5 thoughts from the midweek Premier League action

Race for fourth hots up, Man United continue impressive form and more talking points.

Mario Balotelli was the unlikely matchwinner as Liverpool beat Tottenham on Tuesday.
Mario Balotelli was the unlikely matchwinner as Liverpool beat Tottenham on Tuesday.
Image: Jon Super

1. Man United continue impressive home form 

MAN UNITED HAVE received plenty of criticism of late, and some of it has been deserved.

Many of their stars have conspicuously underperformed, and they were fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw against West Ham at Upton Park last weekend.

Even last night against Burnley, they were less than convincing at times, however they ultimately emerged as 3-1 winners, largely thanks to the efforts of the newly prolific Chris Smalling.

However, one positive that United can’t be criticised for is their home form. They have lost just two and won 10 of their 13 games so far this season at Old Trafford — only leaders Chelsea have a better record on their own turf.

Were it not for their disappointing form away from home — winning three, drawing seven and losing two — they would be well within the hunt for the Premier League title.

Such results are at least one positive change from David Moyes era where, at times, it seemed as if playing at home was more of a hindrance than an advantage for the Red Devils, as they lost seven and drew three of their 19 Old Trafford fixtures.

2. Race for fourth place as unpredictable as ever

The race for the top four took another twist on Tuesday night, when Liverpool defeated Tottenham 3-2 in an entertaining game at Anfield.

Mario Balotelli proved the unlikely matchwinner — finally scoring his first Premier League goal for the club — to give the Reds what was, on the balance of play, a deserved victory.

The result, coupled with the outcome of Wednesday night’s games,  means that there is now just five points separating seventh-placed Liverpool and Manchester United in third.

With at least seven viable contenders for four Champions League spots, it consequently looks set to be an exciting climax to the season, even if Chelsea end up running away with the league.

3. Common sense needs to be applied for Ivanovic ‘headbutt’

By the letter of the law, Branislav Ivanovic probably deserved to go in the Chelsea-Everton game last night.

In football, common rule dictates that any player who raises his arm or shows aggression off the ball in anyway deserves to be sent off.

Unsurprisingly, Roberto Martinez was one of those who believes Ivanovic should have been dismissed, telling reporters:

“If you look at the images, Ivanovic’s behaviour is wrong. He grabs him around the neck in a forceful manner, then puts his head against him when James McCarthy didn’t react and, if you want to be on top of the laws, that’s a red card.

“If you want to analyse that action [Ivanovic’s part in the goal] it’s even more hurtful. You don’t want to see teams winning games in that manner.”

Even less surprisingly, Mourinho staunchly defended his player after the game, saying: “Did Ivanovic go in with his head? Don’t make me laugh. Don’t make me laugh.”

In this case, it is easy to understand both managers’ dismay — the referee failed to apply the laws of the game, yet for Ivanovic to be sent off for such a minor incident would seem more than a little farcical.

Perhaps it’s therefore time the FA addressed the issue, and gave referees license to apply common sense rather than being required to slavishly follow the laws of the game, which decree that the Chelsea defender should have walked.

4. Manchester City show some backbone to overcome ‘bogey team’

Incredibly, last night’s 4-1 victory was Manchester City’s first league win at Stoke since 1999.

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Moreover, Manuel Pellegrini’s side were under serious pressure — they had already lost once to the Potters at home this season, and saw Chelsea extend their lead at the top of the table last weekend, after they drew 1-1 at home to relegation strugglers Hull.

City had also gone four consecutive games without a win, adding to the pressure ahead of last night’s match, but the Eastlands outfit were inspired, as they often are, by Sergio Aguero, who notched a brace to help secure what was ultimately a comfortable victory.

A loss would have put City 10 points behind Chelsea, leaving all but the most optimistic fan to rule out their title chances. However, with the gap at seven, the reigning champions still appear to have an outside chance of retaining the title.

5. Worrying signs for Arsenal despite win

Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain, in a gig which Arsenal players attended, once joked that the first half of the show would be pleasant and enjoyable, while the second period would be full of nerve-racking moments.

It was, of course, a reference to the Gunners’ tendency to inexplicably lose control of games late on.

On Tuesday night, this unfortunate habit was evident once again. When first-half goals from Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott put the Londoners 2-0 up, it looked as if the Gunners’ fans were set to enjoy a rare comfortable night.

However, an Andrej Kramaric goal in the 61st minute got bottom-of-the-table Leicester back in the game at the Emirates, and Nigel Pearson’s side intensified the pressure on their opponents’ goal thereafter, and were ultimately unfortunate not to emerge with a point.

Moreover, of equal concern to manager Arsene Wenger will be the injuries suffered to Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez. Sanchez, in particular, has been vital for Arsenal this season, and the Chilean subsequently hinted on Twitter that his setback could be more serious than was initially thought.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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