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  • Chris Sobey

Football


Another weekend of top quality, domestic football with plenty of goals, drama and the fight for league winners, promotion and the relegation battle heating up. After losing their Premier League lead last weekend at Chelsea, the Citizens returned to the top of the league temporarily with new leaders Liverpool playing Sunday thanks to another dominant attacking performance at the Etihad, this time beating a dangerous Everton team 3-1. Aguero’s understudy, Jesus won star man status with two brilliant goals and his second half replacement Sterling made sure of the victory at 2-1 when he scored almost immediately after replacing Jesus as a second half sub.

Down towards the bottom of table there were big wins for Crystal Palace, who road their luck and fortune and fought for their lives to gain a narrow 1-0 win against Leicester City and influential midfielder Milojevic was their hero with his fourth goal of the season. Newcastle United really had to work hard and get their tactics right to avoid defeat at Huddersfield and Toon manager Benitez produced another tactical master class as his team nicked a 1-0 win thanks to a brilliant and quick counter attack, which new striker Rondon rounded off for his third goal in two games.

As Everton lost at City it gave Wolves an opportunity to leapfrog them in the table up to seventh and they took full advantage of this with another impressive performance fitting of the Premier League. Bournemouth were the victims this time going down 2-0 and given their form and Premier League experience it really puts in to perspective the magnitude of Wolves achievements so far this season. Watford produced a similar performance at Vicarage road against new boys Cardiff, who are winless away in the league this season, and the Bluebirds shortcomings on the road were exposed against as the Hornets were 3-0 up and cruising after about three quarters of the match. Cardiff did provide Watford with a bit of a scare with a late fight back scoring twice in the last ten minutes, but the home side battened down the hatches and held on for another valuable three points, which keeps them safe in eleventh place.

Spurs nearly suffered a European hangover at Wembley against an experienced, improving and dangerous Burnley at Wembley. The visitors tactics were obviously to limit Spurs space and the freedom of their most dangerous attacking players and it looked like they were going to avoid defeat and leave London with a valuable point, but Spurs, like many of the top teams, had an ace up their sleeve to spoil all the visitors hard work, this time in the shape of the highly rated Eriksen, who emphatically finished Harry Kane’s assist in the box, one minute in to injury time.

Staying in London for the tea-time live Premier League game and it was a derby between promoted Fulham who are rock bottom and still in crisis and a resurgent West Ham who were aiming for their fourth straight league win. Fulham’s new manager Ranieri is yet to bring about any major change, but this is obviously very hard when it’s not a squad he built and developed and some of the players are aren’t of Premier League standard, especially defensively. The Cottagers defence was their Achilles heel again on this occasion as the Hammers, who are very experienced at this level and have the luxury of a wealth of world class talent throughout their squad, handed out a stark reminder of the gap in quality by racing to a 2-0 lead within half an hour and ex Norwich journeyman Snodgrass and Antonio finished off assists from Anderson and Chicarito in style.

Unless Ranieri can work some magic in the January transfer window it looks like Fulham are heading back to the Championship while the Hammers whose win moved them up to ninth could be challenging for European places come the end of the season, especially if they can keep the majority of their first team squad fit and healthy and maintain their attacking threat, which has been the highlight of their resurgence.

On Super Sunday the Premier League action kicked-off with a competitive match between Brighton and Chelsea at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton have turned the Falmer in to a fortress and prior to yesterday’s match they’d only lost once their in the league against Spurs 1-2 in September. Chelsea are of course a much sterner test than most teams like Spurs with their world class squad and new manager Sarri has bonded with his new team well and adapted to life quickly in the Premier League. He proved this again yesterday as his team dominated the game and their tactics were clearly to assert this dominance early, which worked out perfectly as star man Hazard assisted Pedro’s opener within twenty minutes and Belgian super star added the second assisted by the dynamic, energetic and creative Willian.

Brighton fought hard to contain Chelsea and their superior squad, but manager Houghton adopted the correct tactics in the second half and the players responded and did themselves proud by winning the second half 1-0. Brighton pulled their goal back with twenty minutes remaining to set up an exciting finish to the game but Chelsea are used to protecting leads and winning close games and Manager Sarri will have been very satisfied three points, which keep them in tough of the top three. They also extended their lead over fifth place London rivals Arsenal by three points after the Gunners were shocked losing a five goal thriller 3-2 at relegation threatened Southampton.

The win was significant for the Saints on many fronts, it was their first home win over the season and moved them out of the bottom three on goal difference from Burnley. The Saints strikers Ings and Austin also stepped up to be counted as well and Arsenal were outdone by the tactics to get former striker Ings more in to the game and attacking positions and this paid off as he netted twice in the first half, the opener and third after Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to give them a vital half time lead. The visitors looked like they were going to spoil the Saint’s party when star man Mkhitaryan popped up with the equalizer early in to the second half.

Many teams in the Saints position may have folded at that point, but experienced new manager Ralph Hasenhüttl still had a few options and tactical changes up his sleeve to improve his team’s chances of winning. He brought on defender Redmond for striker Long for a bit more experience and strength at the back, but his master stroke was replacing striker Austin with Long as the English striker scored the winner not long after coming on to deliver their epic 3-2 win., which turned out to be an early Christmas present for or many saints fans who have endured an elongated period of disappointments in terms of leadership and club success.

Finally, the much anticipated blockbuster heavyweight clash between Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield yesterday did not fail to disappoint on many fronts and it was Christmas come early for everyone involved with Liverpool. The Reds returned to the top of the league with a vintage attacking and defensive performance and an inspired second half substitution by Klopp was the master stroke, brining on Swiss international striker Shaqiri midway through the second half, replacing Kieta. The move was a bold one bid to win the game by bringing on another attacking player and Klopp’s move was awarded almost immediately as it took the brilliant Swiss International Shaqiir just three minutes to find the back of the net with a typical impressive individual effort,

The substitution had a positive double affect as only minutes later Shaqiri was the hero again making it 3-1 with only ten minutes remaining and that’s how it ended as United struggled to put much pressure on Liverpool as they’re not playing as a team, especially in attack and the final third, and there is definitely a strained mood at the club that needs to change quickly and bring back a positive atmosphere and some clarity, especially finding a few winning systems that suit the players he has and not his ideology and starting calling on the wealth of youth talent they have at their disposal and starting to build a close, hungry and above all world class winning team who have grown up together and know each other inside out.

Down in the EFL Championship the highly competitive nature and subsequent inconsistencies continued and the lead changed again after Leeds dominance and persistence paid off with a late winner at relegation threatened Bolton. Leeds leapfrogged Norwich and lead them by a point after the Canaries could only manage a 2-2 draw at Bristol City. Down at the bottom of the league Ipswich, who are propping up the league, provided their faithful fans with an early Christmas present by winning their first home game of the season against new boys Wigan 1-0. The valuable three points closed the gap between them and Bolton to four points, but unless they have a remarkable second half of the season they will continue to be favourites to be relegated.

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