Three Highlights from this Weekend’s English Premier League

Two heavyweight games on Sunday follow on from a reunion at Upton Park on Saturday

  • Share
  • Read Later
Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Tottenham Hotspur's Clint Dempsey acknowledges the crowd at the end of their Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at White Hart Lane in London, Jan. 20, 2013

1. Made His Day. Last September, Tottenham Hotspur’s American star, Clint Dempsey, took a lead role as Spurs shocked Manchester United on the road 3-2, with Dempsey bagging what would prove to be the winning goal. In the return fixture in London on Sunday, with the game in three minutes of injury time, Dempsey came good again, poaching an equalizer to deny United all three points, as the match ended in a 1-1 tie. It was no less than Spurs deserved, as they had the majority of the chances, even if they were lacking in attacking options with Emmanuel Adebayor participating at the African Cup of Nations. United had taken a first half lead, with their goal machine, Robin van Persie, scoring his 22nd of the season with an unstoppable header past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. An admirable defensive performance looked set to give the league leaders the win but instead, Dempsey’s late strike meant that United returned to Manchester only five points ahead of their local rivals, Manchester City.

(MORE: Is Fan Misbehavior During “Derby” Rivalries Poisioning the Beautiful Game?)

2. Blues (Hardly) Cruise. Despite a fast start in the early kickoff against Arsenal on Sunday, Chelsea’s fans won’t have taken it for granted that all three points were in the bag. Last Wednesday, the Blues contrived to throw away a two-goal lead to tie 2-2 with lowly Southampton (who responded by sacking manager Nigel Adkins, which is a story in its own right). With a little more than 15 minutes on the clock Sunday, Chelsea had made a stunning start: firstly, Juan Mata finished off a sweeping move with a sublime finish — Arsenal complained with some justification that Chelsea’s Ramires had fouled Francis Coquelin in the build up — and then doubled their advantage thanks to a Frank Lampard penalty after goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny had brought down that man Ramires.

But as Chelsea knows, a two-goal lead can be difficult to defend and by not going in at half-time with the third or even fourth goal their play merited, an Arsenal revival in the second period would make it more difficult for the hosts. Sure enough, Theo Walcott halved the deficit with just over half an hour to play. The Gunners were probably relieved that Chelsea’s interim manager, Rafa Benitez (who might have been feeling slightly more secure about his job with ex-Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola opting for Bayern Munich next season over all other suitors) had started much maligned striker Fernando Torres in place of new signing Demba Ba. While Torres was all pace, sometimes accelerating past Arsenal defenders as if they weren’t there, he had no end product. Ba’s ten minute cameo showed how dangerous he can be but Arsenal were still capable of creating chances. Fortunately for Chelsea, they couldn’t find an equalizer and the Blues finally had their first home win of 2013.

3. Home Is Where the Heart Is. There was a homecoming for two West Ham favorites at a bitterly cold Upton Park on Saturday where Queens Park Rangers, who have been bottom of the standings nearly all season, tried to follow up their shock road win at Chelsea by beating another London side. QPR’s manager is Harry Redknapp, who used to coach (and play for) West Ham while the home team had midfield playmaker Joe Cole back at the club where it all began for him. In fact, Redknapp handed Cole his West Ham debut back in 1999 and recently tried to bring him to QPR, yet it wasn’t surprising that the bid failed as the Hammers look all but assured of remaining in the English Premier League (EPL) while Rangers require something special to stay up. “I don’t blame him,” said Redknapp of Cole’s decision to choose West Ham over Rangers. “This is his home. This is where he started as a 12-year-old when I signed him. He’s a fantastic boy.”

“QPR needs to win today,” former West Ham player Tony Gale tells TIME before kick-off and Redknapp’s side make an encouraging start. The defensive frailties so easily exposed this season have been eradicated of late with Redknapp working hard on the training ground to cut out the errors. And by playing on the break — putting lots of men behind the ball in their own half of the field and counter-attacking with menace — thanks to midfielders Adel Taarabt and Shaun Wright-Phillips, an early goal comes courtesy of Taarabt’s perfect pass to new signing, Loic Remy, who cooly scores with his first shot in English soccer. The home side, including Cole, who is making his second league debut at Upton Park, are frustrated, which is summed up by a steward in the stands yelling at the team to “sort it out.”

After the half-time interval, it is sorted. Cole looks more assured and is behind a barrage of chances but the Rangers backline somehow holds firm. Yet the introduction of another Cole, the striker Carlton, brings about a deserved equalizer when his header is tapped in on the rebound by Joe. It’s one-way traffic but QPR holds on, and Redknapp maintains his remarkable record of only losing twice in 18 games against his former clubs while his current charges are now unbeaten in five.

MORE: English Soccer’s Premier League Heats Up On and Off the Field