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Premier Picks: Super Saints, classy Bale

Lethal Manchester United, superb Southampton and the brilliant Gareth Bale are among this weekend's TEAMtalk's Premier League talking points.

Last Updated: 11/02/13 at 12:16 Post Comment   

Gareth Barry and Manchester City: Endured a miserable afternoon

Gareth Barry and Manchester City: Endured a miserable afternoon

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TEAMtalk picks out some of the key points around the grounds from the 26th round of fixtures in the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season.

Manchester United 2 Everton 0, by Ben Linfoot

It's hard to see Manchester City being able to bridge the gap this time. While Roberto Mancini's team look a different side this season - lethargic, brittle, inconsistent - so does Sir Alex Ferguson's. They are lethal, focused and full of goals and it's of no surprise that two bookmakers have paid out on the Red Devils. I don't imagine they'll have many sleepless nights.

Everton are a good side as they showed for long periods when keeping possession well. But they were limited to two long-range shots on target and David De Gea was barely troubled. United's defensive unit was just too strong and the worry for Everton going forward is their threat (or lack of) up front.

For United, they steamroller on. This was meant to be one of their toughest tests on the run-in but they brushed aside the Toffees while keeping an eye on the Real Madrid game. They will be a tough obstacle for Jose Mourinho's team to penetrate on this evidence.

Aston Villa 2 West Ham 1, by Rob Parrish

Paul Lambert's side are out of the drop zone, but with a trip to Arsenal next on the agenda before a meeting with Manchester City, the Midlands club will know they could be swiftly back in the relegation places.

With Reading, who are Villa's opponents after tackling the Gunners and the champions, just one point adrift and final day opponents Wigan also within striking distance, Lambert's men must immediately build on their first Premier League victory since December 15.

To add to the fixture intrigue for one of the Premier League's ever-present clubs, there is a meeting with rock-bottom QPR to negotiate in the coming weeks and it may be a case of who can hold their nerve in the increasing tension of the fight against the drop.

Sam Allardyce claimed West Ham deserved at least a point, but in mustering just four shots on target against one of the most porous defences in the top flight, they were victims of their own downfall.

Southampton 3 Manchester City 1, by Rachel Griffiths

For those Southampton fans still hurting from the sacking of Nigel Adkins, Saturday's surprise win over Manchester City is likely to have raised a smile.

The Saints were superb throughout as they overthrew the defending champions for new boss Mauricio Pochettino's first win, showing huge desire in arguably their best performance so far this season. The hosts were solid at the back while they attacked in style, mostly outplaying their high-profile visitors.

Costly errors from City may have given Southampton a helping hand - with Joe Hart fumbling a save to allow Steven Davis to net the Saints' second and Gareth Barry adding the third himself with a baffling own-goal - but there was no doubt over who was the better of the two teams on Saturday.

Referee Martin Atkinson's decision to deny the hosts a penalty, which came towards the end of the first half when Yaya Toure brought down Jay Rodriguez, will have left Southampton feeling aggrieved but in the end they were able to pull off the shock win without help from the spot.

For Manchester City, this result could prove decisive. The game was billed as a must-win for the defending champions, who threw away points in their two previous games, but they failed to turn up.

Chelsea 4 Wigan 1, by Graeme Bailey

Chelsea beat Wigan 4-1 yes, did that relieve any pressure on Rafa Benitez? Hardly. Chelsea were laboured at best, and there is just something about Benitez at Stamford Bridge which clearly isn't right.

The Chelsea fans again chanted for Roberto Di Matteo - and the performance served did little to persuade them otherwise. There were glimpses of brilliance, no doubt - Ramires' opener was very good - but they needed Frank Lampard to score and settle nerves.

Like with the Benitez situation hanging over them - the question of Lampard's future hovers right next to it.

Benitez is helpless when quizzed - you can almost see he wants to just blurt out, 'offer him a damn contract Roman' but as yet nothing - but it was another very good display from the England man which gave the Russian oligarch another major nudge.

Wigan did not deserve this, and go away licking their wounds - but they need to start turning some of their attacking excellence into goals and wins otherwise their long-standing battle against the drop will fail.

Tottenham 2 Newcastle 1, by Jack Woodfield

While the scoreline read Spurs 2 Newcastle 1 after Saturday's lunchtime kick-off, few Spurs fans would have disputed the result if it read Gareth Bale 2 Newcastle 1.

Bale's influence on the game was remarkable, as were the quality of his two goals that ended up earning Spurs another three points as their impressive season continues to roll on.

Bale's first goal, a sublime free-kick, was originally cancelled out by Yoan Gouffran, but with 12 minutes left, the Welsh wizard's second was a committed run with a composed finish, adding to his growing reputation as one of the best players currently in world football.

Newcastle dug deep, with Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor performing admirably, but Bale proved a thorn in the Magpies' side all game, and few teams look capable of dealing with the winger at the moment.

Keeping Bale fit will be imperative for Spurs' top-three hopes this season, and should the club resist the lures of big money in the summer, he could yet spearhead a Premier League title charge next season.

Sunderland 0 Arsenal 1, by Lewis Rutledge

It was the proverbial game of two halves at the Stadium of Light, with Simon Mignolet excelling for Sunderland in the first half and rival goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny matching him after the interval.

It was a joy to watch Arsenal in the first half as they dealt with a physical start by Sunderland before taking control, with the artistry of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla very much to the fore.

Theo Walcott missed a few chances and Aaron Ramsey lost possession too easily at times, but the two major drawbacks from an otherwise very promising performance were the dismissal of Carl Jenkinson for a reckless challenge after already being booked, and an injury which forced Wilshere off early in the second half.

While Arsenal will move forward with renewed confidence of finishing in the top four, Sunderland can reflect on a disjoined display.

Mignolet must be a contender for goalkeeper of the season but otherwise the Black Cats were carved open too easily in the first half, albeit by classy opponents, and Lee Cattermole's enthusiastic tackling again suggested that he has not yet learned how to tread as carefully as he should.

Sunderland built up a real head of steam after Jenkinson went off and Stephane Sessegnon looked back to his best form, but perhaps it is time for Martin O'Neill to be more adventurous from the start and select new signing Danny Graham alongside Steven Fletcher.Swansea 4 Queens Park Rangers 1, by Pete Hall

Harry Redknapp's mission to keep QPR in the top flight next season appears even tougher after a distinctly lacklustre display at the Liberty Stadium. Swansea dominated from start to finish, and aside from a few minutes in the second half following Bobby Zamora's goal, the R's were always second best.

What will be most worrying for Redknapp is how little his side offered in the final third. Playing Jamie Mackie up front in a lone striker role clearly is not the recipe for success.

Loic Remy will have to get amongst the goals quickly if they are have any chance of survival, and the quicker he is back fit and playing the better.

Swansea on the other hand were back to their free-flowing best, and in Michu they have the perfect player to fit their system and style of play.

He doesn't lead the line like an old-fashioned striker does. He links up the play, and allows the likes of Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer to run off him.

The injury to Chico Flores will be a worry with their Capital One Cup final looming. Before the Spaniard was stretchered off, he and his defensive team-mates looked very comfortable against the R's, and the form of Ashley Williams coming into the clash with Bradford at Wembley will please boss Michael Laudrup.

Stoke City 2 Reading 1, by Raz Mirza

Tony Pulis had handed out his pre-match orders to threaten the in-form visitors with an aerial bombardment from the opening whistle in the hope of recording their first win in seven games.

Matthew Etherington stood out for the Potters as he showed neat skill and ability to find time and deliver some testing balls from out wide, but Reading did well to cope with them.

Peter Crouch was always the main target man, but Alex Pearce and Adrian Mariappa received plenty of help in dealing with the threat.

However, the pressure from the Potters eventually told in the second half as Robert Huth headed home the opener before substitute Cameron Jerome scored a goal worthy of winning any match. The striker swivelled past his marker Alex Pearce before firing an unerring shot past a helpless Adam Federici.

Mariappa pulled a goal back and then with time running out came the main talking point.

Adam Le Fondre felt he had been felled by Ryan Shotton in the final attack of the match. Replays proved inconclusive, but Brian McDermott was adamant in his post-match interview to Sky Sports that his side should have been awarded the decision, saying it was a "stonewall penalty".

On the balance of play, it would have been harsh on the home side who deserved the points as they moved to within a point of ninth-placed West Brom.

Meanwhile, Reading remain in a relegation battle, despite their recent resurgent form and face a trip to Manchester United in the FA Cup fifth round before a crunch Premier League home clash against Wigan.

Norwich 0 Fulham 0, by Chris Burton

Two sides short on confidence after struggling to grind out positive results were always unlikely to put on a show, and a goalless stalemate at Carrow Road could have been predicted before a ball was kicked.

With both teams having started to glance anxiously over their shoulder at the basement battle unfolding beneath them, a desire not to lose games has started to win out over the ambition to push for victories.

Had you offered Chris Hughton and Martin Jol a point apiece prior to kick-off they probably would have taken it, and you can understand why.

Playing pretty football and putting on a show is all well and good when you are full of confidence and riding high in the table. When the chips are down, grinding out results by any means possible is the name of the game - regardless of how uncomfortable said performances may be on the eye.

Supporters want Premier League football on their doorstep, players want to compete at the highest level and managers wish to test themselves against the best in the business.

For that reason, with the finishing line starting to edge into view, there will be a number of games from here on in that are unlikely to make too many highlight reels.

Saturday's showing at Carrow Road will be quickly forgotten, even by supporters of the respective clubs, but both took another step towards top-flight survival - as results elsewhere went their way - and are now nine points clear of the drop zone.

That is a swing of three wins that will have to go against them for relegation to become a major concern, and Hughton and Jol will fancy that there is a good chance that they will be locking horns again in 2013/14

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Readers' Comments

I

may well get slated by other United fans for this, but out of the three contenders, I'd far prefer Liverpool to win the title. Yes some elements of their fanbase can be a bit OTT, yes they're our biggest rivals and yes it will make our poor season feel even more like the end of an era (Fergie's gone, Liverpool are back on top). However I just have to applaud Brendan Rodgers and the way he's turned Liverpool around in just a couple of seasons. It...

Mike_Christie
Please Stop Telling Us What To Think

H

ooray! We are all excited now, we beat a very mediocre team! With all due respect to WHU supporters, not winning that game shouldn't even be a consideration. This is the problem, there is no winning mentality at the Emirates - we're all congratulating ourselves beating a team that we have a winning record against.

TheWhiz
Wenger hails important win

I

s this meant to be an aspiration for United supporters? Moyes mediocrity strikes again. I see the Bayern boys don't want to sign for him, and his reputation amongst the senior European coaches make other key signings unlikely.

redbornandbred
De Gea's Europa League target

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