Saturday Analysis: Giggs' United find new verve, Clyne helps dent Everton hopes
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The Ryan Giggs era (which may only last for just over three weeks) certainly started with a bang. Although Manchester United also scored four times in their recent league wins over Aston Villa and Newcastle, there was something different this time around. For starters, the 11 shots they had on target was the most they'd had in a Premier League match since December 2011. Four of those on-target shots were from Wayne Rooney.
At the other end, Nemanja Vidic was particularly impressive at keeping the Canaries at arms' length on the rare occasions they dared fly in his airpsace. The Serb, who had seemingly been frozen out by David Moyes ahead of his impending move to Inter, won all 12 of his aerial duels, completed 19 clearances, and made 5 interceptions. He also completed 90% of his passes.
On a day when many eyes were on three of the fullbacks on show - England rivals Luke Shaw and Leighton Baines, and the ever-improving Seamus Coleman - it was the other who was arguably man of the match.
Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne showed both sides of his game as the Hampshire side frustrated their Champions League-chasing visitors. He made an impressive 9 tackles in the rightback zone, frustrating Gerard Deulofeu to the extent that the Spaniard switched wings with Stephen Naismith shortly before half-time.
Clyne also got forward, coming inside and creating two goalscoring chances with short passes, and also providing the cross from which Coleman inadvertently headed past Tim Howard to put Southampton 2-0 in front. Could the former Crystal Palace man be the next Saint to work his way into England contention? The watching Roy Hodgson will surely have been impressed.
If the lunchtime kick-off was one to remember to Clyne, it certainly wasn't for Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian struggled to leave his mark on the encounter, winning just 1 of his 5 aerial duels. He also only managed to find the target with 1 of his 4 attempts, that being a tame header straight at Artur Boruc.
Despite just edging the possession in this match between two sides with little to play for, Stoke created disappointingly little of note in front of goal.
The Potters did manage 17 shots over the course of the 90 minutes, but they never really troubled Hugo Lloris in the visitors' goal. They managed to completely spurn their very best openings, with Peter Odemwingie and Steven N'Zonzi both missing the target from close range. In fact, only 1 of their 8 shots from within the penalty area drew a save from Tottenham's French keeper, Marko Arnautovic firing straight at the former Lyon man as the game entered the dying stages.
Their only other shots on target were both from range and both saved comfortably by Lloris. Mark Hughes will wonder how a team that scored seven goals in back-to-back wins over West Ham and Aston Villa a month ago could score just three more in the five games that followed. The Welshman has done well to develop Stoke's style of play, but creativity is still clearly an issue, and one he must look to address in the summer if the Potters are to continue their transformation from the league's ugly step-sisters.
When you're less incisive than famed faffers Swansea City, you know you have problems.
Despite the Swans' comfortable win, Villa actually edged the possession (with 52.9%), yet that didn't help the visitors when it came to creating decent goalscoring opportunities. Paul Lambert's side mustered just 3 shots on target, struggling to find the kind of defence-splitting passes or moments of brilliance that Swansea were benefiting from at the other end.
To sum it all up, Villa completed almost three times as many attacking-third passes as their hosts, yet scored three fewer goals. It could be a long and tense fortnight for everyone associated with the West Midlands club.
We can't discuss this match without mentioning Jonjo Shelvey's long-range howitzer - each of Shelvey's last five Premier League goals have come from outside the box.
Stoke and Aston Villa may have been wasteful in their attacking play, but Steve Bruce's Hull City were far more clinical - eventually. The FA Cup finalists looked to be on their way to a second successive defeat and shut-out, with Fulham battling their way into a two-goal lead in the early stages of the second half. Hull managed just 3 shots in the first 73 minutes of the match (to Fulham's 7), but scored twice from their 5 attempts in the last 20 minutes of play.
This point - Hull's 37th of the season - should be enough to secure Premier League football at the KC Stadium for next season with two games to spare, and they certainly would've taken that at the start of the season. They owe a lot to their newly-recruited strike-force, and Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic were both in fine form at Craven Cottage - Long scoring with one of his 2 attempts, and Jelavic scoring with his one and only chance.
While West Brom are slowly moving closer to safety, West Ham's season seems to be coming to a shuddering halt. The Hammers have now lost four in a row, and haven't kept a clean sheet in any of their last nine Premier League matches - the worst current run in any of England's four top divisions.
They only conceded once this time around, but still lost thanks in part to some questionable finishing at the other end by Andy Carroll.