This Week in: English Football – City Fall Further Behind, European Action and the FA Cup Fifth Round

Puncheon - he...shoots...when he wants
Puncheon – he…shoots…when he wants

On the opening weekend of the season, Manchester City – in their first league match since winning the title the previous May – came from behind to beat newly-promoted Southampton 3-2 at the Etihad, while Manchester United lost 1-0 away at Everton.  Last week’s fixtures were an exact reversal of those encounters – as was the case for all of the Premiership games that were played – and once again City fell behind to the Saints, but this time they were unable to find a way back  as they were beaten 3-1 at St. Mary’s, with Southampton’s first goal coming from Jason Puncheon -who had been forced to take a “comfort break” in his team’s match against Everton last month – leading to a goal celebration and chant referencing the incident.  The loss leaves the reigning champions 12 points behind United at the top of the table, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men had a routine 2-0 home victory over Everton, which was the Toffee’s first defeat of 2013.  That gap represents the largest that has even been blown by a side leading the Premier League – as both Newcastle in 1995-6 and Manchester United in 1997-8 were caught despite having held such an advantage, though the latter case is somewhat misleading, as eventual champions Arsenal had three games in hand on the Red Devils.  With no extra matches to play and with Ferguson being far less likely to allow the pressure to rattle him than Kevin “I would love it if we beat them” Keegan, Roberto Mancini recognises the chances of City retaining the title are slim and, should he fail to keep the club within close proximity of United, he may find himself out of a job this summer.

The blue half of Manchester must also look over their shoulders and be concerned about their chances of maintaining their current second position, as Chelsea are now only four points behind them following a 4-1 win over Wigan, which included another goal for Frank Lampard – the fourth consecutive league game he has found the net – and the midfielder is now just four strikes away from Bobby Tambling’s club record of 202.  The two North London clubs once again appear to be headed towards a battle for the last remaining Champions League qualification place, as both Tottenham and Arsenal gained victories last week, leaving Spurs four points ahead of their rivals in fifth.  Arsenal got their three points with a narrow 1-0 win away at Sunderland despite having to play the final half an hour with 10 men following Carl Jenkinson’s sending off; while Spurs made it 10 unbeaten in the league with a 2-1 defeat of Newcastle at White Hart Lane, with both goals coming from their talisman, Gareth Bale.

Liverpool – who lost to West Brom in their opening game of the campaign 3-0 – were beaten by the same opponents on Monday night, 2-0 at Anfield.  The home side had wasted a number of chances – most notably a Steven Gerrard penalty that was saved by Ben Foster – before goals from Gareth McAuley and Romelu Lukaku secured Albion’s first win in seven matches.  There is more good news for manager Steve Clarke, as he will have Peter Odemwingie back available for selection for their next fixture – the striker was last seen on the final day of the January transfer window trying to engineer a move to Queens Park Rangers by spending more time in a car park than anybody since Richard III (whose burial-place, by the way, was close to a branch of Tesco’s – meaning that the last Plantagenet King was finally able to get a horse). 

QPR lost in the Premiership for the first time since December 30th, as they were soundly beaten 4-1 by Swansea in South Wales, with the bargain of the season, Michu, netting twice for the Swans.  Fellow relegation candidates Reading saw their good run of form come to an end, as they were unable to engineer another late comeback in their 2-1 defeat against Stoke; while Aston Villa were the only side in the bottom six to record a victory last weekend, as they won the battle of the claret-and-blues, against West Ham.  Last week’s other fixture in the Premiership saw Fulham – who had put five past Norwich at home on the first Saturday of the season – play out a 0-0 draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road.

European action returned this week with the Champions League reaching the final 16 and the Europa League down to the last 32 clubs.  British clubs had contrasting fortunes in the top competition, as Celtic were beaten by a clinical Juventus team 3-0 in Glasgow, while Manchester United earned a valuable 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid – the equaliser for the Spanish side was scored by former Red Devil, Cristiano Ronaldo.  The other matches in the competition saw David Beckham’s new team, Paris Saint-Germain, win 2-1 away at Valencia and Shaktar Donetsk drew 2-2 at home against Borussia Dortmund.  Next week, the remaining four ties will play their first legs, which include Arsenal hosting last year’s beaten finalists, Bayern München; and AC Milan taking on Barcelona, in a rematch of the famous 1994 European Cup Final, which the Italian club won 4-0.  In the Europa league, at the time of writing Liverpool –  who have once again been wasteful in front of goal – trail Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 in Russia and the game between Sparta Prague and Chelsea is goalless.  Later in the day, Spurs host Lyon and Newcastle take on Metalist Kharkiv in the north-east.

This weekend, there is just one Premiership match – between Brendan Rodgers’ new and old clubs, Liverpool and Swansea – as the FA Cup once again takes centre stage.  While most of the games are fifth round ties, there is also a replay from the fourth round, as Chelsea and Brentford meet at Stamford Bridge, with the winner moving on to play at Middlesbrough on February 27th.  The early kick-off on Saturday is between non-league Luton Town and Millwall of the Championship, a fixture that is a repeat of the 1985 game that resulted in a riot between the rival fans in what was one of the worst incidents of hooliganism in the 1980s.  Elsewhere, Arsenal host Blackburn; MK Dons take on Barnsley; Oldham – who knocked out Liverpool in the previous round – will try to gain another Merseyside scalp against Everton at Boundary Park; Leeds travel across the Pennines to play Manchester City; Huddersfield entertain Wigan; and the only all-Premership tie is between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford.

Premiership Prediction

Last week, 4-6; Season, 108-140

Liverpool vs Swansea – Away win

FA Cup Fixtures

Saturday

Luton Town vs Millwall

Arsenal vs Blackburn

MK Dons vs Barnsley

Oldham vs Everton

Sunday

Chelsea vs Brentford (Fourth Round)

Manchester City vs Leeds United

Huddersfield vs Wigan

Monday

Manchester United vs Reading

 

 

 

 

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