Saturday, December 26, 2015

It Happened in England: United fall to Stoke, Arsenal humbled at Southampton

Stoke City 2-0 Manchester United
WIth all the controversy surrounding Louis Van Gaal and his job status, you would think that he would want a strong performance against Stoke to quiet the rumors of his imminent demise. Instead, first half goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic within seven minutes of each other send the home team into the break with a two goal lead. The second half was not much better from United, Although they didn't concede again, they only had a couple of chances that goalkeeper Jack Butland stopped without extreme difficulty. Van Gaal was supposedly given two weeks to turn his side around. Today, they looked unmotivated and flat. Much like Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, Manchester United have the talent, just not the manager to get the best out of it.

Having now been without a win in seven matches, United are in a real rut and and have lost four straight in all competitions for the first time since 1961. You would have to think that Louis van Gaal has one foot out the door after today as I feel this club are at a new low that not even the David Moyes season saw. United are out of the top four, and are even on points with Watford down in sixth place.

Liverpool 1-0 Leicester City
Both sides had a tricky challenge today as Leicester still have their fair share of doubters heading into a road game against a large, but struggling, club like Liverpool. The Reds only had to welcome the league leaders, however unproven they may be, to Anfield. Liverpool was on the attack for much of the proceedings. They didn't threaten to score much until Christian Benteke struck gold from the top of the penalty area in the 63rd minute. The Foxes were forced to attempt their comeback without their two biggest weapons. Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez both were subbed off with minor injuries late in the second half. It is a real wonder how Liverpool didn't score more. They had a three on one break just after the 80 minute mark that they botched up. They also had a four man rush on an empty net that resulted in miserable failure.

It was the first time all season that Leicester had been kept off the score sheet. Thanks to the Southampton beat down of Arsenal, the Foxes are still at the top of the pile. They remain two points clear of the Gunners, but Manchester City has closed the gap to three points down in third, though.

Chelsea 2-2 Watford
The Guus Hiddink era began in earnest today as this one against Watford was his first on the Chelsea bench. Diego Costa gave Chelsea the lead in the 32nd minute by banging home a Willian corner. They held the lead until the 41st minute. That's when Nemanja Matic was punished for a handball in the box and awarded a penalty to Troy Deeney, who scored the attempt with ease. Odion Ighalo used the momentum from the late first half goal to score in his fifth straight game in the 56th. minute. The Blues were down but not out after they fell behind. Costa nailed his second of the match at the end of a splendid passing play in the 67th minute to tie the score one again. That would be it as Chelsea once again drop points against newly promoted opponents. 

Again, it's only a single game, but could this be proof that Jose Mourinho was not the problem in Chelsea? Last week the side actually looked quite good, but it was against Sunderland. Today, they almost lost to Watford, who isn't all that much better. Only time will tell if canning Mourinho was the right call. Part of me wishes that Mourinho would have at least made it through the January transfer window before getting sacked. It would have given him a chance to cut that bad apples that are ruining Chelsea before truly testing his managerial skill in the second half.

Manchester City 4-1 Sunderland
After Chelsea had their way with Sunderland a week ago, you would expect a Manchester City side looking to get back on track at home would have little issue with the relegation candidates. A powerful ten minute stretch saw Raheem Sterling score in the 13th minute and Yaya Toure double the lead six minutes later. Wilfried Bony added the third in the 22nd. The City domination continued in the second half. Kevin de Bruyne made their lead four goals in the 54th minute. Just as the clock hit 58 minutes, Sunderland got one back in their futile comeback effort. Fabio Borini was the man putting them on the scoreboard. This was a much needed win for City after last week's failure at Arsenal. They're still in third, however.

AFC Bournemouth 0-0 Crystal Palace
NEither side was able to recover from their Christmas Day hangovers in time to score any goals here. Bournemouth had more chances, but still nothing overly threatening to Palace. The point for Palace has them quietly challenging for a spot in Europe. After today, they sit in the fifth place Europa League position with 30 points and are only two back of Spurs for the Champions League.

Tottenham 3-0 Norwich City
Harry Kane scored from the spot ti give Tottenham at 27th minute lead as they chased a Champions League spot. He earned his brace in the 42nd. In the 80th minute, a rare goal scorer, Thomas Carroll, sealed the three points for the home team. Spurs have taken advantage of the Manchester United downfall and have jumped into the top four, two points clear of Crystal Palace.

Swansea City 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
Boxing Day got off to a great start for Swansea. In the ninth minute, Boaz Myhill failed to control a shot and Ki Sung-Yueng came flying in to tap home the loose ball for the Swans. That's all they would need to keep lifeless WBA out of the goal to war the victory. The win keeps the disappointing Swans out of the drop zone by a single point.

Aston Villa 1-1 West Ham
Aaron Cresswell gave the Hammers the lead in the final minute of the first half, but Villa would be able to claw back into the match. Jordan Ayew scored a penalty in the 62nd minute to level for the last place Villains. The draw continues West Ham's return to Earth after their hot start. They are in ninth after today.

Newcastle 0-1 Everton
On a rainy evening in the north, there were plenty of almosts and close calls, but few actual goals between these two bottom half dwellers. It was clear that Everton were resting up for the rest of the busy holiday season in England, as at no point were their skilled attacking quartet of Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku, and Mirallas all on the pitch at the same time. Everton was the better side, save for the tail end of the second half when it was Newcastle able to get a little more forward, but there was still nothing in the cards for either side. It looked like a 0-0 draw was in the cards until the final touch of the match three minuites into stoppage time. Deulofeu took a corner that was cleared to Tom Cleverly, who was able to float a header over Rob Elliot for the winner. Everton moves into ninth place with the win while Newcastle stay in the drop zone in 18th place. 

Southampton 4-0 Arsenal
Arsenal knew that a win would put them atop the table after the Leicester City loss, but this one did not go as planned for them. After controlling possession for the opening, in the 19th minute Cuco Martina blasted one home for Southampton against the run of play. Martina may have been offside for the goal, but it was awfully close and I am willing to give the linesman the benefit of the doubt. After the first half, it was evident that Arsenal would have to go back to the drawing board to redesign their attack. They held nearly 60% of the ball, but were outshot and overall struggled to unlock the Saints' defense.

The second half didn't start off well for Arsenal, they were lucky to have not conceded in the 50th minute when Virgil Van Dijk headed home a free kick, but he was called for offside as he clattered into Petr Cech in the Arsenal goal. After a minute or so on the ground, the Gunners' keeper was well enough to remain in the game Not that it helped at all. Southampton did score for real in the 55th minute on a counter attack finished by Shane Long. They were then free to hold numbers back and defend the all out attack that Arsenal was sure to bring. Not that defensive posture prevented them from getting forward. The third goal came from Jose Fonte in the 69th minute to put first place out of Arsenal's reach for sure. Shane Long's second and Saints' fourth came a couple minutes into stoppage time to make the 4-0 final scoreline.

Arsenal misses their shot to go top, somewhere they have been for all of two days this season. To make things worse, third place Manchester City is only a point back of them. Southampton remains mired in midtable mediocrity with the win. They are still in 12th after the Boxing Day bonanza.

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