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As ever, the derby between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea didn't disappoint, although a quick glance at the 1-1 scoreline could give the impression that the match was rather dull. Emmanuel Adebayor scored in the ninth minute to give Spurs the early lead, but Daniel Sturridge had secured the equalizer by the 25th. The next 65+ minutes may have been goalless, but they certainly weren't boring.
The home side started off brilliantly, barely letting Chelsea touch the ball for the first ten minutes. While we all know that possession is no longer the guiding light many commentators believe it to be, the frail Blues defense was unable to withstand wave after wave of Spurs pressure. After about the fourth or fifth time that Gareth Bale came tearing down the flank, he managed to slip the ball to Adebayor without John Terry getting in the way. The Spurs forward easily beat Petr Cech to put it in the back of the net.
Adebayor's goal put some life back into the visiting attack, as Chelsea finally began to exert some of their own pressure. It was Sturridge who grabbed the goal for the Blues, getting on the end of a gorgeous Ashley Cole cross to poke the ball into the back of the net.
But then things began to fall apart for Chelsea. Branislav Ivanovic went down clutching his thigh, and although the Serbian was at least partially to blame for Adebayor's goal, a glance to the bench revealed that only right-back Paulo Ferreira was available to replace him. Andre Villas-Boas had no choice, however, and Jose Bosingwa moved inside to central defense. As if that weren't enough, John Obi Mikel had to come off before the whistle blew for the end of the first half, nursing his own injury, although at least there was a replacement available in Oriol Romeu.
By halftime, however, Spurs were running out of ideas. Harry Rednapp pulled Rafael Van Der Vaart for the second half, replacing him, for some unknown reason, with Roman Pavlyuchenko. For the first ten minutes of the second, it seemed like both teams were still trying to catch their breath. But then, havoc broke loose again.
Both teams managed to put the ball in the back of the net at least once more: Juan Mata scored a clearly offside goal for Chelsea, while a second for Adebayor was determined to have been the same, or perhaps ruled out for a foul on Bosingwa during the lead up. But even when the ball wasn't landing in the back of one or the other net, it was pinging around the pitch as though in a mad game of pinball. PING! inches wide of Brad Friedel's goal. PING! John Terry makes a fantastic save to deny Gareth Bale. PING! A Chelsea midfielder sends the ball into the tenth row. You get the picture.
The division of spoils puts Spurs in third place, seven points behind Manchester United, nine behind Manchester City, and still holding a game in hand. Chelsea remain fourth, although there's very little but positives to take from today's performance.
Matches between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur very rarely disappoint, and Thursday's is shaping up to be a regular Christmas treat. The pace has rarely slowed, as both sides demonstrate their intent on taking the maximum number of points away from White Hart Lane. Perhaps they know their presents depend on the number of goals scored? Right now, it stands even at 1-1, although not for lack of trying.
The first goal was scored before the clock had passed ten minutes, as Gareth Bale, demolishing the Chelsea defense, slipped the ball inside, to where Emmanuel Adebayor was lurking just behind John Terry. Although Petr Cech came rushing out, he could do nothing to stop the towering striker from poking the ball into the back of the net.
Chelsea sprang back, however, immediately putting their footprint on the match. Daniel Sturridge received a great cross from Ashley Cole, but skied it high over the net. Sturridge quickly cleared up the black mark against his name, however, by scoring his ninth league goal of the season. Again, nothing was needed beyond a toe poke, but this time, the forward pulled it off with ease.
Santa's putting a couple players on his naughty list, however. Adebayor received a booking for a clumsy challenge on Meireles, and very nearly escaped another for a foul on Ramieres. Ramieres himself picked up his own yellow Christmas card, executing a clumsy challenge on Gareth Bale, who is already as fragile as spun sugar. Branislav Ivanovic also went into the book, although that barely matters now, as the Chelsea defender left the match with what appears to be a hamstring injury. He was replaced by Paulo Ferreira, the only defender available to Andre Villas-Boas, forcing Jose Bosingwa to shift into the center-back position.
Then, during injury time, Villas-Boas was forced into a second substitution when John Obi Mikel went down with what looks to be a muscle injury. Fortunately for the Chelsea coach, he was able to use a like-for-like substitution in Oriol Romeu, although I doubt what was running through his mind at the moment was the Portuguese for "Thank God I have Romeu!"
Chelsea have been forced into a second change before the second half against Tottenham Hotspur even begins, as John Obi Mikel is forced to leave the pitch with an apparent muscle injury. The midfielder needed assistance to limp off the field, and it was immediately noticed that there was no way Mikel would be able to shake off the injury. The board was readied, and Oriol Romeu came on in his place.
While Andre Villas-Boas won't be thrilled to lose yet another defensively minded player, at least this time he had a like-for-like substitution available in Romeu. Earlier in the match, Branislav Ivanovic went down clutching his thigh, and although he attempted to walk it off, his hamstring was apparently done for. Having no other defenders on the bench, Villas-Boas was forced to use Paulo Ferreira in his place, which required shifting Jose Bosingwa from right back to center back.
Considering it was rumored that John Terry would miss the match due to a training picked up in injury, you have to wonder -- what on earth are Chelsea doing to these players?
Despite the fact that Branislav Ivanovic hasn't been, how shall we put it, very good during this match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, being forced to leave with a hamstring injury wasn't exactly in Andre Villas-Boas's plans for this game. Physios on the edge of the field did their darndest to rub life back into Ivanovic's hurting thigh, but to no avail.
Chelsea played with ten men for a couple minutes, perhaps deciding whether it would actively hamper their chances to bring in one of their defensive substitutes. By "one of," I of course mean "only," as Paulo Ferreira was the only defender available on the bench. The change forces Jose Bosingwa into the center back position, as Ferreira slots in at right back.
With an already unsteady Blues defense, Chelsea can't afford any more wasted chances, such as Didier Drogba's shot from the edge of the area. A strong strike, yes, but unfortunately for the visitors, it ricocheted off the post.
Daniel Sturridge has equalized for Chelsea, off a beautiful cross from Ashley Cole. He may have missed dramatically earlier in the match, but this time he made it count, as his goal tally continues to increase, up to nine in the league now.
This match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea is absolutely flying. Despite the speed of the home side, Chelsea are doing little to slow down the pace of the game, perhaps looking to spring behind the Spurs defense once again, catching out Kyle Walker on the right.
Both sides have already picked up a booking: Branislav Ivanovic, perhaps sensing that he's having an utter blinder at the back for the Blues, took out Gareth Bale at the edge of the area, receiving a yellow for his troubles. Emmanuel Adebayor, the scorer for Spurs, executed a clumsy challenge on Meireles, leaving him flat on his back and putting the forward into the book as well.
With five minutes played, is it really appropriate to show an 86% possession statistic? Have we not moved on to the point where we realize that possession is no longer nine-tenths of the law?
No matter, though, because it's the pressure of Tottenham Hotspur that paid off against an ailing, aging Chelsea defense. Gareth Bale was a handful in those first five minutes, tearing forward, forcing John Terry into two fantastic blocks. Alas, no one could stop the pass in the eighth minute, slotting in to the center where Emmanuel Adebayor was waiting. Petr Cech rushed forward, but could do nothing to stop the ball from flying into the back of the net.
And so with less than ten minutes played, Spurs have a 1-0 lead at White Hart Lane. Chelsea have finally woken up, however, with Daniel Sturridge racing in to pounce on a rebounded shot from Juan Mata. But the young forward scuffed his shot over the bar, and the score stands.
Despite rumors that Gareth Bale had picked up an ankle injury in training and wouldn't be fit for tonight's match between Tottenham and Chelsea, the Welsh Wonder is included in the starting lineup. On the other side of this white-hot London derby, Frank Lampard and Fernando Torres remain rooted to the bench. Who could have guessed? They're probably well on their way to becoming best mates.
Tottenham Hotspur Starting XI (4-4-2) (or call it 4-4-1-1 if you're picky): Brad Friedel; Kyle Walker, William Gallas, Ledley King, Benoit Assou-Ekotto; Rafael Van Der Vaart, Scott Parker, Sandro, Gareth Bale; Luka Modric, Emmanuel Adebayor.
Tottenham Hotspur face Chelsea in a crucial game in the race for the Champions League places, with both sides missing key players.
Queens Park Rangers came back from 2 goals down, but Sunderland were able to win with a very late Wes Brown goal, and come away with 3 crucial points for Martin O’Neill’s side. The win sees them climb above QPR, to 15th, 3 points clear of Wigan. O’Neill brought in Nicklas Bendtner and Lee Cattermole, both of whom were charged by the police last weekend. That didn’t seem to faze Bendtner, though, who headed home after 19 minutes from Kieran Richardson’s free kick. Earlier, the Dane had hit the post from another free kick, with Sunderland’s free kicks being a recurring theme throughout the 90 minutes. Joey Barton was poor against his former rivals, with his passing wayward in midfield and his set piece delivery lacking.
Adel Taarabt came on at the beginning of the second half, and QPR looked much brighter, with Taarabt and Armand Traore combining well on the left. Sunderland, though, would double their lead after Danny Gabbidon’s header inadvertently played Sebastien Sessegnon in, who rounded Paddy Kenny and slotted into the empty goal. 2-0 for Sunderland, and surely all 3 points. QPR, though, came roaring back, with Heider Helgusson tapping in from close range on 63 minutes. 4 minutes later, they were level, with Faurlin playing a one-two with Helgusson before crossing for Jamie Mackie, who headed past the despairing Keiron Westwood. It would all be for naught, though; QPR were unable to defend a corner, and Wes Brown powered home from Richardson’s delivery. With 89 minutes gone, QPR didn’t have enough time to come back again, and Neil Warnock will be cursing his side’s inability to defend set pieces.
Martin O’Neill, however, will be delighted, with 6 points from 9, including crucial points from tonight’s win, and also the victory against Blackburn.
Newcastle United’s slump continues as the Magpies fell to their fourth defeat in their past six matches. Not even a brace from on-fire hitman Demba Ba could rescue the hosts at the Sports Direct Arena as West Bromwich Albion took full advantage of a weak defensive display.
Peter Odemwingie got things underway after 20 minutes, with Chris Brunt playing the Nigerian in after Chiek Tiote lost possession in midfield. After going past Fabricio Coloccini, Odemwingie sidefooted past Tim Krul to give Albion the lead. Newcastle, however, have the second most in form striker of 2011, and Demba Ba equalised with a brilliant free kick into the top corner of Paul Robinson’s net. That’s now 12 goals for Ba, on top of the 12 he scored for West Ham United, and his loss during the African Cup of Nations will be as big for Newcastle as the loss of Steven Taylor has been.
West Brom, however, took advantage of Taylor’s absence, as Gareth McCauley headed home from the excellent Chris Brunt’s free kick, just before half time. Newcastle, though, responded well, and Haris Vuckic hit the bar with a long range effort. Alan Pardew brought Hatem Ben Arfa and Shola Ameobi for Leon Best and Gabriel Obertan as he chased for an equaliser, an equaliser he finally got when Ba exchanged passes with Ben Arfa before firing home. Minutes later, though, West Brom were ahead for the final time, with Paul Scharner finishing after Odemwingie knocked down Long’s cross. Newcastle lose at home for only the second time, and now have 2 points from their last 15 as they begin to fall back down the table.
Marc Albrighton scored the 20,000th goal in the history of the Premier League, although his wonderful individual effort wasn't enough to prevent Aston Villa from going down 2-1 at home to Arsenal. Unlike most Villa losses this season, this one probably wasn't deserved - the home side played positive, attacking football and looked as though they'd nick at least a point off a disappointing Arsenal side.
Robin van Persie opened the scoring, as is his wont, in the first half following Ciaran Clark's foul on Theo Walcott in the penalty area, the Dutch striker blasting the spot kick into the roof of Brad Guzan's net. It was a goal that came against the run of play, with Villa pushing Arsenal back tirelessly and unfortunate to be behind at halftime. Albrighton rectified that situation soon after the break, nicking the ball past Thomas Vermaelen on the run before sliding a neat effort into Wojciech Szczesny's goal to even the scores, but Villa hearts were broken when Yossi Benayoun lost his marker in the 87th minute and directed van Persie's corner into the back of the net.
When people look back at this game, it won't be for the football. Rather, the talk was all about Liverpool's pre-match warmups, which saw the players come out in support of Luis Suarez following his (not yet begun) eight-match ban for the racial abuse of Patrice Evra in October. But there was football to be had at the DW Stadium between Wigan Athletic and Liverpool, and it was quite good too.
As they proved against Chelsea last weekend, Wigan are no longer a team that can be expected to roll over at the easiest opportunity, and they proved a very difficult nut to crack for the visitors, who found themselves struggling to break down the Latics' defence whenever the were able to press forward. Meanwhile, Wigan were doing very well in the centre of the pitch and causing their guests a number of problems - Jordi Gomez in particular was brilliant, if slightly wasteful with a series of long-range shots.
Wigan's final ball was almost always lacking, however, and that meant that neither team looked like much of a real threat to score for most of the match. The most clear-cut opportunity for Liverpool came in the second half, when centre back Gary Caldwell handled a Suarez bicycle kick in the box, only for Adam to send the resultant penalty kick almost right at Ali Al-Habsi, who cemented his reputation as one of the Premier League's top shot-stoppers with a fine save.
Wigan were able to hold out for a 0-0 draw, and almost looked like winning on a few occasions. Based on the events of the past few days, it would be silly to write them off as Championship fodder just yet.
Everton have been struggling in recent weeks, but have done well to kill off their slump with a 1-0 home victory over Swansea City. Brendan Rodgers has done well to get the Swans to play much more attractive football than the average promoted side, but they looked very much like a Championship side on Wednesday. The Swans were very ordinary and hardly challenged Tim Howard's goal, but almost held onto a clean sheet.
The Toffees were on the front foot for almost the entire game and never looked like conceding, but they lacked quality with their final pass and had to settle for long shots on many occasions. It's fitting, then that they finally found their equalizer on a set piece. However, it did not come from one of the usual suspects like Tim Cahill or Mauroane Fellaini. Instead, it was Leon Osman, generously listed at 5'8", who netted the winner with a great header in the 60th minute. Positioning himself to get onto the end of a Royston Drenthe corner, Osman flipped the ball behind him into the back of the net, giving Michel Vorm no chance to make a save.
Manchester United came up with a huge statement against Fulham at Craven Cottage, running out easy 5-0 winners as they kept pace with league leaders Manchester City. Fulham have been something of a bogey team for United, especially in London, so it was a bit of a shock when Danny Welbeck put the visitors ahead in the 5th minute, expertly steering Nani's pullback past a fairly helpless Stockdale. Mor was to come - Nani himself glanced home a free kick half an hour later before Ryan Giggs continued his record of scoring in every Premier League season when a horrendous deflection caused his weak shot to loop up over Stockdale and into the back of the net.
The second half was fairly quiet, although it ended with a bang when Wayne Rooney thumped in a long-range drive and then substitute Dimitar Berbatov added a sublimely worked backheel for the fifth goal as the clock ticked towards 90'. About the only impact Fulham made on the match was when Clint Dempsey forced young defender Phil Jones off with a flying elbow to the head - Jones will be out for six weeks with a fractured cheekbone. It was a pretty good day for United otherwise.
Manchester City are going to be top of the table at Christmas after their 3-0 win over Stoke City. Tony Pulis' side predictably parked the bus in front of their own goal away from home and found some early success, but their strategy eventually backfired. City found their opening goal on a set piece, of all means to score a goal against Stoke, and went on to win a simple three points.
Sergio Aguero scored the opener, the first of two tap-in goals scored by the Argentinian international. Following a corner kick, Vincent Kompany put a ball across the box that could have been a shot or a pass. In any event, it evaded Thomas Sorensen and Aguero stayed just barely onside to tap in a goal in the 29th minute.
City would double their lead seven minutes later in slightly more impressive fashion. From 30 yards out, Adam Johnson took a rip and beat Sorensen at his near post. His shot took a slight deflection, but it did very little to alter the path of the shot, which was likely to hit the back of the net anyway. The two teams headed to halftime with City up 2-0, and it didn't take long for City to add to their lead. Samir Nasri assisted Aguero's second in the 54th minute, and City let up on the gas after that to coast to a 3-0 win.
In a matchup hyped as two men fighting for their jobs, Owen Coyle got it right while Steve Kean fell just short. Bolton Wanderers had a great first half and average second half, but held on to score a massive 2-1 away win at Ewood Park. Blackburn will now be bottom of the table at Christmas, and the 'Kean Out' protests from the fans will only get worse. The booing at the end of the match was deafening.
Mark Davies scored the opener just five minutes in, with Nigel Reo-Coker adding Bolton's second in the 30th minute. The defending on both goals was terrible, with the first coming on a bad clearance by Christopher Samba. David Ngog picked it up and slotted a pass to Davies, who tapped the ball into the back of the net. The second came on a terrible bit of defending by Morten Gamst Pederson, who was somehow turned around by a defensive midfielder who rarely comes within 40 yards of goal.
Marcos Alonso had an excellent first 58 minutes for Bolton before picking up an injury, and he had to be removed for Paul Robinson. The difference from then until the end of the match was incredible. Blackburn instantly became the much better side when Alonso was withdrawn and it took just nine minutes for them to score. Though, it was not Robinson directly at fault, as Gary Cahill was beaten badly on a goal by Yakubu.
Blackburn pressed and pressed for the equalizer, but it never came. Despite some rough moments from Robinson, Bolton held on to avoid being in the bottom place at Christmas. That distinction belongs to Blackburn, and it seems unlikely that Kean will keep his job for long. The protests might have been fickle when they started, but after a home loss to Bolton, Kean's job security should be poor.
Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers battled it out to an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Molineux that really could have gone either way. Both teams will be pleased with the result after a back-and-forth match which either could have won in stoppage time. Wolves twice went behind following strikes by Andrew Surman in the 12th minute and Simeon Jackson in the 76th, but showed huge spirit in their response in coming back and earning a share of the spoils.
Things didn't look good for the home side when in the opening stages Surman, who used to ply his trade in Wolves orange, rose to bullet a header past Wayne Hennessey and give Norwich a 1-0 lead. The yellow tide didn't stop there, and Surman was terrorising the Wolverhampton defence for a good long while before the hosts hauled themselves back into things with a series of attacks that eventually culminated in Sylvan Ebanks-Blake poking a loose ball home.
Neither team was about to settle for a draw with so much time left in the match and it was Norwich who struck again after a ferocious second half, just about going ahead through substitute Simeon Jackson's first touch of the game. The Canadian international had an open goal to aim at after Steve Morison did brilliantly to drive in a low cross, but completely missed his kick and was lucky to see the ball bounce off his standing foot and roll in.
Wolves had to respond and did so when Ronald Zubar was able to nod a corner past John Ruddy, levelling the score at 2-2. Despite a flurry of chances at both ends in the last few minutes of the match, the scoreline just about held. This was a fantastic match, and neither side deserved to lose it.
Tottenham and Chelsea play the biggest match in this round of mid-week fixtures, but there are a number of very watchable games.
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