This week in: English Football – Chelsea vs Manchester United and the Merseyside Derby

Juan Mata Tottenham’s defence didn’t deal with

Last Saturday, Chelsea maintained their lead at the top of the Premiership with an emphatic 4-2 win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, their first league victory on that ground since 2005.  Their victory came courtesy of a great performance from their Spanish midfielder, Juan Mata, who scored two, made one and caused problems for the Spurs defence throughout the game.  Chelsea took the lead on 17 minutes, when William Gallas’ attempt to clear a corner, but only found the right foot of Gary Cahill on the edge of the box and the central defender hit a fantastic volley into the roof of the net.  Tottenham were without the injured Moussa Dembélé in the middle of the park and had Gareth Bale withdraw shortly before kick-off, as his partner had gone into labour – she gave birth to a baby girl the following day – but despite the absence of two of their best players this season, Spurs still managed to take the lead with two quick goals at the start of the second half, scored by Gallas and Jermain Defoe.  Nevertheless, Chelsea were not to be denied and two more mistakes from Gallas, who made another poor clearance to gift Juan Mata an equaliser, before his oor positioning allowed the same player to sneak in behind the defence and latch onto a through ball from Eden Hazard to give them the lead, secured the three points for DiMatteo’s side.  They finished off their day with a late goal from substitute, Daniel Sturridge, who poked home from no more than a yard out, after a mistake by Kyle Walker had allowed Mata the freedom of the Tottenham penalty area.  Although losing to London rivals is always a bitter pill to swallow and the performances of Sigurddsson and Dempsey – both of whom were caught in possession many times when they should have looked for a quick pass – were worryingly bad, overall Spurs style of play and desire made the match more enjoyable that the opening few fixtures of the season.  With Hazard, Oscar and Mata in their side to open up opponents, Chelsea will beat a lot of good teams this year; last Saturday, it was Tottenham.

Norwich secured their first win of the campaign last weekend, surprising many with a 1-0 win over Arsenal, who had 62% of the possession, but could not translate that into a goal.  Manchester City came from behind to take three points once again, thanks to two late goals from substitute Edin Dzeko in their match away at West Brom; while Wayne Rooney found the net three times against Stoke, once into his own goal and twice in the right end, in Manchester United’s 4-2 victory; Liverpool finally triumphed at home in the league, beating second-bottom Reading, 1-0 at Anfield; and Everton earned a draw away at QPR, despite having to play the final 30 minutes with 10 men following Steven Pienaar’s harsh sending off for a collision with Jose Bosingwa.  In the Tyne-Wear derby, Newcastle also had to play a man down for the majority of the game, after Chieck Tiote was sent off midway through the first-half for a reckless challenge on Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher.  At the time, Pardew’s men were a goal to the good as Cabaye had netted in the third minute and their lead lasted all the way to the final five minutes, before Demba Ba headed into his own goal to give the Black Cats a share of the points.  Ba, who is Newcastle’s leading scorer in the Premiership with 6 goals this season, also ranks in second place for Sunderland, as Fletcher has scored all five of their other league goals in the campaign.

The other fixtures last weekend saw West Ham thrash Southampton 4-1 at the Boleyn Ground; Wigan lost 2-1 away at Swansea; and Fulham beat Aston Villa 1-0 at home.  Perhaps the biggest talking point that came out of the latest round of fixtures was the refusal by some players to wear the “Kick It Out” T-shirts that were being worn during warm-ups to support the campaign to get rid of racism from football.  Jason Roberts, Anton and Rio Ferdinand, and several other black footballers, as well as the entire Wigan and Swansea teams, protested their belief that not enough was being done by the Football Association to confront the problem – in light of their relatively lenient four game ban of John Terry for racial abuse – by not wearing the shirts.  Roberts has stated he will continue this stance this weekend and until he believes something more is done by the FA to actively end racism, as simply raising awareness of the issue does not, by itself, provide the cure.

European action also returned this week and it was not a particularly successful round of fixtures for British clubs in the Champions League.  Manchester United were the only one team from the home nations to gain any points, as they came from behind to beat Braga, 4-2 at Old Trafford; Arsenal had been unbeaten at home in Europe since 2003, but that run came to an end as they fell to Schalke 04, 0-2 at the Emirates; Manchester City lost 3-1 to Ajax in Amsterdam; Celtic went down 2-1 in the Camp Nou against Barcelona; and Shaktar Donetsk defeated Chelsea by the same scoreline in the Ukraine. In the Europa League, Spurs have now drawn all three of their group games, after a 1-1 result in Slovenia against Maribor; Liverpool beat nouveau-riche Russian team, Anzi Makhachkala 2-1 at Anfield; and Newcastle had a 1-0 home win over Club Bruges.

There are two standout fixtures in the Premiership this weekend: Chelsea host Manchester United, while Liverpool make the short trip across Stanley Park for the first Merseyside derby of the year.  The Reds have won seven and drawn three of the last eleven games against their city rivals and have also had more success away from Anfield in 2012 than when they have played in front of their own fans (4 wins versus 3 at home).  However, Everton are unbeaten in the last seven Premier league matches they have played at Goodison Park and go into this derby six points and eight places above Liverpool.  Meanwhile, Manchester United have won just once in their last twelve visits to Stamford Bridge, but are unbeaten in the last five games they have played against the current league leaders.  Chelsea have won all four of their home matches in the Premiership this season and, if they can make it five in a row, they would extend the gap between themselves and United seven points at this early stage of the campaign.

St. Mary’s, Southampton – not my favourite away stadium I’ve been to, but it is my least favourite

Tottenham travel to Southampton on Sunday and, if he returns to the lineup following the birth of his daughter, Gareth Bale will be the facing the club where he started his career.  After a miserable away trip to St. Mary’s back in 2004, which culminated in a 1-0 loss for Spurs and a lengthy walk back to my car following the game due to a poorly designed infrastructure around the stadium, combined with their habit of beating us in the days of Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and (later) James Beattie, I have an irrational hatred for the Saints and fear this fixture more than I would one against most newly promoted sides.  If Tottenham are going to have any success in this game, the likelihood is that it will come in the second-half – they have scored 80% of their goals this season in the second 45 minutes, while 83% of those Southampton have conceded have been after the interval.  The other team in North London, Arsenal, take on bottom-of-the-table Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, looking to return to winning ways after two defeats in the last week.  They should not have too much difficulty in doing so, QPR have not won away at Arsenal since 1994 and lost all four of their London derbies away from Loftus Road last season.  Mark Hughes had a reputation for frustrating the Gunners during his tenure as boss at Blackburn, but that did not extend to games not played at Ewood Park – he has lost all five league matches he has managed away to Arsenal.

Newcastle United lost just three home games in the Premiership last season – two against the Manchester clubs and one against West Bromwich Albion, who are their opponents at St. James’s Park this weekend.  Albion’s manager, Steve Clarke – who was Ruud Gullit’s assistant at Newcastle in 1998 and took over as caretake for one game (a 5-1 loss against Manchester United) when the Dutchman was sacked – has seen his team make an impressive start to the year and they currently lie in 6th place, but they are yet to gain three points away from the Hawthorns.  Other fixtures see Paul Lambert face his old club, as his Aston Villa team host Norwich; there is an M4 (the motorway that connects them) derby between Reading and Fulham; West Ham travel to Wigan; Sunderland are away at Stoke; and the champions, Manchester City, have a home fixture against Swansea.

Predictions

Last week, 7-3; Season, 36-43

Aston Villa vs Norwich – Home win

Arsenal vs QPR – Home win

Reading vs Fulham – Away win

Stoke vs Sunderland – Draw

Wigan vs West Ham – Draw

Manchester City vs Swansea – Home win

Everton vs Liverpool – Home win

Newcastle vs West Brom – Draw

Southampton vs Tottenham – Away win

Chelsea vs Manchester United – Draw

 

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