Saturday, November 22, 2008

What Just Happened? Liverpool, United and Chelsea Draw Blanks While Arsenal Are Hammered

In the strangest day yet in this seasons EPL, Chelsea and Liverpool were held scoreless at home, Aston Villa kept Manchester United at bay in Villa Park and Arsenal were well and truly mullered by Manchester City at the Eastlands...

Liverpool v Fulham

Liverpool entertained Fulham at Anfield, and with Stephen Gerrard out and Fernando Torres only returning to the line up, this game had "banana skin" written all over it.

Surprisingly, Fulham perhaps edged the first half. Robbie Keane should have definitely scored but he fluffed the chance of the game as the first half was drawing to a close, shooting tamely at Schwarzer, with the goal at his mercy.

Fulham were not to be out done though, and despite only claiming one point on their travels this season, they pushed and harried Liverpool in the opening exchanges. Jimmy Bullard and Andrew Johnson both forced Reina into action with smart saves as they threatened to gate crash the party.

Liverpool were the better side in the second half, and despite having the majority of possession they rarely forced Schwarzer into action.

Benitez chose Lucas ahead of Alonso today, and with Gerrard out this change seemed to cause much confusion as Liverpool failed to get into rhythm. Torres was out of sorts, and Keane had a quiet day after threatening to become the force that Liverpool need him to be, as per his performances recently.

Fulham thoroughly deserved their point. And will be happy with the 0-0. While Liverpool will have to work much harder against teams like this if they are to win the league.

Chelsea v Newcastle

Chelsea took on stumbling Newcastle in what could be temporary manager Joe Kinnear's last game, as his £50k-a-week contract is now up. Chelsea were unbeaten in five games but again this game looked easier on paper than it should have.

After losing Joey Barton for the rest of the year, one would have been forgiven for thinking that Newcastle's entire midfield were out too, as Chelsea dominated the match from start to finish and only a display of majestic proportions by Shay Given being the difference between Newcastle gaining a point and getting hammered.

Despite three Chelsea players having an 18-hour round trip as they returned from the Brazil / Portugal friendly in Rio, and not being at their best, Chelsea destroyed Newcastle.

Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Ivanovic all forced Given into action while Petr Cech could have set out a deck chair and made lunch as Newcastle barely made it out of their own box, never mind their half.

Scolari looked disconsolate after the match, while Kinnear was in jubilant mood. You would be too if you'd been hammered for 90 minutes and came away with a 0-0.

Given's value to the Newcastle cause has been highlighted yet again, and should Spurs come looking for his services in January they will be acquiring a 'keeper at the top of his game. They'll have to pay a hefty fee though.

Aston Villa v Man United

With United kicking off at 17.30, they knew a victory would move them up the league as all of their chief rivals had dropped points. Facing the toughest opponents of all their rivals, and with Aston Villa still on a crest of a wave after the victory against Arsenal last week, the match was a game that both wanted to win but neither could afford to lose.

United dominated the early exchanges and at one stage they had 89-per-cent of possession as they tried to open up a well drilled Villa defence. Neither side really created any clear-cut chances as the defences came out on top.

But both sides had chances that they will be unhappy they didn't do more with. Agbonlahor shot straight at van der Sar after Laursen headed down, and Rooney fired over from the corner of the six yard box as Curtis Davies pressed him into action, the Utd man going for power when precision was needed.

United controlled the first half, but created very little in scoring oppurtunities. Villa were much better in the second half and made more of a game of it.

And Martin O'Neill felt his side should have had a penalty as Vidic appeared to take Agbonlahor down as they raced into the box. Looking at the replays, I've got to agree with the referee's decision, but it was really close and on another day a penalty would have been given.

With the point Aston Villa leap-frog Arsenal into fourth as the battle for Champion's League spot kicks off. Villa Park is not an easy place to go to, and United will have mixed feelings about this point.

Is it a case of a point gained? Or three points lost?

Manchester City v Arsenal

On current form this was always going to be a tough game for the Gunners, and with William Gallas being dropped and stripped of his captaincy a tough task became an impossible one.

City dominated the shell shocked Gunners from the start, and the only real surprise in the first half was that it took until the 47th minute for City to take the lead.

Stephen Ireland broke the deadlock after some calamitous defending by Arsenal, he went for a one-two that Djourou appeared to pass back to him, ans sensing the danger Gael Clichy went to clear, only to be tackled by Silvestre, the ball broke kindly for Ireland who finished with aplomb.

City's second was the complete opposite to the first, Ireland's superb pass cut the Arsenal defence in two and Robinho raced clear with only Almunia to beat. As the Spanish stopper came to close his angles, Robinho lifted the ball over the Spaniard superbly to leave him stranded with the ball floating into an open net.

Arsenal rarely threatened and when they did it was through long distance free kicks from an anomomous Van Persie.

And just to put the icing on the cake, Djourou took Sturridge down from behind with a clumsy tackle to give City a penalty in injury time. And Sturridge himself grabbed the ball first, telling Elano to move away as he placed the ball on the spot.

Stand-in Captin Manuel Almunia sold his dive to his left as Surridge calmly placed it to his right, to give City a memorable 3-0 win, that could have been more.

Arsenal missed Gallas and Adebayor immensely, and without the duo the games over the coming weeks look daunting to say the least.

There has been a lot of talk about the much vaunted youth system at Arsenal, but City have been quietly creating talent over the last few years too. 26 players have graduated from the underage teams to the first team at City, and today will provide much vindication for a system that favours British talent.

twitter / WillieGannon