MANCHESTER CITY, ASTON VILLA AND NEWCASTLE ALL WIN: 10 TALKING POINTS FROM 30, JANUARY PL ACTION
Everton 0-2 Newcastle
A thoroughly deserved Newcastle win
Heading into this game at Goodison Park most people watching were probably expecting Everton to dominate the game with chances, while Newcastle would sit deep and wait to strike, but what actually happened couldn’t be further from that.
Steve Bruce’s men did not look like a team who had only taken two points from their last 27 available, from the first whistle they stopped Everton from passing out from the back, with Miguel Almiron and Ryan Fraser like Duracell bunnies whenever a player in blue had the ball.
While Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden prevented James Rodriguez from having an impact on the game and the Magpies backline ensured Dominic Calvert-Lewin moved up to eight Premier League games without a goal.
Undoubtedly though the star of the show was Callum Wilson, the former Bournemouth forward was everywhere and eventually his endless running told when his precise glancing header 17 minutes from the end gave Newcastle the lead, and his calm finish in added time sealed a sublime victory for the visitors.
Toffees full-backs return with a whimper
Carlo Ancelotti would’ve most-definitely been feeling positive heading into this game especially as both Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne, his starting full-backs, were back in the team, but the pair had a bit of an off-day against Newcastle.
Digne, who has racked up five Premier League assist this season, struggled to deliver his usual killer final passes towards Calvert-Lewin and Coleman rarely got the opportunity to get up the pitch.
The Frenchman was able to send in nine crosses into the Magpies 18-yard box but they were all bread and butter for Jamaal Lascelles, Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark.
Understandably the Everton players were far from pleased with his final ball and this was highlighted when Rodriguez picked up the ball in the middle of the park and opted to smash it straight at Richarlison, who was surrounded by Newcastle defenders, rather than floating a pass out to the left-hand side where Digne was in acres of space.
Crystal Palace 1-0 Wolves
A transitional season for Wolves
Ever since their promotion to England’s top-flight, Wolves have been heavily over-achieving, pushing the usual big six for Champions League and Europa League places and now we almost expect Nuno Espirito Santo’s side to be there.
Unfortunately, this season hasn’t quite gone to plan for Wolves, finding themselves in 14th place. Let’s not forgot they lost two very important cogs in their machine with Matt Doherty and Diogo Jota departing to join other Premier League clubs.
Alongside that, several important players have missed large spells of the season, most notably talisman Raul Jimenez who fractured his skull against Arsenal at the end of November, a game which Wolves won, but since then they’ve only been able to take six points from a possible 33.
Willian Jose looked sharp on his debut and forced Vincente Guaita into two smart saves but ultimately, they left Selhurst Park empty-handed.
For me, I think this season just has to be about staying clear of the relegation zone and the club then focusing on what they can do in the summer to kick on for the 2021/22 campaign.
Palace have another star man
On multiple occasions over the last few seasons when looking for a goal all Crystal Palace fans turn to Wilfred Zaha for a piece of wizardry, but now Palace have another magician on their hands.
In a fairly drab contest with Wolves, Eberechi Eze lit up Selhurst Park early in the second half with a tremendous piece of ball manipulation to get beyond Leandro Dendoncker before unleashing a rocket which Rui Patricio couldn’t stop.
Not only was this goal enough to win Palace the game but it was another indication of a fantastic piece of business done by Roy Hodgson in the summer.
Although Zaha is still Palace’s best player and top scorer by a considerable margin, all three of Eze’s Premier League goals since his move from QPR have been sheer magic, a free-kick for his first, a wonderful solo effort against Sheffield United and his decisive goal on Saturday against Wolves.
The ability to score a goal out of absolutely nothing is a sign of a fantastic player and Palace now arguably have two players that can do that and with Eze gradually becoming more and more crucial, the pressure on Zaha is certainly much lower than it’s ever been before.
Manchester City 1-0 Sheffield United
The Citizens squad depth is terrifying
Having watched the opening 45 minutes of this game, I can assure you it was nothing to write home about, but what is definitely something of note is Manchester City’s ridiculous squad depth.
Aymeric Laporte, Kyle Walker, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho and Ferran Torres all came into the team for the game against Sheffield United, having not started in the last Premier League game at West Brom.
Just take that in for a moment, five full internationals were on the bench, dozens of trophies and experience between them all and they, at least this season, have been on the fringes of the team.
Of course, every top-quality team has depth in every position but as Manchester United found out against the Blades, rotating your team sometimes doesn’t go to plan.
John Stones and Joao Cancelo have been superb this season and understandably both were given a rest for this game amidst a busy schedule, and who can Pep Guardiola turn to, just Laporte and Walker, because that’s totally fair.
West Brom 2-2 Fulham
Two points dropped for both?
Although both West Brom and Fulham will be content with a draw, just two points separate the teams with Fulham in 18th and West Brom in 19th, it will feel like a missed opportunity to grab an all-important victory.
I highly doubt many would have predicted there would be four goals in this game, but what arguably wasn’t a surprise was these two teams picking up another draw.
The Cottagers flew out of the gates in the first half and should’ve been further than just a goal ahead, and they paid the price for those missed opportunities as goals from Kyle Bartley and Matheus Pereira put the Baggies ahead.
However, the hosts couldn’t see it through and Ivan Cavaleiro was able to sneak in and snatch a point for Fulham.
While both teams will be boosted by scoring twice, they will be understandably disappointed that they couldn’t quite get over the line and it’s two points missed out on that could cost either or both teams dearly come the end of the season.
Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United
90 minutes of golden chances
On the precipice it may seem as though Arsenal’s goalless draw with Manchester United at the Emirates was as dull as dishwater, but in all fairness, it was a game brimming with action.
Both teams had their chances with Alexandre Lacazette smashing the bar from a free-kick and Edinson Cavani guilty of missing two clear-cut opportunities in the Gunners 18-yard box.
Willian and Nicolas Pepe both had efforts blocked by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire respectively while Emile Smith-Rowe and Fred forced their opposing keepers into decent saves.
On the whole a draw is probably a fair result, both teams had spells in the game where they could’ve scored three of four but neither could find that cutting edge in front of goal.
Out of the two, United will definitely feel the more aggrieved to only be leaving London with a point with their pursuit of Manchester City taking a slight step back, while Arsenal, with all things considered, will be overly happy to take a point.
An unexpected point for the Gunners
Three of Arsenal’s best players were absent for this game in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney, so a point against a very impressive Manchester United, is a great result.
Not only was it a deserved point with some fringe players in the starting team but it was also stopping United from winning away from Old Trafford, which not many teams have done.
Only Leicester and Liverpool have prevented United from taking maximum points back to Manchester this season and some would argue that Arsenal, coming out of the game, were the better team.
Ever since the superb win over Chelsea on Boxing Day, the Gunners have taken 17 points from a possible 21 and when you compare that to the previous nine games where they took just five, it is a monumental improvement.
Southampton vs Aston Villa
Emi Martinez was a signing of the summer
There were plenty of superb signings from the most recent summer transfer window, but none more crucial to a team’s success than Emiliano Martinez for Aston Villa.
After breaking onto the scene at the end of last season following an injury to Arsenal’s Bernd Leno, Martinez starred in several performances and earnt a move to Villa for regular first team football.
Since his switch to the Midlands, he has kept ten clean sheets with Manchester City’s Ederson the only keeper to have more (12), and he was simply unbeatable against Southampton.
He made a superb stop to deny Che Adams close-range effort, an excellent reaction save from a Jan Bednarek header and then denied Adams again with a strong left hand.
While the signings of Ollie Watkins, Ross Barkley and Bertrand Traore have greatly improved Villa going forward, Martinez has provided them with a solid base to build on from the back.
Saints’ VAR troubles
Many football fans believe that over the course of the season, each teams luck will eventually balance out and if that’s the case, Southampton are due some serious good fortune in the next few months.
After dominating the play and chances in the first half it looked as though the Saints finally had a good opportunity for a breakthrough.
Following a Danny Ings cutback, Stuart Armstrong’s shot was blocked from heading in, quite clearly, by the hand of Matty Cash, but even with a VAR check a penalty was not given.
And in the last few minutes of the game, Ings was denied an equaliser by the most marginal offside I think I’ve ever seen, to the point where in my eyes the attacker has to be given the benefit of the doubt.
Either way, both of the decisions went in Villa’s favour, undoubtedly leaving Southampton feeling very aggrieved, but I’m sure Villa faithful will feel that’s the luck back in their favour after the bizarre offside incident against Manchester City a few weeks ago.