EPL Round 23 Review

by Paul O'Donnell

League play resumes today (Jan 13) with some really intriguing confrontations on tap. In light of what transpired over the very short "break" for other competitions the most compelling was probably Liverpool's dropping two games in four days conceding 9 goals to Arsenal on their own home ground knocking them out of both the FA and the Carling Cups. They didn't just lose they were taken apart which was very surprising since their play had begun to look better than on form having won 5 of 6 in the league scoring 13 goals and conceding only 1 over that stretch. Perhaps even more damaging to Liverpool's future they lost both Garcia and Gonzalez to injury in that 2nd loss to the Gunners who have notched 3 consecutive wins over the Reds scoring 12 goals to Liverpool's 4. Resuming league play Liverpool visits Watford in a match where they must get back in stride.

Chelsea will also be looking to get back on top of their game after the silliness of the holiday period that saw them produce 3 consecutive draws. Jose emphasized just how out of touch he has been by telling the world "United have blown it" when it was his side that dropped 6 of 9 points on that short run. To emphasize just how silly the comment was, had his Blues won those games there would be a tie on points at the top of the league.

The Blues entertain Wigan at Stamford Bridge with both teams in dire need of all 3 points with the Latics having lost 5 in a row winning only 1 point in their last 6 league games. It may seem a bit surprising but this match could very well be the most significant of the season for both sides due to the circumstances that have preceded it.

A positive result here would be absolutely huge for Wigan while at the same time anything less than all 3 points for Chelsea could determine the fate of the "special one" according to some pundits in England. Something is clearly amiss at Chelsea and most don't feel its all because of the injury list. Jose is beginning to feel the heat.

Can Arsenal continue their terrific run on their visit to Ewood park against Rovers? Blackburn have been tough on opponents on their home ground now that Benni McCarthy has assumed his leadership role. Or will Henry keep the run going for the Gunners?

Will Man United slip against Villa at Old Trafford? Not likely.

And oh yes, Inter goes for a Serie A record 12th consecutive league win later today.

So how did this play out on the pitch then?

Watford 0:3 Liverpool

The Reds got on top with goals from Bellamy (33) and Crouch (39) in their effort to regain their form after the devastating losses at Anfield to the Gunners. Crouch added another in the 47th and Liverpool's rebound was complete.

Bolton 0:0 Man City

A deserved point on the road for City at a difficult place to play as Wanderers have made the Reebok their fortress of late.

Charlton 1:3 M'boro

Charlton got one from JFH to open the scoring (26) and Boro leveled in the 44th via Cattermole off a nice feed from Viduka in a clash of two sides in desperate need of making a run to safety. Arca's strike in the 63rd put Boro out front before a screamer from Yakubu sealed the win in the 67th.

Chelsea 4:0 Wigan

Hesitation on the part of Chris Kirkland in goal for Wigan and a defender failing to read the situation led to Chelsea's first half goal from Lampard's intended cross when it was allowed to sail untouched into goal (12). At that point it had been advantage Chelsea but it surely had not been what you'd call a dominant position. In England they might refer to the error as being "unlucky" (being kind) but it was clearly due to the perfect placement and pace on the free kick that created it. Lucky goal for Chelsea, maybe, but it was a clear mistake by Wigan. It got even worse when an attempt to pass back to the keeper ended up sending Robben in free for the Blues 2nd (62). Believe it or not it got still worse for Wigan when Kirkland was charged with an own goal by deflecting Robben's attempt at a cross into the middle from the end line into his own net in the 70th. Drogba's brilliant header in stoppage time was the goal of the day ending an embarrassing performance by Wigan, their 6th straight league defeat.

Man United 3:1 Aston Villa

United raced out to a 3-0 lead on goals from Park (10), Carrick (12) and the hot hand of Ronaldo (34) before Agbonlahor pulled one back (51) for Villa. Credit to Villa for hanging tough but this one was already over at the half.

Sheffield United 1:1 Portsmouth

Quinn's 21st minute strike had United on top at the break before an 80th minute strike from O'Neill off a rebound got Pompey even.

West Ham 3:3 Fulham

Radzinski's goal in the 16th got Fulham on top before Bobby Zamorra leveled in the 27th and Benayoun put the Hammers in front at the close of the half (45). Brian McBride got Fulham level in the 58th before Benayoun's 2nd on the day put the Hammers in front in the 63rd. Then Christanval's heroics got the match level in stoppage time (90) from a goal mouth scramble. The feisty match saw 8 yellows and Zamorra sent off in the 76th.

Blackburn 0:2 Arsenal

A deserved red card was shown to Gilberto Silva for a petulant and ill advised lashing out at Robbie Savage in the 12th minute putting Arsenal down to 10 men in the early going at Ewood Park. Rovers, unable to take advantage went down to a beautifully executed run by Toure and free kick from Van Persie that found him in a seam of Blackburn's ball watching defense. Toure's free header clanged off the near post and in behind Friedel.

For Rovers the match was a tale of missed opportunities, poor first touches when it really mattered and precise execution by Arsenal when they doubled their advantage via Henry from a wonderful give and go with Fabregas (70).

Everton 1:1 Reading

An OG (Lescott, 27) put the Royals up in this closely fought contest between the 8th and 9th placed teams in the table (separated by only 1 point at the start of the day). It would stay that way as the Toffees got the match level thru Andy Johnson in the 80th.

Tottenham 2:3 Newcastle

Had it not been for Shay Given in goal for Newcastle Spurs might have been up 2 or 3 inside the first ten minutes of this very entertaining and high energy match. Spurs kept producing the chances and DeFoe touched a cross in with a diving and outstretched leg in the 13th. Yet another Newcastle youngster (Huntington) got his first ever EPL goal just two minutes later to get the match back on level terms.

Several chippy confrontations on the pitch carried on after the whistle and into the tunnel at the break. Frankly, Chimbonda of Spurs should have been shown a red card for hands to the face of an opponent. He wasn't, which meant he was on the pitch to make the run to the end line and get off the centering ball that Berbatov tapped in after the initial attempt was saved and it was 2-1 Tottenham in the 53rd.

Still Spurs couldn't put the Magpies away and they paid the price in the 72nd when Obefemi Martins hit a blistering left footed drive to make it 2-2. Two minutes later it was Nicky Butt's run and shot set up by Martins making it 3-2 Magpies as they punished Spurs for not making their chances count.

A spirited and well deserved win by Glenn Roeder's team but it would probably be agreed it would be even more accurate to say Spurs lost a game they should have won. Too often they were bitten by the bug of being "caught between two minds" as they say in England.   Or as we say here "one pass too many" as dozens of chances were not taken. Spurs best effort to level came from DeFoe in the 86th as his well struck drive hit the post squarely and out.

Easily the best match of the weekend and that from a Spurs fan that was disappointed in the result but acknowledging that the win by Newcastle was clearly deserved. They did it the old fashioned way; they earned it.

Serie A

Inter sets a record in Serie A with their 12th consecutive victory remaining unbeaten on the season in a 3-1 win over Torino. Adriano picked up right where he left off opening the scoring in the 24th minute with his head proving he really is back on form (3 goals in his last 3 appearances). The score stayed at 1-0 until the 59th when Fiore leveled for Torino but the champions stormed back immediately with Ibrahimovic getting them back on top one minute later with a brilliant volley. Materazzi added a 3rd in the 85th minute from the spot extending Inter's lead atop the league to 10 points over Roma who could do no better than a draw at Messina.

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