Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Premier League Results Match Week 21(?): Manchester City Streaks to 10th Straight as Gunners Implode; Chelsea and Liverpool Thrill But Lose Ground; Hammers Survive Eagle Flurry; Spurs Strike Late; Manchester United Stumbles

An abbreviated Match Week 21 slate played out amid continuing COVID cancellations. Manchester City and currently second place Chelsea are the only two clubs to have completed 21 matches to date. At the other end of the spectrum is a Burnley side which has taken the pitch for only 16 league matches.

Manchester City notched its 17th victory, continuing its winning ways at the top of the table, with a 2-1 New Year’s Day win over Arsenal. The Gunners took an early lead on the defending champions when 19-year-old Bukayo Saka scored his sixth goal of the season to give the Gunners a halftime lead. Saka’s goal broke a streak of four scoreless home matches for Arsenal versus Manchester City and put Manchester City behind in a league match for the first time since October. A well-played match then disintegrated for Arsenal in the second half as Granit Xhaka incurred a penalty on an awkward interaction in the box with Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva. Riyad Mahrez converted the equalizing penalty try for City. Loud protestations, and a scuffing up of the penalty spot by Arsenal’s Gabriel resulted in a yellow card. Just minutes later, the young defender jostled a City attacker for a second yellow and accompanying ejection to put the Gunners a man down. Arsenal did well to hold off the relentless City attack until stoppage time when Rodri struck for the winner to provide Manchester City’s 10th consecutive victory.

City’s title run was further bolstered a day later when Chelsea and Liverpool shared points. The contest between the league’s second and third place clubs thrilled fans with a dramatic opening half. Liverpool sprinted to a two-goal lead on goals by linemates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Just as things appeared darkest for the home Blues, Mateo Kovacic halved the deficit with a “worldie” struck on a half volley from well outside the box. Minutes later, Christian Pulisic scored his third league goal of the season to tie the contest in first half stoppage time. The two sides then settled down to a scoreless second half which saw both clubs ultimately lose ground in the title race. A reportedly unhappy Romelu Lukaku was held out of the critical match by Manager Tomas Tuchel after the Belgian striker voiced his unhappiness at Chelsea in an interview. The strong stance by the manager was a debatable position after the club dropped points in the high-profile match against a key rival. Post-match, Tuchel was vocal in asserting Liverpool’s Sadio Mane should not have been in the game to score the match’s first goal. A Mane elbow to Caesar Azpilicueta’s facial area six seconds into the contest was adjudged no more than a yellow card by the referee to Tuchel’s displeasure. Chelsea’s comeback was a bitter pill for Liverpool which was unable to control the game with a lead despite a solid effort from stand in goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher. Liverpool’s regular goalkeeper Alisson and Manager Jurgen Klopp were both sidelined by Covid for the match.

As Manchester City stretched its advantage over Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table to 10 and 11 points, respectively, West Ham closed the gap on fourth place Arsenal with a 3-2 victory at Crystal Palace. Michail Antonio opened the scoring and Manuel Lanzini had a first half brace in a London derby which seemed over at the break. The Eagles, however, sprang to life in the match’s late stages to provide some nervy moments for West Ham. Goals in the 83rd and 90th minutes preceded a stoppage time bicycle kick attempt by Crystal Palace’s Jean-Philippe Mateta which sailed wide to leave the Eagles just short of salvaging a point versus their London rivals. The narrow win pulled West Ham to within a point of the final Champions League slot.

Antonio Conte remained unbeaten as manager of Tottenham Hotspur following a 1-0 New Year’s Day win over Watford. Davinson Sanchez scored the winner in the sixth minute of stoppage time to extend Spurs’ unbeaten league run to eight matches.

The London club now trail fourth place Arsenal by only two points with two matches in hand versus their north London rival. Watford, just moments away from recording their first clean sheet of the season, lost for a sixth consecutive time.

Falling behind Spurs after the week’s results was a Manchester United squad struggling to find an identity under new manager Ralf Rangnick. A desultory performance left the Red Devils 22 points behind table leader Manchester City. Wolves were again tenacious in defense as goalkeeper Jose Sa registered an eighth clean sheet. Manager Bruno Lage’s charges have conceded only 14 goals all season, just one more than Manchester City. Joao Moutinho’s winner was also the club’s 14th goal scored, 16 goals less than a Manchester United team which Wolves now trail by only three points in the table.

Burnley experienced a less satisfying experience at Old Trafford just days earlier when the Clarets fell 3-1 to Manchester United. Burnley squandered the opportunity to escape the relegation zone by dropping Thursday and Sunday matches by an identical 3-1 score. While a loss to Manchester United was perhaps understandable, a resounding defeat by the same score line Sunday at the hands of Leeds was devastating for the Clarets. Leeds put further distance between the Whites and relegation with its first win since November.

Among the clubs enjoying the holidays was a Brighton and Hove Albion side which followed a Boxing Day win by grabbing a point at Chelsea before traveling north to Everton Sunday for a 3-2 win at Goodison Park. Alexis Mac Allister scored twice in the win over Everton as Brighton notched its second win in three matches. The Seagulls’ only defeat in their past seven matches has been a 1-0 mid-December decision to in-form Wolves. Everton, meanwhile, has lost eight of its last eleven matches under Manager Rafa Benitez.

Aston Villa lost for a second time since Christmas in a 2-1 Sunday loss to Brentford which marked the first back-to-back defeats for Villa under new manager Steven Gerrard. Brentford, meanwhile, was ecstatic to leapfrog Villa into 12th in the table as the newly promoted side continues to surprise league watchers with unexpected success.

The Premier League schedule now takes a break, returning with a pair of matches on Tuesday, January 11th. Filling the void will be domestic cup action with the first leg of the Carabao Cup semifinals scheduled for midweek to be followed by the third round of the FA Cup this upcoming weekend.

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