Premier League Review – Matchday 26
These matches were played over a period of 11 days, extended to accommodate the first “Winter Break” in the history of the Premier League. They were further extended by the decision to re-arrange the Manchester City v West Ham game to be played on Wednesday 19th February. This set of matches was a reverse of the opening weekend fixtures of the season. The first weekend was hit by Storm “Ciara”, and the second was visited by Storm “Dennis”
Saturday 8th February, 2020
Everton 3 Crystal Palace 1
Only Liverpool have gained more Premier League points than Everton since Carlo Ancelotti took over. The trend continued, but the “Toffees” face Arsenal (A), Manchester United (H), Chelsea (A) and Liverpool (H) in their next four games. Then we’ll see how much this team have improved.
Everton played towards the Gwladys Street End in the first half, perhaps because of the very bright lunchtime sunshine. Van Aanholt had a shot hit Pickford’s left post after an early Palace corner. Everton took the lead after 18 minutes. The goal followed good approach play by Sigurdsson and Walcott after Zaha lost the ball. Walcott crossed deep and Bernard smashed the ball home on the volley. Walcott was forced to go off inured soon after the goal. Substitute Sidibe was not ready as he was only wearing one sock! Professional footballers, eh?
Two minutes before the break Pickford lost control after a long ball by Milivojevic and when the ball ran away from the keeper Zaha wanted a penalty when he was squeezed by two Everton players. The penalty did not come. Pickford was embarrassed again in the 51st minute when Christian Benteke (once of Liverpool of course) hit a shot that squeezed under Pickford’s body. Benteke hadn’t scored a Premier League goal since April last year. Surprisingly, his celebration was of a moderate nature. Regarding Pickford, I tweeted:- “England need to find a better keeper than Pickford. Even Benteke has scored against him!” Palace soon won two corners and from the second, the ball rose up off Benteke’s body and rebounded off the Everton bar.
Everton regained the lead with a very good route one goal. Calvert-Lewin headed the ball into the path of the advancing Richarlison, who beat Guaita with a very nicely placed shot inside his left post. Pickford did make a very good reaction save from a close-range effort by Benteke after the ball had deflected into the striker’s path off Mina. Guaita made a great save from Gylfi Sigurdsson who had been fed by Richarlison and tried to place a shot to the left of the keeper after some trickery inside the Palace area.
The game was not secure for the home side until two minutes from time when Everton won their very first corner of the game. Richarlison headed it goalward. The ball rebounded down off the bar and Calvert-Lewin could not miss. Whilst not in trouble yet, Palace have not won a league game in 7 matches (they lost in the cup too to Derby) and they are 6 points off the drop zone.
Brighton 1 Watford 1
This was a relegation 6-pointer with both teams keen to win, and ultimately disappointed with the one-point return. Brighton looked the more spirited side in the second half and were perhaps the more likely winners, but they had an own goal to thank for their equaliser.
Watford took the lead in the 19th minute after a Mooy pass was intercepted and Doucoure made a solo run before beating Ryan with his right foot shot from the edge of the area. Brighton did spend more time in the Watford half, but failed to create enough real chances. They had appealed for a penalty when the ball did not hit Hughes’ hand, and also when Schelotto tripped himself inside the box.
Schelotto had a shot go just wide across Foster’s goal in the second half as Brighton fought hard to get back on terms. Foster saved very well from Mooy after 77 minutes with his outstretched left foot. A minute later the scores were level when substitute Jahanbakhsh crossed into the danger zone from the right and Mariappa diverted the ball into his own net.
Sunday 9th February, 2020
Sheffield United 2 Bournemouth 1
This was the only Premier League game of the day and the win took Sheffield United into fifth place with commentators asking if the “Blades” could manage qualification for the Champions League. Bournemouth had good early possession and took the lead after 13 minutes. Fraser crossed low from the left. Harry Wilson's shot was blocked but Callum Wilson fired home.
Billy Sharp hit the side netting after the “Blades” broke out when Bournemouth were denied a free kick outside the United area. Stevens and McBurnie had been involved in the build-up. A Norwood shot late in the first half was diverted wide of goal by Nathan Ake. Following the corner Ramsdale saved McBurnie’s header with his left hand. The pressure on Bournemouth’s goal continued and two minutes in first half added time Sheffield United equalised through Billy Sharp after Stevens fired in a cross and Egan’s shot was blocked. The ball fell to Sharp, who crashed the ball into the net in front of those visiting supporters who had bravely and optimistically travelled through Storm Ciara.
Sharp had an early second half shot well saved by Ramsdale. Both Ramsdale and Manchester United loanee Dean Henderson must be considered as future England prospects. Henderson made a brilliant reaction save to his left to keep out Fraser’s powerful shot after 70 minutes. John Lundstram hasn’t started United’s last three games, but he came on for the last half hour today and scored a dramatic 84th minute winner, somehow managing to get Mousset’s ball out of his feet and slot the ball into the net.
Friday 14th February, 2020
Wolves 0 Leicester 0
The post-match headlines were dominated by VAR after this goalless game which was a good result for those chasing a place in Europe.
Tielemans had an early shot deflected off the head of Boly, which forced Rui Patricio into a diving save. Kaspar Schmeichel saved Jota’s shot with an outstretched leg. The VAR controversy came just before half-time when Wolves had a corner on the right. It was taken short by Neto who received the ball back from Jota. Neto crossed deep and the ball was headed back into the middle where Boly headed home. Those in the stadium had to suffer a lengthy and mysterious VAR review and a decision which has also mystified observers. It seems that Neto’s heel was just offside when he received that return ball from Jota. Most people were also confused by the fact that Jota’s pass was backward, but the rule was that Neto had “returned from an offside position at the time the pass was made". The rule of law was correct, but VAR was not introduced for incidents such as these.
In the second half Choudhury was shown a yellow card by referee Mike Dean for his foul on Jimenez just outside the Leicester area. Saiss’s shot hit the wall. Choudhury was shown a second yellow after 76 minutes when he unfairly halted Dendoncker in his tracks in the middle of the park. Jimenez missed a couple of good headed chances late in the game. One was after a cross by substitute Traore. The other was an easier chance from a corner. Traore had a shot well saved by Schmeichel, and after Traore teed up Jimenez again, the striker’s shot was blocked by Soyuncu.
Saturday 15th February, 2020
Southampton 1 Burnley 2
Burnley won their tenth game of the season (as many as Spurs before the Villa game) and a second consecutive away game to rise to the top half of the table overnight. They can look up and chase a European slot and forget about looking over their shoulders now. Southampton gave loanee Kyle Walker-Peters a debut at right back, but Kyle was substituted after 73 minutes. He was close, but not the one to blame when a second minute Burnley corner taken by Westwood was allowed to go towards goal by Danny Ings, and hit goalkeeper McCarthy, who was standing behind his line.
That put the “Saints” on the back foot, and they also missed Nathan Redmond who has suffered a muscular injury that could keep him out for two months. Walker-Peters’ inclusion allowed James Ward-Prowse (fit after his injury in the cup game at Spurs) to return to the midfield and he hit a goal-bound shot which Tarkowski intercepted with a well-judged boot.
Danny Ings redeemed his earlier mistake with a well-taken goal in the 18th minute. It was a right-foot shot from just outside the area and Boufal had been involved in the build-up. Southampton lost striker Chris Wood during the first half when he pulled up. Wood was replaced by Matej Vydra who hasn’t started a league game all season, and who has hardly had a look-in for Sean Dyche’s side.
Stephens hit the bar with a header following a free kick and Boufal’s cross from the left. Vydra scored a stunning left-foot goal from inside the area after a good ball by Hendrick. It was his first goal since September 2018. Southampton wanted a penalty when Stephens cross from inside the area did hit Ben Mee’s arm, but it was close to his body and he did his best to avoid handling the ball, so the referee and VAR denied the “Saints”’ appeals. Pope blocked a late shot by Southampton skipper Hojbjerg. An army of Burnley fans had made the long trip despite “Dennis” and they went home very happy.
Norwich 0 Liverpool 1
At the start of play Norwich were 55 points behind their opponents. This was just the 13th time such a gap has existed in the Premier League, and the first time it has happened as early as February. Liverpool marched on with their 25th win in 26 games this season, but it took substitute Sadio Mane to break the deadlock with a 78th minute goal. Naby Keita, who was signed by Liverpool from Leipzig two seasons ago, made his first League start since 7th December.
Norwich lost left back Sam Byram with a first half hamstring injury and he was replaced by Jamal Lewis. Rupp had a great chance in front of goal when he received an excellent long ball, but the chance fizzled out and he might have been called offside in a VAR review. It was the best goal-scoring chance of a poor half.
Norwich forged a good attack early in the second half through Aarons, Duda, Rupp and finally Cantwell whose shot hit the side netting. Keita hit a shot from over 20 yards which Krul pushed over in the centre of his goal. After 59 minutes the former Newcastle and Dutch International keeper made a double save firstly from Salah’s shot, then at close range from Keita’s follow-up effort. Krul was firmly patted on the back by team-mates who were defending desperately to try and secure at least one precious point.
Tettey hit the bottom of Alisson’s left-hand post with a random shot that might even have been intended as a cross. Mane had come on with half an hour to go and his goal was scored in the 78th minute. Henderson hit a long ball, which Mane took down with a right foot touch before scoring with his left. The goal was reviewed for a possible foul or handball but stood. Firmino somehow managed to miss the target in front of goal when Alexander-Arnold crossed low from the right. The result extended Liverpool’s lead to 25 points with just five wins required to finally secure the title. That gap between Liverpool and Norwich was extended to a massive 58 points.
The title race is basically done and dusted and Liverpool's qualification to next season's Champions League is also assured. Horse racing's festival of National Hunt racing is less than a month away and cheltenham offers for 2020 might be of more interest at this time.
Sunday 16th February, 2020
Aston Villa 2 Spurs 3
Son Heung-min just squeezed the vote for man of the match pipping Steven Bergwijn who had been neck and neck all the way. Sadly “Sonny” suffered a fracture on his arm in the game and will be missing for several weeks at least. He and Harry Kane are our top two scorers, so who will take the lead now?
Arsenal 4 Newcastle 0
Arsenal climbed back above Burnley with only their seventh league win of the season. This was also their biggest Premier League win since February last year. Steve Bruce gave Spurs loanee Danny Rose his first start, but there was to be no dream debut for Danny against the “gooners” this time. Another loan signing Valentino Lazaro (from Inter) also had a first start for the “Toon” who also included former Spur Nabil Bentaleb for his fourth appearance in their colours. This was Newcastle’s first defeat since New Year’s Day which was a 3-0 at home to Leicester. They also had their biggest defeat of the season away to Leicester which was a 5-0. The crowd figure at the Emirates was registered as over 60,000, but there were plenty of empty seats on view.
Lazaro had some involvement in three early attacks for Newcastle, but the best that came of this spell was a shot by Longstaff being deflected and saved after a Lazaro corner in front of the travelling fans. Dubravka’s first test came after 37 minutes when Ozil fed Nketiah (making a first Premier League start) whose shot was held by the keeper. Saint-Maximin hit a ball across the Arsenal area late in the first half and there had been no hint of what was to come.
Nketiah hit the top of the bar early in the second half when he was in the middle to receive from Pepe. Pepe was the provider when Aubameyang opened the scoring with a 54th minute header which went into the net left of Dubravka. 18-year-old Bukayo Saka crossed from the left for Pepe to fire into the net little over two minutes later. Saint-Maximin hit the inside of Leno’s left post with a good shot.
Arsenal’s third goal was not scored until the 90th minute with Ozil on the end of substitute Lacazette’s pass. It was Ozil’s first goal since April last year. Lacazette got a goal himself in the fifth minute of added time after a short inside pass by Pepe. I don’t think Danny Rose enjoyed his Newcastle debut.
Monday 17th February, 2020
Chelsea 0 Manchester United 2
Chelsea lost to Manchester United for the third time this season (they were beaten in a Carabao Cup game) and their aggregate score over the two league games was 0-6. They were without top scorer Tammy Abraham who failed a pre-match fitness test, and his replacement Michy Batshuayi proved to be toothless. Batshuayi was making his first league start of this season. He was eventually replaced by Olivier Giroud, who did get the ball into the net, but this was one of three occasions when VAR did not help Frank Lampard’s aggrieved team. Giroud’s second half “goal” was disallowed for a correct offside decision. Another “goal” was disallowed and when Harry Maguire booted Batshuayi where it hurts, he suffered no sanction for an incident far worse than that when Son got a red card (from the same referee) against Chelsea in December. Maguire was one of the United scorers which only served to further aggravate Chelsea connections.
Lampard again preferred Caballero in goal to Arrizabalaga, who was on the bench. For United Eric Bailly made his first appearance since a match against Chelsea last April. He had a good game too. Reece James hit an early shot just wide across the United goal. Kante suffered an injury and had to be replaced by Mason Mount after just 12 minutes. The incident between Maguire and Batshuayi occurred in front of the Chelsea technical area. The locals were not happy! Batshuayi was teed up by Mount and spurned his chance, pushing the shot wide. Willian was booked for simulation when he went down just outside the area. Martial’s goal just before half-time was the first on target effort of the game. It was a well-placed header from Wan-Bissaka’s cross.
Chelsea suffered another injury blow with Christensen having to be replaced at half-time by Zouma. Chelsea thought they had equalised 10 minutes into the second half after a corner won and taken by Pedro, headed in by Zouma. However, VAR decreed that Williams had been pushed down by Azpilicueta as the ball came over, whilst Chelsea claimed that their captain had been pushed by Fred causing the incident. Bruno Fernandes hit the bottom of the post with a free kick taken just outside the area after Fred had been hauled down by Azpilicueta. Maguire’s headed goal came from a 66th minute corner taken by Fernandes. Maguire celebrated in front of his fans. Chelsea thought he should not have been on the pitch.
Giroud replaced the hapless Batshuayi almost immediately, and it looked as if he had met Mount’s cross with a perfect header, but VAR intervened yet again. Giroud had been marginally offside, but offside is offside, right? Mount also hit De Gea’s left post with a free kick. De Gea hurt himself in trying to reach the ball but was able to carry on. Ighalo replaced Martial for his first United appearance, having been signed on loan from Shanghai Shenhua and had an excellent chance in front of goal when put through by Fred, but Caballero saved with his feet.
This was of course a great result for United who moved up to seventh place three points behind Chelsea, but also for Spurs, who will go to Stamford Bridge only one point behind. Can they win only their second game there in 30 years? They will have to do it without Son Heung-min, who suffered an arm fracture in the Villa game, but it seems that Chelsea have a few injury concerns too. It should be a great game!
Wednesday 19th February, 2020
Manchester City 2 West Ham 0
This match was originally postponed, due to “Storm Ciara”. The pitch would have been playable, but conditions around the ground and safety issues affecting travel led officials to call off the game. The game was re-arranged and played on the same night Spurs hosted Leipzig in the Champions League.
Between the two dates, City received the severe blow of a two-year ban from European football over FFP irregularities. This will be appealed, but City’s absence could mean a Champions League place is awarded to the team finishing fifth this season.
City were missing Raheem Sterling who has a hamstring injury, but the England man might be back by the end of the month. West Ham dropped Haller to the bench and tried Antonio as a front man. The Etihad was quite sparsely populated, and I have yet to see an official crowd figure. Gabriel Jesus had spurned a good chance when presented with the ball by David Silva, and Sergio Aguero hit a shot with the outside of his right foot the wrong side of the post before Fabianski saved with his feet from De Bruyne’s 25-yard shot. Cresswell managed to block Jesus’s effort after the ball had been prodded into the Wes Ham area by de Bruyne. City finally took the lead after half an hour when Rodri advanced to meet De Bruyne’s corner and headed into the net.
Despite City’s dominance in terms of possession and shots on and off target, the game was not secured until Kevin De Bruyne scored inside Fabianski’s near post with a low shot from a narrow angle inside the area. Typically, De Bruyne had been orchestrating his side’s progress into the box with a series of passes. Jesus failed yet again at close range when Fabianski blocked the striker’s shot.
West Ham's next game is a Anfield on Monday night!
Fixtures & Results 08-19.02.20
Everton 3-1 C. Palace
Brighton 1-1 Watford
Sheff Utd 2-1 B'mouth
Wolves 0-0 Leicester
S'hampton 1-2 Burnley
Norwich 0-1 Liverpool
A. Villa 2-3 Spurs
Arsenal 4-0 Newcastle
Chelsea 0-2 Man Utd
Man City 2-0 West Ham
Premier League Table
P W D L F-A GD Pts
1. Liverpool 26 25 1 0 61-15 46 76
2. Man City 26 17 3 6 67-29 38 54
3. Leicester 26 15 5 6 54-26 28 50
4. Chelsea 26 12 5 9 43-36 7 41
5. Spurs 26 11 7 8 43-34 9 40
6. Sheff Utd 26 10 9 7 28-24 4 39
7. Man Utd 26 10 8 8 38-29 9 38
8. Wolves 26 8 12 6 35-32 3 36
9. Everton 26 10 6 10 34-38 -4 36
10. Arsenal 26 7 13 6 36-34 2 34
11. Burnley 26 10 4 12 30-39 -9 34
12. S'hampton 26 9 4 13 32-48 -16 31
13. Newcastle 26 8 7 11 24-40 -16 31
14. C. Palace 26 7 9 10 23-32 -9 30
15. Brighton 26 6 9 11 31-38 -7 27
16. B'mouth 26 7 5 14 26-40 -14 26
17. A. Villa 26 7 4 15 34-50 -16 25
18. West Ham 26 6 6 14 30-45 -15 24
19. Watford 26 5 9 12 24-40 -16 24
20. Norwich 26 4 6 16 24-48 -24 18