Manchester United 0 v Newcastle 1 - You could almost just feel something was off before the starting whistle blew at Old Trafford. United were without their in form striker, Wayne Rooney, due to Yellow Card accumulation. Instead United relied upon newly returned Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez to lead the line. This was supposed to be a lock and shut home win, but Newcastle come with a confidence sumptuously born out of their current stellar run of form. Yohan Cabaye scored the only goal, and pretty much summed up Newcastle's vault back to the top quarter of the table. They were quick on the ball, aggressive, and closed down United, effectively keeping the Red Devils at bay. Questions are now well and truly being asked about United's title credentials, this was their first back to back defeat at home since 2002 and Newcastle's first win at Old Trafford since the Barclay's Premier League was formed. Bottom line, it appears Robin van Persie just doesn't look capable of leading United back to the top. He has been plauged by injuries and hasn't produced the form that brought United the title last season. At this point, I'm avoiding the Dutch striker and most of United's squad. The return of Rooney next week will be a huge boost, but if United don't right the ship, they may find it is already too late. As for Newcastle, they are on fire. The likes of Cabaye and Debuchy look especially tasty no matter the match up.
Southampton 1 v Manchester City 1 - What can we say about this match? Southampton are a very capable and quality side and Manchester City still can't get their act together on the road. Sergio Aguero was amongst the goals yet again, while Osvaldo seems to be clicking into some form after a barren first portion of the season. In any event, Southampton will probably feel a draw against the former Champions was a great result considering what the Sky Blue have done at the Etihad this season. However, Manchester City, while not in a crisis like the red half of the city, need to figure out why they are stuttering on the road so much this season. It isn't like Pellegrini radically changes his squad, tactics, or formation for away matches, so it is perplexing to see Manchester City fall so short on the road. These are the type of dropped points that will make a title push fail, so City will have their work cut out for them to turn it around. Next week sees a return to the Etihad, albiet against league leaders, Arsenal which should produce a spectacular match. A win at home will be a huge boost to City's title challenge, but I don't expect to see them score 4+ goals. Best to keep your discounted players but not to buy in over aggressively.
West Bromwich Albion 0 v Norwich City 2 - A very rare away win for Chris Houghton's Canaries, but vital none the less. Norwich have been up and down all season, but seem to take the points when most needed and this was certainly the case. Gary Hooper has been a fantastic signing for Norwich and is proving he can score crucial goals and is also taking penalties, at least until Robert Snodgrass returns. West Brom have been a bit more solid this season but this was surely an unexpected loss at the Hawthorns. Not that any one was too excited about this match up any way, but best to only take spot picks from each side as the season progresses.
Stoke City 3 v Chelsea 2 - Another major upset in a week where matches were supposed to follow a set order. While Chelsea may not be in the same position as united, they are certainly finding this season's Premier League a much different beast than the last time Mourinho took the reigns at Stamford Bridge. Crisis is probably not the word i would use to describe Chelsea, but worrisome none the less. Chelsea have looked weak in attack all season, summed up by the fact that Luis Suarez scored the same amount of goals as Torres, Eto, and Ba combined in just one match against Norwich. Mourinho says he won't be looking to bring anyone in at the January transfer window, but all the indicators point to the need for a reliable striker to sustain a title race. Chelsea's defense has also been suspect all season, something Mourinho will be desperate to address. However, this loss makes Chelsea's match against Crystal Palace a bit more interesting with Cech a very affordable option. Take no credit away from Stoke though, who were brilliant in the second half after being utterly dominated the first 45 min. The real problem with Stoke from a fantasy position is that they cannot seem to maintain any sort of consistent form in attack or defense. Next week looks good for Chelsea investment and probably another dip from Stoke away to Hull City so plan accordingly.
Liverpool 4 v West Ham 1 - Quite the odd match with 3 own goals (that's two for Skrtel on the trot) but another brilliant performance from arguably the best striker in the Premier League if not top 5 of the world right now Luis Suarez. It is becoming clear, Suarez is the clear favorite arm band contender week in and week out. Liverpool continue to churn out results, indicative of their current 2nd place standing. Although their defense is still a work in progress, the attack has been sublime. With Spur's recent troubles not only in the goal department, but also defensively as of late, you wouldn't bet against Suarez netting 1 or 2 on them at White Hart Lane. It will be tough to move away from the Uruguayan as captain in his current form. Steven Gerrard looks set to be out for the near future and the midfielder's creative work will have to be shared by Coutinho and co. As for West Ham, they continue to struggle with no real attacking threat and were lucky to get onto the score board via a deflected Skrtel own goal. It has to be said that West Ham are well and truly stuck in the mire of a relegation battle and unless Big Sam can get Andy Carrol back firing from injury, they will continue to struggle well into the 2nd half of the season.
Crystal Palace 2 v Cardiff City 0 - A massive 3 points for Crystal Palace as their upturn in form has given them a fighting chance in the relegation zone come Christmas. While Cardiff City may have helped Palace with a subdued performance, take no credit from the home side, they looked up for the fight. Those who decided to stick to Joel Ward were further repaid by the clean sheet but it was Palace's front men that secured the points. Not that we will be racing out to grab Chamakh, but the Moroccan is finally enjoying a bit of form he lost while toiling behind the scenes at Arsenal. Jerome and Chamakh will have to keep producing if they want to avoid relegation but the spirit seems to be back around the camp. Tackling Chelsea may be a big ask next week, but with chinks in the Blues armor being shown by Stoke, they will surely be looking to press. Cardiff will return home next week and look to rebuild off a disappointing performance, but you probably don't want to buy in much more than Caulker, who at least amassed 14pts in a 2-0 defeat.
Sunderland 1 v Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Not exactly a dominating performance, but that has been the case for Spurs all season. They have managed to stay with the pack at the top of the table, but only through very scrappy wins. It was Hugo Lloris who again was the culprit for Spurs conceeding the first goal with a very weak hand on a cross that eventually fell to Johnson to give Sunderland the lead. Even with this mis-step, Spurs got themselves back into the match, eventually winning via an O'Shea own goal, but never quite convincing. The task will be that much greater when Suarez/Liverpool pay a visit to White Hart Lane and mistakes will only have one outcome: Suarez will score. Sunderland can feel a bit hard done by the defeat after putting in a spirited performance. While some of their results have gone against them, Sunderland seem much brighter under Poyet but need to start churning out results fast to avoid being bottom at Christmas. It will be a hard ask, but the Black Cats have the players to turn the ship around. Will it be a question of too little to late? Only time will tell.
Fulham 2 v Aston Villa 0 - Berbatov starred as the Cottagers finally pulled out a decent performance at Craven Cottage. With new manager Meulensteen off the mark with his first home win, Fulham look to be in good hands to avoid a scrappy relegation battle if they can continue to build off this win. Although the rumors indicate Berbatov would prefer a move away from Craven Cottage in the transfer window, he certainly seemed to be interested this match in show casing his ability to court possible suitors. Those who bought in were duly rewarded with a well taken penalty. If Berbatov is indeed off in January, his performances until then may produce strong fantasy returns so be sure to keep on eye on the Bulgarian. As for Villa, they looked tired and disinterested throughout the match, hardly producing any cohesive attack. The biggest task for Lambert is getting Benteke to rediscover his early season form and help the Midlands club avoid falling into the mire. At this point there is no indication that Benteke will find his feet any time soon, but at home to a bleeding United side might just be the Dark Horse pick of Week 16.
Arsenal 1 v Everton 1 - Everton's fine displays this season have only been over shadowed by Arsenal's sensational rise to the top of the league. In fairness, Everton should have edged this match but a draw works well for the other title hopefuls and neither side can truly say they were disappointed. Ozil was the main man again, although his road performances leave a bit to be desired. Arsenal have the huge task of over hauling Manchester City next week at the Etihad and will look to justify their current position. If they play as they did against Everton, you can bet the result won't be pretty. Everton can take heart in a very good performance that saw them passing with style and confidence right through the Gunner's back line attack after attack. Gerrard Deulofeu looks a real steal as the on loan Barca man again stole the headlines and impressed with an outrageously dipping shot that left Szczesny with no chance. It is a bit unfortunate that Yahoo lists the little Spaniard as a forward, but he should be in contention to start next week home to Fulham and must be taken into consideration. Roberto Martinez is surely proving his critics wrong and has Everton playing wonderfully attractive football (I hate to admit that as a Liverpool fan!). If they can sustain this push, top 4 looks a real possibility for the Toffees.
Swansea City v Hull City - Analysis to follow.
Well there you have it, another week almost into the books with the exception of Swansea City v Hull City. Remember this is another Blog Cup week, so those with players left will be hoping to boost their final score as much as possible to make it safely through to the next round. I currently sit on 125pts w/ Shelvey left to go and Amalfitano ready to replace my non-playing Soldado for an extra 5pts. I am at 1877pts and currently in 660th place overall. For Week 16 my squad currently looks like: Cech, Debuchy, Caulker, C. Davies, Ozil, Ramsey, Shelvey, Brady, Benteke, Mata, Suarez (capt) with Coutinho, Demichelis, Kelly and Lloris on my bench. I kind of like it already especially with the cheeky Benteke Dark Horse pick, but certainly some positions will change as we get closer to the next deadline.
How did your teams fair this week? Who do you have left to play? Look for Mo to post the Blog Cup results later this week!