The latest round of Premier League football continued on Saturday with four more contests, starting with the lunchtime showing at St Marys…
Southampton 1 Chelsea 1
The Saints are going through a difficult patch and have lost six straight league games for the first time in their clubs’ history after losing another lead last time out against Wolves, and they welcome a Chelsea side bang in form and have won four straight games to get themselves back into the top four of the division. On paper then it looked a nailed-on away win, but when has football ever been played on paper eh? A win for Southampton would give them one hell of a boost, but if Chelsea did get the expected win, they knew they would end the weekend in the top four regardless of the results of West Ham and Liverpool games later in the day/weekend.
Chelsea totally dominated possession for the opening half-hour but only really created one decent opening when Marcus Alonso fired across goal and wide, but The Saints, who had offered nothing up till that point, netted with their first attempt on goal in the 33rd minute when a lovely pass from Nathan Redmond found Takumi Minamino who got in through the centre of the Chelsea backline and then showed great composure to finish past Edouard Mendy, and the hosts had the lead very much against the run of play. Chelsea did then finally force Alex McCarthy into a save when Kurt Zouma’s header was well kept out, but for all of Chelsea’s possession, they only created two chances of note in the first half, although as we know the Saints have given away plenty of leads this season, could they possibly hold onto this one though?
Well, just like last weekend the hosts gave away an early second-half penalty, although on this occasion it was definitely a penalty after Mason Mount was wiped out by Danny Ings, and Mount, a lifelong Portsmouth fan, stepped up to net the penalty and level eight minutes into the second period, and Chelsea finally had something to show for all their dominance. However, the closest anyone came t scoring thereafter were the hosts as Jannik Vestergaard saw a looping header crash back off the crossbar, with Chelsea’s only real opening of the second period coming when Reece James ballooned over from a good position and the back post, but it was a disappointing point for the visitors, whilst it was a very good point for the hosts who stop the rot and will be relieved to end that losing run in the league.
Onto the afternoon kick-off now and an important one at Turf Moor…
Burnley 0 West Bromwich Albion 0
To say West Brom must win this one would be an understatement, time is running out for The Baggies now who at kick off were twelve points from safety with fourteen games remaining, but they would have to try and break down a tough Burnley side who knew a win here would take them eleven points ahead of the bottom three and well on their way to securing their Premier League status for another season. Both sides drew last time out, although draws are no good for the visitors now so they would have to be a bit more adventurous in this game, whilst a draw for Burnley would not be a bad result but they would have been looking to get the three points for sure in this one, so what would happen in this contest?
Mike Dean was back after a week off after he and his family had received abuse and death threats after his VAR decision against West Ham at Fulham two weekends ago, and low and behold he had another decision to make in front of the VAR screen in this contest after Semi Ajayi handled and denied a goal-scoring opportunity for the hosts but it was on the blind side of Dean and his assistant so they didn’t see it, so after VAR had looked at it and sent Dean over to the monitor, he produced a red card and West Brom were down to ten men after half an hour, it was the correct decision as it was a blatant hand ball and Matej Vydra would have been clean through had the defender not stopped it deliberately with his hand, it was certainly a blow to the visitors in their quest to try and win the game that was for sure, and also a blow as Ajayi would now be suspended going forward.
Despite this set back though West Brom would have been satisfied with the opening half, they had more attempts on goal and had played fairly well, but would the second period see Burnley take command and make the extra man count? They had a huge shout for a penalty after the ball hit Kyle Bartley on his outstretched arm inside the box, but VAR felt it wasn’t handball, and then the ten-man visitors almost stunned Burnley when they had a wonderful chance to go in front with twenty minutes left but Mbaye Diagne struck the bar after turning James Tarkowski inside out, how big a miss would that prove to be for Big Sam’s men?
The ten men looked likelier to find a winner by this time and had another huge chance when Matheus Periera received a square ball but miskicked with the goal at his mercy, and then his follow up was someone headed off the line by Tarkowski, and then Burnley went down the other end and flashed a decent ball across goal, surely any goal now would be a winning one, and it could prove oh so important. Neither side could find a breakthrough though, West Brom were excellent with ten men, you would not have known they had a man less, but those two huge chances could prove very costly in the long run, it’s another point but as said before points are not really good enough. Burnley in truth were not at their best here but they will take the point as it means they are now nine points above the drop zone with another game ticked off.
Onto the early evening kick-off now at Anfield and the 238th Merseyside derby in what was an important game for both…
Liverpool 0 Everton 2
Merseyside derbies are always important right, well this one was very important in terms of both sides’ chances of a Champions League spot, Liverpool knew a win would take them level with Chelsea who occupies that coveted fourth spot, but Everton knew if they could stun their rivals, they would draw level on points with their opponents in sixth. Both sides had suffered home defeats against Man City in recent times, although Liverpool recent home run has been dire, three straight defeats, whilst The Toffees away form has been much better than of at home, so maybe recent form home and away for both could determine the result here, although as we know form goes out of the window in derby games, but it must be said the visitors had not won a derby game since 2010, but maybe they felt this was their best chance to win one and end that poor run.
And Everton made a blistering start here, taking the lead inside three minutes when a lovely through ball from James Rodriguez to Richarlison saw the Brazilian striker fire a super finish across Alisson and into the far corner, this after a poor defensive header out by Ozan Kabak had been picked up by Abdoulaye Doucoure, who moved it onto Rodriguez, it was the perfect start for The Toffees, not so much for the Reds. The hosts tried to respond and saw Jordan Pickford pull off terrific saves from Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and also saw Michael Keane brilliantly block an effort from Roberto Firmino too, but the curse of the centre half position haunted Liverpool again as Henderson, their skipper, had to go off with a muscle injury, meaning another centre half pairing for the Reds, with Nat Phillips coming on to partner Kabak at the back.
Everton had not really created much after their early goal, but they created the best moment apart from that goal in the first half when a superb cross from Lucas Digne saw Seamus Coleman somehow send his point-blank header straight at Alisson, it was a great chance for Everton to double their lead, and late on in the half Phillips almost made them pay but could only send a header into the side netting down the other end, but The Toffees did go into the half a goal ahead and were halfway to ending that derby hoodoo. Liverpool certainly came out with much more tempo in the second half and certainly put the visitors under a lot of pressure, and their best chance saw Mo Salah slipped in by Xherdan Shaqiri but Pickford, who was having a superb game, made a crucial save to deny the hosts, whilst Everton, who had brought on Dom Calvert-Lewin, were looking for a moment to seal the game.
And with seven minutes left The Toffees did just that when after Richarlison had broke clear after a Liverpool attack had broken down, he laid in Calvert-Lewin who saw his effort saved by Alisson and as he tried to get to the loose ball to tap home the rebound, he fell over Alexander-Arnold and the penalty was awarded, even after VAR asked referee Chris Kavanagh to go and look at it on the screen, and Gylfi Sigurdsson, on as a second half sub, stepped up to convert the spot-kick, and Everton had won for the first time at Anfield since 1999, what a result for Carlo Ancelotti and his boys. Special mentions to Pickford, who was superb as said, and Michael Keane., who was colossal at the back for The Toffees today, and they now go level on points with Liverpool in sixth and have a game in hand, whilst for The Reds it’s now four straight defeats at Anfield, who would have thought that possible? Extraordinary…
Finally, for Saturday we move onto Craven Cottage and a big game for the hosts as they took on another relegation rival…
Fulham 1 Sheffield United 0
The Cottagers you felt had to win this game against a fellow relegation rival, and if they could do just that then they would only be three points from safety and heap tons of pressure on Newcastle just above them who of course travel to play Man Utd on Sunday. The Blades knew they had to win, there is no doubt, as they sat fourteen points from safety with fourteen games remaining and knew a win would take them off the bottom of the table on goal difference after West Brom’s draw earlier, so with both sides needing to win it promised to be a decent scrap. Both sides issues have been goal scoring though this campaign, both have been in pretty much all games this season but not taking chances and not having the luck fall their way sees them in their current plight, but they would need to rectify this if they had any hopes of making a survival charge in their final fourteen games of the campaign.
Fulham dominated the opening half and had more than two-thirds of the ball, but they didn’t really create anything of note in the opening forty-five minutes, something they have done in many games this season, whilst for The Blades they didn’t not even have one touch of the ball in Fulham’s penalty area as they were simply just trying to contain their opponents, which for a side who needed three points, this had to change. Would we get a goal in this one? Fulham had not scored in five of their last six games at Craven Cottage, whilst Sheffield United don’t score that much full stop, so the odds weren’t exactly stacked in favour of a glut of goals, well Fulham came very close early in the second half when Ruben Loftus-Cheek saw an effort cleared off the line by George Baldock, but on the hour mark came the breakthrough as Fulham did find the net after Ademola Lookman got down the right, cut inside and after a poor attempt of a tackle by Ethan Ampadu, Lookman fired an effort through the legs of Aaron Ramsdale and into the net for a huge goal.
It meant the Blades had no option now but to attack and try and find a way back into the game, and they so nearly found an instant repost when Enda Stephens got in on goal, but his effort was straight at Alphonse Areola, it was the first time they had got into their oppositions box, and it so nearly brought them a leveller. You felt The Cottagers needed a second goal as The Blades were now understandably looking more lively going forward, Billy Sharp had gone close a couple of times too, although both were then flagged for offside, but it was a warning to the hosts, and they did see Ramsdale tip over smartly from a long-range drive from Ola Aina as they looked to net a second and put this game to bed.
Chris Wilder brought on Dave McGoldrick and Jayden Bogle for the final part of the contest to bolster his attacking options, and Bogle so nearly got on the end of a ball into the six-yard box, but Areola brilliantly came to block the effort and preserve Fulham’s lead late on, which saw both down and in need of treatment, and Fulham’s nerves would not have been helped when SEVEN minutes were held up for stoppage time. The Cottagers though did hold on to take a huge three points and at the same time heap more misery on The Blades whose time in the Premier League is running out fast.
Let’s see what today’s games have done to the table…
That Fulham win really makes the bottom look so so different now, The Cottagers are only three behind Newcastle and safety, and only eight points off 13th placed Southampton, Fulham will really believe they can stay up now after netting seven points from nine in the past week, and those above them will start to twitch a little. Chelsea do stay in the top four despite dropping points at St Marys, although they will hope Spurs do them a favour tomorrow against West Ham, and Everton’s superb win at Anfield sees them alongside their Merseyside rivals whose league form has nosedived in recent weeks, remarkable.
Let’s look ahead to the remaining fixtures this weekend…
Sunday, February 21
West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur (12pm) (The Hammers now know if they can beat Spurs they will end the weekend back inside the top four and could end the weekend only a point off second place, whilst Spurs will hope to deny their London rivals and keep their hopes of European football alive)
Aston Villa v Leicester City (2.05pm) (Villa can climb to within a point of the top six, Foxes can go into second if they avoid defeat)
Arsenal v Manchester City (4.30pm) (Mikel Arteta knows a win over his former employees could see then into the top eight, a win for City would make it EIGHTEEN straight victories and end the weekend with at least a ten-point lead still)
Manchester United v Newcastle United (7pm) (The hosts will end the weekend second if they win regardless of Leicester’s result at Villa, for Newcastle the pressure is on after Fulham’s win, can they get anything from Old Trafford?)
Monday, February 22
Brighton & Hove Albion v Crystal Palace (8pm) (Both these sides would have watched on nervously as Fulham netted another win, and they will also be watching how Newcastle do on Sunday evening, Brighton could be fourth bottom come Monday evening if Newcastle stun Man Utd, whilst Palace are not out of it yet, they are only seven points clear of the drop zone now and will love the points to give themselves some breathing space)
Check back tomorrow to see how Sunday’s action pans out…