The Premier League returned this week with six matches, beginning with three games on Tuesday which saw Sheffield United looking to back up their first win of the season at the weekend in the cup and grab their first win in the league, Everton looking to get into the top four and Man United looking to avoid defeat and gain the top spot in the division ahead of their mammoth clash at the weekend…
Tuesday, January 12
Sheffield United 1 Newcastle United 0
Burnley 0 Manchester United 1
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Everton 2
Bramall Lane was the scene for the first game of the evening, which pitted The Blades against The Magpies. The hosts had much the better of the first period, with Karl Darlow, back between the sticks for Newcastle after a rest at the weekend, making two very good stops to keep his side level. The Magpies only had two real moments in attack as they spent a lot of the half defending, and then things got tougher for the visitors when they went down to ten men just before half time after Ryan Fraser was given a second yellow after a needless foul on Dave McGoldrick, and you felt this was surely the best chance for the Blades to grab their first win.
The Blades continued to dominate after the break and Chris Wilder brought on attackers Rhian Brewster and Billy Sharp to try and find that elusive goal, and twenty minutes from time VAR asked the referee to look at a possible handball against Federico Fernandez after he appeared to try and swipe the ball away from Sharp after both were battling for the ball, the referee deemed it handball and Sharp converted the spot-kick and the Blades could taste their first victory.
Steve Bruce responded by making some attacking substitutions to try and force a leveller, although Rhian Brewster could have made the final minutes more comfortable for The Blades had his deflected effort not bounced off the post.
However, the hosts survived a few nerve-jangling moments in the end to hold on for a first Premier League win for six months, and their first of the campaign. A poor loss for Newcastle though, and a worry for them too, they were largely outplayed in this one although they would have been very unhappy with the award of the winning penalty no doubt.
Over at Turf Moor for one of two late games on Tuesday evening, Burnley took on Man United with the visitors knowing any points would take them top, although first talking point of the game saw a crazy VAR moment just before the half-hour mark, Luke Shaw went into a challenge with Johann Gudmundson and play continued up the other end where Edison Carvani was taken out by Robbie Brady and a foul was given, VAR asked the referee to go over and look at both incidents and see if Shaw should be punished or whether Brady should be punished for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
After several minutes Shaw was booked and Burnley won a free-kick, meaning the following passage of play became irrelevant. The free-kick came to nothing but why it took so long to come to the decision who knows, this is the frustrations of it all, why it takes so long, Shaw could also maybe count himself lucky he was not sent off for the challenge, but anyway who knows what the rules are anymore.
Harry Maguire then thought he had headed United ahead ten minutes before the break, but then saw it ruled out for a foul, which looked debatable, but it had been a typically dogged display by the hosts in the first period although United certainly had the better openings. United did all the pressing in the first half of the second period, and with twenty minutes remaining took a deserved lead when Marcus Rashford picked out Paul Pogba who caught it on the volley superbly from the edge of the box and saw it deflect off Matt Lowton and beyond Nick Pope, Pogba had been one of the best players on show in this one and deserved his goal.
Burnley gave the visitors a couple of scares towards the end of the contest, but United saw it out to pick up the points and climb to the top of the Premier League table ahead of their mouth-watering trip to Anfield on Sunday. The other late game on Tuesday came from Molineux as Wolves hosted Everton where the visitors knew a point at least would take them into the top four, and it was the Toffees who grabbed an early after Alex Iwobi finished off a lovely team goal, as after just six minutes James Rodriguez played a ball out to Lucas Digne whose first time cut back was pounced on by Iwobi to slam home, but Wolves quickly levelled in the fourteenth minute after Ruben Neves volleyed home a cross from Rayan Ait Nouri after he had charged into the box following a half-cleared corner from the visitors, it had certainly been a lively start in the Midlands.
The remainder of the first period did not yield any more goals although it had still been a fairly entertaining opening forty-five minutes in this one, Everton was to regain the lead with their first shot on target in the second period inside the final fifteen minutes when after Leander Dendoncker had headed away a visitor’s corner, Andre Gomes picked up the loose ball and then sent in a great cross that Michael Keane headed home. It proved enough for The Toffees to pick up a fourth win in their last five away from home and into the top four as things stood on Tuesday evening. For Wolves that’s five defeats in their last eight games, worrying form for Nuno and his boys.
Onto Wednesday evenings action now which saw Man City take on Brighton at The Etihad with the hosts looking to go third with a win, and Spurs take on Fulham at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with the hosts also looking to go third with a win.
Spurs were scheduled to take on Villa away this evening, but Villa’s squad are self-isolating due to Covid so are unable to play so the league arranged the Spurs v Fulham game instead, this game was called off a couple of weeks or so ago due to Fulham having Covid issues, so has now been slotted in for this evening, here is how those games panned out…
Wednesday, January 13
Manchester City 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Fulham 1
The early evening fare saw Man City at home to Brighton, would City breeze to another win, or would Brighton cause a surprise and win for only the third time in the league this season?
Both had won through at the weekend in the cup although City had a much easier match than their opponents, City breezed past Championship Birmingham whilst Brighton needed penalties to squeeze past League Two Newport.
It was City who grabbed a deserved the lead just before the break when Kevin de Bruyne received a ball from Ilkay Gundogan and then found Phil Foden, and the youngster got between three Seagulls defenders before placing an effort into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
It meant Foden was now City’s top scorer this season, what a player he already is. City had chances to increase their lead but the visitors were never out of the contest and as the half went on began to cause the hosts more problems and had a decent spell of their own as this was far from comfortable for the home side, but they had the chance to seal the points and make stoppage time comfortable when a mix up at the back from Brighton saw Robert Sanchez foul de Bruyne for a penalty, but Raheem Sterling blazed the resulting penalty over, it was an awful penalty.
In the end, it mattered not though, and City just got over the line in the end and took the points to go third ahead of the Spurs v Fulham game. Brighton for all their efforts came away empty-handed here and remained one place above the drop zone and three points ahead of Fulham before the late game, having played three games more. So to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium then and this game had been hastily rearranged after Spurs original game at Villa was scrubbed, and Scott Parker made his feelings known about it as was not impressed, calling it scandalous that the fixture was only confirmed 48 hours before, but these are strange times so this will happen, and they needed to get the fixture in at some point.
Both sides had come through FA Cup ties at the weekend, Spurs, of course, saw off eighth tier Marine, whilst Fulham needed extra time to defeat West London rivals QPR, but this was The Cottagers first Premier League game for 18 days following their Covid Issues, so could they continue their revival after a slow start, or would net back-to-back league wins following their 3-0 over Leeds in their last league outing?
Spurs knew a win would take them third on goal difference, whilst Fulham now knew a shock win would see them go level with Brighton with two games in hand, and it was the Cottagers who began well, but, just past the midway point of the first half Spurs led after a lovely cross from Sergio Reguilon saw Harry Kane dive to plant a lovely header in off the post and give the hosts the advantage.
Fulham though was more than playing their part in what was a very entertaining contest between two sides looking to attack, which in recent weeks has not always been the Spurs mantra, although they had not got any points this season after going behind so that needed to change if they were to get anything from this one.
The visitors had much more of the ball after the break although they lacked that cutting edge, a problem they have had this season, and Spurs almost netted a classic breakaway goal with twenty to go when Tanguy Ndombele’s ball sent Son Heung-min away, but his scuffed effort came back off the post. But, with just over fifteen minutes to go Fulham found what was a deserved equaliser when a wonderful cross from Ademola Lookman, who had just come on, saw Ivan Cavaleiro plant a lovely header beyond Hugo Lloris.
It had been an average second-half showing from Spurs and it was Fulham who showed far more ambition as the half went on, but it is another decent point for Parkers side now who are looking decent and you fancy them to get out of the bottom three if they continue to play like they are. For Spurs, it is more dropped points from a winning position, and they will be unhappy about that for sure.
Thursday night ended the midweek action in the Premier League, and it came from The Emirates as Arsenal, going for their fifth straight win in all competitions, take on a Palace side who knew a win against the Gunners would take them above their opponents…
Thursday, January 14
Arsenal 0 Crystal Palace 0
The hosts were going for a fourth straight win in the league, and victory in this one would see them into the top ten and just six points off the top four, remarkable considering they had made one of their worst starts to a campaign prior to the winning run.
Palace themselves were looking to try and kick start a season which has not really got going, and they also exited the FA Cup at the weekend against Wolves so came into this one off the back of a disappointing loss too.
They had picked up a morale-boosting win at home to Sheffield United previous to that in the league and had also kept their first clean sheet in that one since the opening day win over Southampton, and it was Palace who had the best chance in a goalless first period when Eberechi Eze clipped a free-kick into the box and James Tomkins got above Rob Holding to plant a header against the crossbar, and Arsenal was having trouble breaking down a very stubborn Palace side who looked dangerous when they went forward.
This was very reminiscent of The Gunners FA Cup tie against Newcastle at the weekend where they needed extra time to finally get the job done, however, neither side could find that spark to produce a winner, and the game ended in a stalemate. Rather flat from Arsenal if truth be told, whilst for Palace, it’s a second clean sheet on the spin in the Premier League and a useful point too.
So, what does that do the league table?
Man United lead the way by three points, and the top ten is still so tight, whilst down at the bottom Sheffield United are now just three points behind West Brom but still remain nine points from safety despite their first win of the season. Fulham closed the gap to Brighton after their point at Spurs and have games in hand to potentially climb out of the bottom three.
Almost a full list of fixtures this weekend, Villa’s home game against Everton scheduled for Sunday lunchtime has been postponed as Villa still have not enough fit players due to Covid, but here the other nine that will take place:-
Saturday January 16
Wolverhampton Wanderers v West Bromwich Albion (12.30pm)
Leeds United v Brighton & Hove Albion (3pm)
West Ham United v Burnley (3pm)
Fulham v Chelsea (5.30pm)
Leicester City v Southampton (8pm)
Sunday January 17
Sheffield United v Tottenham Hotspur (2pm)
Liverpool v Manchester United (4.30pm)
Manchester City v Crystal Palace (7.15pm)
Monday January 18
Arsenal v Newcastle United (8pm)
The top two do battle at Anfield, a Black County derby at Molineux, and there is also a West London derby at Craven Cottage too, should be a decent weekend of football!!!