Offside’s recent weekend round-ups have featured a few mentions of action from La Liga, with the spotlight usually falling upon the early adventures of Luis Suarez in a Barcelona shirt.
This time however, we stretch our focus to a different type of ball rather than a foreign topflight football competition, with England facing off against New Zealand at Twickenham.
Yet first we come to Liverpool’s home game against Chelsea; last year’s runners up versus the team they pipped to third place, who now look like this season’s champions elect, and it’s only November.
Simon Stacpoole was ready and waiting at pitch side.
The showdown at Anfield was a tighter contest that many expected, with Emre Can striking early to put the hosts unexpectedly onto the front foot.
Jose Mourinho’s team were hardly impervious either. The gap between Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas in the middle of midfield reappeared, with the Spaniard leaving his partner in the lurch all too often due to his desire to get forward.
Chelsea needed goal line technology to draw level after 14 minutes when Gary Cahill’s effort was ruled to have crossed the line by the array of cameras trained upon Simon Mignolet’s net.
What followed was a surprisingly open contest as the action flew from end to end. Liverpool looked inspired by the sound of the Kop even if they weren’t quite able to muster the poise going forward that they needed to actually threaten Thibaut Courtois too often.
Mourinho’s tactics hampered Brendan Rodgers’ side’s efforts to bring the ball out from the back, with his hard working front players smothering the Reds’ defence en masse.
The threat posed by the visitors at set pieces seemed the most likely route through which they would score a second, especially with Eden Hazard’s pot shots from the channels constantly hitting blockers rather than the target.
Another goal eventually did come however through Diego Costa (who else?) after the Brazilian found himself in space on to the left of Mignolet with a half-chance which he ruthlessly took.
Liverpool couldn’t muster a response even with over 20 minutes left to play. Chelsea’s unstoppable run continues.
Before the 3pm kick offs could get under way in the Premier League, Twickenham’s first Autumn international of the season roared into life in West London. Mark Leech was on hand for the the 2:30pm start.
Just like their round-ball playing cousins stadiums across the country, the home of English rugby union paid its respects to the fallen prior to the game.
Saturday’s opponents were the all-conquering All Blacks of New Zealand, the team who forever seem to dominate the top spot of the IRB rankings.
Yet with England currently coming in as the third best international side in the world, spectators arrived at Twickenham in the mood for a close-run, bruising heavyweight encounter between two of the best teams around at present.
Stuart Lancaster’s men in fact led the contest at half-time, and headed into the tunnel 14-11 up against the All Blacks.
Johnny May’s early try-scoring heroics for the hosts weren’t enough to secure the win come the final whistle however.
With 1,023 caps to England’s 437 before kick off, New Zealand made the most of their experience and talent to turn the fixture around in the second half.
In the end, the visitors won 24-21 to pick up their fifth win over Lancaster’s side in 12 months.
Next up for Offside was Manchester United versus Crystal Palace, as attention turned away from the egg chasers at Twickenham. Marc Atkins was the man on duty at Old Trafford.
Unfortunately, there was little in the way of thrills and spills to dwell on at the “Theatre Of Dreams”.
Louis van Gaal’s side appeared rather flat and forgettable against a Palace team that rarely looked dangerous.
Time and time again, Angel Di Maria, Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj appeared too keen to go for an overly ambitious shot or a needlessly difficult pass against the visitor’s packed defence.
Neil Warnock’s team did well to get back and close themselves up when without the ball but given the calibre of attacking talent available to the hosts, they should have been able to pull them apart.
It eventually took the arrival of Juan Mata from the bench for United to turn their domination of possession into a breakthrough chance.
With so many of his club mates trying to force the issue with spectacularly wasteful efforts, it was perhaps fitting that the more considered Spaniard was the player to make the biggest difference for United.
He fed the ball forward before running towards and the box and recollecting possession on the border of Julian Speroni’s box. Finding himself with just enough space to take a shot, he arrowed his hit through a seemingly crowded approach angle to beat the Argentinian goalkeeper and make it 1-0.
And that’s how the scoreline stayed until the final whistle, with United failing to add another strike to beautify what was a largely dull and dreary performance from the hosts.
Ryan Smyth was at Upton Park for West Ham United’s clash with Aston Villa, in which Nathan Baker was taken off with a bad looking injury.
Heading into the match, it looked like a match up between one team of claret and blue seemingly unable to stop scoring at present against another who have struggled to find goals of late.
Christian Benteke was suspended for the trip to East London after his red card last week, and the Villains were unable to break the deadlock without their Belgian target man.
Yet the Hammers looked similarly uninspired up front, and even tried to snatch victory late on with Andy Carroll’s first appearance of the season from the bench.
The Englishman went close but his effort was saved by Brad Guzan, who enjoyed an excellent game in goal for Paul Lambert’s men. It ended 0-0.
Sunday saw Newcastle United travel down to face West Bromwich Albion, with the Baggies becoming the latest victims of Alan Pardew’s unlikely personal resurgence as Magpies manager. Simon Stacpoole was Offside’s man at the Hawthorns.
For all but the most committed protesters against his reign in charge, it seems as though only the colour and design of the team’s away kit remain as persistent causes of misery for the spectators.
After all, Newcastle are now on a six game unbeaten run in all competitions, with the last five of those matches being wins against Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City (in the League Cup), Liverpool and now West Brom.
The hosts were unable to rely on the pace, threat and attacking deterrent of Saido Berahino, who looked out of sorts compared to the clinical form he has shown of late.
His Head Coach, Alan Irvine, blamed his dulled performance on the youngster’s first full senior England call-up and the increase in pressure and hype that comes with such developments.
Newcastle’s very own in-form striker, Ayoze Perez, didn’t suffer any such stage fright at the Hawthorns, with the Spaniard opening the scoring for the visitors just before the half-time break.
Pardew’s latest win was secured just after the 62 minute mark through a Fabrizio Coloccini header; only his third goal in the Premier League. The result was a 2-0 away win and all three points went back to Newcastle.
In the capital, White Hart Lane welcomed the visit of Stoke City for their Sunday fixture with Tottenham Hotspur. Marc Atkins was Offside’s man on the ground in North London.
Things didn’t get off to the best of starts for Spurs, with Bojan Krkic building on his improved showing versus West Ham last week to score the opener after just six minutes.
It was a well-executed strike from distance that completely evaded Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal to give Mark Hughes’ side the early advantage.
The former Barcalona striker was clearly delighted at having finally broken his duck for the Potters who he joined in the summer from the Catalan giants, after a number of years out on loan with Roma, Milan and Ajax.
Jonathan Walters doubled the visitors’ lead almost half an hour later with a powerful effort just inside the box to pile the pressure on Mauricio Pochettino and his team.
Spurs had to wait until well into the second half before they clawed a goal back through Nacer Chadli near Asmir Begovic’s left post.
Yet the Belgian’s strike was soon undermined by a red card to left-back Kyle Naughton which reduced the hosts to 10 men and saw that whatever late momentum they could have conjured quickly dissipated.
Paul Roberts covered Offside’s last game of the weekend at the Liberty Stadium, where Arsenal made the trip to South Wales to face Swansea City.
Arsene Wenger stopped for pictures with fans prior to the game as the Gunners walked past the stands on their way to the dressing rooms, straight off the coach.
Following their mid-week capitulation at home to Anderlecht, the visitors needed to find their rhythm once more against a Swansea side who have been good this season but not without fault.
However, Arsenal weren’t able to muster up a single shot on target against their former shot stopper, Lukasz Fabianski, until a minute before half-time when Danny Welbeck tried his luck.
The breakthrough came much later after the hour mark when Alexis Sanchez once again turfed his new team out of trouble with a goal on the 63rd mark. Welbeck was again the danger man however, with the England striker’s run into the box creating the opportunity for the Chilean to hit the back of the net from close range.
Arsenal’s lead wasn’t to last however, and with Jefferson Montero having got the better of right-back Calum Chambers on a number of occasions, the Swans sought to hit their visitors on the counter to turn the scoreline around.
Their equaliser came from a freekick however, with Gylfi Sigurdsson arcing the ball into the corner of the goal with expert precision.
Swansea’s second goal was all about their ability to break against the Gunners, with the pace of their attack and penalty box presence of Bafetimbi Gomis combining for a headed winner for the Frenchman.
He certainly enjoyed his goal!
Even after sending on a late splurge of substitutes, Wenger was unable to turn it around, with Arsenal again blowing a lead for the second time in five days.
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