Grand Slam Sunday headlined Week 17 of the English Premier League season, with Manchester United edging Liverpool at Anfield, and Arsenal poking past Chelsea to remain on top of the league table.
But, that wasn’t the only action worth watching this past weekend, as there were eight fixtures on Saturday that preceded Sunday’s top-of-the-table showdowns.
Who came out of round 17 with reason to smile, and who was left to kick themselves? We’ve got the weekend’s winners and losers below, with a roundup of all of the action.
The Big Winners: Manchester United and Arsenal
At Anfield, Liverpool had far more opportunities than United did, but the only one that was converted was by the visitors, as Carlos Tevez’s 43rd minute goal was the difference in a 1-0 victory for the reigning champions.
While luck rested on United’s side, the same was the case for Arsenal, who took advantage of a rare mistake by Petr Cech to eek out a 1-0 victory at the Emirates.
So, the same two teams that were at the top of the table coming into the weekend are right where they were before, and now they have some breathing room on the sides behind them, as Chelsea is now six points off the pace, and Manchester City is seven off, with Liverpool, Everton, and Portsmouth all ten points back.
It’s shaping up to be another Arsenal-Manchester United showdown for the title. Ah, just like the old days, eh?
After a 2-1 defeat to Merseyside rival Liverpool at Goodison Park on October 20th, Everton sat in 10th, with four defeats in five league matches.
Now, following a 2-0 win at West Ham, David Moyes’ side finds themselves in sixth, level on points with their fifth-placed rivals, and four points out of third.
In the last two weeks, Everton have qualified for the last 32 of the UEFA Cup and the Carling Cup semifinals, and pushed themselves into the running for a European place, with their current unbeaten streak at seven league matches and a dozen matches overall.
The test of their worth will come over the next few weeks, on into the New Year, as Manchester United, Arsenal, and fourth-placed Manchester City make up three of their next five league opponents.
Big Loser: Blackburn
It wasn’t all that long ago that Blackburn was making a push towards the top four.
But, in the last several matches, Mark Hughes’ side has hit the skids, winning only once in seven matches, and picking up only five points out of a possible 21.
Their most recent disappointing performance might be the biggest one yet, a 5-3 defeat at Wigan, who are 19th in the table and hadn’t won since August 18th against Sunderland, in the third match of the season.
Roque Santa Cruz had a brilliant hat-trick to bring Rovers from 3-0 down in the first 37 minutes to level shortly after the half-hour. But, Wigan had their own hat-trick hero in Marcus Bent.
Blackburn are now 9th, with surging Newcastle breathing down their necks. They face Arsenal in the Carling Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday, then host Chelsea and visit Manchester City in the next week, so if they don’t stop the slide soon, things could get a little out of hand.
The Reds find themselves in a familiar position now, doing well in Europe but falling out of the hunt domestically.
Consecutive defeats to Reading and Manchester United have the Reds ten points back when two wins, which they should have taken from the two matches, would have them level on points with United and four points back of Arsenal, with a game in hand.
Their defeat at Arsenal did inflict some damage in the league table, as it dropped them six points behind the pace-setters.
However, it might be more painful for the way it happened, with Petr Cech’s blunder allowing William Gallas to put home the only goal of the match.
More importantly, however, John Terry is injured…again. Three bones in his right foot were broken in the first half when he was the victim of a poor challenge by Emmanuel Eboue. The triple break means that the Blues captain will miss the next six weeks (read: three).
But, hey, look on the bright side, we’re all the better for now knowing that Ashley Cole can at least count up to two! Unfortunately, the only numbers of consequence on Sunday were one and three, as in 1-0 Arsenal, and three points in the bag for the table-topping Gunners.
Elsewhere Around the EPL
Gareth Southgate might be sleeping a lot better now than he was a couple of weeks ago.
Middlesbrough followed their 2-1 win over Arsenal with a 1-0 victory away to Derby. Boro have taken seven of nine points from their last three league matches and have moved up to 14th in the table, with winnable ties against West Ham and at Birmingham coming up.
The same can be said for Sam Allardyce and Newcastle, who picked up their second straight last-minute win, as Joey Barton’s late penalty handed the Magpies a 1-0 victory at struggling Fulham.
Like Boro, Newcastle have taken seven of nine points in the last three matches, and have a couple of favorable ties coming up, home to Derby and at Wigan, before having to face the league’s top four in the span of a month. If they can take six points in the next two fixtures, it will give them some valuable momentum and confidence heading into that brutal stretch.
Tottenham picked up their first away win of the campaign by defeating Portsmouth 1-0 at Fratton Park to move up to 12th.
It was the fifth time in eight league matches at home that Harry Redknapp’s side have been held goalless, whereas they’ve been shut out only once away from home. As prolific as Pompey have shown themselves to be, it hasn’t happened at home, where they have 11 goals in eight league matches, with seven of those coming in a 7-4 victory over Reading at the end of September.
They’re still in a good position, lying seventh, but will need to be at their best for back-to-back clashes at Liverpool and at home to Arsenal, and then need to get as many points as possible in a stretch that sees them face Boro, Reading, Sunderland, and Derby before the African Cup of Nations (which will take a number of their key players) begins on January 20th. Anything less, and their European dreams could go down the toilet quickly.
It’s the complete opposite for Manchester City, who have taken maximum points from all nine of their league matches at City of Manchester Stadium this season, with the latest triumph being a 4-2 win over Bolton on Saturday, in which Darius Vassell (forgot that name, didn’t you?) completed City’s comeback from 2-1 down at halftime with his 77th minute winner (and first goal of the season). Their home form is the primary reason why Sven’s side is riding high at 4th, but if they want to stay there for the long haul, the away form is going to have to pick up (1 W, 3 D, 4 L). But, there’s no doubt that the Swedish tactician has had a massive impact on the club since his arrival, and they are certainly worthy of the lofty place they currently hold in the table.
Birmingham took a fourth-minute lead in their home tie against Reading, but couldn’t hold it, and could only manage a point. But, a point is good enough to move Alex McLeish’s side into 15th, two points above the relegation zone.
Aston Villa have Shaun Maloney to thank for rescuing at least something from their visit to the Stadium of Light. Villa were down 1-0 within the first 10 minutes, but Maloney’s 73rd minute equalizer prevented Villa from suffering their third consecutive defeat.
As for Sunderland, it’s a definite missed opportunity, as three points would have given the Black Cats a little breathing room at the lower end of the table. Still, they were able to move out of the relegation zone, switching places with Fulham, with 14 points to the Cottagers’ 13.
While round 18 may not have the big billing that this weekend did, there are some goodies among the bunch.
Arsenal vs. Tottenham
Aston Villa vs. Manchester City
Bolton vs. Birmingham
Fulham vs. Wigan
Liverpool vs. Portsmouth
Middlesbrough vs. West Ham
Reading vs. Sunderland
Manchester United vs. Everton
Newcastle vs. Derby
Blackburn vs. Chelsea
What will the next week of action bring as we get ready to wrap up 2007? Stay with Soccerlens to find out!