Breakthrough was the watchword in England and the United Kingdom this week. First, the Premier League clubs looking to progress IN Europe all went through, barring an Allardyce-less Everton who’s ill-fated Europa League campaign was doomed before the nights started drawing in. Bizarre that Big Sam should miss a trip to Cyprus, given his love for sweaty nightclubs and grilled meat. Then, on Friday morning, finally a breakthrough for the government looking to get OUT of Europe. Well, the EU. An initial deal for Brexit was announced on Friday that sounded suspiciously like the set-up the United Kingdom had before the referendum apart from it not being recognised as a member of the European Union. So awaking the far-right zombies from their 80 year slumber was worth it after all. Nice one, Teri.
There was another man looking for a breakthrough at the London Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, and not just because he’s been gorging himself on pie and mash, though it can leave you a little backed up. David Moyes went into the game against Chelsea looking for his first win as West Ham manager having overseen an improvement in his side during their narrow defeat to Manchester City last time out. Moyes recalled Marko Arnautovic to his starting eleven, and fielded a line-up that suggested the Scot was prepared to take the game to Conte’s side. Within six minutes, the hosts were ahead. Venturing into the Chelsea half, Pablo Zabaleta started a slick, one-touch passing move augmented by Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini and Arnautovic drove into the Chelsea penalty area and curled a shot beyond Thibaut Courtois. Chelsea looked lacklustre going forward, but were soon shouting for a penalty as Alvaro Morata went down under pressure from Winston Reid – the Hammers captain did make contact with the Spain forward, but any award against him would have been harsh. Conte’s side started to find their groove halfway through the first half, and N’Golo Kante stung the palms of Adrian when hitting an edge of the box curler that the West Ham custodian did well to keep out. Eden Hazard then received the ball from an intricately worked corner, but fired his shot straight at the goalkeeper.
Whatever Moyes said to his charges at half time – presumably not ‘bloody hell lads, we’re one-nil up!’ – had the desired effect as the home side took the game to Chelsea at the beginning of the second half. Antonio’s through ball found Arnautovic streaming ahead of the Chelsea defence but could only hammer the ball straight at Courtois. The Hammers then had their own penalty claim turned down as Arnautovic flicked the ball past Andreas Christiansen, only for the young Dane to divert it away with his hand – on second viewing it looked deliberate from the Chelsea defender, who was fortunate that referee Anthony Taylor still had crust in his eyes from his early Saturday wake up call. While the home faithful will have been expecting the inevitable equaliser it never really looked like coming, wing-back Davide Zappacosta flashing a cross-cum-shot wide from the edge of the box. Morata had the best chance to level when the ball found him ten yards out, but he snatched his shot wide of the near post. In the end a fantastic win for Moyes, who may be beginning to restore his tattered reputation.
That result had implications for the other sides struggling towards the bottom of the table, two of which met at Selhurst Park at 3pm. Crystal Palace have been showing steady improvement in the past few weeks losing only one of their last five, whilst Bournemouth’s revival after a poor start has been curtailed with two points from the last available nine. Despite failing to score in their last two games, Palace looked the more dangerous in the opening stages with Andros Townsend giving Charlie Daniels a torrid time on the right hand side. The winger’s cross early on flashed across goal, but Christian Benteke was unable to add the finishing touch. Jeffrey Schlupp then took aim from outside the area but was unable to force Asmir Begovic in the Bournemouth goal into action. Despite Roy Hodgson’s side making all the early running, it was Bournemouth that took the lead. After winning a corner from their first attack a routine straight from the training ended with Jermain Defoe a simple finish by the penalty spot. The home side went straight back on the attack and missed three chances to equalise – the first arrived with a slice of luck as Daniels’ crossfield pass bounced off referee Kevin Friend and into the path of Luka Milivojevic. The Serb’s long ball found Benteke one-on-one with Begovic, but he could only hit his shot straight at the ‘keeper. From the save Palace regained possession and Schlupp’s cross found Townsend steaming in at the far post, but Nathan Ake raced across the area to block the Palace #10’s shot. From the resultant corner a goalmouth scramble ensued, but when the ball fell for Mamadou Sakho he was unable to direct it goalwards. That was the Palace captain’s last action of the afternoon as he was withdrawn with injury, and Scott Dann came on to take his place. Five minutes before half-time the home side had an equaliser. Wilfried Zaha raced onto a through-ball into the Bournemouth area, and Begovic rushed off his line and bundled the winger over. Milivojevic smashed the ball into the top right corner, and the scores were level. Two minutes later, Palace were in front. Yohan Cabaye received the ball from a corner and drove a low cross into the six yard box, and substitute Dann poked home. The flurry of goals wasn’t quite over however, and in first half stoppage time Bournemouth found an equaliser of their own. A long ball was chased down by Defoe, and from the tightest of angles the poacher lifted a half-volley over Julian Speroni and into the far corner.
In the second half, Palace were back in the ascendancy and the visitors struggled to make chances of their own. Benteke’s knockdown from Cabaye’s free-kick was blazed over by Dann, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek found Begovic in inspired form as the Bosnian got down low to turn the young midfielders shot away from the bottom corner. In stoppage time the hosts pressure told, and Daniels dived in on Zaha to concede another penalty. Benteke, rather than Milivojevic, stepped up to take it but the Belgian’s weak shot was straight at Begovic. A decent point in Bournemouth, but a frustrating afternoon for Hodgson who will feel his side had done more than enough to secure a win.
At the other end of the table this season’s two surprise packages went head-to-head as Sean Dyche’s Burnley played host to Watford and Marco Silva. The Clarets defeat at Leicester last weekend had been only their third of the season and went into the game slight favourites given their guests’ inconsistency in recent weeks. It was Watford that had the first clear-cut chance of the game as Kiko Fermina raced down the wing and floated a cross into the Burnley area, but Richarlison could only divert the ball over when arriving at speed. Dyche’s team soon found themselves on top, and a good save from Heurleho Gomes was necessary to prevent Robbie Brady’s free-kick from creeping in. An even game turned five minuted before half-time when Watford left-back Marvin Zeegalaar was sent off for a two-footed challenge on Scott Arfield – though the Dutchman can consider himself harshly done by. It took Burnley only five minutes to capitalise on the man advantage when Arfield met Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s low cross and converted past Gomes to give the Clarets a half-time lead.
The game became scrappy in the second half, with Watford struggling to replicate the exciting attacking display they had put on at Newcastle in their last away game, and it was Burnley that should have added a second. Ashley Barnes’ goal was ruled offside despite the linesman keeping his flag down – Lee Probert overruling his assistant amid confusion among the supporters. Burnley’s win took them to within three points of the top four and onto 28 points – eleven more than they had at the same point last season.
The other 3pms threw up a meeting between this season’s two debutants, with Huddersfield running out 2-0 winners at home to Brighton; Swansea secured a much needed victory over West Brom thanks to Wilfried Bony’s late winner, while Tottenham hit five past Stoke at Wembley to secure their first league win in five games.
The Saturday evening kick off took place amidst celebrations at St James’ Park with Newcastle United marking their 125 year anniversary with a pre-match flag display across the ground, while fan groups at either end of the stadium hoisted flags celebrating legendary players and moments from the club’s history. Visitors Leicester City held a decent recent record over the Magpies, having won the previous three meetings without conceding a goal, but the occasion looked to be inspiring Benitez’s side as they looked to attack from the off. In the fourth minute Jacob Murphy’s ball into the channel was chased to the byline by Dwight Gayle, and his cut-back into the area found the onrushing Joselu who stroke the ball into the bottom corner. The hosts could’ve had a second when Gayle was given a sight of goal but dragged his shot wide, and Leicester were soon feeling their way into the game – Demarai Gray’s shot from distance narrowly arcing over the crossbar. In the twentieth minute the Foxes found a leveller – Mikel Merino’s careless pass was intercepted by Wilfred Ndidi, and his pass found Riyad Marhez in space. The Algerian didn’t need a second invitation to take aim, and despite Karl Darlow getting fingertips to the shot, Mahrez’s strike was too powerful and flew into the net. The home side did have a chance to regain the lead before half-time when Ben Chilwell played a suicidal pass across the penalty area, but Murphy’s curling shot was too close to Kasper Schmeichel.
Fifteen minutes into the second half Leicester took the lead. A long diagonal ball, seemingly Newcastle’s kryptonite in recent weeks, found Marc Albrighton on the left hand side and his first-time cushioned pass was met by Gray’s volley, ricocheting off the thigh of Florian Lejeune and into the top corner. The Foxes had their tails up and began to dominate possession, with the home side struggling to break into the final third. When they did, Ayoze Perez earned a corner off Danny Simpson and from Christian Atsu’s cross the ball pinballed around the Leicester area before Merino picked out Gayle with a header, and the former Crystal Palace striker stroked a shot into the bottom corner via Harry Maguire’s shin. Urged on by a fervent support, Newcastle went looking for a winner and, in what’s becoming a nasty habit of theirs this season, left the defensive third woefully undermanned. A long ball found Jamie Vardy outpacing Lejuene, and despite being forced wide the pointy faced forward was able to pick out an unmarked Shinji Okazaki by the penalty spot. Before the Japanese was able to find his feet, his marker Perez had made a desperate lunging tackle, only to knock the ball past Darlow and gift Leicester a winner. Another shambolic defensive display from a side that were being praised for their solidity earlier in the season, and a seventh consecutive game without a win. If they weren’t before, they’re now very much entrenched in a relegation battle. Claude Puel’s influence on Leicester continues and the collection of fourteen points from an available twenty-one since he took over is an impressive return for a manager that had been written off before he’d whispered his way into the Manager’s office.
Sky Sports’ annual jizzfest over DERBY DAY began with the entirely non-tribal clash between Southampton and Arsenal. Despite losing at home to Manchester United last week, Arsene Wenger’s side were hoping to continue their recent good form, while Mauricio Pellegrino was looking for his first real scalp as head honcho at St Mary’s. That scalp looked a distinct possibility when the reliable (when fit) Charlie Austin took Dusan Tadic’s angled pass into his stride and flicked over Petr Cech’s shoulder. It took a strong, smothered save to prevent Austin bagging his second of the afternoon, despite the striker’s heavy second touch, but Cech was equal to the finish. It was then Fraser Forster’s turn to take the goalkeeping plaudits as Sanchez’s low cross found Aaron Ramsey lurking on the edge of the box, and his snapshot looked destined to find the bottom corner. Forster had other ideas however, and managed to fling his enormous frame across goal and turn the shot away.
Oriol Romeu hit a blockbuster of a shot early in the second half that rattled Cech’s crossbar, and Ryan Bertrand should have made the game safe when Saints quickly countered and the left-back dinked the ball past Cech and, more crucially, the post. Olivier Giroud was thrown on to give Arsenal more presence in the Southampton penalty area, and two minutes from time the Frenchman proved his worth – Sanchez’s inswinging cross from the left was met by a deft header from Giroud and Forster was unable to prevent the ball from flying in. Southampton will feel aggrieved at not taking all three points, but more than proved their ability to challenge the top sides on home turf.
The Deadly Double Destruction Derby Day began at Anfield with Allardyce’s first Merseyside derby in charge of Everton. Oumar Niasse – suspended for three games after taking a tumble at Selhurst Park – was brought back into the starting lineup, while Philippe Coutinho was rewarded with his irrepressible performace at Brighton by being dropped to the bench. In a fairly even first half Liverpool looked like the team on top, and it came as no surprise when Mo Salah jinked his way into the Everton area and let fly with a curling shot into the far post top corner to give Jurgen Klopp’s side the lead. Despite the goal coming three minutes before half-time, Liverpool should have gone in more than one to the good. Sadio Mane led a counter-attack charge towards Jordan Pickford’s goal, and with the one Everton defender in situ attempting to rob the Senegalese of the ball, Roberto Firmino and Salah stood waiting unmarked for a square pass that never arrived as Mane opted to shoot straight at the Everton ‘keeper.
Unsurprisngly, the Reds were on top again in the second half, and missed a series of gilt-edged chances to secure the win over their neighbours. Salah’s cushioned header from James Milner’s cross bounced just wide of the post, Emre Can’s whipped cross was millimeters from connected with Mane’s toe, and Joe Gomez headed over from a free-kick. Still Klopp’s side poured forward, and when Gylfi Sigurdsson lifted a long ball into the Liverpool area it was left to Dejan Lovren to clear the danger represented by youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Rather than shepherd the ball out or stand his ground, the Croation decided to shove Calvert-Lewin in the back, and the striker duly went to ground. Penalty Everton. Despite legions of Kopites racing to the internet to protest their defenders innocence, Big Sam was able to provide clarity on the decision, confirming that he’d watched it again on his laptop and it was definitely a spot-kick. No reason to question his integrity there. Wayne Rooney stepped up and smashed it down the middle to take Allardyce’s unbeaten run to three games, with a winnable match at St James Park on Wednesday. Despite the scoffing (of yorkshire puddings), it seems spirit has been restored at Everton and their moment in The Sun as a crisis club looks a thing of the recent past.
The last game of the weekend was the one everyone had been waiting for. The Manchester Derby at Old Trafford – Mourinho v Pep, United v City, Second v First. There has been a feeling for weeks that to any chance of slowing the sky blue juggernaut down, Mourinho’s side would have to win at least the home leg of this fixture. With Paul Pogba suspended, Ander Herrera stepped into the starting line-up and Sergio Aguero took a place on the bench as Gabriel Jesus was preferred in the starting line-up. City came out of the blocks as they usually do, and were on the offensive in the opening stages of the game. The first big chance of the afternoon fell to Leroy Sane as he delighfully controlled Fabian Delph’s cross on his thigh before unleashing a shot at the near post which David De Gea did well to tip over. From the resulting corner the ball bounced around the United penalty area and fell to David Silva to hook over De Gea’s shoulder and give the blue half of Manchester the lead. In spite of some sound beatings suffered at the hands of their neighbours in recent years, United mounted a spirited fightback in the final minutes of the first half, and in stoppage time they reaped their reward. Ashley Young’s cross grazed the head of Kyle Walker, and with Nicolas Otamendi and Delph slow to react Marcus Rashford stole in to slot past Ederson and take the sides in level.
City were back on the offensive in the second half, determined to open up a seemingly unassailable lead over their crosstown rivals. Ten minutes after half time, Silva’s swinging free-kick fell at the feet of Lukaku, but the striker could only belt the ball onto the back of a defender and Otamendi stole in to turn the ball home for a scruffy second. The manner of the goal won’t have bothered the ambassador for beatiful football, and Guardiola even had the downright gall to introduce a defender for a forward once City had the lead. Despite this rare show of pragmatism, the Cityzens continued to push forward and a lung-bursting run from Kevin De Bruyne produced a fine save from De Gea to deny a third for the visitors. Suddenly United found their groove and began to dominate the remainder of the game, and when Fernandinho missed a bouncing ball on the edge of the box, Rashford was quickest to react, but couldn’t beat Ederson from a tight angle. Controversy was late to the party, but arrived when Otamendi was caught dallying on the ball in his own area, and Herrera nicked it off him only to tumble over. Michael Oliver deemed it a dive, and City’s players were quick to rough the little Spaniard up, but a second look shows definite contact between the City defenders foot and the United midfielders ankle – you’ve certainly seen them given. As if that weren’t enough of a sign that it wouldn’t be Mourinho’s day, Ederson then made an incredible double save – on par with De Gea’s at Arsenal – to deny Lukaku twice from close range. Martial’s cross found the burly Belgian on the edge of the six yard box, but the ‘keeper flung himself across goal to keep out the first, and pounced instinctively to deflect the second shot away. Full time: 2-1 Manchester City.
With Guardiola’s side now eleven points clear at the top of the table – having dropped only two points in their first sixteen games – the title race is looking very much over. It’s going to take one hell of a slump for City to fuck it up from here, but then it is Manchester City. Anything is possible. The real excitement of the season looks to be building at the other end of the table, as Crystal Palace, Swansea and West Ham all picked up points dragging Newcastle, Stoke and West Brom right into the mix, with Brighton and Huddersfield still looking over their shoulders. With another five game weeks to go before New Year it could be all change in the bottom three.