By: Alex Greenberg
Week after week the Premier League proves that it is the most competitive soccer league in the entire world. Anyone can beat anybody else on any given day. But if the idea of a game being a “sure thing” could’ve be applied to only one match this entire season, it might’ve been best used for the Liverpool-Newcastle match that shocked viewers at the weekend.
Liverpool came into the match having only lost one match under new boss Jurgen Klopp, and having recently destroyed Manchester City 4-1 on the road at the Etihad. After dark times under Brendan Rodgers earlier in the season it seemed that Liverpool were finally getting into the swing of things. On top of that, Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge had both recently come back from injury, Sturridge scoring twice as Liverpool thrashed Southampton 6-1 midweek in the League Cup.
Compare this to a Newcastle team that had only won six times in the entire calendar year of 2015. The Magpies were coming off a 5-1 drubbing to Crystal Palace in which the Newcastle players were accused of quitting by fans and media alike. All signs pointed to Steve McClaren’s team finding themselves on the ugly side of another lopsided scoreline.
But because the Premier League continues to outdo itself, this was not to be the case. Under Klopp Liverpool have tried to adapt and play a high pressing system, but it was ineffective in this match. Newcastle were the team that pressed harder and looked hungrier to win the game.
The home side turned the game into a scrappy and tedious affair that was desperately calling out for a moment of quality. That moment came in the second half from a predictable source. Georginio Wijnaldum created something out of nothing in the box and took a shot which deflected off Martin Skrtel and into his own net.
Skrtel has now scored seven own goals in his Premier League career, good enough to tie him with Jamie Carragher, another Liverpool center back, for second all time in the Premier League. Poor Richard Dunne, formerly of QPR, Aston Villa and Manchester City, is the league’s all time leading own goal scorer with 10.
When Wijnaldum scored again he thought it was his second of the day, but alas the first goal would be laid at the feet of Skrtel. Wijnaldum’s second goal was the perfect clincher for Newcastle fans who have felt a feeling of hopelessness around their club for years, and especially this season. Moussa Sissoko abused Alberto Moreno and played a delightful cross for Wijnaldum to dink over the oncoming Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool will have to regroup after a disappointing performance, but their fans will point to the fact that their best player, Coutinho, missed this match.
The victory doesn’t lift Newcastle out of the dreaded relegation zone yet, but they will take solace in knowing that they are equal on points with Norwich City and Bournemouth who are just ahead of them.
Bournemouth were at the center of the other big shock of round 15 in the Premier League. The Cherries made a trip to West London to face the defending (poorly) champions Chelsea. No newly promoted team had won at Stamford Bridge in the league since Charlton did it in April of 2001, but Bournemouth were ready to change that.
Chelsea dominated possession in the match, but it was fairly even in terms of shots and chances. Bournemouth got their chances on the counter attack, especially in the first half. The game was still scoreless at halftime, but Chelsea’s defending was hardly convincing. Bournemouth’s wasn’t either, but you expect better out of a Chelsea starting 11 that cost £203.6 million to put together. The fact that Bournemouth’s 11 only cost £1.3 million to build just proves the point even further that Chelsea need to be winning games like this.
But this Chelsea team are different this year. They are weak in terms of personnel and mentality, something that can rarely be said of Jose Mourinho’s teams. I wasn’t surprised when Bournemouth won the game late on, that’s something that people are growing accustomed to seeing in Chelsea matches this season.
Glenn Murray came onto the pitch and instantly made an impact. Murray headed the ball into the back of the net and inserted himself into Bournemouth legend as he gave them perhaps their biggest result in club history. No Bournemouth fan would’ve believed you if you’d told them they’d soon be beating Chelsea when they were struggling at the bottom of the table in League 2, the English fourth division just as recently as 2009.
No Chelsea fan would’ve believed you if you’d told them they’d be out of the title race by Christmas. It’s a certainty that they won’t win the title, but things now look so dreary for Chelsea that I can’t even imagine them in Europe next season. A late charge for the Europa League would be the best case scenario for the Blues at this point.
With Chelsea looking like they won’t be in Europe next season, the chase for the Champions League figures to be as competitive as ever.
There was a setback for Champions League hopefuls Tottenham as they drew on the road at West Brom 1-1. A disappointing result I and my fellow Spurs fans know that good things are happening at the club and that this season can still be full of glory.
Stoke beat Manchester City 2-0, but I think the result says more about Stoke than it does about City. Stoke are finally benefitting from their full wealth of attacking options. Xherdan Shaqiri is looking like the player Bayern Munich thought he was, and Marko Arnautovic has developed a real touch for scoring. A team like Chelsea or Southampton falling by the wayside could give Stoke hope of reaching the Europa League.
Manchester City desperately need to get healthy. We know that when they have Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, and David Silva all on the pitch at the same time that they are probably the best team in the league. I still think the Citizens will win the title, assuming that they can keep those three healthy.
Looking forward to this weekend there are intriguing matches on Saturday, Sunday, and with perhaps the best saved for last on Monday.
Bournemouth welcome Manchester United to the south coast of England as they look to take another scalp from one of the most successful teams in Premier League history. United are reeling after crashing out of the Champions League with some atrocious defending against Wolfsburg. Pressure is on Louis Van Gaal to produce something that doesn’t end with a 0-0 draw, and there are already some United fans calling for his ousting.
Monday features the most interesting game of the weekend as Chelsea travel to first place Leicester City. This time last year Chelsea were in first place and Leicester were in dead last, but oh how times have changed in the Premier League.
I don’t think Leicester will win the title. That would be too preposterous even for the Premier League. But I think that they will beat Chelsea. The Foxes have too many in form options in attack. Everyone talks about Jamie Vardy but Riyad Mahrez is probably the better and more dangerous player. The thing is that if either of them get injured Leicester are truly screwed as they still don’t have the depth that the teams they are now competing with at the top of the table have.
The Premier League is always exciting, but this year it really does look poised for an incredible second half of the season. The best gift this holiday season will be the fixture list as the league enters its busiest period of the season.