Last weekend, Newcastle United gained their fourth away win of the season, securing the victory thanks to a goal by Yohan Cabaye that saw Alan Pardew’s side move up to seventh in the Premiership, just three points behind the top four. In the match, Newcastle enjoyed the majority of the possession and had more shots than their opponents, but the majority of the attention surrounding the result went to the team they beat – just because it was Manchester United. (Prepare yourself for me to completely ignore what I have written and completely focus on the Red Devils for the rest of the paragraph). The loss for United was their second at home within the space of four days, after they had gone down by the same 1-0 scoreline to Everton last Wednesday, and that was their third loss of the year at Old Trafford – the total they suffered all of last season and as many as they have had in a single campaign since 2001/2, when they had six and finished third in the league. Such a final position would probably be something that David Moyes would accept right now in his first year in charge at the reigning champions, as they currently languish in ninth place and are 13 points behind the leaders, Arsenal; seven off the Champions League spots; and only nine above the relegation zone. Against Newcastle, they clearly missed Wayne Rooney who was out due to suspension having received five yellow cards this season; but over the last few weeks the absence they have really felt is Michael Carrick in the midfield. Without Carrick’s steady passing and calming influence in front of the back four, United have looked vulnerable and have been forced to play Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley in the centre of the park, neither of whom look good enough to be first-choice midfielders for the reigning champions. The title race is almost certainly beyond Manchester United this season (though like Germany, you write them off at your own peril), but what they should be most concerned about for now is this Saturday’s trip to Villa Park – a ground they have not lost in the Premiership on since 1996, but then Everton and Newcastle had not won at Old Trafford since 1992 and 1972 respectively – because if they do lose, then they will be level on points with Aston Villa, a team that only narrowly avoided relegation last term.
At the top of the table, Arsenal extended their lead to five points despite being held to a draw at the Emirates by Everton, who quickly recovered from Mesut Özil’s 79th minute goal to get an equalizer through Gerard Deulofeu four minutes later. The reason that the Gunners gained an extra point cushion over second place was because Chelsea, who had begun the weekend in the runners-up spot, were beaten 3-2 away at Stoke thanks to a strong substitute performance from Stephen Ireland and a cracking winner scored by Oussama Assaidi, currently on loan at the Britannia Stadium from Liverpool. Assaidi’s goal helped his parent club leap-frog Chelsea in the table, as they moved ahead on goal difference thanks to a 4-1 win at Anfield over West Ham, during which Luis Suarez scored another brace and in their last four home matches, Liverpool have now found the net on seventeen occasions. A further point back behind in fourth in the Premiership are Manchester City, who drew away at Southampton last Saturday after Sergio Aguero’s early strike was cancelled out by a spectacular goal by Dani Osvaldo.
Elsewhere last weekend, Spurs picked up their second consecutive 2-1 away win, this time beating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, but they should have put the game beyond doubt in the second half and were lucky not to concede a penalty when Sandro blocked a cross with his arm; Crystal Palace picked up their third win in four fixtures, this time defeating Cardiff 2-0 at Selhurst Park, which included another goal for Marouane Chamakh, who has scored three times in the Premiership this season from a total of four shots; Norwich soaked up a lot of pressure from West Brom and were able to pick them off to get a vital 2-0 away win; Fulham gained their first victory since October 21st, beating Aston Villa 2-0 as they continued to look better under the management of Rene Meulensteen than they did at the end of the Martin Jol era; and on Monday night, Danny Graham scored his first goal in 30 games against his old club, Swansea, but the Welsh side earned a point against Hull when Chico turned a cross from Jonjo Shelvey into the net.
In the final round of group games in the Champions League, Arsenal were defeated 2-0 in Napoli but were able to get through in second place behind Borussia Dortmund, who won in Marseilles, meaning that all four English sides have qualified for the knockout stages. Manchester City came from 2-0 down to beat the reigning European champions, Bayern Munich, 3-2 in Germany, but they had to settle for second in the group as they would have needed another goal to usurp their opponents in first place, but Manuel Pellegrini appeared not to know that and did not chase a fourth; while Chelsea and Manchester United ended top of their groups thanks to 1-0 victories over Steaua Bucharest and Shaktar Donetsk respectively. In the Europa League, Spurs completed a perfect group stage with a 4-1 thrashing of Anzhi, but both teams had been sure of the progress prior to the match, so Roberto Soldado’s hat-trick and Lewis Holtby’s stylish goal were just gravy for Tottenham; Swansea progressed despite a 1-0 defeat against FC St. Gallen; but Wigan Athletic exited the competition following a 2-0 loss in Slovenia against NK Maribor. The draw for the next rounds of both the Champions League and Europa League will take place on Monday, when teams will find out who they play in the first knockout stage, with the ties due to take place in February.
Weekend Premiership Preview
The biggest fixture of the weekend is the first one to be played, as league-leaders Arsenal head north to the Emirates to face Manchester City, who have won all seven of their home matches so far this Premiership season. If City maintain their 100% home record, then Chelsea and Liverpool will both have the chance to close the gap at the top to two points, when they place Crystal Palace and Tottenham respectively; though the Reds will be without both Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard due to injury – of course, they do still have Suarez. At the other end of the table, there is a crucial match at the Hawthorns between West Brom and Cardiff, who are sitting perilously close to the relegation zone after they have each won just once in their last nine Premiership fixtures; while bottom of the pile Sunderland face 17th place West Ham at Upton Park, with both teams desperately needing the three points. Elsewhere, Newcastle will have their good form tested by a visit of Southampton, who had lost three in a row prior to their draw with City last weekend; Everton host Fulham; Hull entertain Stoke; and Swansea travel to Norwich.
Last week, 3-7; Season, 80-70
Home teams listed first
Manchester City vs Arsenal – Home win
Cardiff vs West Brom – Draw
Chelsea vs Crystal Palace – Home win
Everton vs Fulham – Draw
Newcastle vs Southampton – Draw
West Ham vs Sunderland – Home win
Hull vs Stoke – Draw
Aston Villa vs Manchester United – Away win
Norwich vs Swansea – Draw
Tottenham vs Liverpool – Away win