Premiership Midweek Roundup and Weekend Preview – City Beat United, Face Arsenal Next

United's defence gets nowhere near Dzeko as he scores his second on Tuesday night
United’s defence gets nowhere near Dzeko as he scores his second on Tuesday night

Midweek Action

It took just 43 seconds for Manchester City to take the lead against their cross-city rivals on Tuesday night, as they attacked United from the first whistle and found their reward quickly through Edin Dzeko’s goal inside the opening minute.  City went on to beat the reigning Premiership Champions 3-0, to claim their third consecutive derby victory and fifth in the last six meetings between the two clubs.  After going behind so early, Manchester United did respond well and the rest of the first half was an end-to-end contest with both sides looking dangerous on the break.  However, after the interval the gulf in class between the two teams was evident as City pulled away and extended their advantage when Dzeko grabbed his second from a corner, then YaYa Toure completed the scoring in the final minute.

While Manuel Pelligrini’s men are looking upwardly mobile and now sit just three points behind leaders Chelsea with two games in hand, the defeat appears to have been the last straw for many United fans who are starting to openly revolt over David Moyes’ stewardship of the club.  Perhaps the most telling evidence of this is not that a group of supporters are planning on flying a plane over Old Trafford during their match on Saturday calling on the Scot to be sacked, but that Sir Alex Ferguson – who handpicked Moyes as his successor – reportedly received abuse in the Director’s Box on Tuesday evening – if the United faithful are ready to turn on their most successful ever manager, then things must be getting bad.  It was the 10th defeat of the league season for the Red Devils – their most ever in the Premiership era – and they now look unlikely to qualify even for the Europa League, which would mark the first time they have not been in a European competition since 1989-90, when all English clubs were banned from competing as a result of the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 (the last season United were eligible to play in a European competition and did not was 1981-2).  The statistics back up just how badly United have been at home this season: their record is won 6, drawn 3, lost 6, while they have scored just 18 times in those 15 games (compared with 45 in 19 fixtures last season with basically the same squad) and have conceded the same number.  But no matter what the numbers say, the biggest indictment on the failings of Moyes tenure is that when you are watching Manchester United play now, you do not believe they will be able to beat the best teams – they look and perform like a second tier Premiership club.

Next up for Manchester City following that derby victory is a trip to Arsenal on Saturday and they once again have the opportunity to pile onto the problems of one of England’s most established teams who are having a tough time.  It seems to happen every year that the Gunners have a major stumble around February or March, as a previously promising looking campaign comes tumbling down and they end up recovering only enough to finish a single place above Tottenham.  On Tuesday, following on from their 6-0 thrashing by Chelsea, Arsenal faced a home match against Swansea, who had failed to win in their previous seven games and are hovering just above the relegation zone.  The Swans took a lead into half-time as Wilfried Bony climbed above Per Metersacker to head in the opener, but the home team responded with two goals in 66 seconds to turn the match around and appeared to give Arsene Wenger’s men a victory that would have moved them to within four points of the top of the Premiership.  However, in the final minute their was chaos in the Arsenal box as Leon Britton’s attack was thwarted by Metersacker, but his interception bounced off Wojciech Szczesny and Matthieu Flamini then into the net to give the Welsh side a much-needed point and all but end the title hopes for the Gunners, who sit 6 points behind leaders Chelsea, 5 of Liverpool and 3 of City, who have two extra games left to play.

Rather than looking to catch the teams above them, Arsenal must now be looking over their shoulder as they try to hang onto the final Champions League spot, with Everton closing in on them.  The Toffees won their fourth consecutive Premiership fixture with a 3-0 defeat of Newcastle at St. James’s Park, with the opener coming from a 70 yard run by Ross Barkley, who had started the move by helping clear a corner from the edge of his own penalty area, before picking up the ball and running straight at the home side before finishing past Tim Krul.  Although the gap between Everton and Arsenal is 6 points, the Merseyside club have a game in hand and the two teams meet at Goodison Park next weekend, not to mention that the Gunners face Manchester City this Saturday, while the Toffees are playing bottom side Fulham.  Nevertheless, the remainder of the run-in heavily favors Arsenal who, after their trip to Everton, have home fixtures against West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom, with their last two away games being at Hull and Norwich; while Roberto Martinez’s men still have to play both Manchester clubs (well I guess City will still be tough, if not United).

Liverpool remain very much in the title race following their seventh consecutive league victory on Wednesday evening, as they held off a late rally from Sunderland to beat the Black Cats 2-1 at Anfield.  The Reds, who have not lost in the Premiership in 2014, scored through Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, with the latter taking his tally for the season to 20 league goals, marking the first time in 50 years Liverpool have had two strikers to reach that mark in a season (alongside Luis Suarez) and they now sit just a single point behind the leaders, Chelsea.  The other game in midweek saw West Ham beat Hull 2-1, though their opening goal was controversial as Mohamed Diame controlled the ball with his hand before being taken out by goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who was both injured and sent off as a result of the challenge, which gave the Hammers a penalty than Mark Noble converted.  Just after half-time, Nikica Jelavic equalized from a deflected shot, but the home side took all three points courtesy of an own goal by James Chester, though many West Ham supporters were still dissatisfied at the final whistle and booed what they thought was a far too negative display from their team against ten men.

Weekend Preview

The biggest fixture of the weekend is the game at the Emirates between Arsenal and Manchester City, while on Sunday, Tottenham face the daunting task of taking on Suarez and Sturridge (not to mention Skrtel) as they head to Anfield to take on Liverpool.  Should either of the North London teams prevail, then the title race could yet extend to four teams, but victories for Liverpool and City would leave the Gunners chasing fourth (alongside being the FA Cup winners-elect) and Spurs struggling to fend off Manchester United – who play Aston Villa in the early game on Saturday – for the final Europa League qualification spot.  Leaders Chelsea travel across London to face Crystal Palace, who sit fourth from bottom and have not won any of their last five fixtures, dating back to their 3-1 defeat of West Brom on February 8th.  Of the teams in the relegation zone, Cardiff will move level on points from West Brom if they leave the Hawthorns with a victory; Fulham have a tricky home match with Everton; and Sunderland play on Monday night against West Ham.  Alan Pardew is allowed back in the stadium but cannot be on the touchline when Newcastle take on his old club, Southampton – though he still might get sent off by mistake if Andre Marriner has not gotten new glasses in the last week; two teams looking to increase the gap between themselves and the drop meet in South Wales, as Swansea host Norwich; and Hull travel to Stoke.

Predictions

Midweek, 4-1; Season, 153-153

Home teams listed first

Manchester United vs Aston Villa – Home win

Crystal Palace vs Chelsea – Away win

Southampton vs Newcastle – Home win

Stoke vs Hull – Draw

Swansea vs Norwich – Home win

West Brom vs Cardiff – Draw

Arsenal vs Manchester City – Away win

Fulham vs Everton – Away win

Liverpool vs Tottenham – Home win

Sunderland vs West Ham – Draw

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