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Prem Picks: Blues expose United frailties

TEAMtalk looks at the talking points from the weekend's Premier League action with Chelsea marching on and Man United showing a lack of depth.

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Manchester United 0 Chelsea 1

Chris Burton

After all their trials and tribulations this season, Chelsea have every chance of ending the campaign on a high. They have the Europa League final to look forward to and now know that Champions League qualification is very much in their hands.

They spent much of the afternoon at Old Trafford happy to play for a point, with the desire to avoid defeat seemingly set to outweigh attacking intent. They were, however, the better side on the day and Sir Alex Ferguson offered no complaints at seeing United concede late on.

Chelsea will now welcome capital rivals Tottenham to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday knowing that victory will guarantee them a top-four finish and allow interim boss Rafa Benitez to rest a little easier in the hottest of hot seats.

United, meanwhile, will be eager to ensure that their season does not to fizzle out after wrapping up the Premier League title with plenty left in the tank. They were well short of their best against Chelsea, with fringe players offered an opportunity to impress failing to do so.

Ferguson must be already turning his attention to the summer, with it clear that United's squad does not possess the strength in depth it once did.

The Red Devils will be expecting the likes of Chelsea - who will be under the guidance of a new manager next term - and Manchester City to come back at them in 2013/14 and they must ensure that they are ready to meet that challenge head on.

Liverpool 0 Everton 0

Adam Bate

Liverpool certainly have creativity in their midfield and in Daniel Sturridge they possess a willing runner. With Philippe Coutinho and Steven Gerrard pulling the strings in midfield, the Reds striker was not short of service in this one.

But perhaps for the first time since his suspension started, Liverpool truly missed their star man Luis Suarez. There were several openings for Sturridge and a couple of snap shots but with Tim Howard on good form and Phil Jagielka at his heroic best this was not his afternoon.

Everton showed their battling qualities and this point surely guarantees them a top-six finish - an improvement on last season. With money still tight at Goodison Park and David Moyes' contract up in the summer, the big question is whether they will be able to build on the potential of this squad.

Fulham 2 Reading 4

Pete Hall

The already-relegated Royals played with the freedom of a side whose fate had already been sealed, and in Hal Robson-Kanu they have a player who may well be looking to stay in the top flight with another club next season.

He was the difference between the sides at Craven Cottage, and adds that bit of quality to Nigel Adkin's team that, if they can keep him, will give them a strong chance of coming straight back up next season.

The Royals passed the ball around well, and their movement caused problems all afternoon, and with Jobi McAnuff controlling things in midfield, Adkins will have a good foundation to start planning for life in the Championship.

Fulham were all over the place at the back, allowing the Royals far too much space to create chances, but on another day could have had a hatful of goals themselves.

Bryan Ruiz toiled away all match and deserved his goals, but he has not produced on a regular enough basis this campaign, despite possessing the talent to do so.

Martin Jol's men should have just enough points to stay up, and his players must do more to persuade the Dutchman they deserve their place in the Cottagers' squad in 2013/14, with many out of contract in the summer.

Norwich 1 Aston Villa 2

Chris Burton

You have to fear for Norwich on the back of another pointless weekend which leaves them looking anxiously over their shoulder.

The Canaries have suffered four defeats in their last six, have won just two of their last 19, and are only three points clear of the Premier League relegation zone with two games to play - and they know that 18th-placed Wigan also have a game in hand on all of those above them.

Of those sides the Latics are looking to chase down and drag into the bottom three, Norwich could be the ones that suffer the most dramatic of late stumbles.

They bossed possession for long periods against Villa on Saturday but could do nothing with it, with a toothless first-half display seeing them fail to work Brad Guzan.

With a summer deal already agreed for Sporting Lisbon's Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Chris Hughton is obviously well aware of what needs to be done to turn things around at Carrow Road.

Norwich should, however, look no further than their weekend opponents to see how quickly a season can be turned around and gloom which appeared to be well and truly locked in can be lifted.

Villa were doomed to relegation by many not all that long ago, with Paul Lambert's reluctance to deviate from a plan which has seen him lean heavily on inexperience and youth questioned on a regular basis.

His faith has been rewarded, though, as Villa have found form at just the right time - with victory at Carrow Road taking them on to 40 points for the season, a total widely considered to be enough to steer clear of trouble.

Swansea 0 Man City 0

Adam Bate

Given that Swansea had little to play for and Manchester City's players are competing for a spot in the FA Cup final line-up next week, it was a surprisingly lacklustre performance from the visitors at the Liberty Stadium.

While that could partially be explained by the fact that Yaya Toure was playing with an injury, this in itself raises the question of whether City are operating at anything like full capacity right now.

Even when they did raise their game after the break, Edin Dzeko spurned a glorious opportunity to win it late on and with Wigan showing improved form it will surely require a more switched-on display at Wembley if Roberto Mancini's men are to end the season with a trophy.

Tottenham 1 Southampton 0

Tom McDermott

Where would Tottenham be without Gareth Bale? If you are a Spurs supporter it probably doesn't bear thinking about.

Southampton were by far the better side at White Hart Lane for 80 minutes but when you have the triple player of the year on your books you are always in with a shout.

And, special players find a goal for their side when they need one. The explosive Welshman certainly didn't disappoint on Saturday afternoon.

Mauricio Pochettino's men will take heart from their performance though and if Hugo Lloris hadn't been in such good form, especially in the first half, they may have left White Hart Lane with at least a point.

As it stands Southampton remain on 39 points and will still feel confident that they can survive. But for Bale, he appears destined to play Champions League football next season even if Spurs don't quite make it.

West Brom 2 Wigan 3

Tom Mallows

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez equated achieving Premier League safety to winning the trophy itself and they certainly demonstrated the spirit and desire of title winners against West Brom. They simply couldn't afford to lose this game and showed incredible belief to fight back from behind twice before snatching the win late on.

It isn't all about battling sprit though, they also have genuine attacking quality in Arouna Kone, Callum McManaman and the excellent Shaun Maloney. The great escape is on again.

West Brom, in contrast, played like a team with little to play for. They did their hard work in the early stages of the season and although they will be disappointed with the defeat, it can't take anything away from what has been a fine campaign at the Hawthorns.

West Ham 0 Newcastle 0

Pete O'Rourke

Alan Pardew will be feeling his side would not be in a relegation dogfight if he had been able to call upon Fabricio Coloccini all season.

Coloccini made a welcome return to the side for the draw at Upton Park after almost three months out with a back problem and he was a commanding presence.

The Argentine international has been sorely missed by Newcastle with the side finding themselves dragged into the mire at the wrong end of the table with some unconvincing displays at the back, most notably in last weekend's 6-0 thumping at home to Liverpool.

With Coloccini back in the heart of the defence, Newcastle looked more organised and calmer, and it was no surprise to see them keep a clean sheet with their captain back in the fold.

Pardew now has to find a solution to a problem at the other end of the pitch, with Newcastle failing to score in three of their last four games and they will need to find a spark from somewhere if they are to avoid being relegated.

For West Ham the pressure was off ahead of the game with survival secured and it showed in the first-half performance.

The home side improved in the second half and could have won it, but Sam Allardyce will be content to see his side sitting safely in 10th spot while his former club are nervously looking over their shoulders with two games remaining.

QPR 0 Arsenal 1

Mark Buckingham

In their first game since being relegated to the Championship, QPR produced a solid performance after conceding what Harry Redknapp described as a 'ghastly' goal after just 20 seconds.

An individual mistake by Armand Traore led to Theo Walcott scoring the fastest Premier League goal of the season, but the way QPR recovered from that setback showed there is still plenty of fighting spirit within the squad.

Only a superb late save by Wojciech Szczesny denied Loic Remy an equaliser and it would certainly not have been undeserved if QPR had managed to pick up a point.

The key for Redknapp, between now and the start of next season, is building a squad with the right blend of talent and spirit to get QPR out of the Championship at the first attempt.

For the second week in a row, Arsenal failed to build on an early Walcott goal, but at least on this occasion it didn't cost them a priceless win in the battle for Champions League qualification.

Defensively, Arsenal looked solid and Szczesny was only tested seriously on two occasions - both of which came from shots from around the edge of the penalty area.

With Wigan and Newcastle to play, Arsenal won't be given an easy time in their pursuit of a top-four spot, but in Walcott they have a player full of confidence and who could just prove the difference.

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L

oved the article. i remember at school, after failing an exam, I would become obscenely secretly happy if I discover that others failed as well. Misery loves company...Now here is to hoping Chelsea joins the party and Stoke city wins the league...Cheers!

gabu
The Premier League: As Crazy As A Bag Of Snakes

C

haos reached its ultimate reckoning last weekend with Tony Hibbert looking assured at left back and Osman looking like a cultured ball playing midfielder before busting a gut to get to the back post for a Samuel Eto'o ball. Different chaos but chaos. If Kone scores the winner tonight I fear the world will end.

jelasfirsttouch
The Premier League: As Crazy As A Bag Of Snakes

A

beautiful demonstration of why stats mean diddly-squat in football.

cheshire-gooner
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