Premier League Playback: Cardiff rejoice, RVP and Rooney unite, Gunners mature

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BRAGGING RIGHTS SECURED… FOR NOW

“It was a special day for everyone in South Wales, to have the derby at the highest level. It was an excellent advert for football, I thought our stadium was fantastic, rocking from the first minute, and an atmosphere like I’ve not heard before. My players put in a great display today, especially after the unrest of the last few weeks and the buildup to the biggest South Wales derby in history. The biggest thing today was about the 27,000 fans inside the stadium and the tens of thousands of Cardiff fans watching on the TV at home. That’s for them, from my staff and my team.” – Cardiff City manager Malkay Mackay on the huge derby win over Swansea

This was Michael Laudrup’s response after Swansea City’s painful 1-0 defeat to Cardiff in the South Wales derby. “It’s always easy to brag when you win, you know? But you have to stand up, even if the other side are on top, and say ‘OK, you won. I have to accept it.’ But there’s always a next time. Remember that… There’s always a next time.”

You get the feeling that this incredibly passionate derby is really adding something special to the Premier League. Hopefully it’s here to stay for many years to come.

As I arrived in Cardiff yesterday, the pubs were bustling before noon with middle-aged men already four of five beers deep, the atmosphere at the game was electric and intense, and the sheer noise inside the stadium was deafening. To the right of the press box was an extremely animated Cardiff fan who started to hammer on the desks where the press sat, and threatened to smash up media members laptops if they wrote anything negative about Cardiff’s game. The same chap then screamed at Swansea’s pony-tailed defender Chico Flores, who took a dive in front of the home fans, “get your haircut, you Spanish wanker!”

It was that kind of game, that kind of atmosphere.

Watch this video below, that I took live from my seat inside the ground, as the Cardiff City Stadium erupted following Steven Caulker’s game-winner. That noise…

Plaudits must go to Cardiff for rolling their sleeves up, digging in and grinding out a much-needed win in front of their home fans. Swansea dominated most of the first half, but one crunching tackle from Ben Turner almost drew as big a cheer as the goal, as the Bluebirds fighting spirit surfaced visibly. Chilean midfielder Gary Medel epitomized the effort and commitment the entire team showed as the ‘Pitbull’ kept running and tackling until his little destructive legs couldn’t run or tackle anymore. Time after time he lunged into perfectly timed challenges on the edge of the box to break up the play, and the standing ovation he received in the 87th minute when he was subbed out was well earned. His passing wasn’t bad either as Medel completed 96 percent of those he attempted, the highest rating of an PL player this weekend. Cardiff is just two points from the top half of the table and, more importantly for many of their fans, now has bragging rights in South Wales until next February when they travel to the Liberty Stadium.

Premier League Schedule – Week 10

Result Recap & Highlights
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Cardiff 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Hull City 1-0 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Fulham 1-3 Manchester United Recap and watch here
Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea Recap and watch here
Manchester City 7-0 Norwich Recap and watch here
Stoke City 1-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa Recap and watch here

BEGOVIC’S BOOMER

On Saturday at the Britannia Stadium, goalkeeper Asmir Begovic smashed a clearance 97.5 yards and into the back of the net. One bounce from box-to-box saw the ball zip over the head of Southampton ‘keeper Artur Boruc and Begovic is now Stoke’s leading goalscorer for the season.

Oh yeah, all this happened after just 12 seconds! Incredible. As the Potters struggle to score, expect to see plenty more back passes heading Begovic’s way and cries of “shoooot” from the Britannia faithful every time he’s on the ball.

A memorable moment in PL history as Begovic joined four others, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, Paul Robinson and Peter Schmeichel, as goalkeepers who’ve scored in the top flight. Check out his goal, and the other top strikes from Week 10 below.

MANCHESTER BACKLASH – ROONEY AND RVP UNITE

After inept displays from Manchester United and Manchester City in recent weeks, with City sitting in fifth and United in eighth after somewhat shaky starts for the much-favored duo, a reaction was bound to arrive following all of the negative press. City and United smashed Norwich and Fulham respectively, as they flexed their offensive muscles with displays of brute force going forward. Man City beat the Canaries 7-0 at the Etihad, their largest victory in the Premier League, while United were 3-0 up at Craven Cottage after just 22 minutes. That ended up 3-1 but the point had been made early on by both, underestimate us at your peril, we are still well in the title race.

City has the attacking talent to tear teams apart. Just look at the 4-1 United demolition back in September. But United have yet to break out offensively. On Saturday, it was a case of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie ripping the Cottagers apart. They both grabbed a goal and Rooney patiently set up Antonio Valencia for the opener. With his strike RVP became the leading Dutch goalscorer in PL history with 128 goals, overtaking Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Despite all the moans and groans about United’s play and form, they still have arguably the two best strikers in the league.

We’ve seen Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo forging a good partnership up top for City, and now it seems as if United’s star duo are doing the same. For Rooney’s goal, it seemed as though the Englishman and RVP were on the same wavelength. Van Persie was running at Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta at pace and after a quick glance up saw Rooney sauntering on the edge of the box. Then, quick as a flash, RVP nutmegged the Fulham defender as Rooney ghosted behind the defense to tap home van Persie’s delicious set up. Telepathy, coincidence… call it what you want, but that showed me RVP and Rooney’s partnership is seamlessly slotting together. On their own they can spearhead United’s resurgence…  together they can blow the opposition away. Moyes’ United are angry, you won’t like them when they’re angry. Fulham didn’t.

TOP PERFORMERS

  • A fan favorite following his big-money move from Sevilla this summer, Chilean midfielder Gary Medel is an unsung hero and deserves the nod.
  • As for someone who’s been in here most weeks this season, Aaron Ramsey did it again on Saturday with a stunning second half volley to seal Arsenal’s massive win against fellow title hopefuls Liverpool. The Welshman continue to impress, as he scored his 10th goal in all competitions this campaign.
  • Wayne Rooney hasn’t scored that many, but he did look back to his best in the first half against Fulham, setting up Valencia and scoring one for himself. Plus his partnership with RVP will see United through this rough patch.
  • United’s neighbors Man City have struggled too, but David Silva has been in top form for a long-time now. Many believed his classy displays in 2011-12 was the main reason the Citizens won the title, well, ‘Merlin the magician’ pulled out all the tricks in City’s 7-0 demolition of Norwich this weekend.
  • Newcastle striker Loic Remy finished off Chelsea in the rain at St. James Park. The French striker has now scored six goals this season, that loan move from QPR will be made permanent soon… surely?

HULL CITY GRINDERS

Hull captain Curtis Davies just about summed up the 1-0 win over Sunderland, (who had two-men sent off and their ‘keeper injured in the first half) got to love his honesty on Twitter.

“1-0 to the Tigers…”

That scoreline has been repeated a lot this campaign, especially at the KC Stadium. Ahead of the new season Hull weren’t fancied and many expected Cardiff and Crystal Palace to do better. But after 10 games Hull has 14 points, including three 1-0 wins at home, and in true Steve Bruce fashion they’re bloody hard to beat. Even the games they’ve lost have been tight affairs, with Man City and Chelsea laboring to  2-0 home wins, while Spurs and Everton beat them by the odd goal in close encounters.

Not much more to say here, apart from what you see is what you get with the Tigers. A bruising bunch who batter others into submission and snatch wins though PKs, own goals or moments of brilliance.

Some would call my assessment harsh, but that’s how it is. Bruce and Hull’s fans won’t care, it’s getting results and will secure them at least another season in the gravy train of the PL much sooner than the other newly-promoted teams. Cliché alert: this is a results business.

GUNNERS LEARNING THEIR LESSONS

When Arsenal led 2-0 in the second half against Liverpool inside a rowdy Emirates Stadium, Arsene Wenger brought on full backs Nacho Monreal and Carl Jenkinson to shut up shop… it worked a treat. In previous games Arsenal have looked vulnerable when leading and are caught in two minds as to whether they should go for the juggler or keep what they have.

A similar problem riddled them when they faced off against Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League last week. Late on Arsenal kept surging forward as they were level at 1-1 but they got hit with a sucker punch and a slick BVB counter-attack which saw Robert Lewandowski bag the winner.

After that game, Wenger admitted his sides naivety was frustrating and they should learn when they should settle for a point rather than three, or a solid win rather than a thumping one.

But it seems as though that savvy nous he craves to close out games is back after the crucial victory against Liverpool. Also, a great stat came out of that game, as the Gunners extended their incredible record of winning the last 21 games in which they led at half time.

If that’s not Championship caliber, I don’t know what is.

JOSE’S PAIN IN THE RAIN

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think this has happens that often:

source:
A touch zone showing Chelsea’s lack of creativity in central areas. Courtesy: Opta

“I made 11 mistakes. I should have picked the other 11. I have been in this game for many years and I was smelling what was going to happen. This result is the consequence of our team that was not out there. We were too soft. We deserved to lose.

Mourinho, wrong? Yep, you heard it. But he was correct, the team selection was completely wrong. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when would the Brazilian flair and showmanship of David Luiz in defense really be a better option than the grit and guile of Northern Englishman Gary Cahiil on a cold, wet afternoon in Newcastle? Hint: never.

They created nothing centrally, and Newcastle were quite happy to let Chelsea have the ball wide as Oscar and Hazard dallied on the ball. Just 13 touches occurred in Newcastle’s penalty box, highlighting Chelsea’s inept offensive display in and around the danger zone as just over 7 percent of their total touches came in the final 18-yards of the pitch.

To sum it all up, Chelsea’s midfielder Oscar was wearing blue woolen gloves that looked like something his great aunt had knitted him for Christmas. Give me a break… it was the first weekend in November and temperatures didn’t dip below 55 degrees. Sure, it’s not as warm as the Copacabana right now, but Chelsea’s band of Brazilian stars and other exotic foreigners need to get stuck in and grind out results on the road. That’s the way you win titles, Mourinho knows that. And his admittance of wrongly preferring style over substance in a rambunctious setting like St. James’ Park shows he dishes out something most managers don’t do on a daily basis, the truth.

AT HALF: Chelsea strikes twice to build 2-1 lead over Saints

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Gary Cahill‘s stoppage time goal has Chelsea leading Southampton 2-1 after 45 minutes at Stamford Bridge.

Eden Hazard scored the match’s first goal, with Saints’ Oriol Romeu equalizing in the 24th minute.

A win would send Chelsea seven points clear of second place Spurs, which has played one less match than the Blues.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

There were early lively moments for both sides, as Saints’ Manolo Gabbiadini attempted to back up Antonio Conte‘s pre-match praise as one of the best left foots in the world.

Chelsea found the opener through Hazard, as Costa held possession into the right of the box before cutting back to find Belgian. Fraser Forster couldn’t get low quick enough to stop Hazard’s low shot, and it was 1-0.

Romeu, clearly buoyed by JPW’s feature piece earlier this week, bagged an equalized off a corner kick. Gabbiadini sidled up to the ball at the back post, and pushed it off Thibaut Courtois into the path of the former Chelsea man.

Sofiane Boufal was also dangerous for Saints, and won a free for James Ward-Prowse that amounted to a corner kick from the edge of the 16. Courtois flew forward to put the ball free.

N'Golo Kante had his turn to start a threat, and Forster’s block of his cross only queued up a pair of opportunities between Diego Costa and Nemanja Matic.

Cahill made it 2-1 in stoppage time, darting in front of Costa’s scissor kick attempt to nod Marcos Alonso‘s headed pass into the goal.

Ajax’s home stadium to be named after Johan Cruyff

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AMSTERDAM (AP) On the day Johan Cruyff would have turned 70, his home city has agreed to name Ajax’s stadium after the Dutch football great.

Amsterdam Municipality says it has agreed with the stadium and Ajax to change the name of the Amsterdam Arena to the Johan Cruijff Arena – using the Dutch spelling of the Ajax and Barcelona star, who died last year.

[ MORE: JPW’s Midweek Premier League picks ]

Ajax, the stadium’s board and Amsterdam say they “want to pay a worthy tribute to the best footballer Amsterdam and the Netherlands have ever known.”

The agreement announced Tuesday is expected to be finalized within six months.

Born in Amsterdam, Cruyff was the mercurial driving force behind Ajax and Dutch “total football” in the early 1970s. He went on to become a highly successful player and coach at Barcelona.

STREAM LIVE: Leaders Chelsea host Southampton

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Chelsea look to extend their lead atop the Premier League to seven points as they host Southampton on Tuesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Antonio Conte‘s men can momentarily pull further away from second-place Tottenham, who play on Wednesday at Crystal Palace, and following their FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs at Wembley on Saturday it would be another huge psychological boost in the title race for the west London club.

As for Southampton, well, they are pushing hard to finish in eighth place and secure a fourth-straight season in the top eight of the PL. Claude Puel‘s men have the quality to cause a big upset and could be tough to break down.

In team news Chelsea have Gary Cahill back from fitness, while Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas all come back into the starting lineup.

Southampton bring back Oriol Romeu from suspension and he replaces Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, wile Sofiane Boufal comes in for Nathan Redmond out wide.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill; Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Fabregas, Hazard, Costa. Subs: Begovic, Ake, Terry, Willian, Pedro, Chalobah, Batshuayi

Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis; Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Boufal; Gabbiadini. Subs: Hassen, Caceres, Clasie, Hojbjerg, Redmond, Long, Rodriguez

Premier League Playback: Projecting the top four

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You should’ve seen my face when I worked out the points totals for the four teams in the running for the two remaining UEFA Champions League spots…

Mind. Blown.

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Let’s make an outrageous assumption (it’s basically fact at this point) that Chelsea and Tottenham will finish in the top two places in the Premier League and that Everton, who have played up to three more games than their nearest contenders, are out of this battle for the top four.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule

So it’s down to Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Arsenal for the final two places and it could not be tighter as we enter the final weeks of the season.

Judging by the projection below, it could all go down to the final day of the season and none of the four teams below are playing each other. Say no more.


LIVERPOOL
The Reds are wobbling again. Following the 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, their first defeat in eight games, Jurgen Klopp‘s men are under intense pressure in their final four games of the season. They’ve played two more than Man City and Man United below them but the gap to United is now just three points. Without Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, this ridiculously easy run-in is looking arduous. Liverpool have four cup finals to win and hope for the best. All season long they’ve struggled against the smaller teams and that could cost them dear in the final weeks with bitter rivals United in form.

Toughest game remaining: vs. Southampton (May 7)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (5th place finish, on goal difference)

MAN CITY
It’s all about this Thursday for Man City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing to Arsenal after extra time in the FA Cup semifinal. After the derby against Man United (who sit one point and one place below City) they finish with three home games in their final five and face teams in eighth or below. Should be easy for City but Guardiola’s men have made life more difficult for themselves than it should be. Expect them to win four of their final six games to seal UCL action next season.

Toughest games remaining: vs. Manchester United (Thursday)
Predicted final points total: 77 points (3rd place finish)

MAN UNITED
Ander Herrera is right when he said that the Manchester derby was the “game of the season” on Thursday. It is a match which United have to win and if they do then their destiny is in their own hands. With long-term injuries to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo, plus so many other injury issues as the toll of a run to the Europa League semifinal hits home, Mourinho’s men have surprised everyone to get their top four hopes back on track. If they lose at City then United may just focus on winning the Europa League to get their Champions League spot next season. United have the toughest remaining schedule in the top four battle but it will be close between themselves and Liverpool for the final spot. Having a 23-game unbeaten run in the PL is no mean feat.

Toughest games remaining: at Manchester City (Thursday), at Arsenal (May 6), at Tottenham (May 13)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (4th place finish, on goal difference)

ARSENAL
The Gunners will get plenty of confidence from that FA Cup semifinal win over Man City and it will also give their players plenty to play for in the final weeks of the season as they aim to be in the starting lineup at Wembley. With a trip to Tottenham followed by a home game against Man United in the space of a week, their season will come down to those two games. They have seven matches to play, more than any other team in the PL, and Arsene Wenger may be feeling confident of sneaking into the top four.

Toughest games remaining: at Tottenham (Apr. 29), vs. Manchester United (May 6)
Predicted final points total: 74 points (6th place finish, on goal difference)


Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here