West Ham United 2-1 Chelsea
Long ago seem the days when Chelsea ran through the league without issue, and all but locked up the title with a month still left in the season. Carrying on José Mourinho’s apparent 18-month curse, the Blues have struggled to string together any results and going into Saturday’s match they sat 12th in the table. Their hosts, however, have been one of the most surprising teams of the year. West Ham had taken down the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, and Chelsea were set to be the latest giant the Irons slay during this momentous campaign.
Slaven Bilic’s squad had the first real chance of the match when a Dimitri Payet free kick forced Asmir Begovic to tip the ball over the bar. From the ensuing corner, the ball bounced through the 18-yard box and to the feet of an unmarked Mauro Zarate. The Argentine forward set his sights and hit a low volley into the back of the net to give his side a surprising lead. In year’s past, the events that transpired in the 37th minute would’ve been extremely controversial, and there would be no clear answer to see who was right. A header from Kurt Zouma appeared to sneak past into the net after a deflection from Manuel Lanzini, but goal-line technology showed that the ball failed to cross the line in its entirety, with less than an inch keeping Chelsea from finding their equalizer. Minutes before the break, Nemanja Matic dug the visitors an even deeper hole when he earned his second yellow card for a challenge on Diafra Sakho.
Adding to the drama of the first half, José Mourinho got himself sent to the stands for the second 45 minutes during the intermission. Despite the loss of their star defensive midfielder, and their manager, Chelsea managed to find an equalizer just ten minutes into the second half. After missing on the initial corner cross, Gary Cahill fought for the rebound and smashed his effort home from close range. West Ham was not to be denied the victory. With a little over ten minutes left in the match, super sub Andy Carroll leaped over his defender to head home the winner and promptly sent Upton Park into a frenzy. The result pushes Chelsea down to 15th in the table, while West Ham now find themselves in third.
Arsenal 2-1 Everton
Arsenal have quietly climbed their way to within touching distance of the top of the table, and a victory over Everton Saturday would at least temporarily put them in first place. The Gunners had won their last three matches in all competitions, including a massive 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League, going into Saturday’s visit from Everton, and looked near unbeatable. Roberto Martinez’s club were coming off an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Manchester United the previous week at Goodison Park and have failed to really make a push for a spot in European competition next season.
From the start of the match, rain pounded the Emirates’ pitch and these slippery conditions had the potential to turn any defensive slip into a goal for the opposition. Arsenal looked the dominant side for the majority of the first half, and it looked as if Mesut Özil was going to open the scoring in the 15th minute. A foul by Olivier Giroud from the knock down leading up to the chance, however, negated the German’s poor finish. Everton’s first chance in the opening period of play came just before the half hour mark, but John Stones skied his effort on a wide-open net. The breakthrough for the Gunners finally came in the 36th minute when Özil sent in a glorious cross that Giroud nicked over Tim Howard to give the hosts the lead. Less than a minute later, Laurent Koscielny doubled Arsenal’s lead with another headed effort past a flailing Howard in net.
The sudden two-goal burst from the hosts appeared to have locked up the three points, but Everton edged one back just before the stroke of halftime. Ross Barkley, who received criticism for his shooting habits during the United game, took the ball on the edge of the 18-yard box and fired a powerful drive that deflected off Gabriel Paulista and into the roof of the net. On the 70-minute mark, Giroud nearly restored Arsenal’s two-goal lead, but his curled effort hit the woodwork. Romelu Lukaku almost stole a point for Everton with ten minutes left in the match, but his effort flew past Petr Cech only to skim the top of the crossbar. A late Gareth Barry red card sealed Everton’s fate, as the Gunners took all three points and climbed to the pinnacle of the league.
Manchester United 0-0 Manchester City
The Manchester Derby is a match typically defined by its dramatic goals and heated battles. Fans waiting around for something to get excited about, however, defined this match. Not since 2010 had this legendary derby finished with a scoreless draw, but that streak was disappointingly brought to an end. A win for either one of the clubs would have given them possession of top spot in the league, but even with that reward on the table, neither was able to spark the form necessary for a historic result.
A cagey first half came and went without anything resembling an actual scoring chance. United looked the dominant side in terms of possession and somewhat offensive pressure. City, on the other hand, looked content to absorb the pressure and allow Louis Van Gaal’s side to pass the ball around the midfield. Arguably the most exciting thing to happen through the first 45 minutes was when Wayne Rooney got his head stapled on the sidelines after getting cut by the jaw of Vincent Kompany. A boring opening 45 minutes would foreshadow an uneventful second half.
United finally started to really press the City defense in the opening stages of the second half, and nearly found an opener but Chris Smalling’s header fell just inches beyond an outstretched Morgan Schneiderlin. The closest either team came to finding the back of the net came in the 84th minute when a brilliant chipped pass from Anthony Martial found a wide open Jesse Lingard, but the 22-year-old’s lobbed effort smacked against the crossbar. Smalling came close to scoring minutes later with a close range shot, but Joe Hart did well to push the ball wide. Overall, this match was just a shell of the emotional fights of the derbies before it. City remains top of the table on goal differential, while United find themselves in fourth.