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Premier Picks: Reds rally for victory

Liverpool's rally, Gervinho's fine display, and Chelsea players' questionable attitude feature in our review of the Premier League weekend.

Last Updated: 02/04/13 at 15:17 Post Comment

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Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2

Joe Drabble

Liverpool are still to lose back-to-back Premier League matches under Brendan Rodgers but were forced to preserve that fine record the hard way after relegation-threatened Aston Villa led at half-time in Easter Sunday's sole fixture.

Christian Benteke's instinctive first-half finish was his eighth in his last nine appearances and gave Villa a sniff of recording a first league double over Liverpool since the inaugural Premier League season.

But Liverpool's response after the break was impressive. On 47 minutes the energetic Philippe Coutinho provided an inch-perfect pass for the onrushing Jordan Henderson to convert and in turn change the atmosphere inside Villa Park.

With Liverpool piling on the pressure it seemed inevitable that the Reds would profit against this inexperienced Villa outfit and once again the hosts were guilty of their own downfall. Centre half Nathan Baker recklessly dived in on Luis Suarez inside the box and Steven Gerrard converted the match-winner on 60 minutes.

As long as Benteke is on the pitch Villa have a chance of avoiding the drop, while Liverpool's youthful team have sixth in their sights.

Sunderland 0 Man Utd 1

Jack Woodfield

Sunderland may not have been favourites to triumph against Manchester United prior to kick-off, but a good performance was essential to build some confidence in the Black Cats - and save Martin O'Neill's job, as it turned out.

Titus Bramble's first-half own goal put United firmly in control and, even during a period of home pressure after the break, Sunderland's forward line threatened to test the visitors in their pursuit of an equaliser.

The hosts resorted to shots from range as they attempted to break through and, with United comfortably seeing out the match in the end, O'Neill paid the price.

As for United, they notch up another victory en route to a 20th league title and, with Nemanja Vidic and Michael Carrick in supreme form at the Stadium of Light, Sir Alex Ferguson will be confident in his spine ahead of their FA Cup tie with Chelsea.

The double is on for United, but for Sunderland, simply one win would be a massive boost to the morale of a squad looking devoid of any belief right now.

Arsenal 4 Reading 1

Tom Mallows

Arsenal gave their top-four hopes a real boost with a comprehensive victory and fine display against Reading, but in truth they won't have an easier game this season.

The Royals appeared to be in damage limitation mode from the kick-off, defending on the edge of their own penalty area and leaving Pavel Pogrebnyak isolated up front. The only disappointment for Arsene Wenger will be that they only scored four.

But if the result was not a surprise, the display by Gervinho perhaps was. The Ivorian is usually a source of frustration to the Arsenal support but he was outstanding, scoring one goal and setting up two more. He was rightly singled out for praise by his manager after the game.

This match was unlikely to have been labelled "must win" by new Reading boss Nigel Adkins, but the meek manner in which they accepted defeat must be of a concern.

The 48-year-old has talked about encouraging more of a passing game between now and May, but it appears he also needs to introduce a bit more fight, spirit and belief.

With his old side Southampton the visitors to the Madejski Stadium next week, he needs to do that quickly.

Man City 4 Newcastle 0

Mark Buckingham

In the build-up to this game, Roberto Mancini had written off City's chances of catching United, and the reigning champions finished the day where they started it - 15 points adrift.

However, the performance against Newcastle offered plenty of encouragement that City can still end the season positively, with second place and winning the FA Cup now the targets.

City were in control from start to finish, and the 20 minutes before half-time and again after the interval, were when they upped the tempo. The clever movement of David Silva and Samir Nasri, in particular, were too much for Newcastle to handle, and you couldn't help but feel that, if they'd wanted to, City could have won by more.

The return of Vincent Kompany was also a key factor as the City captain offered an assurance at the back that often seems to be missing when he is out. Mancini may have been unhappy that Kompany played for Belgium in midweek, but the centre-half is vital to their chances of a successful next few weeks, starting with the derby against United next.

As for Newcastle, injuries may have forced Alan Pardew to start Jonas Gutierrez at left-back, but that could hardly be used as an excuse for such a toothless performance.

Aside from a five-minute spell immediately after half-time, and Papiss Cisse striking the post in the first half, Newcastle offered no threat and can't be considered safe from relegation yet.

There are clearly at least three worse teams than Newcastle in the relegation scrap, but with only three points to the drop zone, any more performances like this and it will be a nervy end to the season.

Southampton 2 Chelsea 1

Adam Bate

Rafael Benitez has indicated that he retains an enthusiasm to guide Chelsea to Champions League qualification by May but whether his players share that appetite remains questionable. This was a poor Chelsea performance as they were outplayed by Southampton for long periods early on.

The manager himself may have had one eye on Manchester United in the FA Cup on Monday but some of the players appeared to have both eyes firmly fixed on that tie rather than the Saints threat. Benitez was unfortunate to be without the ill Juan Mata but in leaving Eden Hazard and Demba Ba on the bench he did not help his team's hopes.

Hazard did try to turn the game around as a second-half substitute but it required more than one man to salvage something from this insipid display and Chelsea now risk falling short on both counts - defeat to United would leave them out of the FA Cup as well as hanging on for a top-four finish.

Swansea 1 Tottenham 2

Pete Hall

With memories of last season's capitulation still lingering in their long-suffering supporters' minds, victory for Tottenham was essential after back-to-back league defeats and, although a spirited Swansea almost snatched a point, Andre Villas-Boas' men now sit in third after a hard-fought victory.

Despite being up against it for much of the second half, Spurs' excellent first-half display was enough to secure the three points, largely down to the combination of Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen.

Much has been said already about Bale's prolific form, but Vertonghen often is neglected due to his Welsh team-mate's herculean efforts. The Belgian defender carries the ball forward effortlessly, and makes some expertly timed runs forward, but only at teams when he knows he won't leave his side exposed. Not only that, when he gets his chance, he more often than not converts.

With Chelsea losing at Southampton, Spurs can now sit in third, and with the momentum this timely win will bring, a repeat of last year's end-of-season collapse seems unlikely.

Swansea have already had a successful season thanks to their achievements in the Capital One Cup, and still sit in ninth.

Their form has been erratic of late, and more worryingly the goals have dried up somewhat.

However, boss Michael Laudrup can take heart from a much-improved second-half display, where they offered much more of a threat, and could still finish the season strongly.

West Ham 3 West Brom 1

Tim Oscroft

The international break, normally a quiet time for Premier League clubs, saw West Ham 's ambitious plans for a future away from Upton Park get the stamp of official approval, so this decisive move towards safety in the top flight was just what was needed.

The Hammers have been in and out of the Premier League a touch too much for a club looking to play in a stadium holding more than 50,000, and Sam Allardyce will be looking to build a squad that can help their fans look upwards rather than downwards in the run-up to the big move to Stratford.

Having taken this game by the scruff of the neck from early on, West Ham are close to ensuring they are still in the same division in August and on his current form, Andy Carroll will be wanted by the Hammers' manager and supporters when 2013-14 rolls around.

Carroll gave a multi-faceted display that showed off a subtlety of touch as well as his trademark strength on the ball. It seemed that Brendan Rodgers did not want him at Liverpool at the start of the season, will he want him back for the next? If not, West Ham are sure to be near the head of the queue for his services, depending on how much they can spend on players with the move on the horizon.

Wigan 1 Norwich 0

Steve Pass

It wasn't pretty but Wigan secured the win they needed against Norwich to climb out of the Premier League relegation zone.

In a game of few chances, Arouna Kone scored the winner with nine minutes to go to lift Roberto Martinez's side above Aston Villa on goal difference.

Like last year, Wigan are hitting form at just the right time, with three league wins now out of their last four games.

It is no surprise the return of Antolin Alcaraz after six months out with a groin tear has coincided with this run. The Paraguayan's calmness in defence has been much missed and he was the man of the match here, as well as having a header cleared off the line.

In this kind of form - with five wins out of six league and cup games - Latics fans will be hoping their survival is secure before a possible FA Cup final on 11th May and a clash with Villa in the last game of the season eight days later.

For Norwich, this defeat sent Chris Hughton's side worryingly down to 14th in the table, just four points above the drop zone.

Their home fixtures against fellow strugglers Reading on 20th April and Aston Villa on 4th May are taking on an increasing significance - two wins and the Canaries will fly up to the magical 40 points mark.

Everton 1 Stoke 0

Rob Parrish

Everton are four points from the Champions League places, Stoke four from the relegation zone, but the only true difference between the two on Saturday was a moment of magic from Kevin Mirallas.

The Belgian showed a clean pair of heels to Steven N'Zonzi as he burst from deep inside his own half before leaving Geoff Cameron with twisted blood to settle a Premier League contest which had plenty of effort but a distinct lack of quality from both teams, Mirallas aside.

With Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar suspended David Moyes went for a 3-5-2 formation which did not entirely pay off, despite the result, with Stoke creating enough opportunities but unable to convert.

And therein lies the concern for Tony Pulis, as an eighth defeat in 11 Premier League outings leaves them glancing over their shoulders at the battle below and in need of an upturn in fortunes over the closing weeks of the season.

It's not unfeasible that Everton could be among the continent's cream next season, while Stoke may find themselves in the Championship. Yet on this evidence there is very little between them.

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Readers' Comments

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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