Saturday analysis: Silva City's saviour, Delph's artistry leaves Chelsea feeling blue
Hull 0-2 Man City
With 10 minutes gone in Saturday's early kick-off, it looked like Manchester City's nightmare week could become a fortnight from hell. With Vincent Kompany deservedly sent off for a clumsy tug on Nikica Jelavic, it looked as though City, still reeling from their elimination from the FA Cup and the Champions League, had a mountain to climb. The Premier League title suddenly looked a long way away.
That feeling didn't last long, though, thanks to City's tinkle-toed Spaniard, David Silva. The playmaker quickly blasted City in front with a stunning left-footed strike, and continued to keep his team ticking over throughout the match. He then settled matters with a sublime slide-rule pass that enabled Edin Dzeko to tuck home the second in the last minute of normal time.
Silva not only completed 24 attacking-third passes (58 in total), but also worked hard to win the ball back, making 8 ball recoveries and 2 successful tackles, where he helped cover in the left-back zone when the visitors' 10 men found themselves overrun.
A word of praise, too, for the much-maligned (and rightly so) Martin Demichelis. The Argentine defender has had a particularly difficult first season with City, but for once it was he who was the picture of composure and strength, rather than the red-carded Kompany.
If City are to win the Premier League title, this performance will have been a crucial one.
Everton 2-1 Cardiff
Cardiff's need for points is perhaps even greater than Manchester City's. The Bluebirds managed to drag themselves slightly closer to safety with last weekend's win over Fulham, and any points from their trip to Goodison would have been seen as a bonus.
For a while it looked like they'd get at least one. Cardiff's display drew great praise from their manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who described the performance as "outstanding and a phenomenal effort". The South Wales outfit certainly weren't lacking fight. In all, the Bluebirds made 35 clearances (mostly inside the penalty area), and 25 successful tackles (mostly outside the penalty area).
They certainly appeared more resolute and well-organised than they had in most of their recent showings. You would imagine Solskjaer will make clear to his players that this is the standard he wants for the next nine weeks.
Fulham 1-0 Newcastle
The Cottagers ended a winless run of nine matches thanks to a second half Ashkan Dejagah goal. Their latest manager, Felix Magath, has pulled a few surprises with his team selections since taking over by the Thames, but the elevation of Cauley Woodrow to the first team is perhaps the most curious. Fulham have a wide array of forward players at their disposal, but Magath has opted to start the Hemel Hempstead-born 19-year-old in his team's last two matches.
If the German's thinking was that the 6ft 1in striker could act as a target man, the youngster's showing against Newcastle won't have provided much encouragement. Woodrow won just 3 of his 13 aerial duels, and rarely laid the ball off to team-mates in central areas.
However, the youngster used the ball well - competing 79% of his passes (a decent rate for a striker), and also chipped in with 2 clearances in the defensive third. It will be interesting to see how big a role the rookie can play in the Cottagers' battle against the drop.
Southampton 4-2 Norwich
It's probably fair to say French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin hasn't enjoyed quite as impressive a season as he did on his debut year in the Premier League. The Southampton star was top of the shop when it came to tackles and interceptions last season, and his persistent ball-winning helped Saints achieve safety with relative ease on their return to the top flight after a seven-year absence. However, this time round he has struggled for the same level of consistency, perhaps not aided by the near-constant chopping and changing around him - nor occasionally dropping to the bench himself.
However, his performance in Saturday's 4-2 win over Norwich was particularly encouraging. As well as completing 75 passes (15 in the attacking third), he also made 10 ball recoveries, 4 interceptions, 2 tackles, and scored a fine opening goal. Perform like this consistently until the end of the season, and his long odds to sneak into France's World Cup squad may just prove good value.
Stoke 3-1 West Ham
West Ham fans (and, indeed, their manager) spent most of the first half of the season telling anyone who would listen that they would climb the table as soon as Andy Carroll returned from injury. As it turns out they were right, but the England striker's part in the Hammers' resurgence hasn't been quite as significant as most had anticipated.
The Gateshead wrecking ball finally scored his first Premier League goal since last April in Saturday's match at Stoke, but his afternoon was mixed at best. Having won his first 7 aerial duels in the opening 20 minutes of the match - not to mention nodding the Irons into an early lead - the striker then won just 4 of his last 12.
Sunderland 0-0 Crystal Palace
Not all goalless draws are uneventful, and both Sunderland and Crystal Palace had chances to win this match. The Black Cats enjoyed 64.6% possession, and fired 19 shots at goal. Somewhat shamefully, only 2 of those shots found the target - a dismal ratio, not least as 11 of those shots were from within the penalty area.
Shooting practice on Monday, perhaps?
Swansea 1-2 West Brom
West Brom boss Pepe Mel finally saw his new (ish) team win a match, at the eighth time of asking. It had looked as though Saturday would be another frustrating day, with the Baggies falling behind early on - but fortunately for the West Midlands side they were able to turn it around.
Key to this was the performance of Youssouf Mulumbu. The midfielder made 5 tackles, 19 ball recoveries, 2 successful take-ons and 43 successful passes. Oh, and he scored a cracking winner. Not bad way to end that barren run.
Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea
Few would have given Aston Villa much hope of a win over league leaders Chelsea, but Paul Lambert's side were certainly deserving of the three points in Saturday's evening kick-off.
The star of the show was midfielder Fabian Delph, who not only scored the winner with a sublime flick, but also mustered 4 take-ons (a team high), 8 ball recoveries (a game high), 4 tackles, 2 chances created and 29 completed passes.
For their part, Chelsea could only manage 2 shots on target - the fewest they've notched in a Premier League game all season.