Manchester United 2-1 Middlesbrough
This Saturday was legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s 75th birthday. Ferguson’s tenure at Manchester United was defined by trophies and “Fergie Time.” This was the last 10 minutes in a match where no matter what the score line was, you always had to believe that United could pull out a win. You wouldn’t think a visit from Middlesbrough would push the Red Devils to the edge, but some questionable officiating and a resolute defensive unit really put them to the test.
In the 14th minute, fans at Old Trafford almost witnessed a world class finish, but Paul Pogba’s bicycle kick could only clip the outside of the post. Boro had a couple chances of their own through the opening period of play through the pace of Adama Traore, but there was no way past David De Gea.
The first half action came to a peak in the 38th minute. First, Anthony Martial cannoned a shot off the wood work from close to 30 yards out. Moments after that close-call, the Frenchman found Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a cross that Zlatan cleverly flicked past Victor Valdes. The fans erupted thinking they had taken the lead, but Lee Mason called the goal back for a high kick on Zlatan even though Valdes was more than a yard away when the flick happened.
Despite all of the chances that United had throughout the match, Boro took the lead in the 67th minute. Former Man City striker Alvaro Negredo laid off a cross from Calum Chambers perfectly for Grant Leadbitter. Leadbitter hit a first-time volley that left De Gea helpless as Boro took a one-goal lead at Old Trafford.
As the match entered its final 10 minutes, it looked as if some magnificent saves from Valdes were going to save all three points for the visitors. In the 85th minute, an inch-perfect long ball from Paul Pogba was nodded down by Zlatan to Martial, who hit a thunderous volley into the back of the net. Two minutes later, Juan Mata’s cross was headed right into the top corner by Pogba to seal a trademark late victory at Old Trafford.
After the result, United now find themselves just a point outside of the top four.
Liverpool 1-0 Manchester City
The biggest match of the weekend had to be at Anfield as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool hosted Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. These two clubs sat second and third in the table going into the match, with Liverpool with a slight one-point advantage, and any dropped points had the potential to seriously dent either one’s title dreams. In this renewed managerial rivalry, who would come out on top?
It took seven minutes for Liverpool to take the lead. A quick counter attack from a poor City set piece saw the ball get worked to Adam Lallana on the left wing. The English midfielder delivered a beautiful cross to Georginio Wijnaldum who headed the ball into the back of the net. A dream start for the host, and an early one-goal lead.
While Liverpool’s season has been filled with free-flowing attacking play, it appeared that Klopp lined up a little bit more defensively on Saturday. Their defensive unit, who some, including myself, had questioned, did a very good job of silencing Sergio Aguero and the rest of City’s attack throughout the first half as the Sky Blues struggled to create even a single scoring chance.
In the second half, City came out with a little more venom as Aguero and David Silva both tried their luck from outside the box, but neither was good enough to pull their side level. Liverpool, on the other hand, seemed content to just hold on to the lead as Claudio Bravo went untested between the pipes.
When the final whistle blew, an extremely uneventful second half came to an end with Liverpool a goal to the good. The win sees them maintain the six-point gap between them and Chelsea, while City now find themselves all the way down in fifth behind Arsenal and Tottenham.
Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace
With City dropping points on Saturday, Arsenal had the chance to make up some invaluable ground Sunday against Crystal Palace. The match would be Sam Allardyce’s second in charge after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Watford on Boxing Day. On paper, Arsenal should’ve blown Palace out of the water from start to finish, but the Premier League has a way of keeping matches close.
In the sixth minute, Olivier Giroud had the chance to tap home a Nacho Monreal cross from six yards out, but he couldn’t even manage to make contact with the ball as the chance went missing. The howler was quickly atoned for, however, with Giroud scoring what could be the goal of the season 10 minutes later. At first, it looked as if Alexis Sanchez’s cross was a little behind Giroud, but the striker delivered an unbelievable scorpion kick to send the ball into the top corner. He would later attribute this goal to “maximum luck,” but all that matters is that it gave Arsenal the lead.
The second goal proved a little bit more elusive for Arsenal to grab, and Palace still found themselves within touching distance going into the second half.
Finally, in the 56th minute, youth team product Alex Iwobi cleaned up a scrappy rebound inside the six-yard-box with a header and now the Gunners found themselves with a two-goal lead. Palace had a couple of half chances to cut the deficit to one, but there was no clear way to beat Petr Cech.
Iwobi’s close-range finish would prove to be the dagger as the Gunner’s held on for a very important 2-0 win. Now, Arsenal find themselves all the way up to third, three points behind Liverpool. Palace, on the other hand, still sit two points above Sunderland and the relegation zone.