Efficient City capitalizes, but Liverpool shows it can be a title contender

Thursday December 26th, 2013
Liverpool was furious Raheem Sterling's apparent first-half goal was wrongly ruled offside.
Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

The biggest surprise was at Goodison Park where Everton had not lost in the league in the whole of 2013. The home team gave Sunderland a gift after 24 minutes. Leon Osman took a pass from Tim Howard, the Everton keeper, and presented the ball to Ki Sung-Yeung. Howard brought the Korean down, conceding a penalty and earning a red card. Ki converted the spot kick. Even with 10 men, Everton dominated the rest of the game, but could not score. Sunderland manager Gus Poyet was clearly as surprised as anyone.

"When you are at the bottom, it's for a reason and it was very difficult. We beat them somehow," he told the BBC, but he also felt his team deserved its luck for being good for little reward before Christmas. "We deserved a few more things from games where we didn't get it so its compensation a little bit," he said.

There was no luck about the goal Dwight Gayle scored to give Crystal Palace victory at Aston Villa, except that his swerving shot came in added time at the end of the game, and Gayle was only on because Cameron Jerome had suffered an injury late and had to go off in the 72nd minute.

Tony Pulis, the Palace manager, argued that his team had atoned for its bad play in its previous game.

"We owe ourselves that for the performance at Newcastle where we weren't really at it," he said.

René Muelensteen, the Fulham manager, had already received a couple of presents over Christmas. On Christmas Eve, Clint Dempsey returned to the club on loan from MLS' Seattle Sounders. On Christmas Day, he received an altogether more ambiguous gift when Alan Curbishley joined Fulham as "first-team technical director." Muelensteen made all the right noises, like a boy who has received a sweater from a great aunt. It's not clear whether he really believes it suits him, but he knows he will have to wear it.

At times on Thursday it seemed Santa was giving gifts to Norwich. Gary Hooper's long-range shot took a cruel deflection to give Norwich the lead. John Ruddy barely avoided toppling into the Norwich net with the ball, but video review found a couple of inches of the ball had not crossed the line.

The Norwich wall obligingly jumped out of the way of Pajtim Kasami's free kick to gift Fulham an equalizer. Then Scott Parker, who played two seasons and 63 times for Tottenham without scoring once, smashed his second goal of the season, it was as if Christmas had come as early as it possibly can for Fulham.

Muelensteen was inclined to see the victory as a delayed reward.

"We've been working so hard since I took over, we had a run of really difficult games of which we only won one," Muelensteen told the BBC. "All the others ones I think we should have got something out of the games and we didn't that's why it's so important that we did that today."

Suddenly the bottom of the table looks tight. Aston Villa, Norwich, West Ham and Cardiff all seem to be in freefall. West Brom's point at Tottenham can't disguise that it too is in trouble.

To escape, none of them needs to be good every week, or even every other week. One victory every three games should be enough to escape. The managers won't care if their teams deserve them or not.

Possession Is Nice, Goals Are Better

Tottenham enjoyed two thirds of possession against West Brom at White Hart Lane on Saturday. Yet, according to Opta, had only the tiniest edge in territory and had fewer shots on target: three to West Brom's four. Spurs also collected only one point. The game ended, 1-1.

At Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had only 45 percent of possession against Swansea but had almost 60 percent of territory as it had seven shots on target to just one by Swansea. Chelsea won, 1-0.

How is it possible to dominate possession, as Tottenham and Swansea did, but not territory? Well, one way is to play the ball from side to side in your own half across your back line, as both teams did. Both also struggle to turn possession into goals. Tottenham had 10 shots blocked in the game. That reveals something about its continuing lack of penetration.

Chelsea lacks penetration too. José Mourinho again moaned about how wasteful his strikers were. This time Samuel Eto'o started in attack. It made no difference. He had four shots. He didn't score.

What separates Chelsea from Swansea and Tottenham is that Chelsea doesn't give gifts but happily accepts them.

Swansea lost because Gerhard Tremmel, unsighted by a pointless lunge from teammate Ashley Williams, was beaten by an Eden Hazard shot that passed only inches from his head.

Tottenham surrendered a point when Christian Eriksen, who had just scored, gave away the ball and committed a foul. Emmanuel Adebayor could have cleared the free kick but missed and Jonas Olsson scored.

In the end, the stat that counts is that Chelsea found a way to collect three points.

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