The congested festive period finally comes to an end and we now have over a week before action resumes in the English Premier League. Top Flight English football greeted the new year with another pulsating gameweek. It started off with Jamie Vardy settling it all at the Goodison Park and ended with Liverpool getting beaten for the first time this season as the high voltage Etihad drama closed MatchWeek 21. Goals galore from all over the country certainly delivered yet another twist in the title challenge. What we saw in the MatchWeek gone by was Manchester City inflicting Liverpool’s first Premier League defeat of the season to breathe new life into their title defence, Leicester moving to seventh place with a victory over Everton, Spurs briefly returning to second after a resounding victory in South Wales, Arsenal & Man Utd closing ground on Chelsea in the battle for Champions League qualification and a battle royale at the other end of the spectrum – the relegation zone!
Crystal Palace moved six points clear of the relegation zone, Burnley won a crucial relegation battle with Huddersfield, Fulham remains in the bottom three after their thumping at Arsenal, as do Southampton despite that fantastic result at Stamford Bridge while Cardiff and Newcastle are the other two sides in the mix after both lost against Spurs and Man Utd respectively.
With a 2-1 victory at the Etihad on Thursday cutting the gap between Man City and Liverpool to just 4 points and ensuring that the race for the league title remains white-hot, the last game of MW21 was dejavu of sorts! 12-months ago, unbeatable Manchester City waltzed into Anfield with a cocky stride in their step and left suffering their first defeat of the season. Press the fast-forward button and this time, unbeatable Liverpool waltzed into The Etihad with a cocky stride in their step and left suffering their first defeat of the season. It’s been a tumultuous Christmas period for both clubs, with Liverpool, the benefactor of a 12-point swing that saw them start the most exciting clash of the season thus far with a seven-point gap at the top with City nestled in third. The League is now wide open!
A resounding Spurs victory in South Wales over a rejuvenated Cardiff side after stumbling to a 3-1 home defeat to Wolves was the perfect away fixture for the men in white. Despite Cardiff winning four of their last six at home, the Welsh side has proven once again that they are incapable of beating the Big Six. In a big shocker, Southampton held unpredictable Chelsea to a goalless draw, the first time the south coast club had kept a clean sheet in 11 EPL games, and the third time in the past five games that the home side had failed to score in front of their fans. Arsenal reacted brilliantly though after Liverpool handed them a thrashing by beating Fulham 4-1 – a timely win for Unai Emery’s side with Man Utd winning their fourth game on the spin since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer replaced Jose Mourinho at the helm. Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford scoring the goals late into the second half against Newcastle to cement the Red Devils’ sixth position in the table.
Jamie Vardy haunted Everton once again to give Claude Puel another timely Leicester victory in the very first match of 2019 and if reaching 50 league games in charge of Leicester feels an achievement for Claude Puel, the greater feat is the manner in which the misunderstood Frenchman brought up the milestone. After being under pressure, Puel has recorded victories over Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton in a festive period marred only by the unexpected home loss to Cardiff. In the process, he has taken Leicester to seventh place – best the 2016’s improbable champions can realistically hope for. It should be enough to extend his loveless affair with Leicester.
In the dreaded relegation zone, the 2-1 Burnley win saw Sean Dyche’s side finally move out. Huddersfield remains bottom after losing for the eighth successive league game, and David Wagner is now favourite to become the next EPL manager to have to move his favourite plant from the window ledge. While everyone at the top of the table is left chasing Liverpool, the relegation zone remains more fluid. Barring a pretty remarkable turn in form, Huddersfield appear destined to go down, but a number of clubs trying to avoid the other two relegation placements promises to provide compelling theater in the season’s second half.
Manchester United are red hot under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, winning four matches in a row after Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat of Newcastle.
Solskjaer is firing on all cylinders right now: Paul Pogba is revitalized, Marcus Rashford has been amazing being played centrally, Romelu Lukaku has goals in consecutive games and even Alexis Sanchez – who was invisible under Jose Mourinho – provided an assist against the Magpies.
All the while, United have crawled to within three points of fifth-place Arsenal and six points of fourth-place Chelsea after the Blues surprisingly drew with lowly Southampton. Suddenly, a top-four finish and a return to Champions League football doesn’t seem so outlandish.
With the win, the Norwegian became the first Manchester United manager in the open era to win each of his first four games in charge – a 5-1 win over Cardiff, 3-1 versus Huddersfield, 4-1 against Bournemouth and 2-0 against New Castle United (14 goals in 4 games), equalling Sir Matt Busby’s 73-year-old club record of first four league game wins as manager of Manchester United. But, a 2-0 victory over Reading in the FA Cup third-round tie at the Old Trafford on Saturday put him above some of the greats who have managed the team – five wins in five games. It was not one of their best performance, but Manchester United did manage to escape with win over the Championship strugglers and with the narrow victory, Manchester United’s new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed to overhaul Sir Matt Busby, Sir Alex Ferguson among many others to script the unique record.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Here are the standout facts from MatchWeek 21
– from Vardy joining the list of year’s first Premier League goalscorers
– a landmark debut for Southampton’s new English goalkeeping starlet
– to the end of Liverpool’s unbeaten run
Everton 0-1 Leicester City
Leicester have won five of their last six league matches played on New Year’s Day, drawing the other
Arsenal 4-1 Fulham
Arsenal have scored 10 Premier League goals courtesy of substitutes this season, more than any other team
Cardiff City 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Christian Eriksen has scored 19 goals from outside the penalty area in the Premier League, the most of any player since his debut in September 2013
AFC Bournemouth 3-3 Watford
There were six goals in the first half, the most in the opening 45 minutes of a Premier League match since Southampton 6-1 Aston Villa in May 2015
Chelsea 0-0 Southampton
At 22 years and 346 days, Southampton’s Angus Gunn is the youngest English goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet on his PL debut since Ben Amos (21y 295d) for Manchester United v Stoke City in January 2012
Huddersfield Town 1-2 Burnley
Ashley Barnes has been involved in three goals in his last four PL matches, scoring twice and providing an assist. That’s more than in his previous 18 combined, in which he scored two
West Ham United 2-2 Brighton & Hove Albion
There were 125 seconds between Dale Stephen’s opener and Shane Duffy putting Brighton 2-0 up, while there were only 131 seconds between Marko Arnautovic’s two goals for West Ham
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Crystal Palace
Since the start of last season, Wilfried Zaha has won eight Premier League penalties, two more than any other player
Newcastle United 0-2 Manchester United
Romelu Lukaku has had a hand in 11 goals in 12 PL appearances v Newcastle United, scoring seven goals and providing four assists
Manchester City 2-1 Liverpool
Man City ended Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the PL season in the 21st match. Only Arsenal (38 matches in 2003/04), Man Utd (24 in 2010/11) and City (22 in 2017/18) have had longer unbeaten starts Courtesy – PremierLeague.com
With the Third Round of the FA Cup punctuating MatchWeeks 21 and 22, EPL action will return on Saturday 12th January with Man United visiting Wembley to take on Spurs in the Marquee clash of MatchWeek 22. Man City have a tricky assignment hosting Wolves at The Etihad as well. Lots to look forward to before UCL action gets underway in mid-February!
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