Five games to look back on this week in the Premier League, and one FA Cup match too which was leftover from last weekend, let’s see how those went… Tuesday, January 19 West Ham United 2 West Bromwich Albion 1 Leicester City 2 Chelsea 0 The Hammers looked to back up their victory over Burnley last time out and take them a point off a European spot in the division, whilst West Brom was looking to make it back-to-back wins for the very first time this season after they won at Black Country rivals Wolves last time out and were also looking to build on that huge win and take them just two points off safety, and above Fulham in the table too. The Hammers were unbeaten in four coming into this one though and we’re looking for three straight wins as they continue to have a decent campaign so far, and a minute into first-half stoppage time West Ham grabbed the lead as after a Said Benrahma cross was picked up by Vladimir Coufal, he fired it back into the middle first time and Jarrod Bowen cleverly chested the ball into the net. Five minutes after the break though West Brom was level as Matheus Pereira, who netted two penalties in the win at Wolves at the weekend, wondered to the edge of the box before firing home a cracking finish from long range straight into the bottom corner, and the Hammers had finally conceded after going 341 minutes of Premier League football without doing. West Ham though managed to regain the lead twenty minutes into the second period as the excellent Aaron Cresswell curled in a cross from the left, which was headed back into the middle by Andriy Yarmolenko, and Michail Antonio, who scored the winner against Burnley at the weekend, reacted quickest to blast home on the stretch. It meant West Ham stretched their unbeaten run to six and climbed up to seventh in the table and just two points off the top four, whilst The Baggies remained five points from safety having now played half their fixtures this season. Onto The King Power now and The Foxes knew a win against Frank Lampard’s Chelsea here would take them top of the table for twenty-four hours at least, a big incentive for Brendan Rodgers side who are certainly well in the mix for the title this season, and they welcomed a Chelsea side who had finally managed to pick up a first win in three with victory at West London rivals Fulham last time out, but this would be a tough test against a Leicester side playing some very good football right now. Champions League must surely be Lampard’s aim at least this season, and they currently are five points off those spots, so a win here would certainly pull them closer to the teams in that area and keep them within earshot. Well, six minutes in and Leicester were in front as Marc Albrighton and James Maddison played in short from a corner and with Chelsea asleep the ball found its way out to Wilfred Ndidi who hit a good effort in off the post for a superb goal and the hosts had the perfect start. Eight minutes before half time though Chelsea thought they had the chance to level from the spot after Jonny Evans brought down Christian Pulisic, however, VAR deemed the offence just outside the box so a free-kick was given just outside the box, a let-off for the hosts you could say. And then four minutes before half time, Leicester doubled their lead as a ball into the box by Albrighton saw the ball find its way through to Maddison who finished past Edouard Mendy and moments after Chelsea thought they had a penalty and a chance for 1-1, they were now two goals behind, and it was more poor defending from the visitors it has to be said, and now had plenty of work to do if they were to get anything from this game. Leicester had chances to make it three and probably end this contest, although they had looked fairly comfortable at 2-0 if truth be told, Chelsea didn’t really test Kasper Schmeichel, but you felt if they could get one goal back it would change the game perhaps. With just under five minutes left Timo Werner touched home, but the flag went up and on review by VAR he was adjudged to have been fractionally offside, nothing is going his way at the moment, nothing is going right for Chelsea lately either. It allowed Leicester to see out the game and take the points which took them top of the Premier League ahead of the Manchester clubs’ games on Wednesday. As I said before they are definite title challengers, whilst for Lampard and Chelsea, it’s a fifth defeat in eight now, mad to think it wasn’t that long ago they were on a long unbeaten run, how things can change so quickly, and they slip to eighth and are nine points behind leaders Leicester, and more worryingly only two points ahead of Arsenal in tenth, as I said, how times change. As mentioned, there was one FA Cup Third round tie this week, and it came on Tuesday as Southampton welcomed League One Shrewsbury to St Mary’s, the original tie was postponed due to Covid-19 in the visitor’s camp, would there be a shock, let’s see… Southampton 2 Shrewsbury Town 0 The Saints had a blend of experience and youth for this cup tie, whilst Shrewsbury was looking to cause a major upset and set up a home tie with last years winners and current holders Arsenal in the next round, but it was the Saints who grabbed a 16th-minute lead after a long ball forward was brought down by Caleb Watts and after the visitors had done a bad job at clearing their lines, it fell to Dan N’Lundulu who struck it low and hard from a tight angle, through the legs of Scott Golbourne, and into the bottom corner. Credit to Shrewsbury who didn’t let their heads go down after this early setback, this was their first game of 2019 due to Covid so it was even more impressive, but in the end, the Premier League side had too much for them and finally sealed their passage into Round Four in the 89th minute when James Ward-Prowse struck a free-kick from twenty-five yards out which although keeper Matija Sarkic got a hand to, could not keep it out, and The Saints will hosts The Gunners in the next round. Onto Wednesday’s action now and two more Premier League games to have a look back at, starting at The Etihad as Man City took on Aston Villa, who was back in action after their enforced Covid break of course… Wednesday January 20 Manchester City 2 Aston Villa 0 Fulham 1 Manchester United 2 City knew if they could win their home game against Villa in the early evening kick-off, they would go top on goal difference ahead of United’s game at Fulham, so a good incentive and also to put pressure on their rivals. City is in the imperious form right now and have found their mojo this season and are one of half a dozen sides in with a chance of the title, and they were up against a Villa side who had not played since new years day after Covid-19 had gone through their camp. Ironically that game on new years day was in Manchester against United, a game Villa lost 2-1 but more than played their part, Dean Smith’s side have done well this season and we’re looking to continue a decent run of form they were on before that and with the side having up to four games in hand on others above them, could see them right in the mix for the top four if they won those games in hand too, so why not start against City? It would be a tough assignment though as City are playing very well right now, and it was the hosts who had much of the possession and openings, but Villa defended well and kept them out, but Villa did look a threat themselves when they did get the ball and had their moments too in what was a very open entertaining opening forty-five minutes. Could City unlock the Villa door, or would Villa go on and nick one and grab a superb win? City missed several more openings as Villa defended for their lives, although the visitors themselves had chances to nick one themselves on more than one occasion, with eleven minutes to go City finally broke through after Bernardo Silva fired home brilliantly from outside the box after Rodri had laid the ball back to him. Villa was furious as they felt Rodri was in an offside position before winning the ball off Tyrone Mings, who had mis-controlled the ball, and he was in an offside position, but VAR applied the rules to the letter of the law and the goal stood, which resulted in manager Smith being sent off for something he said to the officials. It was tough on Villa who had defended well all evening although Mings should have cleated his lines so to avoid the situation in the first place, they now had just over ten minutes to try and find a leveller. It was City though who sealed the points in the 90th minute after a Gabriel Jesus headed back across goal hit the hand of Matty Cash and a penalty was awarded, and Ilkay Gundogan fired home the spot-kick and City were heading to the top for now at least. City was made to work hard for this victory by a good Villa outfit, but the hosts just keep on winning and are a real threat to the rest. Now, over to Craven Cottage for the late evening kick-off for Fulham v Man United, and The Cottagers saw their run of five successive draws come to an end last time out when they were beaten narrowly at home by West London rivals Chelsea, leaving them four points off safety currently following other results since. United knew a win would take them back to the top of the Premier League and back above their rivals City once again so that in itself was a big enough incentive. But as Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea have found out recently, getting a result against this Fulham outfit is not easy, they are a very tough nut to crack right now and have quality in their side who can hurt you too, so United had to be very cautious of this. United though could have easily won at Anfield at the weekend so would feel confident they could deal with Fulham and their threat, so could they respond to City’s earlier win and reclaim top spot? The pressure was on and Fulham would no doubt make it very tough for them, and after five minutes The Cottagers took the lead after a ball from Andre Zambo Anguissa found Ademola Lookman who had timed his run to perfection to stride clear and fire beyond David De Gea in the United goal, and the visitors now had a task on their hands. They responded well though and after Bruno Fernandes had struck the post, United levelled when Fernandes crossed into the box and keeper Alphonse Areola could only fumble the ball straight to Edinson Cavani who pounced and rammed the loose ball home after twenty-one minutes. United was the better team for the rest of the half and pushed Fulham back, but the hosts were putting in another good shift and held their opponents the 1-1 at the break, could they continue to keep United out and maybe spring a surprise at the other end, or would United go on and take the points in the second period? Twenty minutes into the second period and Paul Pogba gave United the lead with a quite brilliant strike, getting the ball onto his left foot and then firing a wonderful effort from outside the box across Areola and into the far corner, and you felt it was a huge moment for the visitors, delivered by one of their star players who now seems to be putting in performances that United signed him for. Could Fulham fight back, well they certainly had the chances to level, Ruben Loftus-Cheek squandered a couple of efforts, and then Aleksandar Mitrovic saw his header hit Eric Bailly and go millimetres wide, but they did hold on and retain top spot once again, two clear of rivals City and Leicester. Fulham battled hard as expected, and they felt they probably should have got something from this one, but it’s back-to-back defeats now for Scott Parker’s men and they remain four points from safety. Onto the final midweek game of the season now and it came from Anfield as an out of form Liverpool hosted Burnley… Thursday January 21 Liverpool 0 Burnley 1 The Reds came into this one having not won in four and had gone three straight games without scoring, so maybe this was the reason why they benched Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino and thinking maybe a change would be what they needed. Burnley themselves needed the points themselves to move further away from the drop zone, a win would have taken them seven points above the danger zone. Liverpool created the better openings in the first period and the best one by a long way saw Divock Origi burst clean through after a slip from Ben Mee, but he could only thump an effort against the crossbar and the sides went in goalless although a bit of excitement came at the end of the half when Fabinho appeared to push Ashley Barnes over, which caused some upset between the two sets of players, and after VAR had a look Fabinho was booked. It also caused a disagreement between Jurgen Klopp and Sean Dyche as they went down the tunnel too, was certainly feisty. Liverpool continued to do most of the pressing in the second period and introduced Salah and Firmino just before the hour mark to see if those two could help in providing that all-important goal they had been looking for, they had created the chances just could not put them away, and they had half an hour to put that right. Burnley to their credit defended well, and they on occasions did venture into the Liverpool third and create some openings themselves, but how would this one end up? Nick Pope, the Burnley keeper, had another stellar performance between the sticks, he must be right up there for England’s number one stopper right now, and he would have been jumping for joy (inside at least) when Burnley took a shock lead with seven minutes to go after Barnes wriggled free of Fabinho on the edge of the box to try and get on the end of a ball, and keeper Alisson brought Barnes down for a penalty, which was converted by the Burnley striker, and the visitors were on the brink of ending Liverpool’s sixty-eight match unbeaten run at Anfield. Could Liverpool save themselves? Firmino saw an effort blocked on the line by Mee, whilst Burnley almost sealed it when Dwight McNeil fired wide down the other end. Alisson even came up for a couple of corners in added-on time as the hosts desperately tried to keep their unbeaten home record intact, but Burnley held on for a momentous win and their first at Anfield for forty-six years. What a result for Dyche and his side, it was a herculean effort from them, they now put seven points between themselves and the bottom three now, massive. What now for Liverpool, one win in five and another blank in front of goal, they remain in fourth but six points off leaders Man United in what has been a crazy season so far. So, after all that, this is how the table shapes up… The top three are separated by just two points, Liverpool is losing ground on those above after their poor run, and there are only eight points between them in fourth and Villa in eleventh, tight. The bottom three lost ground this week, there is a five-point gap between Brighton in 17th and Fulham in 18th. Just the one game in the Premier League this weekend due to the FA Cup, but there is a full list of midweek fixtures next week, so let’s have a look at those fixtures… Upcoming Fixtures: Saturday, January 23 Aston Villa v Newcastle United (8pm) Tuesday, January 26 Crystal Palace v West Ham United (6pm) Newcastle United v Leeds United (6pm) Southampton v Arsenal (8.15pm) West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City (8.15pm) Wednesday, January 27 Burnley v Aston Villa (6pm) Chelsea v Wolverhampton Wanderers (6pm) Brighton & Hove Albion v Fulham (7.30pm) Everton v Leicester City (8.15pm) Manchester United v Sheffield United (8.15pm) Thursday January 28 Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool (8pm) Two games to pick out, Brighton v Fulham on Wednesday sees 17th vs 18th, a Fulham win would take them just two points behind with a game in hand, a victory for Brighton though would be damaging for the Cottagers. And Spurs v Liverpool at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday which if Spurs won would see them leapfrog Liverpool into fourth with a game in hand too, you feel that is a much bigger game for the current champions now. Should be another exciting week of Premier League action!!!
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