Bolton 1-3 Liverpool
When you are looking for your first win at Bolton in…um, a long time (I’m too lazy to look it up, sorry), it really helps if they hand you the first goal on a silver plate. Which is what happened here: a low, long-range shot from Steven Gerrard that was headed just wide until Jussi Jaaskelainen attempted to block it but somehow deflected the ball back into his own net. Having that goal gave Liverpool confidence and enabled them to pass the ball around calmly, and opened up the game as Bolton had to go looking for an equalizer. The problem is that with Nicolas Anelka gone to Stamford Bridge, they don’t have much of a goal-scoring threat up front.
For Liverpool, Fernando Torres has been the main threat this season, but he had a relatively quiet game here. Ryan Babel was probably their most dangerous player; he still needs to add some variety to his repertoire, rather than cutting inside onto his right foot all the time, but he did score and terrorized the Bolton defence throughout. I’m still not convinced that Dirk Kuyt should be playing on the other wing, but he did look better today. (Maybe Rafa figures that he’s not much of a goal-scorer, so you might as well play him out wide?). Find here the latest Premier League enhanced offers to put a wager on your favorite football team and more.
One thing Liverpool need to do is work on their defending at set-pieces. People have been criticizing their zonal marking system for ages, but whereas before they were keeping plenty of clean sheets, this season they seem to be giving up a goal just about every game, and most of them are from set plays. Like the late goal they conceded here — although at least Fabio Aurelio had given them a bit of insurance just a few minutes before, a beautiful volley for his first-ever Liverpool goal. Anyway, another three points in the bag, and now they have to do the same against West Ham on Wednesday to move back ahead of Everton into fourth place.
Fulham 0-3 Manchester United
When United start with Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, is that reassuring for their opponents or just insulting? It should be the latter, but I suspect Fulham were just happy that it wasn’t any worse for them — especially Paul Stalteri at right-back, who was roasted more thoroughly than any hooker at one of Ronaldo’s parties (and also reminded us of why the Canadian national team is so mediocre).
United never really got out of first gear, but they didn’t need to. Owen Hargreaves scored his first goal for the club with an excellent free kick. And Fulham continued their hospitality by allowing Park Ji-Sung his first goal in almost a year, followed by an own-goal to top things off. Oh, but Fulham did finally bring on two strikers in stoppage time — a futile use of substitutions that sent the commentators I was listening to into a sort of bemused apoplexy.
Arsenal 1-1 Aston Villa
Ohh, so close! So close to a great victory for Villa — and so close to Manchester United going top of the table on goal difference. I managed to catch the last five minutes of the game yesterday, just in time to see Nicklas Bendtner equalize for Arsenal at the very end of stoppage time. Argh. The fight-back may be a boost to them, but from my perspective, at least they only got one point from this game. And one point is also all that separates them from United in second place.
Also encouraging for rest of the league is that Villa proved that you don’t have to kick to death Arsenal to beat them; you just have to out-hustle and out-think them. Arsenal looked disjointed from the outset, and although they threatened more as the game went on, they still weren’t producing enough shots that really tested the keeper. (Exception: The hapless Phil Senderos, who I can’t even laugh at for that own-goal, because his droopy face makes me want to pat him on the head and bake him cookies.)
West Ham 0-4 Chelsea
Hmm. At least I got to see Frank Lampard sent off. I’m still not entirely sure what the red card was for — kicking at Luis Boa Morte as he got up from a tackle, shoving him down again afterwards, or what — or why Boa Morte also didn’t get carded for kicking out at Lampard in return. But it means three games with no chance of having to watch that obnoxious ring-kissing celebration, so whatever.
The sending-off might have been controversial, but it didn’t really change the game. It was all over by that point, with three Chelsea goals in five first-half minutes: a Lampard penalty plus two sweet finishes by JOe Cole and Michael Ballack. The Chelsea team was dramatically changed from the lineup that they fielded in the Carling Cup, and looked much more effective. Makes you wonder why they left Joe Cole, for example, on the bench for so long last weekend. But then, I’m not a control-freak Russian billionaire, so what do I know about football?
Birmingham 4-1 Tottenham
I suspect that the Tottenham players are still hung over after last weekend. I mean, credit to Birmingham for a solid performance, and Spurs were admittedly fielding a weakened lineup ahead of their UEFA Cup game on Thursday, but come on. When you are giving up hat-tricks to Mikael Forssell, that is not good. Maybe we can blame the yellow kits.
Everton 3-1 Portsmouth
Derby 0-0 Sunderland
Manchester City 0-0 Wigan
Middlesbrough 0-1 Reading
Newcastle 0-1 Blackburn