H&V: Big Four throwbacks, goalscoring moxie and premature commentary
LiverpoolAfter his second successive win there, Stamford Bridge is becoming something of a happy hunting ground for Kenny Dalglish. The match itself was a throwback to Ã¢ÂÂBig FourÃ¢ÂÂ clashes of yore, rather than your 2011 standard goal-fest, and in a game petering out to a 1-1 draw it was the away side who managed to find the break-through. With all the old boy talk centring on Chelsea subs Torres and Meireles, it was Liverpool's ex-Chelsea full-back who came up with the goods, with Glen Johnson's jinking run and cool left-footed finish proving the difference. What will please the Anfield faithful most is the way they hung on after the break when Chelsea looked to be in the ascendancy, especially when Danny Sturridge levelled soon after the break.Liverpool are locked on 22 points along with Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal, and with the Manchester clubs already 12 points away, the race for the Champions League berths could be one of the most open in recent years.
Robin van PersieArsene Wenger reportedly told journalists he would consider his future at the end of the current season, hinting that he may have Ã¢ÂÂtaken the club as far as he canÃ¢ÂÂ, as the old saying goes. After the match he seemed to step down from this stance, having seen his side continue their recovery with a hard-fought win at Carrow Road. Robin van Persie continued his staggering calendar year with goals number 30 and 31 from 29 appearances in 2011. Goal 31 was particularly special, a right-footed chip over Norwich keeper John Ruddy the perfect demonstration of what a natural goal-scorer the Dutchman has become. Reports of Arsenal's demise were greatly exaggerated, it seems, as this was Arsenal's tenth win in 12 games and a match the Gunners would surely have dropped points in during the early weeks of the campaign. As a note of caution though, after Norwich's opener you'd be forgiven for wondering: just what is the question if Per Mertesacker is the answer?
EvertonDavid Moyes' men silenced the Blue Union protest group who held a demonstration before kick-off calling for Bill Kenwright to sell the perennially skint Merseyside club. The manner of the victory was typically Evertonian, a late Leighton Baines penalty edging a tight, physical encounter against Wolves. The left side proved to be the most fertile for Everton in their second home win of the season, with Baines and Drenthe showing evidence of a blossoming understanding with some good work on the flank. A just-about deserved win then, but Everton are at least three players short of their 2008 best under Moyes, meaning the investment the Blue Union are calling for is long overdue.
Manchester City's DestroyersAnother match, another convincing win and another ludicrous set of statistics. City have now scored at least three times in 10 of their 12 Premier League matches this season and if they continue their current scoring rate will have hit the back of the net 130 times by the end of the season. But SaturdayÃ¢ÂÂs home fixture with previously unbeaten Newcastle was another stern test of mettle for Roberto Mancini's men, particularly without their talisman, David Silva. It's true that City are less eye-catching without their playmaker, but what they lacked in cohesion, they made up for in muscle against Alan PardewÃ¢ÂÂs spirited Magpies. The Etihad Stadium's resident destroyers took top billing to end the Magpie's unbeaten run, with De Jong finally looking up to speed after an injury lay-off and Yaya Toure continuing his fine run of form breaking up Newcastle's play and embarking on his trademark marauding runs. It was Micah Richards who was named man of the match after a goalscoring star turn. His exile from the England squad continues to baffle.
YakubuWhether Rovers fans like it or not, Blackburn's late, late rally keeps Steve Kean in employment for another week and their portly predator weighed in with another vital brace. Yakubu's penalty nine minutes into stoppage time secured a priceless point in their battle against relegation. It was an anarchic end to the match, with keeper Paul Robinson fouled by David Jones to win the spot kick to save the club from their ninth league defeat. In truth, it was another disjointed performance from the team, with poor defending and goalkeeping from Robinson on Wigan's first and third goals making for an uphill struggle for Steve Kean's men.
Heidar HelgusonOnly Robin Van Persie has scored more Premier League goals than Helguson in the past month and the Icelandic striker also showed his moxie in QPR's entertaining win at the Britannia Stadium. Neil Warnock was full of praise for the spirited front-man, Ã¢ÂÂI thought Heidar Helguson epitomised us today. He has got a lump the size of a golf ball on his cheekbone from the first minute but he was fantastic for us in both boxes.Ã¢ÂÂHelguson was a thorn in the side of Manchester City before the international break and repeated the trick against Stoke's gargantuan defence with two more goals for his tally. The Rs are enjoying a rich vein of form of late, founded on a durable and technically gifted central midfield of Faurlin and Barton, all contributing to that rare smile on Neil Warnock's face.
Scott Sinclair & Angel RangelSwansea managed to suppress the Champions' attacking overtures for much of their rather flat Saturday evening encounter, limiting United to just a handful of decent chances. It could have been even better for the Liberty Stadium faithful had Scott Sinclair managed to convert a cut back half way through the first period. It was a momentary lack of concentration that proved costly in a game of few chances and proved to be a cruel lesson in the importance of being clinical in front of goal for the newly-promoted side. Still, Sinclair was one of the Jacks' most dangerous players - their principal threat coming from the wings with Lloyd Dyer also doing enough to give Phil Jones and Patrice Evra a few headaches. Sinclair's miss was one of two fatal moments that settled this match, Angel Rangel was the other guilty party. It's admirable that the Welsh team refuse to abandon their ethos of aesthetically pleasing football but if you're going to pass the ball out of defence, probably best not to find Ryan Giggs rather than your own team-mate. Fortunately his manager was more forgiving than Giggs and HernandezÃ¢ÂÂ¦ "Blame's on me. I ask the players to play. He could have smashed the ball, but we look to pass our way out of trouble and they are clinical.Ã¢ÂÂ
Bolton WanderersÃ¢ÂÂ¦and everything was looking so rosy. Wanderers fans will be craving for another International break after a second-half collapse saw them come unstuck at The Hawthornes. Most worrying of all for Coyle will be the team's total lack of direction in the second-half with balls being launched up to Kevin Davies who looked to have forgotten what to do with them. Chris Eagles was symptomatic of a rudderless display, giving possession away on several occasions against a hungrier West Brom side who arrested control of the match after the break. The club laid on free travel for the Wanderers faithful to boost their away support but even that gimmick won't be enough to attract much repeat business for their trip to White Hart Lane in a fortnight. Back to the relegation zone and back to the drawing board for Coyle and Co.
Stoke CityNo Europa League to blame this time for the Potters and that famous line about going to the Britannia Stadium is fast becoming a myth. Stoke have now lost their last two at home and the optimism and expectation raised after the signings of Crouch and Palacios seems to be weighing heavily on a small squad. Tony Pulis urged his team to Ã¢ÂÂstick togetherÃ¢ÂÂ after this latest defeat that leaves Stoke second bottom of the form table, having lost their last four games. Stoke probably did enough to snatch a point against QPR, especially seeing as Mike Jones turned down a decent penalty shout, but shipping three goals at home proved just too much for them in the end. Pulis has earned deserved praise for keeping Stoke's above water in a competitive division but when their divisive tactics and occasional over-physicality aren't successful, it ain't half ugly. An eminently winnable home game against Blackburn on Saturday can't come soon enough.
Andre Villas-BoasYou have to feel for Chelsea's 34-year old boss. In a dressing room packed with strong characters, his attempts to revamp Chelsea into a Barcelona-esque pressing and ball-retaining juggernaut are admirable but fundamentally flawed.Unfortunately for AVB, Chelsea are around 20 years behind the Camp Nou side and the chances of him being given even a quarter of that time to realise his vision are about as slim as his chairman's model girlfriend. A second successive defeat at Stamford Bridge for the first time in a decade must force Villas-Boas back to basics or discontented murmurs are likely to increase in volume against an impatient backdrop.
Fulham and SunderlandIf Nytol ever loses its clout, source yourself a DVD of this match. Scrappy, tense and severely lacking in quality, the final whistle was sweet relief for 37,688 hardly souls who probably wished they'd used their Saturday afternoons on something more exciting, like washing the car.
Martin TylerDear Martin, next time you start excitedly describing a Didier Drogba free-kick goal, best make sure it's, y'know, in the goal first...