Minggu, 25 November 2012

TT's Premier Picks: Pardew under pressure

Tottenham: Celebrate Defoe goal

Aston Villa 0 Arsenal 0

One week they score five, the next they look like it would take them a month to accumulate that tally. Arsenal were back to their Jekyll and Hyde best at Villa Park on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger's men appear clueless when faced with the task of breaking down a stubborn side that is prepared to get men behind the ball and chase a point with their lives, rather than come at them and go all out for a win.

In fairness to Villa, they could have taken all three points against the Gunners, but Brett Holman saw a stinging late drive touched onto the crossbar by Wojciech Szczesny.

Villa probably did not deserve to win, but defeat for Arsenal may have offered them another kick up the backside - with past lessons failing to be heeded.

Olivier Giroud sits too deep to be a lone frontman, with it important for him to have pace and trickery in and around him if he is to pose problems.

Arsenal did have plenty of f lair on the field at Villa Park, but the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta endured afternoons to forget.

Wenger insists that he is not reading too much into increasingly common under-par performances from his side, but there is only so many dour goalless draws you can sit through before fingers start to be pointed - be that from the stands, which was the case on Saturday, or in the boardroom.

Chris Burton

Chelsea 0 Man City 0

New interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez was the subject of protests from fans at Stamford Bridge, where there was a negative atmosphere. The Spaniard must surely see this as unproductive and it remains to be seen whether he will be able to win over the club's followers.

Former Liverpool boss Benitez's appointment may be unpopular but he has already improved Chelsea's defending. The shielding work of Ramires and John Obi Mikel helped keep David Silva quiet as the European champions recorded a first clean sheet in 11 games.

Fernando Torres showed no signs of making an immediate improvement following the arrival of his former Liverpool boss, Benitez. The 50million striker's body language was again questionable and he hardly got a touch up against Vincent Kompany. It would be interesting to hear what Benitez thinks is wrong with Torres.

Pete Fraser

Everton 1 Norwich 1

No Plan B - that is the real feature that emerged from Everton's failure to beat Norwich. They started well, indeed almost dominated the opening 45-minutes at Goodison Park.

Their midfield was busy as they created a number of chances - but things were turned on their head in the second 45 as Norwich got to grips with the home side.

Steven Naismith and Stephen Pienaar buzzed around Nikica Jelavic - but he was soundly marked out of the game by Sebastien Bassong and Ryan Bennett, and with no outlet Everton were found wanting - if Europe is their aim, a big improvement and revised tactic book will be needed.

Norwich can take a huge amount of positives from the game, although they must be wary that most sides would have put them to the sword after their disappointing opening half.

Graeme Bailey

Man United 3 QPR 1

QPR stand-in manager Mark Bowen made five changes to the side who lost to Southampton in Mark Hughes' final game in charge and it made a clear difference.

There was a more committed spirit and defensive organisation in the first half. Will Harry Redknapp stick with these changes?

Darren Fletcher's header to make it 2-1 to United was a special moment for the Scot, who scored his first goal in more than a year after his career threatening chronic bowel problem. He also looked at home in midfield and could now be a regular starter.

QPR conceded three goals in eight minutes and set-pieces remain their Achilles Heel but it is also worth noting their collapse ca me shortly after Armand Traore had to leave the field. He was sorely missed.

Pete Fraser

Southampton 2 Newcastle 0

Eyebrows were raised when Newcastle handed Alan Pardew an eight-year contract on the back of one successful season in the Premier League, and Mike Ashley may soon be looking for a loophole in that agreement.

The Magpies suffered a third straight defeat on Sunday, with Southampton proving to be far too strong in a one-sided encounter at St Mary's.

Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse look a shadow of the deadly strike force which struck fear into the heart of Premier League defences last season, while injuries to key men have left Pardew light on graft and guile.

Injuries can be offered as an excuse, with Newcastle's success last season built on their ability to name a settled side and offer rests at suitable junctures.

That is not the case this term and Pardew desperately needs to rediscover the winning formula if he is to avoid mounting pressure falling on his shoulders, with 14th place in the division not good enough for the Toon Army.

Southampton, meanwhile, are finally starting to turn performances into results and could be about to make an impressive surge up the top-flight standings.

It would be foolish to read too much into back-to-back victories over rock bottom Queens Park Rangers and out-of-sorts Newcastle, but the displays of Gaston Ramirez, Jason Puncheon and Adam Lallana suggest the Saints have found their feet and will be a force to be reckoned with over the busy festive period.

Chris Burton

Stoke 1 Fulham 0

After just one win and six draws from their opening ten league games, Tony Pulis' men have now stepped up a gear, claiming seven points from their last three matches.

Charlie Adam was again the hero, notching the decisive strike on 26 minutes - his second goal in three games for the Potters after his winner against QPR in the last home match.

The Scotland international proved a real livewire throughout and Pulis will be delighted he has also now found his scoring boots for his new side after his summer switch from Liverpool.

At the other end, skipper Ryan Shawcross put in a strong defensive display and showed the form which recently earned him his first cap for England.

Dimitar Berbatov was again the Cottagers' main man, and could have earned his side a point with a late strike only for Asmir Begovic to produce a good stop.

But the Cottagers were not allowed time to produce too many of their slick passing moves and gave the ball away too easily at the Britannia.

Fulham now have two London derbies coming up against Chelsea and Tottenham in the coming week and Jol will be demanding an increased effort to halt his side's slide down the league.

Steve Pass

Sunderland 2 West Brom 4

The West Brom bandwagon marches on and after an impressive 4-2 victory at Sunderland on Saturday the time has surely come for the critics to stop labelling their magnificent start to the season as little more than a "fluke".

The Baggies, under fledgling manager Steve Clarke, have now won eight and drawn two of their 13 league games to sit third in the table.

The Premier League this season is little better than average so there is every chance than an unfancied team could force their way into the top four as teams such as Liverpool, Spurs and Arsenal struggle.

Their football is free-flowing at times, but they can also dig in when necessary - and it will be in the coming months.

Defensively they look solid, there is creativity in midfield and in Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie there are certainly goals.

It certainly has all the ingredients of success, so fluke? I don't think so.

Simon Crawford

Swansea 0 Liverpool 0

An intriguing contest be tween two sides who preach the same philosophy failed to deliver on its promise, as Swansea and Liverpool played out a goalless stalemate on Brendan Rodgers' return to the Liberty Stadium.

Rodgers will have been pleased to see his Reds side just about win the possession battle, but with the chances not quite falling for Luis Suarez on this occasion there was a lack of cutting edge.

Liverpool's performance drove home another reminder, if one were needed, that Suarez needs some support in attack, while the decision to play Jose Enrique in front of Stewart Downing did not work as neither player excelled.

Swansea carved out opportunities of their own and the way Pablo Hernandez and Michu played again demonstrated just how shrewd Michael Laudrup was in the transfer market with his raid on the Spanish market.

Hernandez, in particular, appears to be developing into a Premier League star, while Swansea appear increasingly difficult to beat and will be thi nking they can push on to cement a place in the top half.

Lewis Rutledge

Tottenham 3 West Ham

Jermain Defoe stole the show at White Hart Lane as Tottenham ran out comfortable winners against a distinctly average West Ham. The lone striker netted a brace to take his tally for the league season up to seven and his first was a real treat for the home fans, scoring from distance after an incredible run from the right side of midfield.

Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey were also extremely impressive as Tottenham showcased a free-flowing attacking performance. They linked up nicely for the second goal, and both hit the crossbar during the course of the ninety minutes.

It could have been different however if Lloris hadn't continued the form he showed against Lazio in midweek. West Ham breached the home side's defence more than they should have done and a team with more cutting edge in front of goal would have definitely scored more than just the one.

As for West Ham, Andy Carroll will receive a confidence boost after scoring with a good header late on. He won everything in the air and deserved his goal. However, the rest of the team offered little and Big Sam will be hoping for less of these type of performances if The Hammers are to build on their exceptionally strong start to the season.

Oliver Bell

Wigan 3 Reading 2

This could be a massive win for Wigan come the end of the season thanks to Jordi Gomez's injury-time goal.

Wigan came into the game on the back of two straight defeats, but they showed great resolve to come from behind at half-time to win 3-2.

The game was clear evidence of why both sides are struggling at the wrong end of the table as they showed they are too easy to score against.

It is great that Roberto Martinez and Brian McDermott are sticking to their principles to play open attacking football, but it leaves their respective sides too open to the opposition.

Scoring twice away from home Reading will feel they should have taken at least a point from the game, but Gomez's late goal ensured they were unable to build on their maiden win of the campaign against Everton last time out.

Roberto Martinez has masterminded two great escapes from relegation in the last two seasons, but on this evidence it looks like both these sides will be fighting to save themselves from the drop come May.

Pete O'Rourke

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