While Chelsea weren't at their best on the day, I can't say enough about the team performance from the Geordies on Saturday morning. Missing their starting goalkeeper in Tim Krul, even the most fanatic Newcastle fans probably didn't go into this game feeling confident of coming away with any points.
A well-organized defense in the first half kept the Blues at bay, but with second-string keeper Rob Elliot injuring himself during a goal kick at the end of the half, hearts were certainly in mouths at the break. Alan Pardew was forced into replacing Elliot with 21 year-old Jak Alnwick, who made his senior debut against the league's most potent offense. The youngster performed brilliantly, recording five saves to keep Diego Costa and company at bay well into the second half.
It was Pardew's next substitution that proved to be a stroke of genius, however. Papiss Cisse was introduced in the second half and scored twice to earn the Magpies the victory and bring the 'Invincibles' conversation surrounding Chelsea to an end.
Since when do Stoke City score 3 goals in a single half of football, let alone an entire game? Sparky has somehow managed to keep relatively the same group of players together from when his predecessor, Tony Pulis, was in charge, but the Potters are now playing an attractive, attacking style. The additions of Bojan Krkic, Victor Moses and Mame Biram Diouf have been inspired, and while the results have been inconsistent, a victory over Arsenal in Week 15 keeps them out of the relegation conversation and will give them plenty of confidence heading into their Week 16 trip to Crystal Palace. Hughes deserves a lot of credit for turning one of the league's least entertaining sides into an exciting group in a short space of time.
A case can be made for Sam Allardyce, or even West Ham as a whole to be highlighted after another victory sees them finish the weekend in the top four, but after such a difficult spell since his move to London, Carroll deserves the highest praise for his performance against Swansea City on Sunday. Two goals and an assist against a good Swans team highlights Big Andy's potential, and he'll be giving Allardyce a selection headache going forward. Full credit to him for his perseverance, and I hope he continues to get his career back on track.
The Title Race
After looking for all the world like Chelsea were going to cruise to the title as recently as two weeks ago, consecutive weeks of dropped points for the Blues has allowed the chasing pack to come within touching distance. Manchester City are now just three points off the top of the table, with Southampton, Manchester United and West Ham close enough to make things interesting if results continue to fall in their favor. With clubs now alert to the fact that Chelsea can, in fact, be defeated, the title race should heat up heading into the second half of the season.
After looking like the best of the promoted clubs for the first few weeks of the season, the Foxes now look the surefire bet for relegation. They finally scored a goal against Aston Villa to take an early lead, but fell to yet another defeat. Nigel Pearson's side have only taken one point in their last six Premier League matches, and it may not be long until the manager finds himself on the hotseat. Reinforcements are needed in January if there is any hope for Leicester remaining in the league for a sophomore season, but even then it may not be enough.
John Obi Mikel
If there's anything we've learned in the opening 15 weeks of this season, it's that Jose Mourinho has his preferred starting eleven locked in, barring injuries and/or suspensions. I highlighted the importance of Nemanja Matic in the lead-up to Chelsea's match against Newcastle this weekend and stated that the West London club don't really have a solid replacement for the Serbian. Mourinho drafted in John Obi Mikel to replace the suspended Matic this weekend, and while the Nigerian certainly wasn't the only one to blame, he didn't do nearly enough to justify the Special One changing his plans going forward.
While there are likely quite a few people who think Arsene Wenger is more deserving of being here after Arsenal's loss to Stoke this weekend, the continuing concern surrounding Liverpool's attacking deficiencies lands Rodgers in the Losers column this week. A point was a better result than Chelsea or Arsenal managed this weekend, but a win would have gone a long way to silencing the rumors surrounding the managerial position at Liverpool. The Reds have been so dire this season that even Andre Villas-Boas has been rumored as a potential replacement to get their season back on track.
Clearly struggling with the additional fixtures of the Champions League, the Liverpool boss has refused to rotate some of his veteran players, namely Rickie Lambert. Fabio Borini would have been a great option to play against his former club, but Rodgers didn't even name him (or any other possible striker option) in the matchday squad. Lambert has now played every minute of every match since the International Break, and with a must-win Champions League match against Basel in midweek, fatigue could play a major role in whether or not Liverpool qualify for the next stage of the competition. Poor management decisions like this, especially if Liverpool fail against Basel, could result in Rodgers getting the sack.
Unexpected losses, injuries and red cards played a major role in what will hopefully go down as the worst fantasy week of the season (at least for many of us). Among goalkeepers, popular options like Thibaut Courtois, Damian Martinez and Lukasz Fabianski all delivered heavily negative scores, while only those managers with Alan McGregor will really be celebrating their choice between the posts. Sergio Aguero's unfortunate injury ruled him out of Manchester City's match against Everton before he had the chance to accumulate any points. With most managers investing a fifth of their budget on the league's leading scorer, missing out on his points without having any potential for a replacement from the bench hurt quite a bit. I'm counting myself thankful for bringing in 83 points this week given how bad it could have been, and hopeful that next week will be better.
Do you feel like there were any glaring omissions in the winners or losers column for Week 15? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to weigh in with your thoughts on this article becoming a weekly feature. We appreciated all the feedback about the Cut Rate XI piece and are interested in hearing what you think about this one. Thank you!