United avoid third straight EPL defeat
Arsenal break drought against Chelsea
Liverpool rock Hull
Manchester City maintain lead
The way they played on Saturday, it looked like Leicester City players had been out celebrating last season’s Premier League title until the wee hours of Friday night.
Manchester United arrived for the early kickoff at Old Trafford determined to avoid a third consecutive league defeat, and came out guns blazing.
With Wayne Rooney dropped, captain for the day Chris Smalling blasted in a header in the 22nd minute to go one goal up. It was the precursor to a thoroughly dominant first half by United, who won 4-1.
“It’s a nice honor the manager gives me, and I just try and play up – armband or not – but it’s a nice touch,” Smalling said on Sky Sports after the match.
The Red Devils withstood a couple of near misses – one by Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 27th minute on a spectacular turnaround miss, and another from Marcus Rashford on a clear breakaway – before Juan Mata’s 37th minute left-footed strike hit the mark from the edge of the penalty area.
Rashford made it 3-0 just two minutes later with a tap in which caught Leicester’s defenders asleep.
And Paul Pogba – United’s $100 million man – made it 4-0 in the 41st minute, with a header in the box. It was his first goal for United, after a heavily scrutinized first month on the job.
By that point, Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri must have been desperate to get back to the dressing room. His first move was to bench star striker Jamie Vardy, which he later admitted was a concession that the match was already over.
Leicester’s Demarai Gray provided some consolation in the 59th minute with a right-footed strike from well outside the box that rocked the upper corner of the net, past David de Gea – but a loss was already in the cards for the Foxes, who drop to 12th place on the Premier League table.
United maintained its six point gap behind leaders Manchester City, who beat Swansea 3-1 later in the day.
As for Rooney’s exclusion, Jose Mourinho endorsed his star striker, who appears to have been eclipsed in the pecking order by Ibrahimovic.
“He is a big player for me, a big player for United, and a big player for this country,” said Mourinho. “I have nothing left to say.”
Arsenal celebrate in style
Saturday’s late kickoff saw Arsenal celebrate manager Arsene Wenger’s 20th year at the helm with a convincing 3-0 win over nemesis Chelsea.
Fittingly, Alexis Sanchez – who was marking his 100th appearance in an Arsenal jersey – opened up the scoring in the 11th minute, taking advantage of a Gary Cahill mistake with a chip over 6-foot 7-inch Thibaut Courtois.
The goal was an event in itself: Arsenal had not scored a single goal against Chelsea since January, 2013 – a pitiful streak that lasted eight matches before Saturday. Arsenal had also not beaten Chelsea in the league since October, 2011 when Robin van Persie scored a hat trick.
Putting those two statistics to rest were surely celebration enough for Wenger, who is by far the longest-serving manager in any of Europe’s most competitive leagues encompassing England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Theo Walcott made it 2-0 just two minutes later, and Chelsea were in a hole just a quarter of an hour into the match at the Emirates. Mesut Ozil volleyed home a Sanchez cross to make it 3-0 before halftime.
“The past is the past, it’s all about now,” Walcott said to BT Sport after the match. “This team is bright and young. We’re quietly doing our business. You could see that our 11 men wanted to win much more than the other team today.”
On the other side of the coin, it had been seven years since new Chelsea manager Antonio Conte lost consecutive league games – a mark that was broken in his first career match against Arsene Wenger.
Chelsea were without veteran captain John Terry who was out with an ankle injury. Despite the presence of big splash signing David Luiz in the backfield, their defense was porous.
Chelsea’s offense, meanwhile, did not have a shot on target until the last ten minutes of the match.
Everton dropped from second place to fifth in the Premier League with a 1-0 loss to Bournemouth away.
Tottenham jumped to second place with a win 2-1 win over Middlesbrough.
Liverpool beat Hull 5-1 at Anfield. Stoke and West Brom drew 1-1, while Cyrstal Palace took away a 3-2 win at Sunderland.