Chelsea leads EPL, Man Utd getting into form

Nov 21, 2016

Chelsea went top, Liverpool slipped up at Southampton, Yaya Toure made a triumphant return for Manchester City and Arsenal hit Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United with a late sucker-punch.

AFP Sports looks at five things from the Premier League this weekend:

Chelsea's striker Diego Costa (L) vies in the air with Middlesbrough's defender Calum Chambers during the English Premier League football match Nov 20, 2016 ... Pix AFP.
Chelsea’s striker Diego Costa (L) vies in the air with Middlesbrough’s defender Calum Chambers during the English Premier League football match Nov 20, 2016 … Pix AFP.

Chelsea will take some stopping  

Few would have predicted Chelsea would be top of the table before the end of November after a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on Sep 24 left them eight points off the pace in eighth place.

But that is exactly where they are after Sunday’s 1-0 win at Middlesbrough gave Antonio Conte’s increasingly impressive side a sixth consecutive victory.

Chelsea have not conceded a goal since switching to a 3-4-3 formation during the Arsenal game and Diego Costa has rediscovered his shooting boots, netting for the 10th time to secure victory at the Riverside Stadium.

Man United are getting there

The Premier League table makes uncomfortable viewing for Manchester United fans, whose side are nine points below leaders Chelsea after winning just two of their last nine league games.

Failure to beat Arsenal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw means United have drawn three successive home league games for the first time since 1992.

But the bare facts do not tell the whole story.

Just as they had in their previous two draws – 0-0 against Stoke City and 1-1 against Burnley – United dominated the game, with Arsenal equalising in the 89th minute, via Olivier Giroud, in their only attempt on target.

United mustered 74 shots to their opponents’ 19 in those three games, and had just three more of those gone in, they would be in the thick of the title picture.

Manchester United's English striker Wayne Rooney (L) crosses the ball during the English Premier League football match against Arsenal Nov 19, 2016 ... Pix AFP.
Manchester United’s English striker Wayne Rooney (L) crosses the ball during the English Premier League football match against Arsenal Nov 19, 2016 … Pix AFP.

Giroud knocking on the door

Giroud’s goal at Old Trafford, an imperious back-post header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross, was the 10th goal he has scored after stepping off the bench for Arsenal, making the France international the club’s most prolific substitute in the Premier League era.

Manager Arsene Wenger has been using Alexis Sanchez as a lone striker this season, but with Arsenal struggling to create chances in their last two games – the draw at United having been preceded by a 1-1 stalemate with Tottenham Hotspur – the Frenchman conceded he was thinking of restoring Giroud to his starting XI and dropping Sanchez into a deeper role.

With four goals in four games, Giroud is staking a strong claim to a starting berth.

Toure’s Man City exile over  

As Yaya Toure marched back towards the Manchester City changing room at the end of Saturday’s 2-1 win at Crystal Palace, the Ivorian was greeted by a rapturous reception.

He had just marked his first Premier League appearance of the season with two goals, including the late winner, and his team-mates lined up to greet him with a huge cheer.

After being frozen out by new manager Pep Guardiola, Toure looked set to move on, especially after his agent accused Guardiola of treating the midfielder with no respect.

But he was finally given a chance against Palace and responded with goals in the 39th and 83rd minutes.

To add to Toure’s joy, Guardiola – who once sold Toure to City from Barcelona – confirmed the 33-year-old would remain a part of his plans for the rest of the season.

Liverpool's midfielder Roberto Firmino (L) and defender Joel Matip (2L) vie in the air with Southampton's defender Virgil van Dijk (2R) and Southampton's midfielder Oriol Romeu during the English Premier League football match Nov 19, 2016 ... Pix AFP.
Liverpool’s midfielder Roberto Firmino (L) and defender Joel Matip (2L) vie in the air with Southampton’s defender Virgil van Dijk (2R) and Southampton’s midfielder Oriol Romeu during the English Premier League football match Nov 19, 2016 … Pix AFP.

Saints found value in van Dijk

Southampton have seen a host of players – including Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Sadio Mane – leave for Liverpool in recent seasons.

But on Saturday the Saints managed to hold Liverpool, the Premier League’s top scorers, to a goalless draw at St Mary’s.

Much of the credit was due to centre-back Virgil van Dijk, a 13-million-pound (US$16 million, 15 million euros) signing from Celtic last year.

The towering Dutch international marshalled Southampton’s defence imperiously, producing a brilliant last-ditch block to thwart Mane in the first half.

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