English Premier League: Manchester United cut Chelsea’s Lead to One Point, Everton and Liverpool Share the Spoils in Derby
What a difference a day can make. Or in the case of the English Premier League, two days. Before play began this weekend, undefeated Chelsea were four points clear at the top of the table, but their position is far less secure as they sit just one point clear of the two Manchester clubs. Though an average of 2.8 goals from the ten fixtures marked the lowest since Matchday 5, there was still drama and action in abundance. Sunday in particular provided an array of talking points, and included two of the biggest fixtures on the Premier League calendar.
The weekend kicked off in the Midlands as Aston Villa and Norwich City played out a 1-1 draw at Villa Park. Villa boss Paul Lambert looked set to score a victory over his former employers when Christian Benteke’s strike put the Villains ahead in the first half. But a second booking for Villa’s Joe Bennett turned the tie, before Michael Turner’s 79th minute equalizer denied Lambert victory.
The most eventful game of the day came at the Madejski Stadium, as Reading were again denied their first win of the campaign in a highly entertaining 3-3 draw with Fulham. The Cottagers looked destined for victory after Bryan Ruiz and Chris Baird’s goals gave Fulham a late 2-1 lead. But three goals in the final five minutes saw both sides settle for a draw. Garath McCleary first drew the hosts level before Dimitar Berbatov looked to have hit the winner in the 88th minute, only for Hal Robson-Kanu’s last-minute strike to peg Fulham back again.
Elsewhere, there were few goals to report. Stoke City and Sunderland played out a goalless draw. Both sides have now drawn six of their first nine Premier League games. Arsenal preserved their record of having the league’s tightest defence, capping off a difficult week with a 1-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers. QPR were resilient but disintegrated after Stephane Mbia’s 80th minute dismissal, allowing Arteta to net the winner just six minutes from time. Wigan Athletic also won by a single-goal margin, trumping West Ham United 2-1. Ivan Ramis put the Latics ahead with his first goal for the club before James McArthur doubled their lead, West Ham’s consolation coming in the final minute courtesy of James Tomkins’ headed effort.
Saturday’s late kick-off threatened to spring a surprise, as Swansea denied champions Manchester City for over an hour at the Etihad Stadium. The Swans’ resistance was eventually broken by Carlos Tevez’s long distance strike, as Roberto Mancini’s side stuttered to victory AND kept up the pressure on Manchester United and Chelsea. Further bad news arrived for Swansea after the game, as the extent of goalkeeper Michel Vorm’s injury was discovered; the Dutchman could miss up to eight weeks after damaging his groin whilst trying to thwart Tevez.
Despite featuring two less games, Sunday’s action provided two more goals than that of Saturday, with Everton and Liverpool getting the day’s play underway at Goodison Park in the Merseyside Derby. The Reds sailed to a two-goal lead, courtesy of a Leighton Baines own goal and Luis Suarez’s 20th minute header. But the Toffees soon replied, with Leon Osman and Steven Naismith netting to bring the score level at 2-2 after just over half an hour. Liverpool’s Suarez was then denied a last-gasp winner in the 90th minute, as both sides were forced to settle for a point in one of the more memorable derby games in recent history.
Later in the day, Newcastle edged to a 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion. Demba Ba got on the score sheet before Romelu Lukaku equalized for the Baggies in the second half. There was a touch of luck about the winner, as Sammy Ameobi’s shot struck the back of an unsuspecting Papiss Cisse to beat the stranded Ben Foster in the West Brom goal. On the south coast, Southampton fell to another defeat, conceding their 25th and 26th league goals of the season in a 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur. Gareth Bale scored on his return to his former club, and Clint Dempsey gave Spurs an unassailable lead, despite Jay Rodriguez’s 66th minute goal and a late rally from the Saints.
The biggest game of the weekend, though, was also the last. Chelsea hosted Manchester United as first met second, with the Red Devils ultimately coming out on top in a riveting encounter at Stamford Bridge. David Luiz’s own-goal and a Robin van Persie strike gave United a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes, before Juan Mata and Ramires leveled the score for the Blues. Controversy struck when Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres saw red in the space of five minutes to hand United the initiative. Substitute Javier Hernandez soon capitalized to poke home a 75th minute winner, despite suspicions of offside. In fairness to the officials, both the sending-offs and the winning goal were incredibly tough calls to make.
The highlight of the weekend was Chelsea’s first league defeat of the season. One point now separates the top three. Next week, United host Arsenal in a potentially tricky encounter; the Reds have the most potent attack in the division, but will they be foiled by the league’s most miserly backline? And at the other end of the table, the league’s only remaining winless sides, QPR and Reading, will face off at Loftus Road in a key game for both parties. Tune in next week for what is sure to be another weekend of goals, action and talking points aplenty in Matchday 10 of the English Premier League.
Stat of the Day:
Fulham are now tied for the Premier League’s third leading goalscorers, with 19 goals from their first nine games. Only Chelsea and Manchester United have found the back of the net more often this term.