attitude created a small spark of life in the Reds side but it was too little too late and they dropped all three points at Anfield. Liverpool are still in 7th place, but Sunderland are creeping up behind them and are only a win away from passing them up. Wigan are still in the relegation zone, but they were able to take advantage of a weak Liverpool side as well as put on a good display, so with more top form, they may be able to avoid relegation to the npower Championship.
Norwich City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers: Wolves sit at the bottom of the table by three points after consecutive defeats in the English Premier League. They struggled to stay afloat last year, escaping relegation by the hair of their chins, but now it seems as though the Championship is inevitable for the team from Wolverhampton.
The home side dominated at Carrow Road with 61% of possession overall and eleven on target shots. A hard-working Wolves keeper, Wayne Hennessey, was able to deny the Canaries more than two goals, but the two would be enough and Wolves went home empty handed.
Wolves were the first side to find themselves on the score sheet after 25 minutes of play when Doyle linked up with Jarvis and the English midfielder was able to put the ball past Ruddy. However Wolves were only able to hold on for a single minute before Holt put Norwich level. Holt would go on to score the penalty kick in stoppage time of the first half, but would see red later on in the match when he received two yellows within four minutes of each other.
Norwich remain at the tail-end of the clogged up middle of the Barclay’s Premier League. Only goal difference separates them from tenth place Swansea, and a point from eight and ninth place teams Sunderland and Everton. Wolves are at the bottom of the table with 22 points. Their last point came back in February when they drew with Newcastle, but since then they have been unable to produce the points necessary to keep them in the top league in England.
Sunderland 3-1 Queens Park Rangers: QPR were unable to follow up on a strong performance against Liverpool during the week and dropped points as they paid a visit to the Stadium of Light. Cisse, who scored the equalizer against his former club, saw red in the 55th minute and Sunderland took advantage of the ten man Rangers side to score in the 70th and 76th minutes.
Sunderland were the dominant side, but not by much. QPR had their fair share of shots on goal and offside calls as they pushed to score. In the end, Sunderland held only 52% of the possession, not a huge advantage, but they made their eight on-target shots count.
Bendtner gave the home side the 1-0 lead just before halftime in the 41st minute after the two sides held each other to a stalemate for the first forty. Coming out of the half, Cisse was quick to pick up his red card, leaving his side a man down for thirty-five minutes of the second half. McClean and Sessegnon capitalized on it, scoring in the 70th and 76th minutes.
With all three points going to Sunderland, they can now race to overtake Liverpool and push the Merseyside team down to eighth place. QPR currently sit in a safe spot, two places clear of the relegation zone, but the bottom of the table is so tight on points that one poor performance could cost them Premier League football next season.
Swansea City 0-2 Everton: Swansea City hit a slight road bump after a three day winning streak as they lost to Everton at the Liberty Stadium. David Moyes’ side came ready to win, and with the two sides sitting side by side in the Premier League table, it was a must-win situation for Everton.
Swansea City used their notorious passing to rack up and impressive 62% of possession throughout the match. They were not on target with their shots, however, hitting three at the goal but seven wide. Everton were able to convert two of their eight on-target shots into goals. After the first 45 minutes of play, the two sides were tied 0-0. Swansea had more possession in the first half, but Everton were already on the offensive.
The visiting side’s breakthrough came from Leighton Baines in the 59th minute as he managed to get the ball past an in-form Vorm and into the back of the net, giving his side the 1-0 lead. Jelavic added to the scoreline in the 76th minute and Moyes, hoping to add to the scoreline and his side’s goal difference, put on attacking players Gibson and Stracqualursi.
Everton are now in ninth place but only a single point keeps them above Swansea. The Welsh side is level on goal difference and have 39 points, however they face a difficult trip to White Heart Lane next weekend as Everton take on Sunderland.
Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City: Manchester City’s failure to bring home all three points from their fixture at Stoke could prove to be the blow to their title hopes as Manchester United pass them up on the table with their victory against Fulham. The equalizer, however, was a stunner with Peter Crouch scoring the potential goal of the season.
Crouch and Stoke City were the first to strike and, much to the hope to Manchester United players and fans, looked to be the winners in their fixture at Britannia Stadium despite City’s eleven on-target shots. Stoke’s defense and goalkeeper repeatedly denied Dzeko and Balotelli (although the young Italian had no problem lessening his scoring chances without the help of the opposing defenders) before the end of the first half. Going into the break, the two sides were tied 0-0, the better chances going to City, but Stoke had their fair share of buildups and attacks.
Crouchie’s sweet strike came in the 59th minute when he sent a floating ball curling up and over the head of Joe Hart and into the back of the net. His lofty bicycle kick seemed to move in slow motion as it sailed over the heads of the defenders and the gloves of Hart before it made a quick descent for the back corner. Sunderland and Manchester United fans alike cheered on Crouch and his side, but in the 76th minute Clichy and Yaya Toure were able to break through the Stoke City defense and putting the ball past the Bosnian shot-stopper Begovic.
United’s win against Fulham means that City sits in second place just three points behind their hated neighbors. Stoke sit in the lower end of the mid-table pileup with 38 points, only two points separating them from the eighth place spot.
West Bromwich Albion: 1-3 Newcastle United: Right off the bat, Newcastle’s goal scoring machine, Ba was forcing some world class saves from Ben Foster as he threatened the West Brom goal.
His early effort was followed up by Ben Arfa who put the cross in for Cisse to slam it past Foster. By the sixth minute, Newcastle had the 1-0 lead. The remainder of the goalscoring would be a Ben Arfa-Cisse relationship as six minutes later, Cisse assisted Ben Arfa’s sweetly struck shot that curled its way into the back of the net. The two connected again before the end of the first half to make it 3-0. In the 34th minute, Ben Arfa sent the ball back across the box for Cisse. Although a Newcastle player went down in the box, the referee played the advantage and Cisse capitalized on it.
After the restart the game was still very much Newcastle’s. The visitors created many more opportunities, testing Foster repeatedly. West Brom’s goal in the 53rd minute was very much Newcastle’s as a misunderstanding between the visitors’ defense and keeper caused the ball to fall right to the feet of substitute Shane Long.
The win cemented Newcastle’s 6th place spot above Liverpool and kept them in the race for 4th place. They are level on points with 5th place Chelsea and five points below fourth place Tottenham. West Brom are level on points with Fulham after they lost to Manchester United in their late weekend fixture, but the Albion will certainly feel the pressure from Aston Villa, who are just three points below them.
Manchester United 1-0 Fulham: United were favorites to win and they certainly needed the three points as they race for the top spot against Manchester City. United went into the fixture in second place but are not sitting on top after a dominant, but by no means decisive, performance at Old Trafford.
Clint Dempsey was the first to crack open the United defense for Fulham as he forced a save from De Gea in the 19th minute. De Gea would be bothered again by Dempsey before his own side were busy on the defense at the other end of the pitch. Patrice Evra’s attempt at a bicycle kick went wide as United pushed towards the goal but minutes later, Wayne Rooney was able to hammer the ball into the back of the net.
Both sides threatened the others goal repeatedly, but in the end United were the victors, securing the three points necessary to move to the top of the table. Many Fulham supporters feel that they were robbed late in the match when Carrick brought down Murphy, who has weaseled his way into the United box, but the referee ignored the appeals and United “escaped” with the three points.