Chelsea 3-3 Everton
Over the summer, Chelsea relentlessly pursued one of Everton’s brightest young players of recent memory, John Stones. The Toffees stood firm, however, and managed to retain the services of their promising defender, and right now it looks like Stones may have made the right choice. His side sat three spots and five points ahead of the Blues going into Saturday’s matchup at Stamford Bridge, and a win could see them jump as high as ninth in the table.
The man behind Stones between the pipes, Tim Howard, was forced into a close-range save on the quarter hour mark. That stop would be just the beginning of a very difficult match for both keepers. Everton fans momentarily thought they had found the opener moments later, only for Kevin Mirallas’ chip called back for off sides. The visitors continued to press a seemingly shaky Chelsea backline and looked the dominant side for the majority of the opening 45 minutes. Unfortunately for the Merseyside club, they were unable to translate this positive play into a goal and were forced to go into the second half still deadlocked at 0-0.
It didn’t take too long into the second period of play for the goals to start flowing as John Terry found the back of the net five minutes after the break. The Chelsea skipper inadvertently deflected a Leighton Baines cross into his own net and put Everton a goal to the good. Ross Barkley was inches away from doubling his sides’ lead just two minutes later, but his powerful drive clanged off the woodwork. Almost immediately after Barkley’s close call, Mirallas cannoned in a wonderful shot past Thibault Courtois to make it 2-0 in favor of the Toffees.
After a disastrous start to the half, Chelsea managed to steal a goal back in the 64th minute through Diego Costa. The Spanish forward was able to take advantage of a communication error in Everton’s backline and basically walked the ball into the back of the net. Cesc Fabregas put the hosts on level terms two minutes later, when his deflected effort wrongfooted Howard and rolled into the net. It looked like Everton had grabbed a late winner when Ramiro Funes Mori knocked in from a corner kick in the 90th minute, but Chelsea had other plans. In the 98th minute, Terry was able to atone for his earlier mistake with a wonderful backheeled effort (which looked a yard offsides after replays) past Howard to cap off a thrilling 3-3 draw.
Aston Villa 1-1 Leicester City
At the start of the year, people looking at a January fixture between Villa and Leicester would’ve thought there were serious relegation points on the line for both clubs. This year’s gone slightly different than the original plan, however, as Leicester found themselves tied with Arsenal for the top spot in the table, but Villa were languishing at the bottom of the table. The trip to Villa Park looked like a guaranteed win for the Foxes, but some unconvincing form, as of late, had the potential to trip them up.
Aston Villa should have grabbed the lead on the 20-minute mark, but Libor Kozak couldn’t take advantage of Robert Huth mistake as Mark Bunn denied his initial effort and his follow up pass was cleared out of play. Summer signing Shinji Okazaki opened up the scoring in the 28th minute. After Mark Bunn made a brilliant save to deny a chip from Vardy, the Japanese striker smashed home the rebound and thanks to goal-line technology the Foxes were correctly given the lead. A handball from Aly Sissoko three minutes later gave Riyad Mahrez the chance to double Leicester’s lead from the penalty spot, but Bunn kept Villa in the match with a diving stop.
At the start of the second half, Leicester still found themselves a goal to the good and was clearly the better side in the opening 45 minutes. The Villans started off attacking more after the break, and looked a revitalized side. After the two sides traded chances for the majority of the second half, Rudy Gestede found a long awaited equalizer for the hosts in the 75th minute. Despite the ball striking his hand in the buildup work to the goal, the Frenchman’s powerful drive stood. Gestede’s goal would prove to be vital as it sealed the draw for Villa and secured them an invaluable point.
Liverpool 0-1 Manchester United
What a day. What a day. As seen in the preview I wrote up for this match, I had very high hopes for United’s attacking performance Sunday at Anfield. However, both teams ended up falling just a tad short of my expectations. Going into the match, Louis Van Gaal had led them team to an undefeated start to 2016 and they now sat sixth in the table. Liverpool, on the other hand, had won just a single match in the New Year and were comfortably outside of European competition in ninth place.
The first half was hardly a competition as Liverpool’s high pressure dominated the match. David De Gea was forced into action early, stopping a one-on-one chance against Adam Lallana ten minutes in before Roberto Firmino narrowly missed the rebound. The Reds continued to press United’s backline and their shots came closer and closer to testing De Gea. Unfortunately for the Anfield supporters, Jürgen Klopp’s men were unable to provide a lethal finishing touch and the clubs went into halftime scoreless. A bright side for Liverpool, however, was that the Red Devils had failed to register a single shot on target the entire first half.
Liverpool again started the second half on the front foot with Emre Can forcing De Gea into another close-range save in the 50th minute. United’s first real chance of the match came several minutes later, but Anthony Martial’s cross fizzed across the face of goal and the Red Devils still hadn’t registered a shot on target. De Gea’s finest moment of the match came in the 66th minute. First, the Spanish keeper produced a brilliant diving save to deny a long drive from Can, and then he swatted away Firmino’s looped effort on the follow up. The decisive moment came in the 78th minute. After Marouane Fellaini’s initial header rattled the crossbar, Wayne Rooney collected the rebound and hammered in his shot to steal all three points for United with their first shot on target. The win put Van Gaal’s club up to fifth in the table, while Klopp’s side remained ninth.