Tuesday, 18 March 2014

EPL Derby Day - Super Sunday Review:

Hello again everyone and welcome to my latest blog post, where I have match reports, analysis and a review from the two interesting derby day matches in the EPL.

Manchester United hosted Liverpool at Old Trafford in the early afternoon kick-off, while Arsenal looked to keep up with their title rivals with a win against fierce London rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane. 

Super sunday - double header: United hosted Liverpool while Tottenham played against Arsenal in the two derby games of the day 
Manchester United vs Liverpool: 

This match was played at Old Trafford, with 7th placed United hosting 3rd placed Liverpool in an important game for both sides. 

A win would take the hosts within 1 point of 5th placed Tottenham, who played against Arsenal later on in the day - as they looked to improve on their past performances of late and challenge for a top 4 finish to a lacklustre first season in charge under new management (with the scapegoat being manager David Moyes)

Liverpool are still within a chance of the title, a win over one of their biggest rivals (who they used to look up to) would show they are one of the best in the league and put them within 4 points of league leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand. 

Here were the team line-ups for the match (players highlighted in yellow/red were given cards): 

Manchester United: De Gea, Rafael, Jones, Vidic, Evra, Fellaini (Cleverley 76'), Carrick, Mata, Rooney, Januzaj (Welbeck 76') and van Persie. 

Subs: Lindegaard, Young, Valencia and Kagawa (subs unused)

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan, Henderson, Gerrard, Allen, Sterling (Coutinho 72'), Sturridge (Aspas 90+1') and Suarez.

Subs: Brad Jones, Aspas, Moses, Sakho, Cissokho, Lucas (subs unused) 

Match review -
And it was The Reds who started the game off the quickest, taking advantage of small pockets of space in-behind the United defence, passing the ball around well and having a few shots on target but nothing too strenuous for De Gea to save in the first-half. United were always back-pedalling when having to defend the Liverpool counter attack and struggled to move forward at times. 

This was because The Reds would either break play or the final ball was poor from a United player, with the deadlock being broken from the penalty spot in the 37th minute.

Suarez drove into the box, trying to whip a cross into the box while being tracked by full-back Rafael, who hit the ball with his hand as the delivery was being crossed towards the back post. The referee had no choice but to point to the spot, but Rafael was considered lucky to still be on the pitch after being booked two minutes earlier for a scissor-like tackle on Gerrard.

Stone-wall penalty: Rafael was lucky not to be sent off after a blatant handball inside the box 
Captain and Mr Reliable Gerrard stepped up to take the shot, and made no mistake beating De Gea from the spot.

Send you the wrong way: Gerrard opened the scoring in the 34th minute from the spot.

Taking charge: Liverpool's goal was well-deserved, dominating away from home at OT.
Just before the break, United started to build a bit of momentum, with Rooney having a 20-yard stinging shot parried away well by Mignolet - but Liverpool did well to withstand the counter attacking pressure of their hosts and went into half-time with a 1-0 lead. 

United felt they could easily get back into the match provided they started the second-half well, based on the fact that they were ultimately punished for a sluggish start and overall poor performance in the first 45. 

However, things went from bad to worse for the hosts in the first 35 seconds of the second-half, after an over-the-top through ball towards Allen inside the box was halted by the charging run of English full-back Phil Jones, who clattered into the Welsh midfielder and gave away a penalty. Gerrard stepped up to the plate again, scoring again to double the lead for Liverpool. 
From bad to worse: Allen was clattered by Jones, resulting in another penalty for Liverpool
Taking advantage: Gerrard ultimately made United pay for their mistakes inside the box
2 for me: Gerrard celebrates scoring his 2nd penalty of the game, to double Liverpool's lead
Kissing the camera: Gerrard ran to the corner flag to kiss the camera after his second
Mixed emotions: United couldn't believe they were 2-0 down straight after half-time.
Remember this? Gerrard did the same against United in 2009, after a 4-1 win with then team-mate Fernando Torres

United looked stunned after conceding the second goal of the game almost instantaneously after the restart, and the players' heads began to drop as they realised that they were on the verge of losing against one of their fiercest rivals. Liverpool were staying firm at the back in defence and United looked as though they were struggling to contain them on the counter attack. 

Rooney had to drop deep into midfield to try and help create chances for United, but he was pretty much ineffective aswell because as soon as he got the ball in space he was swarmed by 3 Liverpool players, pressing for ball possession. 

Both sides made substitutions late on, before Liverpool were given a third penalty in the 77th minute after a clumsy and late challenge by Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic on English striker Daniel Sturridge inside the box was adjudged to be a foul by referee Mark Clattenburg, despite claims that Sturridge fell theatrically to try and win a penalty.

Vidic was the last defender before De Gea, denying a goal-scoring opportunity and was consequently sent off for his second bookable offence (already on a yellow beforehand) 

Gerrard was unlucky to hit the post with the resulting penalty, and United supporters felt some justice was done after the penalty was given.

In the 85th minute, Liverpool made it 3-0 with a neat finish from striker Luis Suarez after a loose ball fell to Sturridge, who passed a long through ball into Suarez's feet who slotted the ball past de Gea into the net. 

Both teams used up all of their 3 substitutions before the end of the game, with United clearly down and out (annd lucky not to concede more than they did on the day) 

The full-time whistle was eventually blown, signalling the end of the day for United who tried and failed to beat their rivals. 

Liverpool will still be hoping that they can win the title this season, but it will not exactly be easy with matches against Chelsea and City among others before the end of the season in May.

United on the other hand are going through a transitional period which takes time, but it would be a big surprise if they were able to salvage a Champions League qualification place at the end of this season. 

The balance has shifted in the fixture, United are significantly weaker than they were a few years ago and Liverpool are going from strength-to-strength as they build their squad for the very real possibilty of UEFA Champions League football once again at Anfield. 

5 interesting facts to take from the game:

1. Suarez and Sturridge have a combined total of 41 goals this season, 5 goals less than Manchester United have scored throughout the current campaign.
2. United have only scored 18 goals at home this season - the same number as Fulham.
3. This loss is United's 9TH league loss of the season, and their 5th at home.
4. Liverpool are now only 4 points behind league leaders Chelsea, with a game in hand over The Blues.
5. The Reds have now done the double over their rivals, beating them twice in the league (2013-14 campaign) for the first time since the 2008-09 season (1-0 at home, 3-0 on Sunday)

Tottenham Hotspur vs Arsenal: 

This match was played at White Hart Lane, as Spurs looked to bounce back from their disappointing two-game loss streak in the space of a week to Chelsea and Benfica (EPL and Europa League respectively) 

Here were the team line-ups from the match (players in yellow were carded):

Tottenham Hotspur:
Lloris, Naughton, Kaboul, Vertonghen, Rose, Sandro, Townsend, Bentaleb, Eriksen, Chadli and Adebayor.

Subs: Friedel, Walker, Lennon, Paulinho, Sigurdsson, Kane and Soldado

Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Arteta, Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud.

Subs: Fabianski, Monreal, Vermaelen, Jenkinson, Flamini, Gnabry and Sanogo. 

Match report:
Arsenal took the lead early on against their North London rivals within 2 minutes of the game, thanks to a well-taken 20-yard half-volley strike from Czech Republic midfielder Tomas Rosicky after good link-up play with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the edge of the box which beat Lloris and flew into the top corner of the net. It was a truly perfect start for The Gunners, who knew that playing away from home against a top 4 contender would not be easy. 

It's fair to say that Tottenham had their fair share of chances in the first-half, but failed to create many clear-cut goal scoring opportunities to test Szczesny and struggled with the final ball when up against one of the best (if not the best) defensive partnerships in the league (Koscielny and Mertesacker). 

Adebayor and Oxlade-Chamberlain had the most notable chances as Arsenal kept the 1-0 lead into the half-time break while Spurs would have felt they should have scored against their north London counterparts.

The hosts kept up the pressure from the start of the second-half however, with some inswinging crosses from Naughton and Chadli being dealt with badly under pressure from Szczesny with his defence having to clear out the danger in the first 5 minutes of play in the second-half. 

Tottenham started the second-half well and put Arsenal under intense pressure, but in hindsight probably should have equalised and took their chances from one of the deliveries that Szczesny struggled to deal with.

Kaboul was the rock in defence for Spurs, as he made two last-ditch tackles to deny Podolski and Giroud in quick succession with a sliding tackle and defensive block to make sure the home side were not punished on the counter and lost their momentum. 

Arsenal were failing with their final ball distribution when it mattered, after some good movement from Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Spurs half found Giroud in space to pass the ball back into their path, but his attempted through ball was cut out as Tottenham tried to push for the equaliser. 

Adebayor did well to pressure his old side with his lurking movement into the box, but whenever he had the ball at his feet he was not as threatening as when he didn't, with Townsend and Chadli's attempted crosses to the Togo striker failing to test Szczesny.

However, Arsenal eventually had their share of possession with 25 minutes to play, trying to keep hold of the ball and create a few chances to put Spurs "on the ropes" as it were. 

Kaboul and Vertonghen were staying strong, but Tottenham's momentum was fading as they could not win the ball back in midfield as effectively when The Gunners began their passing spell and dazzling movement. 

Both sides made substitutions in the 70th minute, with Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood opting with Paulinho and Sigurdsson to replace Sandro and Chadli, while Arsenal made a defensive change as the goalscorer Rosicky was replaced by Flamini (almost instantly getting booked, I might add)

FACT: By the 72nd minute, Spurs had recorded 29 crosses, compared to 2 from Arsenal. 

The Gunners then had a clear-cut penalty shout not given by the referee, as Arteta's free-kick delivery was whipped into the box for Koscielny to latch onto - the French defender was held back by Vertonghen who was pulling his shirt and tugging at his arm but no penalty was given and play carried on, much to the luck (of Spurs) and confusion (of Arsenal). 

Wenger made another defensive substitution as The Gunners looked to grind out a 1-0 win over their rivals, with Spanish left-back Nacho Monreal replacing a fatigued Podolski after 80 minutes of play - just before Mertesacker was denied a power header with a good stop from Lloris who dived to his right quickly to react to the low effort. 

Adebayor had a late effort comfortably saved by Szczesny late on, before Vermaelen replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain as a precautionary measure for a tight calf. 

Arsenal did well to hold on and the match eventually finished 1-0 at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham feeling aggrieved that they were unable to take advantage of the chances that they had, while their rivals took one opportunity early on and virtually "shut up shop" in an effective but overall unattractive Arsenal performance.

Arsenal move above City into third place, 4 points behind Chelsea with a game in hand over the league leaders and only behind Liverpool based on goal difference. The loss leaves Tottenham struggling in 5th place, with their hopes of qualifying for Champions League next season fading gradually..