EPL Round 21 & 22 Review

by Paul O'Donnell

EPL Round 21 & 22
New Years Weekend

Some questions facing teams that fancy themselves potential challengers (for Champions League spots since none are likely to catch either Chelsea or ManU): Can Liverpool really step up? Is Tottenham capable of "the next level"? The questions really ask if either team can consistently challenge for the points on the road. These two rounds have teams among the top six playing one another in games that will answer those questions.

Realistically Bolton, Portsmouth, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham are fighting it out over who among them will finish 3rd & 4th. Arsenal has what appears to be the easier draw facing two of the bottom 4 teams. Don't be surprised if the Gunners and either Bolton or Pompey close the festive period with the better results. The Round 21 games with Liverpool visiting White Hart Lane and Pompey at the Reebok are significant matches for all the teams on Saturday. The key games on Monday have Bolton at Anfield and Spurs travel to Portsmouth.

Both Chelsea and Man United face some injury issues with first 11 players. John Terry and United's Gary Neville have both missed the last two league games with Terry traveling to France for surgery. Neville may undergo a procedure as well according to the rumble in the media who claim SAF has already made a move to recall an on loan player to fill that spot.

The winter transfer window opens Monday and there may be some moves that occur quickly as teams attempt to fill some gaps ahead of the two weeks of no league games which follow. Fulham will be active in acquiring a work permit for Clint Dempsey to complete his move to the EPL. The potential here is fifty-fifty as you may recall the same set of circumstances delayed Bobby Convey's move to Reading for a full year not long ago.

Anyway, I wish Clint Dempsey good luck on making a successful move to the EPL. Oh yes, it’s selfish of course, because if he does succeed it will surely help the US Men's team.

Here we go, to the games then...

Saturday, Dec 30

Charlton 2:1 Aston Villa

Villa can't buy a goal these days and the only way they seem able to score is from the penalty spot and Gareth Barry added another one of those to open the scoring in the 39th minute. Barry was sent off shortly after the break and the Addicks went on to win the match with a goal from Darren Bent and the winner in stoppage time from Bryan Hughes for Pardew's first win at The Valley.

Blackburn 2:1 M'Boro

Nonda opened with his goal in the 8th minute and Yakubu's penalty got Boro level in the 60th before Benni McCarthy's match winner in the 73rd. Rovers 3 wins from the last 4 league games moves them 7 points above the relegation zone.

Bolton 3:2 Portsmouth

Taylor put Pompey up in the 1st minute and Bolton's response didn't come until the 29th from Faye. Wanderers then added another in the 39th from Campo on a diving header and Anelka's winner off a rebound came in the 61st before Andy Cole pulled one back for Portsmouth in the 88th. The win is Bolton's 5th in a row and puts them solidly 3rd in the table and marks Pompey's first defeat in the last 7 and leaves them 6th.

Man United 3:2 Reading

Solskjaer got United on the board in the 32nd minute with his 2nd goal in as many games and Sonko leveled for the Royals 5 minutes later.  Then it was the Cristiano Ronaldo show as he notched his 3rd consecutive 2 goal game with strikes in the 58th and 76th minutes before Leroy Lita got Reading's second in stoppage time. United pads their lead to 6pts with the win as Chelsea was dropping points in their draw with Fulham. United have now scored 3 or more goals in 9 of their 21 games for a total haul of 47, ten more than any other EPL team (Chelsea and Arsenal both have 37).

Tottenham 0:1 Liverpool

Luis Garcia's 1st half stoppage time goal was the only of the day as Spurs again failed to take that step that would take them to the so-called "next level".

Everton 3:0 Newcastle

A brace from youngster Victor Anichebe (8 & 57) and another from Phil Neville (his first for Everton) closed the book in a nice performance by the Toffees in front of the home fans.

Chelsea 2:2 Fulham

The Cottagers challenged Chelsea all over the pitch from the start and Moritz Voltz opened the scoring in the 16th minute (the goal was the 15,000th since the inception of the EPL). The Champions rallied again to take the lead with an OG credited to Rosenoir (34) off a shot from Lampard and a clever pitch by Frank to Drogba for the lead in the 61st. Carlos Bocanegra got Fulham even in the 83rd in a terrific back and forth match that made you forget they were playing in a deluge. The Blues are seeing deuces wild these days with their 2nd consecutive 2-2 draw losing 2 more points to leaders Man United after they had narrowed the lead to, you guessed it; 2 points.

Watford 1:1 Wigan (Abandoned for unplayable water-logged pitch in minute 56)

The near typhoon conditions seen at Stamford Bridge also impacted this one.

West Ham 0:1 Man City

In another closely fought game in difficult conditions Damarcus Beasley's first ever strike for City (82nd) was the difference maker.

Sheff United 1:0 Arsenal

The Blades out hustled the Gunners all over the pitch to earn the full points in this one.   Nade's 40th minute goal was the match winner for United. To be fair to Arsenal it was a much depleted side but it was also the Blades first victory over Arsenal since 1973. A deserved win for Warnock's guys who move up to 15th, 5 points clear of the zone and the Gunners are now 5th.

January 1, 2007
Happy New Year!

Liverpool 3:0 Bolton

Bolton rarely threatened on the day as Liverpool produced one of their best performances of the season to open '07 with a dominant win. Crouch hit the opener and match winner in the 61st on a resounding overhead kick which for the 6'7" forward is guaranteed to be dramatic especially when it’s successful. Gerrard followed with his contribution two minutes later. Dirk Kuyt sealed the victory in the 83rd as the Reds charge through the festive period on their best form winning 9 of 12 points taking 3rd back from the Wanderers in the process.

Reading 6:0 West Ham

A Royals blitz for a 4-0 halftime lead by Gunnarsson (11), Hunt (14), Ferdinand (og) (29), Doyle (35) was followed in the 2nd period by Lita (52) and another from Doyle (77) as Reading laid waste to the Hammers.

Wigan 0:3 Blackburn

A Heskey OG in the 36th opened the scoring and Derbyshire (57) doubled Rovers advantage at the JJB as the Latics bleak period continues. Benni McCarthy added another for Rovers from the spot in the 75th.

Fulham 0:0 Watford

The Cottagers Heidar Helguson had two goals denied in this one. What may be a very serious injury to Fulham keeper Antti Niemi in the 54th stopped the match for nine minutes as the rescue team dealt with carefully preparing and carrying him off the pitch.

Niemi was injured while challenging for a cross into his box and appeared to fall heavily on his head. Late Monday night Sky Sports reported he had been released and there was no significant medical issue.

M'Boro 3:1 Sheffield United

Mark Viduka put Boro on top in the 35th and a Jagielka penalty (45) put the match on level terms. A Yakubu brace in the 2nd period provided the winning margin with his 2nd coming on yet another spot kick in the 75th.

Man City 2:1 Everton

Yuck, a horrible example of soccer in the first half that ended scoreless. A quality cross from Beasley found Samaras at the near post who directed it past a diving Tim Howard in the 49th. Samaras would get his brace from the spot in the 71st after Howard was shown yellow and Osman pulled one back for the Toffees in the 83rd for the final scoreline.

Portsmouth 1:1 Tottenham

Yet another woeful and dour performance punctuated by a rash of "professional fouls" as neither side produced much of interest other than Benjani's attempt in the 29th minute that was deflected for a 1-0 Pompey lead at the half. Murphy picked out Steed Malbranque at the back post who headed in to level the match in the 50th.

Newcastle 2:2 Man United

James Milner's rocket high to the far post corner (32) put the Magpies up but it wouldn't last in this very competitive back and forth match. Scholes would hit back twice (39 & 46) to set the stage for the real hero on the day, 19 year old Canadian David Edgar, who leveled the score for the Toon army in the 73rd.

Nobody will be happier for Edgar than Jose Mourinho whose Chelsea was in need of someone taking points from United. Now he's got to take full advantage of that tomorrow.

What a difference a year makes; at this time in 2006 Wigan Athletic were 4th in their first ever run in England's top flight. Actually, they held 2nd for weeks after a surprising 10 match unbeaten run and their young manager, Paul Jewell, was being touted for honors. This season Wigan has slipped to 17th, just 4pts above the dreaded relegation zone after a horrific run that has seen them beaten in 5 consecutive games and 4 of them were on their home pitch at the JJB. As if that were not bad enough in 3 of those they failed to score even a single goal. Wigan has won only 1pt from their last 6 games.

There is time for Jewell to rally his Latics. Remember Everton of last year? The Toffees fell into the relegation zone and rallied to climb the table only to fall again before they finished on the up. Expect Wigan to do the same.

January 2

Arsenal 4:0 Charlton

A red card and resulting spot kick by Henry in the 29th and a 1st ever goal from Justin Hoyte (45) put the Gunners on top 2-0 at the half in another London derby. Van Persie added yet another penalty kick goal in the 75th and the final goal in the 89th minute as Arsenal dealt Pardew his first loss as head man at Charlton.

Aston Villa 0:0 Chelsea

A surprisingly uninspired effort from Chelsea in the opening half when they knew a win would reduce the gap between them and ManU had the match in a scoreless deadlock at the break. It would get no better for the Blues as they were unable to convert against the spirited play of Villa. This one would be the first match of the EPL season in which Chelsea failed to score. Remember this lost opportunity come May.