Saturday Analysis: Moyes buys himself time, Arsenal rally, Chelsea crumble
Manchester United 4-1 Aston Villa
Planes, Waynes and more flaws concealed. Manchester United came from one goal down to beat Aston Villa 4-1, but ultimately it was a result that slightly flattered the Red Devils, as Paul Lambert mumbled defiantly post-match. Slow starts have been one of the major hallmarks of David Moyes' new United, and it was no different here.
Moyes confidently strode from the tunnel long before his team to absorb whatever reception would await him following the 3-0 thrashing against Manchester City in midweek. Contrary to the reports of supporter outrage and planned protests, however, the Scot was received warmly - dubious aeroplane stunt aside.
Villa took advantage of United's sluggish start and went a goal up when Ashley Westwood curled in a beautiful free-kick after a careless foul by Rafael. Though Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa offered promising glimpses, United's tempo was slow and they laboured. Kagawa's first assist of the season provided for Wayne Rooney, and Rooney scored the second from the spot to move to fourth on the all-time Premier League top scorers list, above Frank Lampard.
Mata added a third, his first in the red shirt, but the game's pendulum truly swung United's way with the introduction of Adnan Januzaj. The teenager completed as many passes in 22 minutes as Rooney did in 75 and was a constant thorn in Villa's side in an impressive cameo. Januzaj created as many chances as any United player besides Mata and was successful with 3 of 5 take-ons - more than anyone on the day. His assist for Javier Hernandez's goal was brilliant, a crafty run and cross full of speed, ingenuity and quality - three things Moyes's side have often lacked this season.
Southampton 4-0 Newcastle
Alan Pardew's touchline purgatory continues. Southampton were the better team pretty much from start to finish at St. Mary's, as Mauricio Pochettion's side clobbered the Magpies like Pardew does anyone who dares darken his technical area.
Newcastle didn't muster a single shot on or off target until the 50th minute, by which time they were 2-0 down. It only got worse for the visitors, as Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez added two more goals to leave the Geordies soundly beaten. In the end the Saints peppered Newcastle's goal with 23 shots, and were better in almost every area measurable - more passes, more shots, more possession, more corners, tackles and take-ons.
Jay Rodriguez alone had 11 shots on Rob Elliot's goal, five of them on target, while James Ward-Prowse dominated midfield with a game high 63 passes completed and Lambert created 5 chances. Four goals, four Englishmen - Roy Hodgson will be enjoying the work currently taking place in Hampshire.
Crystal Palace 1-0 Chelsea
"Now I feel it is impossible to win the title," groaned Jose Mourinho after Chelsea's surprise 1-0 defeat at relegation-scrappers Crystal Palace. "We depend too much on other results." This seems a strange stance, given his side remain the top with six games left. Granted, Manchester City have two games in hand, and Liverpool one, but "impossible"? Some might argue the lady doth protest too much.
Nevertheless, this was a massive win for the Eagles - and a huge defeat for Chelsea at this late stage of the season. The Blues saw far more of the ball - 67% to be precise - but Tony Pulis' side were dogged in their defensive resilience, racking up a remarkable 26 interceptions and 21 successful tackles as John Terry's own goal gave them the points.
Palace had been unlucky at Stamford Bridge in their 2-1 defeat last November, playing an open style that was unfortunate not to yield at least a draw. Here they held on - and it wasn't just about mucking in at the back and hoping for the best.
Palace had 14 attempts on goal and had chances to wrap up the game far earlier than they managed. Fernando Torres was guilty of missing some big chances - 6 shots on goal with not one on target, while Mile Jedinak was his usual sponge-like self, making 11 ball recoveries, 4 interceptions, 3 blocks and 9 clearances to keep the Blues at bay.
Five points above the dropzone with a game in hand, this was a potentially season-defining result for the Eagles.
Stoke City 1-0 Hull City
Stoke consolidated their place in the top 10 thanks to Peter Odemwingie's 62nd minute strike, in a game between two sides with increasingly less to play for in the league. Stoke's fine form has gone unnoticed in recent weeks, but this was the Potters' fourth win in five games, leaving Mark Hughes' side with only one defeat in their last nine league games. And that was at the Etihad Stadium.
Steve Bruce was unhappy post-match, stating that his side "didn't deserve to get beaten".
"We played the better football and created the two best chances of the game," he moaned, but the stats don't necessarily support his argument. Hull managed nearly 100 fewer passes than Stoke, 43% possession and only 5 attempts on goal to Stoke's 15 - though both managed 3 on target.
Stoke's new passing style is beginning to reap rewards, and Hughes has been satisfied with the way his side is redeveloping under his command. But he reserved special praise for the goalscorer Odemwingie.
"He's come in and seamlessly picked up some outstanding form," Hughes raved. "I think that comes in being happy in his environment and happy in the players that surround him. We're reaping the benefits because he's a major factor in us winning today."
Odemwingie managed four shots on goal, only bested by Marko Arnautovic's five (though the Austrian failed to trouble Steve Harper). Ahmed Elmohamady's error was costly but Stoke's 413 successful passes demonstrated their evolving style.
West Brom 3-3 Cardiff
Well, this was eventful. The trend of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer getting his starting eleven wrong before rectifying it through the power of the substitution continued, as Cardiff went two goals behind, got back to 2-2, went 3-2 down in the 94th minute and then rescued a draw a minute later.
The visitors were 2-0 down after 10 minutes, and though Jordon Mutch halved the deficit, Solskjaer didn't wait, replacing the hapless Fabio with Wilfried Zaha after just 36 minutes, then throwing on Mats Daehli at half time. Cardiff hit back. Having only mustered 3 shots in the first half they recovered to hit more than double that in the second, and Daehli's late strike could have major repercussions when the totals are tallied at season end.
Solskjaer, predictably, talked up the point. "It's fantastic, of course. I'm so happy for the players and the fans that we got the goal we deserved as we never deserved to lose that game – no chance." But West Brom are fighting for their lives too and this, clearly, was an opportunity lost. Gary Medel helped keep WBA's midfield at bay, distributing passes and setting up Steven Caulker's equaliser at 2-1 down as Cardiff clocked up 59% possession. The Chilean also made more ball recoveries than anyone else.
It was needed, as Morgan Amalfitano, Graham Dorrans and Thievy each thought they had done enough to give Pepe Mel a second win in three league outings. But in vain. Mel's side remain 17th, three points above their opponents with a game in hand. Cardiff may go down, but on this evidence no-one can say they've been boring to watch.
Swansea 3-0 Norwich
The win that keeps Swansea in the Premier League? Quite possibly, as Garry Monk's side win their first game since February and leapfrog Norwich in the table. A 2-2 draw at the Emirates in midweek was creditable enough but this was just the tonic for the Swans, a convincing result that will lift the air of doom and gloom surrounding the Liberty Stadium for some time.
Jonathan De Guzman twisted the knife with two goals from his three shots on target, and in the end Chris Hughton's team were comfortably beaten. The Swans mustered double the number of shots, significantly more passes - 463 to the Canaries' 293 - and more possession. Put simply, Monk's side had too much class for Norwich.
Michu's return to the side undoubtedly adds to Swansea's game. Sitting in behind Wilfried Bony, the Spaniard created three chances for his team-mates and linked up well with those around him. Jonjo Shelvey created a game high four chances.
"Apart from a spell early in the second half we were second best," bemoaned Hughton. Norwich are 15th and not out of the woods yet, just two wins from their last 10 games a poor return. Again their strikers failed to fire, with Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander only mustering two shots between them all game - two less than Bony alone. A bleak day for the Canaries, who were well beaten.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City
Manchester City smelt blood early at the Emirates, the news that fellow title rivals Chelsea had lost just a few miles across town perhaps providing them with early impetus. David Silva in particular was class, weaving passes together - a 100% completion rate in the opening 20 minutes - before opening the scoring with a tap-in. It was all going swimmingly for Manuel Pellegrini's men and groans from the home end of the terraces grew ever louder.
Arsenal, however, rallied in the second half and found their way back into it. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky were the Gunners' top two passers in the final third, but it was Lukas Podolski who helped set up the equaliser with the only chance he created. Mathieu Flamini the welcome recipient, and he gestured to the fans in celebration, a plea for more support as Arsene Wenger's side pressed for the win.
In the end the points were shared. City saw more of the ball but Arsenal offered marginally more dominance in the final third. City have two games in hand with which to reach the top of the league, but with two points dropped Liverpool will be feeling encouraged. Everton too, as they chase the Gunners for fourth.