Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Morning Keeper - EPL Week 15

Courtesy of Alastair Grant, Associated Press
Manchester City had the distinction of playing each of their 6 Champion League group matches, bowing out of the competition on Wednesday, with their next EPL match being on the road. For the first 5 of those matches they were able to able to maintain a undefeated record, but the sixth match at Stamford Bridge was likely the hardest. I don't think it is a secret that I am a Man City fan, I tend to write with a bias towards the Citizens, at least I'm honest about it right? When I saw this match on the schedule the one thing that came to mind was the song by Elvis Costello "I don't want to go to Chelsea". Even though the boys from West London haven't been playing the best football, they are still a force and only two seasons removed from winning the league title with much of the same squad still playing. The match began atypically for City, a near-perfect pass from Sergio Aguero ahead to Mario Balotelli who threaded around his defender, juked Peter Cech and rolled the ball in just 2 minutes into the match. Chelsea fans were wondering if this would be a repeat of massacre suffered by their rivals United at Old Trafford at the hands of City earlier in the season. City looked like they were in complete control in the first half, many deep runs, excellent ball control. Chelsea seemed lost and out of sorts, firing more than a handful of passes out-of-play or two unoccupied parts of the pitch. In the process, David Silva was clearly taken down in the box by Jose Bosingwa, but referee Mark Clattenburg saw it as a clean play and waived off the penalty moans from the City players. Ironically enough, Chelsea's first real scoring chance was converted when setup man Daniel Sturridge fired a perfect cross to a charging Raul Meireles who buried the equalizer. Halftime came and went with Chelsea feeling they had earned a minor victory by drawing the match even after playing so poorly. City continued on the offensive, but on a counter by Chelsea Gael Clichy was late for a tackle and received his second yellow card and an early trip to the showers just shy of the 60 minute mark. For the Londoners it was all out attack going forward and City weathered the storm easily, playing their remaining 10 men behind the ball. City could smell the draw with less than 10 minutes to play, but Joleon Lescott had his arm extended when a shot came into the box and the ref immediately pointed to the penalty. Frank Lampard did the clean up work and sent the Stamford Bridge faithful into a frenzy, as if they had won the league. Down a man and a goal, City had no answer and when the final whistle blew the last undefeated team in the league had fallen. If the result was in City's favor, Chelsea would have been 13 points out of first, but instead the Blues pulled within 7 points of the lead as the top four positions tightened up.

So with the league leaders gaining zero points on the weekend for the first time, the rest of the top four were looking to make up ground. Manchester United welcomed the plummeting Wolverhampton Wolves who came into Old Trafford hoping for a tie before even taking the field. The Wolves knew if they could score a single goal there was a good chance they could tie United who have only managed a single goal each of their last five league matches. The Wolves did just that, but United came out of their shells and scored four goals with a pair from Wayne Rooney and Nani each. United played smooth consistent football, match needed after being knocked out of Champions League earlier in the week having gone to the final last season. Scoring has been an issue, especially for Rooney, but United took the chance to make up some goal differential on the Wolves who avoided relegation at the 11th hour last season, but likely won't escape that fate again.

Newcastle who were sitting in second place just four matches ago managed only 1 point in their City-United-Chelsea run and were looking forward to some relief when they went to Norwich City to take on the Canaries. No one told Norwich this was suppose to be a lay-up for Newcastle because the boys in yellow laid into their northern neighbors for four goals and took the match 4-2 with the Magpies left reeling. The match was exciting with a quick pace of play from both teams who went to the half tied 1-1 with either team seeming they could win. When the teams came back on the pitch Norwich pushed the issue where Newcastle was more choosy with their chances. Norwich was rewarded with goals from Grant Holt and Steve Morison before Demba Ba pulled one back for Newcastle with 20 minutes left to play. The dagger came in the form of Grant Holt's second goal of the match which handed the victory to Norwich. Being only the third defeat of the season for Newcastle, the Magpies need to keep perspective of their rough four weeks gaining only a single point.

Arsenal and Liverpool each earned 1-0 victories at home to make-up ground on City, but the streaking Tottenham Hotspurs stumbled with a 2-1 loss at Stoke. Wigan was able to get 3 very important points in their quest to fend off relegation as they defeated West Brom on the road. Here is a look at the top and bottom of the table after 15 weeks of matches. Keep in mind that the next two weeks will have some odd scheduling for the holidays with matches mid-week leading up to Christmas.

1. Man City - 38 pts, +34 GD (12-2-1)
2. Man United - 36 pts, +21 GD (11-3-1)
3. Chelsea - 31 pts, +15 GD (10-1-4)
4. Tottenham - 31 pts, +12 GD (10-1-3)
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17. Wolverhampton - 14 pts, -12 GD (4-2-9)
18. Wigan - 12 pts, -15 GD (3-3-9)
19. Blackburn - 10 pts, -12 GD (2-4-9)
20. Bolton - 9 pts, -16 GD (3-0-12)

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