Culture of Hoops

Barclays Premier League Capsule: Gameweek 31

Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland/Flickr.

There were several wonder-goals scored in this week’s round of matches, with a handful of contenders for goal of the season. Chelsea extend their lead, while Manchester City run into trouble. Arsenal continue to soar above their rivals in the race for fourth, as Liverpool look to be out of contention for the Champions League. Elsewhere, the relegation battle tightens up with two points separating the safe-ones from the sunken-ones. Here’s a review of all the action from an explosive gameweek 31 of the Barclays Premier League:

Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool

The Gunners move to second-place after their massive victory against top-four rivals Liverpool. Liverpool made a shaky start, giving the ball away twice in their defensive area, but goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was focused, making two saves. The visitors almost snatched the lead against the run of play, but Raheem Sterling couldn’t stretch far enough to connect with Lazar Markovic’s pass. Arsenal took the lead through defender Hector Bellerin who dangled around a Liverpool defender before curling his effort beyond Mignolet. Three minutes later, Arsenal doubled their advantage from a free-kick. Mesut Özil, who won the foul, struck his effort sensationally past Mignolet. Things got worse for Liverpool when Alexis Sanchez scored a third with a fierce shot to give Arsenal a three-goal lead at the break. Arsenal had the first chance of the second-half, and should have had a fourth but for a good save from Mignolet to deny Olivier Giroud. Liverpool’s Emre Can tested keeper David Ospina before Sterling was brought down in the box, winning his team a penalty. Jordan Henderson stepped up and made no mistake with his pot-kick to give Liverpool some hope. However, the glimmer of hope was short lived after Can was sent off for a second yellow card. Arsenal added a fourth in stoppage-time through Giroud’s clinical strike, denting Liverpool’s top-four hopes. Liverpool are now fifth-place, seven-points outside the Champions League spots.

Best Player:

Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – provided an assist and scored one to help his team secure all three points in an important clash. It was the Chileans first goal at home since January, and he will be hoping to add another one when Arsenal invite Chelsea to the Emirates in a couple weeks.

(Liverpool) – N/A

Everton 1-0 Southampton

The Toffees made it three wins from three for the first time this season after their victory at home to Southampton. Southampton, who have only won twice in their last five away matches in the Premier League, almost took the lead early on but for a magnificent save from Tim Howard. The American keeper was back-tracking and had to claw the ball away from his goal. Everton threatened Southampton’s goal with a couple of attempts from corners leading to Phil Jagielka tapping in from close range to give the home side the lead. James Ward-Prowse came close to equalising for Southampton with a curling free-kick before his swerving shot was saved by Howard. Neither team offered much in the second-half, with Everton’s Steven Naismith having a penalty claim ignored. The win means Everton continue to climb the table and are now 12th place. Southampton, on the other hand, drop to seventh-place and are eight points away from fourth-spot.

Best Player:

Tim Howard (Everton) – was attentive and reacted well to deny Southampton a goal in the first-half. The American may possibly have produced the save of the season with his acrobatics to deny Graziano Pellè. He was untested in the second-half and deserved his clean sheet.

(Southampton) – N/A

Leicester City 2-1 West Ham United

The Foxes won their first Premier League match since January’s 1-0 victory at home to Aston Villa, defeating a West Ham side who are without a Premier League away win in 2015. Leicester made the perfect start after 12 minutes when veteran Argentine, Esteban Cambiasso scored a perfect volley to give his side the lead. It was end to end football after the goal with Cheikhou Kouyate forcing a save from Kasper Schmeichel, before Leicester were awarded a penalty at the other end. David Nugent stepped up but couldn’t beat West Ham keeper Adrian who made a strong one-handed save. West Ham began to take control of the match with Kevin Nolan sending a header just wide before Kouyate scored an equaliser with the outside of his foot to send the teams into the break level. Both sides began the second-half where they left off the first, with Leicester’s Jose Ulloa coming close with a headed effort, before Kouyate struck the post for West Ham. Leicester came close again, but Andrej Kramaric’s effort was cleared off the line by Aaron Cresswell. At the other end, Schmeichel tipped over a deflected Stewart Downing effort before Andy King fumbled in a goal to give Leicester the victory. The win leaves Leicester six-points from safety with a game in hand. West Ham, meanwhile, remain ninth-place.

Best Player:

Esteban Cambiasso (Leicester) – was involved throughout the match, and scored a magnificent goal to give his side the lead. The Argentine legend looks intent on leading his side away from relegation, scoring two in his last five matches.

Cheikhou Kouyate (West Ham) – scored a fantastic equaliser and almost gave his side the lead early in the second-half, but his effort came back off the post. The midfielder has scored four goals in his last 10 Premier League starts, and will be hoping to continue his run.

Manchester United 3-1 Aston Villa

The Red Devils continue their flaming form, having won eight of their last 10 Premier League matches. Man United were in full control in the early stages of the match with Wayne Rooney being denied a penalty claim, before Juan Mata and Marcos Rojo came close to giving their side the lead. Aston Villa continued to sit deep, but Man United eventually took the lead two minutes from half-time when Ander Herrera struck sweetly past Brad Guzan in net. Man United continued to push forward in the second-half, with Maroune Fellaini forcing Guzan into a save. Villa came close with Jores Okore sending a header wide before Wayne Rooney scored a wonderful volley to double Man United’s lead. Christian Benteke pulled a goal back for his side, but it wasn’t enough to deny Man United a third when Herrera struck again to kill Villa’s hopes of a comeback. Man United are now third-place, one-spot above rivals Manchester City. Villa remain above the relegation zone.

Best Player:

Ander Herrera (Man United) – scored two important goals to help his side continue their phenomenal run of form. Man United have now won five consecutive matches scoring 11 goals in the process.

(Aston Villa) – N/A

Swansea City 3-1 Hull City

The Swans scored three goals at home for the first time since their 3-0 victory to West Brom at the end of August. Swansea took the lead inside the first 20 minutes when Sung-Yeung Ki tapped home a rebound after Allan McGregor’s initial save from a Jonjo Shelvey shot. Hull struggled to create anything, and were kept on the back-foot. Swansea made them pay when Bafetimbi Gomis scored with an acrobatic effort to double his side’s advantage, taking advantage of poor Hull defending. Hull improved in the second-half, and eventually found a way back into the match when Paul McShane swept home an Alex Bruce flick-on. Just as Hull were getting comfortable, midfielder, David Meyler was shown a straight red-card three minutes later for a “studs-up” challenge on Kyle Naughton which, as a result, has since ended the player’s season. Gomis put the game beyond Hull in stoppage-time chipping his effort over the onrushing McGregor.

Best Player:

Bafetimbi Gomis (Swansea) – scored a fantastic bicycle goal to double his team’s advantage, and added another one with a confident chip. The striker has tossed aside the boots of Wilfried Bony, and has now scored three goals in his last three league starts.

(Hull City) – N/A

West Bromwich Albion 1-4 Queens Park Rangers

QPR had only won one away match all season before beating a West Brom side who have lost back-to-back Premier League games for the first time in 2015. QPR found themselves on the back-foot early on in the match, but they took the lead after a fantastic strike from Eduardo Vargas. The forward beat goalkeeper Boaz Myhill with a long-range effort. West Brom were intent on equalising immediately, but striker Brown Ideye’s attempt on goal was weak. QPR were focused and eventually doubled their lead when Charlie Austin scored a Niko Kranjcar flick-on. West Brom were left shaken when QPR added a third before half-time with Bobby Zamora’s stunning chipped-finish. West Brom improved in the second-half, and they pulled one back when substitute Victor Anichebe scored a headed goal. West Brom looked lively after their goal and continued to push forward, with no end result. With six minutes of normal time remaining, West Brom’s comeback attempt was over after midfielder Youssuf Mulumbu was sent off for an elbow on Joey Barton. Barton would eventually score in stoppage-time to seal all three points for the London side. West Brom are 14th place, and will be hoping to bounce back after their recent dip in form. QPR, however, remain in the relegation zone despite their win.

Best Player:

(West Brom) – N/A

Charlie Austin (QPR) – was in phenomenal form, providing two assists and scoring a crucial goal to lead his side to victory. QPR will no doubt have trouble keeping the player at the club even if they manage to stay up.

Chelsea 2-1 Stoke City

The league leaders looked to bounce back after their shaky win at Hull the previous gameweek, but Stoke City didn’t make things easy for The Blues. Chelsea almost made the perfect start when Loic Remy had an effort on goal, but Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic reacted well to save his side from going down. Chelsea eventually took the lead from the penalty spot after Philipp Wollscheid brought down Cesc Fabregas. In-form Eden Hazard stepped up and coolly converted his spot-kick. Chelsea were in control, but they couldn’t prevent Stoke from equalising after a moment of magic from midfielder Charlie Adam who scored from 66-yards out. Adam received the ball in his own half, noticed Thibaut Courtois off his line, and had a pop, why not? With that strike, the teams went into the break level. Moments after the restart, Hazard tested Begovic with a fierce strike, before Begovic reacted again to deny Chelsea from a free-kick. A moment of madness from Begovic, however, led to Chelsea’s winner. The keeper was looking to set his team forward from the back, but instead rolled the ball to Willian who passed to Hazard, before the Belgian played the ball into Remy for a tap-in. Stoke nearly found an equaliser moments later though, but Steven Nzonzi’s effort hit the outside of the post. A late double-save from the impressive Begovic denied Chelsea a third, but they held on to move closer to the Premier League crown. Chelsea remain top, extending their lead to seven points with a game in hand. Stoke are 10th place.

Best Player:

Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – was instrumental in Chelsea’s build-up play, scoring confidently from the penalty spot before providing the assist for Remy’s winner. The Belgian has now scored three and provided two assists in his last five matches.

Asmir Begovic (Stoke) – made nine saves, but lost focus, gifting Chelsea a goal. The big Bosnian has made a total of 75 saves this season, keeping seven clean sheets in the process.

Burnley 0-0 Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane captained his side for the first time in his career, but couldn’t lead his team to victory with both clubs sharing the points at Turf Moor. Danny Ings had an early sight at goal, but couldn’t capitalize to give his side the lead, shooting tamely at Michel Vorm in net for Spurs. At the other end, Nacer Chadli forced Tom Heaton into a save before Kane sent a shot wide of the post. Tottenham continued to push forward with Christian Eriksen coming close before Ings had a shot saved at the other end by Vorm. The teams went into the break level but failed to create any clear chances in the second-half and had to settle for a point each. Tottenham had a chance to move within five points of the top-four, but instead remain sixth-place after their draw. Burnley, meanwhile, remain in the relegation zone, two-points away from safety.

Best Player:

Danny Ings (Burnley) – tested the Tottenham keeper with a couple of shots, but was unlucky not to score.

Michel Vorm (Tottenham) – made his first start in place of the injured Hugo Lloris, and kept his first clean sheet. The keeper was aware and reacted well to deny Burnley a winner, making a total of four saves.

Sunderland 1-0 Newcastle United

The Black Cats enjoyed a fifth straight victory over their fierce rivals Newcastle in the Wear-Tyne derby. Newcastle were on the back of three successive Premier League defeats and were hoping to bounce back against rivals Sunderland. Newcastle were denied an early penalty after Sunderland’s Santiago Vergini appeared to bring Ayoze Perez down unfairly in the box, before a succession of Sunderland corners almost led to an opening goal. Later in the first-half, Jermaine Defoe was sent through on goal, but the striker couldn’t control and the chance was wasted. However, just before the half-time whistle, Defoe struck a brilliant volley into the back of the net to give his side the lead. Steven Fletcher wasted a good chance to double his side’s lead after the restart before the same player missed again later in the half. Sunderland continued to dominate with Sebastian Larsson coming close with a free-kick, before Newcastle’s Remy Cabella tested keeper Costel Pantilimon with Newcastle’s first effort in the second-half. Larsson had a shot blocked, before a late flurry of Newcastle corners were dealt with by Sunderland as they held on for all three points. The win leaves Sunderland in 15th place, three points away from the drop, while Newcastle continue their dip in form, losing their fourth consecutive match.

Best Player:

Jermaine Defoe (Sunderland) – scored a goal of the season contender with a brilliantly hit first-time volley. The striker has now scored three goals since his arrival from Toronto FC.

(Newcastle) – N/A

Crystal Palace 2-1 Manchester City

The Champions are now certainly out of the title race after their defeat to Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. Man City have only won one of their last five away fixtures in the Premier League, drawing once. The match sprung to life instantly with both teams coming close inside the first 10 minutes. First Wilfried Zaha nearly reached a Martin Kelly cross, before David Silva’s effort was saved by Julian Speroni. Moments later, Sergio Aguero struck the post before Silva tested Speroni again with a low drive towards goal. Man City continued to press, but it was Crystal Palace who scored first, catching The Sky Blues on the break. Glenn Murray ran in behind Man City’s defense to poke home a Scott Dann rebound. Palace took the lead into the break, and doubled their advantage immediately after the restart when Jason Puncheon struck a sublime free-kick past the stretching Joe Hart. Man City didn’t let their heads drop, but were reduced to long range efforts, with Silva and Yaya Toure both coming close. With 12 minutes of regular time left, Toure struck to put his side back into the match. With the clock ticking, Man City were unable to find an equaliser, and as a result, drop to fourth-place. Palace, on the other hand, have now won three consecutive matches, including four wins in their last five.

Best Player:

Glenn Murray (Palace) – scored for the second consecutive match, and now has five goals in his last six. The striker won the foul that led to the second goal, and was a handful throughout the match.

Yaya Toure (Man City) – tried his best to keep his teammates focused, and led the midfield charge brilliantly. The Ivorian came close from a free-kick effort before he smashed home Man City’s only goal of the match—his first since returning from the African Cup of Nations tournament.

Aston Villa 3-3 Queens Park Rangers

With Villa’s involvement in the FA Cup semi-finals later this month, their match against QPR was scheduled to be played earlier. What a match it was, indeed. QPR were on the back of a heavy away victory against West Brom and were looking to build on that, making the perfect start when Matthew Phillips gave them the lead after seven minutes, meeting Zamora’s cross with a diving header. Villa responded immediately at the other end when Benteke’s deflected effort curled past Robert Green. Villa took the lead just after the half-hour mark when Benteke found himself on the break, finishing calmly past Green. QPR were left frustrated as they went into the break down a goal after having taken the lead. However, they came out in the second-half with intent and found an equaliser shortly after the restart through Clint Hill who met Phillips’ corner with his head. With 12 minutes left on the clock, Phillips was involved again, this time finding Austin who struck decisively past Guzan to give QPR the lead. Five minutes later and Villa were back on level terms. Benteke scored an unstoppable free-kick, completing his hat-trick and ensuring his team avoided defeat. The draw means QPR remain in the relegation zone while Villa move three points clear of the drop for the time being.

Best Player:

Christian Benteke (Villa) – has now scored seven goals in his last five starts, with four of those coming in home matches. The Belgian looks to have hit top-form just in time as Villa battle to avoid relegation.

Matthew Phillips (QPR) – followed up his performance at the weekend with a goal and two assists. The midfielder has now scored twice and provided three assists in his last three away matches. His vision and crossing ability will be crucial as QPR attempt to avoid the drop this season.


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