It was derby weekend in the Premier League as Tottenham and Arsenal kicked things off in North London. It was hard to call which way this one would go: the sides are neck and neck in the Champions League race, and have been perpetually leapfrogging each other in the table this season. With both hitting top form in recent weeks, it was always going to be a defensive lapse or moment of magic that made the difference. The game itself was emblematic of how finely balanced the Spurs/Arsenal affair has been. The Gunners went ahead with their only decent chance of the first half as Mesut Ozil converted his third goal in three games (before vanishing from the contest). Spurs had the attacking impetus in the second half and were rewarded before the hour mark as local boy Harry Kane marked the most meaningful game of his career so far with a scrappy equaliser. Up until this weekend I remained in denial about Kane being “the real deal”, but my doubts were put to bed five minutes before the end. The 21 year old rose above the Arsenal defenders to head home an iconic winner, and etch his name into Tottenham folklore.
The 2-1 win for Spurs left Liverpool with a chance to turn up the heat on the other top four challengers, but it was never going to be a stroll in the park against Everton. Steven Gerrard’s final Merseyside derby would end goalless despite an electric, end-to-end encounter at Goodison Park. Liverpool youngster, Jordan Ibe, lit up the first half with a number of Sterling-esque runs, and was unlucky not to put the visitors in front after striking the post from distance. There was more drama after the break as Romelu Lukaku grew into the game, Gerrard almost pulled off a picturesque bicycle-kick and there was even a good old-fashioned scuffle between Jordan Henderson and Steven Naismith (not sure who my money would be on in that fight despite the height-difference). A missed opportunity for Liverpool but, with only five points separating them (in seventh spot) and Manchester United (fourth), no one in the UCL scrap can rest on their laurels.
In terms of the overall title picture, I can’t help but feel that week 24 will prove decisive. After keeping their title hopes alive with a draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend, Manchester City crumbled at home against struggling Hull. It took a breathtaking free-kick from James Milner for City to scrape a draw late on but, with Mourinho’s side brushing past Aston Villa (who scored by the way!), it means the difference between the top two is now seven points. Congrats to Yaya Toure for winning the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast yesterday, but there’s no rest for the wicked. Upon his return he’ll have to somehow carry the faltering Citizens from now until the end of the season if they are to perform the almighty turn-around that’s needed to challenge Chelsea.
Sadio Mane proved that players can return from the African tournament and provide a spark for their club sides, as he scored a winner for Southampton in the final seconds of their game at QPR. It was a huge three points for the Saints who moved back ahead of Manchester United into third. The red devils finish the weekend fourth after a below-par performance against West Ham in a game that ended 1-1. Sam Allardyce (hilariously) bemoaning Man United’s long-ball tactics as they nicked a point in stoppage time.
Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal
Aston Villa 1 – 2 Chelsea
Manchester City 1 – 1 Hull
Leicester City 0 – 1 Palace
QPR 0 – 1 Southampton
Swansea 1 – 1 Sunderland
Everton 0 – 0 Liverpool
Burnley 2 – 2 West Brom
Newcastle 1 – 1 Stoke
West Ham 1 – 1 Manchester Utd
GOAL OF THE WEEK:
(90’) James Milner vs Hull City
WORTH A MENTION:
DO NOT mess with Leicester boss Nigel Pearson. After hurling abuse at one of his club’s own fans in December, it’s clear he’s not one to shy away from confrontation. Palace’s James McCarthur will be having nightmares after Saturday’s match.
OUTSIDE OF ENGLAND:
It was all set up to be a perfect week for Cristiano Ronaldo. FIFA’s “Player of the Year” celebrated his 30th birthday and made his return from a two-match ban. But what was supposed to be a party ended with him being trolled by a ball boy* as Real were decimated by Atletico in the Madrid derby. Clip:
Arsenal fans may be down in the dumps – but Real showed the football world how to really balls-up a derby match. Atletico ran riot with goals from Tiago, Saul, Griezmann and Mandzukic securing a 4-0 win. The victory extended Atleti’s unbeaten run against their rivals to six matches!
*The ball boy has since been sacked… a small price to pay for achieving Atletico legend status.