EPL Reflections – January 18th

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Injury time or no injury time that is the question?

In one of the best second half games of the season, Chelsea and Everton’s classic encounter will be remembered for the amount of injury time played. Eight minutes of injury time which was supposed to be only seven minutes allowed the hosts to score an equalizer courtesy of John Terry’s close range flick (don’t mention the offside call missed). It is high time that the EPL take the responsibility of injury time allocation away from the match officials on duty. With technology in operation, surely the league can use it to stop and start the game clock to allow everyone be in no doubt on the time left in a match. The injury time debacle destroyed an epic contest and hopefully is a defining point in this debate going forward. Chelsea under Guus Hiddink are revitalized, their fight and hunger to get back into the contest was impressive. Everton’s season was summarized in that second half; plenty of promise and endeavor but were punished for lapses late on.

Rooney settles North-West El Classico

In what can only be described as a drab affair, Manchester United with their only shot on target took the fair of the spoils against a Liverpool team who huffed and puffed but could not provide the creativity or guile to unlock United who were exposed down the right flank throughout as Darmian was forced to position himself in a narrow position. The intriguing aspect of this contest was that Liverpool’s sheer inability to resolve their defensive woes from set-pieces. Juan Mata produced the only noteworthy cross during this contest which saw Fellaini’s header come off the crossbar before Rooney volleyed into the net from the rebound. Both teams lacked basic passing ability, the amount of misplaced passes was deplorable and one suggests that both sides will look to plunge into the transfer market in earnest come the summer. The pressure is suddenly off Van Gaal as United continue their unbeaten run but the style of football is still tough to watch. Two points off forth will be Van Gaal’s retort but there needs to be more about the side than just Martial’s ability and pace upfront. Liverpool are in transition but could Stephen Caulker envisioned himself as a striker (makeshift) for the last two games under Klopp’s managerial nous? Plenty of work required in Melrose and Carrington on the back of this performance.

Arsenal pass the Britannia test

Stoke City are the barometer to test EPL league credentials. Mark Hughes’ team have dispatched the Manchester clubs and Chelsea with ease in recent weeks and Arsenal will be happy to leave the Britannia Stadium with a share of the spoils. The Ramsey / Shawcross injury saga from six seasons ago reared its head again with the home support heckling the Welsh player with every touch. The game will be remembered for the performances of Butland and Cech in goal who produced moments of brilliance in the second half to keep the scores at blank. Arsenal will be happy with the point but need to produce a massive statement of intent against Chelsea next weekend if they are to be considered the front runner for this league title as Manchester City are nestled quite ominously behind Arsene Wenger’s side.

Manchester City demolish Palace

It is a worrying time for Palace manager Alan Pardew as a distinct lack of firepower upfront and defensive chaos capped a miserable visit to the Etihad as City hit Palace for four. In truth, the scoreline could have being much more as City killed the game off before the interval. City were in the mood from the start as De Bruyne and Delph caught the eye. With Aguero looking close to full fitness (brace again), City dismissed Palace with the contempt that suggests Manuel Pellegrini’s team are keen to retain their title. Palace are close to the forty point mark but Pardew realizes that reinforcements are required at both ends of the pitch. The striking options look weak while defensively, it has being a tough time this week with goalkeeping clangers and indecisive defensive performances. Palace will be fine but long term, Pardew needs to find at least four players to increase competition in the squad.

Relegation Battle

Aston Villa have had a good week. Four points from their two home games. The Leicester City draw was more down to their grit and determination but it was a good sign for Remi Garde with Rudy Gestede equalizing deservedly in the second half. Leicester will rue their inability to not be more than one goal up. Mahrez’s penalty miss in the first half was crucial. You hope that Leicester City will not fall away from the title race but Jamie Vardy has not scored in three outings, it is time for Leicester to find another goalscoring sources. Okazaki was lively at the weekend, scored a goal and will need to assist Vardy as the talisman continues to recover from a minor surgery procedure. Yes, Vardy is playing but it is clear that the striker is not fully fit.

Norwich City look like a team who are regressing at the wrong time of the season. Defensive vulnerable to pace and with no genuine consistent scoring threat upfront, Alex Neil has to plunge into the transfer market. Gary Naismith’s transfer will help attacking wise but Norwich are struggling to keep clean sheets. Bournemouth will rarely have an easier afternoon than they did last weekend with a 3-0 win. Afobe’s arrival is most welcome, good pace, has physicality and with confidence could score goals in the top flight.

Sunderland produce another rotten away performance. Their 4-1 loss to Tottenham summarized their position in the league; defensively unorganized throughout and allowed the hosts to regain the initiative after equalizing in the opening period. Big Sam has to enter the transfer market to improve defensively and goalkeeping. Jermain Defoe’s threat upfront will yield goals but Sunderland have to sort out their defensive woes fast, otherwise they are doomed. I suspect Big Sam will have money to spend this month but it could be shrewd loan signings which could improve the side more.

An excellent week for Newcastle United, their performances against Manchester United and West Ham United indicate that Steve McClaren’s team may have turned the corner. Their 2-1 win against the Hammers was impressive. Wijnaldum has being their main man this season and was instrumental in this win. Ayoze Perez as well has come into form at the right time and with Newcastle defensively look better, Newcastle will not be relegated. West Ham struggled and with no Andy Carroll to win aerial ball were contained throughout.

Swansea would need to win against Watford, otherwise a crisis will become a full blown epidemic. The managerial announcement does not inspire confidence and Huw Jenkins looks to have had no alternative to Gary Monk. Hoping that a new manager can give them the bounce required but they need to improve upfront. Any team from six could go down. Villa look doomed but such is the league this season, who knows what the picture could be in Easter?