By Ryan Moran
- Teenage striker caps off dream week with a double against Arsenal.
- Fraser Forster sets new club record at St Mary’s.
- Leicester City scrape through tough Norwich test.
In a rollercoaster ride that has been the Premier League 2015/16, did Leicester’s visit of Norwich prove a tougher test than Arsenal? After mixed European fortune, United welcomed the Gunners to Old Trafford in a less than blockbuster encounter than previous meetings.
Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal
Manchester United’s injury constraints allowed Marcus Rashford to grab his Premier League opportunity with the game’s opening two goals. Having made his debut in the Europa League victory over FC Midtjylland, the 18 year old has scored four goals in his first two appearances in the senior squad.
A new class of ’92 appears to be taking shape. Rashford joins Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Jesse Lingard in players to make a significant impact for the first team. Guillermo Varela joined the trio in the starting line-up but is yet to secure a permanent spot.
An end to end opening 20 minutes were sparked into life by the United striker. Rashford picked the ball up on the left before dropping inside two Arsenal defenders and being brought down. The eventual free kick came to nothing but made the Gunners aware of the confidence and talent in abundance.
A poor clearance by Gabriel Paulista allowed the 18 year old to despatch the loose ball past Petr Cech. The striker doubled his tally three minutes later, heading in Lingard’s cross.
Rashford is the third youngest United player to score for the first team after Danny Welbeck and Frederico Macheda. The former lined up against his former club and gave the Gunners a lifeline before half time, heading past David De Gea.
Ander Herrera’s deflected effort, assisted by Rashford, restored the home side’s advantage 20 minutes into the second half as Arsenal’s tough week looked to continue. A Mesut Ozil volley put the away side in contention to fight for a draw but the Red Devils held on.
Arsene Wenger’s side are now without a win in three games, a draw at Hull and defeats by Barcelona and Manchester United. Other than Louis Van Gaal’s pitch side tumble, it was a day of positives as the home side remain fifth.
Southampton 1-2 Chelsea
Chelsea’s resurgence under Guus Hiddink continued as the Blues came from behind to defeat Southampton. As a result, the away side recorded back to back league victories for the first time this campaign.
Hiddink’s side lined up against two former Blues in Oriol Romeu and £10 million left back Ryan Bertrand. At left back for the visitors was £22 million signing Abdul Baba Rahman, note the emphasis on the price tags.
A cagey first half performance by Chelsea showed the Blues are still a shadow of their former selves, failing to make an early impact on the game. In contrast the Saints played with freedom and confidence on the ball, midfielders Jordy Clasie and Romeu confident on the ball to feed into the channels.
A poor header by Baba allowed Shane Long to break through before intricately chipping the ball over the onrushing Thibaut Courtois. Add to this the departure of Pedro after seven minutes with a hamstring injury. Baba’s half time substitution epitomised the poor first half display by the away side.
Dominance returned in Chelsea’s favour in the second half but the big ask of beating the formidable Fraser Forster still remained. The Saints’ shot stopper eclipsed a club record 666 minutes without conceding, set by Paul Jones in the 2000/01 campaign, making 667 minutes after 34 minutes had passed in this game.
The ex-Celtic keeper was finally beaten, and in unusual fashion. Cesc Fabregas’ cross-come-shot beat Forster, deceived by the run of Eden Hazard. A foul on Cedric Soares by Kenedy was flagged by the linesman but ignored by referee Martin Atkinson.
Branislav Ivanovic rubbed salt into Southampton’s wounds with a powerful header one minute from time to take all three points from the south coast. Charlie Austin had the best chance to claim a winner for the home side however, heading over from close range.
Ronald Koeman’s side dropped to seventh while Chelsea climbed to 11th. Forster’s 708-minute club record started against Chelsea, after Diego Costa’s goal in the first meeting between the two sides, with the Blues then ending his feat on Saturday.
Leicester 1-0 Norwich
A late Leonardo Ulloa strike keeps Leicester in the driving seat at the top of the Premier League. A hard fought contest at the King Power was decided late as the Canaries also had chances to win the game.
Claudio Ranieri made no mistake in saying that Norwich would prove a tough opponent given their low league position. The Italian was proved right with a draw seeming a fair result.
The ‘tinkerman’ tag came into full effect in the second half, after a goalless first half, with Ranieri moving the ineffective Riyad Mahrez into his much preferred central role. Going for victory the Leicester manager also moved to three at the back to bring Ulloa on for Daniel Amartey in the closing stages.
Cameron Jerome squandered a header in the first half that would have given Norwich the lead with the game still goalless. However, it was Leicester who came out on top as Marc Albrighton’s low cross was touched on by Jamie Vardy for Ulloa to tap home late in the game.
It was a Chelsea-esque performance from last year, grinding out victories by a single goal and being tight at the back. A victory of such fine margins wins you titles, will it be the same for the Foxes? They remain top but Tottenham are within two points of them. Norwich stay out of the relegation zone on goal difference but Newcastle have a game in hand.
Tottenham 2-1 Swansea
A second half comeback meant Tottenham kept up with leaders Leicester at the top. With Arsenal succumbing to defeat, Spurs are now three points clear of the third placed Gunners.
Europa League exploits meant a two day rest for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Swansea City made the brighter start when Alberto Paloschi turned in Angel Rangel’s initial shot. The Swans held onto their lead with Lukasz Fabianski at the forefront.
A succession of saves against his former North London rivals prevented Spurs from finding an equaliser before half time. Nacer Chadli eventually made a breakthrough 20 minutes from time, deflecting in Kyle Walker’s shot at goal.
Danny Rose gave Tottenham the lead seven minutes later, driving at goal after Swansea failed to clear. The double still remains a possibility for the North London outfit, as well as finishing above their rivals.
Swansea remain three points clear of the relegation zone with the other half of North London on the agenda. West Ham lie in waiting for Tottenham, an interesting encounter with both in good form.
West Bromwich Albion 3-2 Crystal Palace
West Brom fans restored their reputation as Chris Brunt’s name resonated around the Hawthorns 11 minutes into the game, as a show of support after the coin incident. The number 11 proved good omen as the Baggies took the lead through Craig Gardner, one of three first half goals for Tony Pulis’ side.
Gardner tucked home the rebound after Salomon Rondon’s initial effort was saved, the start of a scintillating first half for West Brom. Craig Dawson’s downward header from a corner doubled the home side’s advantage as the Baggies’ front three continued to cause Palace problems.
Saido Berahino’s inclusion was the start of an apparent epiphany as the striker apologised for his social media outbursts this season. The striker delivered with a first half volley from a pinpoint Stephane Sessegnon pass.
A first half onslaught required a response, given by Connor Wickham. Jonas Olsson and Ben Foster’s miscommunication allowed the striker to take advantage of the situation and start the comeback. A much improved second half performance saw Wickham net a superb second, firing into the far corner. The Baggies did hold on despite the Eagles’ best efforts to force an equaliser.
Of the other fixtures:
Stoke City 2-1 Aston Villa
West Ham United 1-0 Sunderland
Watford 0-0 Bournemouth
Liverpool and Manchester City meet twice in the space four days, in both the cup and the league, as their clash is the pick of the mid week fixtures. The evening action kicks off on Tuesday 2nd March at 19:45 with five fixtures as Leicester host West Brom.