Premier Picks: Luiz shines in midfield

Sunday 23rd December 2012 19:13

David Luiz's midfield role for Chelsea, Liverpool's top-four hopes and Stoke's superb defence feature in our Premier Picks from the weekend.

Wigan 0 Arsenal 1

With Santi Cazorla to the fore, Arsenal were at the free-flowing best against Reading on Monday night, but five days later they had to show a different side to their game to win at the DW Stadium.

Unable to match his hat-trick heroics at the Madejski, Cazorla had a quiet game - but the Gunners managed to grind their way to a victory that sends them into Christmas in good heart.

For all the talk of crisis at the Emirates, these things are relative and Arsene Wenger will enjoy his Christmas dinner with his side back in the Champions League places, where they feel they belong.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the key man for the visitors and his performance was in stark contrast to that of the Wigan full-backs, who saw plenty of the ball going forward but crossed - in the main - appallingly.

Things were not all bad for the Latics, though, as though they offered little in the final third the gritty nature of their performance - and claims they were only beaten by a soft penalty decision - should leave them looking to the rest of the season thinking that once again they can pull themselves away from danger.

Reece Killworth

Southampton 0 Sunderland 1

A victory that Sunderland fully deserved, purely for their resolute defending. Southampton had the majority of possession and territory, but failed to create any clear-cut chances against a defence in which John O'Shea was magnificent.

Steven Fletcher further enhanced his reputation as one of the Premier League's most important forwards, and took his only chance of the match with ease. He is a striker that simply does not need to 'get going'.

For Southampton, however, this is a significant setback after a positive run, and Nigel Adkins will know that his side sit outside the relegation zone on goal difference going into the Christmas period

Daniel Storey

Newcastle 1 QPR 0

Victory may have delivered three points for Newcastle United, but the fact that it took 81 minutes to find a decisive goal will be of concern to manager Alan Pardew.

The home team created plenty of half-chances, but given their dominance of both possession and territory, there was a distinct lack of clear, goal-scoring opportunities created.

Demba Ba had an off-day, and without his usual potency, Newcastle looked blunt in front of goal before Shola Ameobi arrived to save the day.

The same can be said for QPR, the exception in their case being that they created virtually no chances at all, let alone half-chances.

Indeed, the visitors were curiously unadventurous given that they entered the match unbeaten under Harry Redknapp and on the back of their first win of the season, against Fulham last week.

Of paramount importance now is ensuring that the Redknapp bubble does not burst and the Londoners avoid slipping back into the poor form that led to the sacking of Mark Hughes.

Matthew Westby

West Ham 1 Everton 2

It was not a good day for referee Anthony Taylor at Upton Park on Saturday, with the official producing two needless red cards and disallowing an early goal from Leon Osman.

Osman headed what looked like a perfectly good opener for the Toffees only to have his effort ruled out seemingly for Victor Anichebe's block on Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Goals from Carlton Cole and Anichebe left the tie evenly poised before Taylor's decision to send off Cole on 67 minutes turned the match in Everton's favour.

Cole's high challenge on Leighton Baines looked anything but a reckless lunge and there was general disbelief around Upton Park when Taylor produced a straight red.

The referee evened things up in stoppage time as Darron Gibson saw red for an almost identical challenge to Cole's on Mark Noble, leaving even the West Ham fans to sing 'You Don't Know What You're Doing'.

Away from the poor refereeing decisions, Hammers boss Sam Allardyce could take pluses from this game - his side stuck at their task and almost snatched a late point via Kevin Nolan, while Jack Collison made a welcome return from a long-term knee injury.

Everton manager David Moyes will have also been pleased with the way his side kept battling to get the points to move into fourth.

However, Moyes will have been concerned at the ease with which his defence was opened up at times, with the recalled Johnny Heitinga enduring a particularly hard afternoon from Cole.

Steve Pass

Manchester City 1 Reading 0

You couldn't help but feel for Reading manager Brian McDermott as he stood on the touchline in the pouring rain after Gareth Barry fired home Manchester City's winner in the third minute of stoppage time. As the seconds trickled down at the Etihad Stadium it appeared the Royals had done enough to see out a goalless draw but their brave defensive display was not enough in the end.

Reading, rock bottom of the Premier League, had deflected everything the defending champions had thrown at them up to Barry's late goal, with centre-half pairing Adrian Mariappa and Alex Pearce contributing particularly noteworthy displays. Jimmy Kebe was also a stand-out man, getting forward well on the rare occasions the visitors found space to attack.

On the City side of things, Roberto Mancini's men couldn't be faulted for their efforts going forward, with Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and David Silva working particularly well together as they created chance after chance, lacking only the end product until Barry nodded home Silva's cross in the closing minutes.

An unfamiliar name on the City team sheet was teenage defender Karim Rekik, who enjoyed a decent debut, settling into the game well after a nervy opening period. The Dutch youngster didn't have much to do at the back but showed his prowess getting forward as he contributed to City's pressing.

City continued to show the never-say-die spirit so often associated with their neighbours on the red side of Manchester and that attitude could be key going forward in the New Year. Saturday's victory saw them cut the gap on United to three points - temporarily at least - and they will be glad to have another win under their belts. McDermott will be able to take positives from Reading's display but the fact remains they have lost seven on the spin and are now in a dangerous position they will be desperate to dig themselves out of after Christmas.

Rachel Griffiths

Tottenham 0 Stoke 0

A game of few chances and no goals, but there were still plenty of positives to take for Tony Pulis after an exceptional defensive performance from Stoke.

They kept Tottenham at bay with strong tackling, disciplined organisation and a work ethic that was adhered to by everyone in the team, with Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth leading the way at centre-back and Asmir Begovic doing all that was required of him with a sensational late save from Gylfi Sigurdsson.

It is not hard to see why the Potters have the best defensive record in the league, although the other side to that is their struggle to score. There were a few chances created on the counter-attack but none of the strikers appear to be in great form, with Peter Crouch again starting on the substitutes' bench.

For Tottenham it was a frustrating afternoon at White Hart Lane, not for the first time this season, and Andre Villas-Boas will be alarmed by how little they troubled Stoke until the final few minutes.

Gareth Bale provided the odd flash of brilliance but Aaron Lennon was kept quiet and Mousa Dembele could not get forward as much as he would have liked, while Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor did not link up effectively at all.

It is a major boost to have the likes of Scott Parker returning from injury and Tottenham head into Christmas very much in the mix for a top-four finish.

Lewis Rutledge

Liverpool 4 Fulham 0

In this kind of form, it is hard to argue against Liverpool being realistic contenders for a top-four finish in 2013. The Reds pressed high up the field, worked well as unit and took their chances when they arrived.

Champions League qualification may seem like a big jump up from where the Reds have been in the not too distant past, and where they have been at times this season, but the Premier League is so competitive this year that anything is possible.

Brendan Rodgers has always maintained that Liverpool would be slow burners, as they embrace his managerial philosophies and an intriguing blend of youth and experience is given time to gel. That process appears to be nearing completion, although consistency must still be found.

Liverpool went from being humbled 3-1 in their own back yard by Aston Villa to crushing Fulham 4-0 in the space of a week. There were only two personnel changes on Saturday, and it is difficult to argue that opting to rest Raheem Sterling on the bench strengthened the Reds.

If Rodgers can get his side playing to their full potential more often than not, then Liverpool may well be a force to be reckoned with over the second half of the season - especially if they can bring in fresh faces in January and bolster their attacking options.

The Anfield faithful will, however, be aware that the Fulham side they overcame on Saturday appeared to have already shut down for Christmas, with Martin Jol's side never getting out of first gear.

The Cottagers were all over the place, especially at set-pieces, for much of the 90 minutes on Merseyside and they now have serious issues to address after picking up just one win in their last 10 top-flight outings.

If they are not careful, Fulham could be looking anxiously over their shoulder at the drawn of 2013, while Liverpool will be hoping to have their sights locked on a charge up the standings and a return to European football's top table.

Chris Burton

West Brom 2 Norwich 1

This was a classic example of home advantage proving a self-fulfilling prophecy as West Brom got their reward for chasing all three points, while Norwich were happy to settle for a draw.

Baggies boss introduced Marc-Antoine Fortune for Graham Dorrans at the interval and then brought Shane Long on in the second half as the home side went with four strikers in the hope of pinching a win.

In contrast, Chris Hughton was happy to bring Jonny Howson on for Wes Hoolahan as the Canaries took a more cautious approach - and were punished when Romelu Lukaku found a late winner.

West Brom's victory boosted them after a four-game winless streak while Norwich saw their 10-game unbeaten run come to an end.

But with both sides fairly evenly matched, one wonders whether the outcome would have been different if this was at Carrow Road and the respective managers had taken a different attitude with their substitutions.

Adam Bate

Swansea 1 Manchester United 1

When all is said and done at the end of the season, it could be phases of play like the second half of Sunday's clash at the Liberty Stadium which decide the destination of the Premier League title.

After a lacklustre display before the break Manchester United eventually took control of the contest but could not force a winner as the hosts held on for a hard-earned draw.

A frustrated Robin van Persie and off-colour Wayne Rooney were unable to break down a resolute Swans defence marshalled superbly by skipper Ashley Williams.

While having to settle for a draw away from home against a motivated and ambitious side like Swansea is certainly no disaster, there is no doubt that United will be disappointed to see their league lead cut to four points before Christmas.

Following Sir Alex Ferguson's post-match comments many of the headlines may focus on the incident which saw Van Persie hit in the head with the ball from close range, but his side's failure to convert pressure into a goal late on should also be analysed.

Swansea were probably the better team in the first half but faded after the break as the visitors started to assert their dominance.

However, they will have been pleased to showcase another side to their game as Williams and defensive midfielder Kemy Agustien this time took the plaudits ahead of forwards like Michu.

Alex Williams

Chelsea 8 Aston Villa 0

Chelsea were sublime as the 8-0 scoreline would suggest against Aston Villa on Sunday. Their slick passing game was fantastic and Villa couldn't live with the one and two touch football as Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, David Luiz, Frank Lampard and Victor Moses ran riot in the middle of the park.

Luiz looks much more at home in central midfield than he does in his customary defensive role. He was excellent at breaking up play and releasing the likes of Hazard while he's given more of a licence to fulfil his natural attacking instinct in the middle of the park.

While he arguably softens Chelsea defensively when he plays at the back, he gives them more steel when he plays in midfield and steel is what Rafa Benitez has added to Chelsea's flair. They look a decent side again. For Villa's youngsters, this was a harsh lesson. They were naïve. But their attitude was good even when they were losing by five, six, seven. They will learn from this.

Ben Linfoot



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