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Aston Villa tried a novel approach to dealing with the threat posed by Tottenham Hotspur's Gareth Bale when they visited Spurs at White Hart Lane on Monday: Field two right backs. It didn't work - Villa never looked anything like a competent side on either end of the pitch and Bale managed to set up a pair of first-half goals for Emmanuel Adebayor which would supply the game's final scoreline. Alex McLeish's men had no answer to the constant threat Spurs posed and barely threatened Brad Friedel's goal at the other end of the pitch, and on the few chances they had to score Darren Bent had something of a shocker in front of the net.
Spurs were fairly competent, although hardly scintillating. Although Addebayor got a brace, he was hardly sharp in front of goal (although his first, an instinctive overhead kick that flew past Shay Given, was impressive) and should have notched a hat-trick several times over. The defence had nothing to do, the midfield stopped Chris Herd and Stiliyan Petrov in their tracks (surprise!), and Tottenham looked like the Champions League-chasing team they are against a lower-mid-table Villa. Until and unless McLeish decides to try to treat his team as an actual attacking force, this is what's going to happen to them.
When, oh when, will Chelsea's defensive woes end? At what point will Andre Villas-Boas decide to make changes to his backline? Or, worse, when will Roman Abramovich lose patience, and sack the Premier League's sexiest manager? AVB certainly doesn't deserve to be forced out, not this early, but with defensive lapses leading to both Liverpool goals, he'd do well to have a plan in place to remedy the situation.
The first Liverpool goal, after 35 minutes of play, came courtesy of an error by John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea midfielder took too much time on the ball, and the Liverpool pressure easily took it off his hands (feet?). Then came a fantastic exchange of passes between Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy, with Bellamy passing on to an unmarked Maxi Rodriguez on the left side. An quick finish, and Liverpool had a 1-0 lead.
At halftime, Villas-Boas changed things up a bit, bringing on Daniel Sturridge to replace the woeful Mikel. The Chelsea formation shifted to a 4-2-3-1, which served its intended purpose just ten minutes after the restart. Florent Malouda sent a great ball to the far post, causing the Red defense to fall to pieces. Both Sturridge and Juan Mata were left completely unmarked, but it was the former who tapped in the goal.
Alas, the Chelsea attack, despite looking much better in their revised formation, just couldn't find another goal. Malouda missed an absolute sitter in front of the net, somehow contriving to send the ball around the far post and out of play. Fernando Torres, on in place of Didier Drogba, was being his usual Torres self. Argue all you want about Nando's skills, but today the Blues needed a goal, and the striker wasn't there to provide.
Liverpool made their former player, and the rest of the Chelsea side, pay in the end. Dirk Kuyt sent a great long pass to the right side, where Glen Johnson was rushing forward. He easily rounded Ashley Cole, putting the ball in the back of the net in the 87th minute. With no answer from the home side, Liverpool took all three points, 2-1.
Glen Johnson has taken the lead back for Liverpool with a superb goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Dirk Kuyt picked up the ball in the back third of the pitch and delivered an outstanding cross to the right side of the pitch, freeing Johnson, who had acres of space. Ashley Cole came rushing in, intending to salvage the Blues' point, but Johnson simply took the ball around the defender to put it in the back of the net.
A disappointment for Chelsea, certainly, and the agitation of Andre Villas-Boas on the sidelines was readily apparent. The Portuguese manager sure seems to enjoy attacking football, but when the likes of Florent Malouda and Fernando Torres miss absolute sitters, it's probably time for AVB to focus a bit more on defense. Liverpool's first goal, courtesy of Maxi Rodriguez, came through a defensive error by John Obi Mikel -- how many more of these will Chelsea fans have to endure?
The longer this game goes on, the more it seems destined to be a draw. Chelsea have not made any more changes, while Liverpool's have been defensive or neutral in nature. Stewart Downing has come on for Maxi Rodriguez, more or less a like for like change except for the fact that Stewart Downing is left-footed and hugs the touchline. Chelsea are still the better side, but things have calmed down. That is until now.
In the 84th minute, Fernando Torres has entered the game for Didier Drogba. Torres has, as everyone knows, not gotten off to a wonderful start in his Chelsea career. Were he to score against this former club, we would have to read endless terrible columns about irony or the poetic nature of the goal or some other such nonsense. More would be written about that goal than Andre Villas-Boas' changes. And that's sad.
Also, Raul Meireles is on for Ramires! Yay!
Kenny Dalglish has made a substitution in the 65th minute, bringing on Jordan Henderson for Craig Bellamy in order to add another body to the Liverpool midfield. Jordan Henderson is reasonably athletic, reasonably technically gifted, and reasonably intelligent. He is, in fact, a midfielder. He cost £20 million. Theoretically, he should do things, but I am uncertain as to what those things are. If you are an expert on the career of Jordan Henderson, please explain to me what it is he does. I am unable to figure it out.
Chelsea have continued to be the better side in this match since the start of the second half, and a second goal seems almost inevitable. They looked slow in the first half as Liverpool controlled the game, but the change of Sturridge for Mikel has been a masterstroke. The Blues don't look slow at all, though if they want to really amp up the pressure (and athleticism), they could bring Raul Meireles into this game*
*Disclaimer: I have a crush on Raul Meireles and I am very biased in this regard
Perhaps this Andre Villas-Boas lad knows what he's doing! It's taken just 10 minutes for his substitution of Daniel Sturridge for John Obi Mikel to pay off. Chelsea and Liverpool are level at 1-1 after 55 minutes, thanks to a goal by Sturridge. Liverpool's defending on the move was absolutely terrible, but Chelsea still did well to get bodies into the box quickly, while the change in formation and player roles certainly contributed to the goal.
Following a bad giveaway in midfield, Chelsea took off on the counter, with even John Terry getting involved with an overlapping run on the left flank. Florent Malouda took the ball forward and swung a great ball into the back post, which no one was able to deal with. Sturridge AND Juan Mata found themselves completely unmarked at the back post, and Sturridge tapped in the goal.
From a Liverpool perspective, the goal was a terrible one to give up. Charlie Adam gave the ball away, Daniel Agger should have done something with the cross, and Luis Enrique completely lost Sturridge. A giant bucket of fail. It was a great move by Chelsea, but Kenny Dalglish will be dissatisfied with his team's total failure to do anything about it.
Apparently not happy with his team's formation, lack of attacking, or John Obi Mikel's performance in the first half, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has made a bold change. Winger/stirker Daniel Sturridge is in for Mikel, and he will play on the right wing. Florent Malouda will go to the left, while Juan Mata will sit in front of a double pivot of Frank Lampard and Ramires in a 4-2-3-1.
It's bold, no doubt, but it will also get Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish thinking about what changes he can make to exploit that setup. Neither Ramires or Lampard is a defensive midfielder, though both are competent tacklers. This is a side that should struggle to stop Liverpool from counter-attacking through the middle.
Chelsea look fantastic in the opening minutes of this half, putting Liverpool under a lot of pressure. It's the 50th minute and Chelsea have had two very solid chances since the start of the half. This game is about to get extremely interesting.
Andre Villas-Boas is going to have some work to do in the locker room, both with his tactics and his team talk. Chelsea trail Liverpool 1-0 at halftime, and it would be hard to argue that the Reds were not the better side. Maxi Rodriguez scored the game's only goal in the 35th minute, capitalizing on an error by John Obi Mikel.
Chelsea had the first real chance of the game in the 22nd minute, and a large number of people thought they scored it. On a direct free kick from 30 yards out, Didier Drogba hit a great strike up over the ball that dropped down quickly, then hit the post that keeps the net in place, three feet wide of the goal. Announcer Martin Tyler and half the ground thought it was in, and a bit of confusion ensued until television showed a replay.
The goal came when Mikel stood on the ball too long in his own half and let himself get stripped by Craig Bellamy. He passed to Suarez, who returned the pass in the center of the box. Bellamy spotted Maxi arriving late on the left hand side of the area and played a pass to the Argentinian, who finished the chance. Petr Cech's positioning was questionable, but Mikel was really the only man to blame for the goal.
There haven't been a ton of clear-cut chances in the first half, while both managers will have some things they are happy about going into the locker room. Liverpool will be the happier of the two sides, though, and not just because they have a lead. Chelsea have failed to get the ball to Juan Mata on a consistent basis, Frank Lampard is invisible, and David Luiz looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
Confession: As this goal was being scored, I was having an argument about whether or not John Obi Mikel should be starting in this game. While the argument was more about whether a player who plays his position is needed than it was about whether or not he is a good player, I feel vindicated! Liverpool lead Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge after 35 minutes, thanks to a goal by Maxi Rodriguez.
Mikel shouldn't have had any problem getting the ball up the pitch, but while in his own half and under pressure from Liverpool players, Mikel dallied on the ball and was stripped. What ensued was a fantastic exchange of passes between Luis Suarez and Craig Bellamy, the latter of which had an opportunity to shoot. Instead, he laid the ball off to an unmarked Rodriguez on the left side of the penalty box, and he finished the chance.
While it would be a bit unfair to say Liverpool "deserved" the goal, they've probably been the better side so far. Chelsea's best chance came on a free kick and they look a bit slow at the moment.
David Luiz is awesome. I like him a lot. I like his insane surging runs forward. I like his spectacular hair. But jeez, talk about someone who needs to get some brains in him. For no apparent reason, Luiz decided to take a little swipe at Dirk Kuyt. Nothing too malicious, but a little attempted slap that missed. It doesn't really fall under the umbrella of "violent conduct", but what are you doing, you crazy person?
And then, Martin Tyler shows his age a bit. Once far and away the greatest commentator in English football, Tyler seems to have lost his edge in the last couple of years. In the 23rd minute, Tyler (who is at the game) thought a free kick by Didier Drogba was in the back of the net. This, despite the fact that the crowd did not cheer and no one on the pitch reacted like it was a goal. This is because Drogba missed wide by three feet. Good chance, though!
If the early play is any indication, match referee Lee Probert was supposed to be one of the referees at UFC 139 last night. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn somewhere and instead of ending up in San Jose, California, he's at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea and Liverpool are quite literally hacking the living hell out of each other at the moment, but Probert doesn't seem interested in blowing his whistle.
I understand the desire to keep the cards in your pocket early. Actually, I encourage it. However, there were a few rough tackles after which Probert should have called a foul and had a discussion with the offending player, indicating that they're coming dangerously close to inciting a card-fest reminiscent of Oprah's Favorite Things. Maxi Rodriguez and Ramires have both been fouled hard in the middle of the pitch on multiple occasions. Charlie Adam is acting like a bit of a madman out there and should probably already have a yellow card.
It's still 0-0 after 14 minutes with no clear-cut chances, but there's been a brilliant pace to this game.
Before this match started, it wasn't entirely clear what Liverpool's lineup was going to look like. I guessed that it would be a 4-4-2 with Craig Bellamy playing as a striker, and I guessed right because I am a wizard. Kenny Dalglish must have seen something in the Arsenal match and previous matches suggesting that Chelsea are going to be susceptible to fast strikers running in behind the defense, causing him to pick Bellamy and throw him up top.
Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt are hardly traditional wingers and will cut in, so the Chelsea defenders will have plenty to think about in the middle. In the early going, the decision to drop Raul Meireles looks like a curious one by Andre Villas-Boas. Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel aren't the most active players in the world, and they're very dependent on Ramires to do anything related to moving around at the moment.
The biggest game of the Premier League weekend is here, as Chelsea put their title credentials on the line, while Liverpool do the same with their Champions League credentials. Of course, if Chelsea lose you will hear dozens of pundits say they are out of the title race. If Liverpool loses, you will hear dozens of pundits say they are not top four material. This is all absolute nonsense. To the team news!
Chelsea lineup (4-3-3): Cech; Cole, Terry, Luiz, Ivanovic; Mikel, Ramires, Lampard; Malouda, Drogba, Mata
Substitutes: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Romeu, Meireles, Sturridge, Anelka, Torres
Liverpool lineup (4-4-2): Reina; Enrique, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson; Rodriguez, Lucas, Adam, Kuyt; Bellamy, Suarez
Substitutes: Doni, Downing, Carroll, Carragher, Henderson, Kelly, Spearing
That Liverpool lineup could be all sorts of things. Don't be surprised if it's actually a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 with Maxi Rodriguez as the most advanced midfielder and Craig Bellamy as a left winger. Chelsea's biggest surprise omission is Raul Meireles, who is arguably their most athletic midfielder.
Kickoff is at 11:00 am ET, 4:00 pm local time. You can catch the game on FOX Soccer Channel in the USA, Sky Sports 1 in the UK, and Rogers Sportsnet World in Canada.
We'll have live coverage of Chelsea vs. Liverpool in our English Premier League Week 12 StoryStream. For more on the Blues, check out Chelsea blog We Ain't Got No History. For more on the Reds, head over to Liverpool Blog Anfield Asylum. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.
Chelsea were on a poor run of form before the international break. The Blues will look to right the ship this weekend as Liverpool make a visit to Stamford Bridge.
Manchester United have taken another three points to keep Manchester City from extending their lead at the top of the table, but they didn't exactly do it in impressive fashion. 'Chicharito' Javier Hernandez scored in the opening minutes of the game on a classic, gritty Chicharito goal, at which point the chances dried up. United did not have their first corner kick until the 87th minute and Swansea were the more ambitious side, but the Red Devils were able to hang on for a 1-0 win.
Ryan Giggs provided the assist with a low cross into the box from the left side of the area in the 11th minute. Hernandez provided a simple finish, and the goal was more about Swansea's incompetence than United's brilliance, as the giveaway that led to the goal was poor.
Swansea proceeded to attack down the right flank all first half, repeatedly abusing Patrice Evra. United's left back started the second half, but Alex Ferguson quickly realized that the Frenchman was not at his best and took him off for Fabio in the 51st minute. From that point until the end of the game, United defended much better.
The guests pushed bodies forward and tried to find an insurance goal late, but were unable to score. Three points is three points, though, and they'll be happy enough with the road win.
A late penalty earned Everton all three points in a pulsating encounter at Goodison Park which saw the visitors go up early and totally against the run of play. Everton outshot Wolves 15-5 and were unfortunate to go down when Marouane Fellaini fouled David Edwards just inside/at the edge of the box. A penalty was awarded, and Stephen Hunt tucked it home.
The response was fairly quick, Phil Jagielka equalising with a header seven minutes later, but despite huge pressure applied by the hosts in the second half, Wolves' defence was uncompromising and it looked as though they were going to escape with a point. But then in the 83rd minute Everton won a soft call of their own when Stephen Ward was penalised for standing too close to Louis Saha, with Leighton Baines blasting home from the spot to give the Toffees a 2-1 win.
Stoke continued their miserable run of form with a 3-2 home loss against Queens Park Rangers, who overcame an early goal from Jonathan Walters and fired off three of their own (a brace from Heidar Helgusson and one from right back Luke Young). The hosts managed to pull back a goal when professional how-not-to-wear-a-mustache-model Ryan Shawcross bundled in a corner in the 64th minute, but QPR's defence held and they escaped the Britannia with the win.
Both teams had fine chances to score in their encounter at the Stadium of Light, but neither Sunderland (denied by the woodwork repeatedly) not Fulham (denied by Clint Dempsey's unusually poor finishing) could get anything from the match. If either of Kieran Richardson's or Jack Colback's attempts had gone in rather than smack against the crossbar, we'd have had a very different game, but instead we had to settle for a 0-0 draw that became more and more boring as time went on.
Shane Long made the most out of his return to West Brom, scoring the winning goal in the second half against Bolton Wanderers to earn the Baggies all three points at the Hawthorns. The two sides had traded first half goals, with Jerome Thomas beating the offside trap and rounding Jussi Jaaskelainen while the Bolton defence stood around complaining before Ivan Klasnic leveled from the penalty spot. Although the match was level for half an hour following Klasnic's spot kick, West Brom kept putting on the pressure and it came as no surprise when Long rose to nod home a cross by Nicky Shorey to make it 2-1, which is how the game would stay.
A topsy-turver thriller at the DW Stadium saw Wigan Athletic and ten-man Blackburn Rovers fight it out to a hilarious draw that featured a last minute penalty won by a goalkeeper and a goal that came from an illegal corner. Barely a minute into the match, Yakuba had put the visitors ahead after Gary Caldwell failed to deal with a long throw-in, but Jordi Gomez replied with a lovely long range clip and Caldwell made amends with a neat header to put the hosts 2-1 up.
The second half got incredibly odd - Morten Gamst Pederson decided to dribble a corner kick rather than pass it, a move that every referee save Neil Swarbrick would consider illegal, and the resultant cross was eventually tapped in by Junior Hoilet while Wigan's defence stood around in a state of confusion. The hosts did manage to get their noses back in front thanks to Albert Cruset discovering the secret of quantum teleportation and phasing the ball straight through Paul Robinson, but it was the Blackburn goalkeeper who had the last laugh, going up for a last minute do-or-die corner and being kicked in the head, earning a penalty which Yakubu converted to make it 3-3 just before full time blew.
Ok, maybe Robinson wasn't laughing. Being kicked in the head hurts.
Newcastle United's unbeaten record has fallen - not entirely surprisingly - at the hands of Manchester City at the Eithad Stadium. Although the visitors started the game reasonably brightly, defending very well, they never looked likely to trouble Joe Hart and City were able to maintain possession and keep pushing forward, and eventually they got their breakthrough 41 minutes into the match, when Ryan Taylor blocked a Tim-Krul-bound shot with a raised right arm and Mario Balotelli nonchalantly rolled the ball into the back of the net. The Italy striker celebrated by being very angry.
The Ryan Taylor-shaped floodgates were open, and Newcastle couldn't close them again. Minutes later, the left back made an awful mistake in his own penalty area, allowing Micah Richards to steal in and poke the ball past Krul to give the hosts a 2-0 halftime lead. Things didn't get very much better in the second half, and it was Richards who once again terrorised Newcastle, earning a penalty when the rampaging right back was hauled down by Hatem Ben Arfa. With Balotelli off for David Silva, Sergio Aguero stepped up to take the spot kick, and the result was very similar apart from there being smiles involved.
City probably could have scored more goals, but three was enough and they backed off a little bit, even allowing Newcastle a late consolation goal when Joleon Lescott opted not to bother doing any defending and leaving Joe Hart alone againts Demba Ba and Ryan Gosling. The England goalkeeper did well to save Ba's initial effort, diving at the big striker's feet, but Gosling's subsequent tap in from two yards made the whole painful effort rather pointless.
Anyway, that late goal didn't matter, and City would see the game out pretty comfortably to win 3-1. City have now scored two or more goals in 14 straight league games, are in a commanding position atop the table, and no team has had a better start since the Premier League's inception. They look like they could win this thing.
It took longer than Roberto Mancini would have liked, but his Manchester City side had finnally been able to break down a stubborn Newcastle United defence - thanks mostly to the antics of Magpies left back Ryan Taylor, who managed to make two major mistakes in about as many minutes, conceding a penalty for the opener before being obliterated by Micah Richards for the second goal.
Before Mario Balotelli found the back of the net, Newcastle had been playing fairly well. Granted, City had most of the possession, but they weren't creating many chances (Sergio Aguero had buzzed a shot just over the bar on the turn, and Tim Krul had done well to keep a Balotelli header out) and whenever the visitors had the ball they were very positive with it, even drawing Joe Hart into a good save from Demba Ba.
And then Ryan Taylor stuck out his hand to stop Yaya Toure's shot, and things went rather rapidly downhill - Balotelli left Krul motionless as he rolled the ball into the back of the net and then a simple situation led to City doubling their lead, Ryan Taylor yielding to pressure from City right back Micah Richards in his own penalty area, allowing Richards to steer a neat finish beyond Krul to make it 2-0 right at the stroke of halftime.
So, it looks as though Newcastle are about to lose their first game of the season, unless something very odd happens.
The match wasn't as close as the score suggests and Arsenal should have won more comfortably, but they all count the same. The Gunners will be satisfied to walk away from Carrow Road with three points, thanks to their 2-1 win over Norwich City. Robin van Persie was brilliant yet again, scoring a brace, while the team around him performed brilliantly, save for a couple of bad apples.
One of them was Per Mertesacker, whose error lead to Norwich's goal. In the 16th minute, Mertesacker got himself between Steve Morison and a long ball and should have made an easy clearance. Instead, he allowed Morison to more or less run through him onto the ball, then finish off the chance to give his side a lead.
Van Persie would get the goal back quickly, scoring in the 26th minute to send the teams into halftime tied up at 1-1. Theo Walcott provided the cross, while Gervinho provided a combined shocking miss/dummy run to set up van Persie for an easy finish at the back post.
Gervinho should have had an easy hat trick in the second half, but miraculously missed all of his glorious chances. Van Persie made up for it, though, scoring the winner in the 59th minute. Collecting a through ball from Alex Song - who would have been man of the match if not for van Persie's brace - RvP chipped goalkeeper John Ruddy to score the goal.
It should have been a bit easier for Arsenal, but with the exceptions of Gervinho's misses and Mertesacker's terrible defensive error, it was a great performance they can be proud of. The Gunners very easily could have won this match 5-0.
Arsenal have come back from the international break playing some brilliant football, but a combination of bad luck and one terrible mistake has Norwich City level. The halftime score is tied up at 1-1. with Steve Morison scoring for Norwich and Robin van Persie predictably grabbing Arsenal's goal.
Morison's opener came in the 16th minute, and it was after an opening 15 minutes of complete and utter dominance by the Gunners. Somehow, while running onto a long ball, Morison was able to easily run through Per Mertesacker onto the ball on the edge of the 18-yard area. Mertesacker appeared to have great position to easily clear the ball, but allowed Morison to take the ball away from him and pass it into the back of the net.
Arsenal found a deserved equalizer in the 26th minute, with van Persie scoring yet another goal for his side. Theo Walcott provided the assist with a low cross from the right side of the penalty area, with Gervinho letting the ball fall to RvP at the back post through what was either a terrible miss or a very creative dummy. In any event, the ball found the best finisher on the pitch and he buried it.
RvP and Walcott have been excellent, while Alex Song and Bradley Johnson have had a fantastic battle in the center of midfield. However, the man of the match thus far, without question, is Russel Martin. The Norwich defender has cleared an incredible three balls off the line. The first of those clearances, which came in the 11th minute, was absurdly acrobatic and one of the best goal-line clearances you're ever going to see.
International football is gone and club football is back! Miraculously, we have made it through the international break without Robin van Persie picking up a devastating injury, which is always about 50-50. Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere are still injured, but Arsenal have everyone else healthy for their match against Norwich City and field an extremely strong side. Norwich make two changes from the team that lost 3-2 to Aston Villa. Grant Holt has been taken out of the team and Norwich will play with five in the midfield. Here are the lineups.
Arsenal lineup (4-3-3): Szczesny; Andre Santos, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny; Song, Ramsey, Arteta; Gervinho, van Persie, Walcott
Norwich City lineup (4-5-1): Ruddy; Tierney, Martin, Barnett, Naughton; Pilkington, Johnson, Crofts, Hoolahan, Fox; Morison
Kickoff is at 7:45 am ET, 12:45 pm GMT. You can catch the game on ESPN2/ESPN3/ESPN Deportes in the USA or Sky Sports 2 in the UK,
Newcastle United find themselves in third place after 11 games played, but they run up against a tough opponent Saturday as they take on Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
The league's only remaining unbeaten teams face off on Saturday, Chelsea and Liverpool take center stage on Sunday and Aston Villa ensures an entire nation will get to bed early on Monday night.
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