Premier League winners and losers: Santi Cazorla, Chelsea & more
Premier League winners and losers: The key talking points from the weekend after Chelsea thrashed Manchester United
Chelsea underline title credentials After a slow start to the season with three misfiring strikers, Chelsea are rapidly improving in the title race and boast two forwards in goal-scoring form. Having gained a valiant point in a goalless draw at Arsenal before sealing a 2-1 win against Liverpool during the festive period, the Blues were presented with a chance to make a real statement by beating the defending champions. Manchester City had thrashed United 4-1 in what remains the performance of the season in September – and Chelsea were almost as emphatic as Samuel Eto’o’s treble sealed a 3-1 win. The Cameroon star and Fernando Torres have chipped in with valuable goals in recent weeks, Eden Hazard and Oscar continue to be a force in the Blues side, whilst Petr Cech has only conceded one goal in 2014 – the form of champions, surely?
Santi Cazorla hits form at right time With Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season and Mesut Ozil experiencing a muted spell, the Spaniard came to the fore against Fulham on Saturday. Cazorla has failed to hit the glittering heights he reached in his first Premier League season, when the diminutive wizard scored 12 goals in 38 games. The former Malaga midfielder took this season’s tally to three with a brace in a 2-0 win against the Cottagers. Arsene Wenger will need the likes of Cazorla, Ozil and Jack Wilshere to continue to chip in with vital goals if the Arsenal boss fails to invest in a new striker in January. Whilst Olivier Giroud is a good Premier League forward, it remains to be seen if he possesses the firepower to gun Arsenal to the Premier League title.
Tony Pulis It’s no secret that Welshmen Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis share a frosty relationship – and to add to that, the former United striker is currently in charge of Stoke. Pulis was responsible for masterminding Stoke’s first-ever promotion to the Premier League and keeping the Potters in the top flight before ending his spell at the club last summer. But the 56-year-old plunged his former side into deeper trouble on Saturday as Crystal Palace were 1-0 winners against Stoke at Selhurst Park. Jason Puncheon, who miscued his penalty horribly wide at Tottenham the previous weekend, slotted a low finish past a jungle of Stoke legs and into the far corner. It lifted the Eagles out of the relegation zone and moved the east London side to within two points of the Potters.
The defending champions Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho said that he expected Manchester United to continue to fight until the very end when previewing his side’s clash against the Red Devils on Friday. However, by Sunday night, the Blues manager was ruling United out of the Premier League title race – and it’s not a bold claim, with the champions 14 points off the pace. What will be more alarming for United supporters is the nature of the 3-1 loss. After making a plucky start, the visitors ran out of steam and the Blues eased away from their opponents, helped by a Samuel Eto’o hat-trick. The gulf in class was obvious as playmakers Eden Hazard and Oscar were a constant threat, whilst Gary Cahill and John Terry are becoming arguably England’s best centre-half partnership. Chelsea swatted away United’s brief challenge with the same ease that might see top-eight chasing Newcastle United or Tottenham Hotspur crumble at Stamford Bridge following a positive start. Unless United manage to get Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie fit, it’s difficult to see the Red Devils finishing in the top four.
Erratic Liverpool Having said that, if Everton and Liverpool show United generosity in the race for a Champions League place, David Moyes will believe that his side can rescue a troubled season. Brendan Rodgers showed reckless abandon against Aston Villa in Saturday’s late kick-off as he dispatched Steven Gerrard to the holding role without his midfield partner Lucas Levia, who dropped to the bench. It proved a tactical blunder as Aston Villa’s diamond, as highlight by Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville on Sky Sports on Monday night, ran Gerrard and Jordan Henderson ragged as Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling failed to fulfil their defensive duties. It was in stark contrast to ex-Reds boss Rafael Benitez, who too often sent his side out with objective of avoiding defeat. There is no doubt that Rodgers deserves credit for restoring flair to the Liverpool side that the Anfield crowd haven’t seen since the Roy Evans days. But the 40-year-old must find a balance between attack and defence. If there is a positive to take from the 2-2 draw, it is Liverpool’s spirited response to salvage a point. Previously, the Reds may have lost the game.
Southampton The Saints have a penchant for rocking the boat in January – or so it would seem since their return to the Premier League. Mauricio Pochettino’s men made a brilliant start to the season, reaching the dizzy height of third place at one point, but have slid down the table during a testing festive period. And to make matters worse, Saints chairman and close ally of Pochettino, Nicola Cortese, resigned last week after an apparent power struggle with owner Katharina Liebherr. Southampton are a club that belong in the Premier League after surviving 27 years in the top flight before relegation in 2005. Saints supporters will hope the off-field drama won’t continue to affect the team on the pitch, as Southampton endured one of their worst performances of the season in a 2-2 draw at Sunderland.