Liverpool loses touch with EPL elite with another disappointing draw
Liverpool utterly dominated the first half but managed a draw with Norwich City
Swansea City was up 2-0 on Wolves through 80 minutes but settled for a tie
Newcastle remained unbeaten, but it has yet to play one of the top five clubs
Five thoughts from Saturday's action in the Barclays Premier League:
1. He shoots. He hits the post. Soccer stats can be a bit arbitrary. After Liverpool drew 1-1 with Norwich at Anfield on Saturday, the BBC counted 25 goal attempts by the home team. ESPN, which broadcast the game in the UK, made the number 29, or one every three minutes as Kevin Keegan helpfully pointed out. Of those, according to the BBC, 15 were on target, and that number does not include the header by Martin Skrtel against the bar and two efforts by Luis Suarez that struck a post.
Liverpool utterly dominated the first half but only managed one goal. Craig Bellamy, making his first Premier League start of the season, pounced on a loose ball to score.
Suarez was dazzling all night. His first touch was unerring. His vision was uncanny. Time and again he wriggled away from bemused defenders to fire a strike at goal. Time and again he did not score. When he took his 10th shot of the game, ESPN declared that it was the most in a single match by one man in the Premier League this season. Suarez had not finished. He had one more attempt in the dying seconds that, in the phrase striker's hate to hear, brought the best from John Ruddy, the Norwich goalie. That, by ESPN's math, was No. 11. There is a suspicion that the broadcaster was counting shots no one else had seen. Other websites counted nine shots by Suarez. That's still a lot.
The season is young, and Suarez will have days when his shots deflect not against the post but into the back of net. He again started as a lone striker in front of a five-man midfield. That explains why so many attacks ended with him, though his tremendous work rate also has something to do with it. Suarez has looked consistently good all season, but he only has four league goals. That is one of the reasons why Liverpool has only 15 points and is losing touch with the four teams ahead of them. In the end, Norwich was lucky, but Liverpool and Suarez had the chances to put the game away in the first 30 minutes and didn't.
2. The game lasts 90 minutes ... In the final minute of added time at Anfield, Norwich first allowed Andy Carroll to leap unopposed in front of goal. The tall center forward powered his header wide. Then the Norwich defense gaped open again to allow Suarez a close-range shot. John Ruddy, the goalie, flew to his right to save. Norwich had finally managed to hold on against one of the Premier League big boys.
At Chelsea in August, Norwich, playing with 10 men, was level at 1-1 with eight minutes left. It lost 3-1. At Old Trafford at the start of this month, Norwich was only one goal down with three minutes left, before allowing Manchester United to wriggle clear.
This time, Norwich could have been swept away early on. In the second half, it improved. The Canaries got their chances and, unlike at Old Trafford, they took one. Grant Holt came on after 57 minutes and three minutes later, as Pepe Reina waited for a cross from Anthony Pilkington to fall into his hands, Holt flew past and headed the ball into the net. Suddenly Norwich was in control. Holt had another headed chance. As normal time expired, the Canaries were passing the ball about easily and safely. They had, it seemed, learned from the bitter defeats at United and Chelsea. But no, Norwich allowed Liverpool one more assault and two more scoring chances. In the end, Norwich gained a point not because they have become better but because they had grown luckier.
3. ... not 80 minutes. Swansea is another promoted team like Norwich trying to learn how to turn good soccer into points.
Before Saturday, Swansea City was the only club in the Premier League which had not managed at least one point away from home. Swansea is back in the top tier for the first time since 1983. It didn't win a single league game away from home that relegation season. This is developing into a rather long streak in terms of both time and matches. And although Swansea has been picking up points at home and flattering reviews for its style, at some point it needs to break through that barrier on the road or survival will be very difficult.
On Saturday, Swansea visited one of the teams below it in the table. It dominated Wolves. Danny Graham scored one and set up Joe Allen for the second. Swansea toyed with Wolves for much of the second half and squandered several promising scoring positions. Then, it seemed, Swansea looked down. A touch of vertigo crept in.
With 10 minutes left, Brendan Rogers, the Swansea manager, told the BBC: "We just started to pass back too much and maybe just wanted to see the game through."
With six minutes to go, Wolves exploited Swansea's Achilles' heel, defending corners, and Kevin Doyle scored. Two minutes later, with the Swansea defense rather looking as if it had been hit over the head with a sandbag, Jamie O'Hara, alone in front of goal, leveled. Wolves, outplayed for 80 minutes, ended the match pressing for a winner.
"It feels like a loss," Rogers said.
The question for Swansea is whether, at the end of the season, the lesson learned will prove more important than the two points dropped.
4. Count to 10. Aston Villa was leading its local rival, West Brom, in the first half when Chris Herd, a young Villa midfielder, tangled with Jonas Olsson as the ball came into the goalmouth from a free kick. The two men fell to the ground. As Villa cleared the ball, the assistant referee flagged. Phil Dowd, the referee, sent Herd off and awarded West Brom a penalty.
The instant replay machines began to whir. Olsson, something of a serial irritator, may well have caused the tumble by grabbing Herd, a 22-year-old Australian. As he climbed to his feet, Herd seemed to stick a foot in Olsson's direction.
After the game, the managers could not agree.
"It was a kick -- he stamped on him,'' Roy Hodgson, the West Brom manager, told the BBC.
"It looked as if Chris was extricating his foot from Jonas Olsson's grasp,'' said Alec McLeish, the Villa manager
Chris Brunt missed the penalty, but West Brom was able to press undermanned Villa back into defense for most of the rest of the game. West Brom turned that pressure into goals. Olsson, but of course, leveled. Paul Scharner scored the second. The Baggies won 2-1. The message, once again, is: keep your feet on the ground and keep your temper under control.
5. Still unbeaten. Newcastle's strong start has allowed those around the club to start spinning recent player sales. Joey Barton, Kevin Nolan and Carroll, it seems, were all overbearing and negative dressing-room influences.
Now, the argument goes, Alan Pardew has a squad of players who don't challenge his authority and are prepared to work for the team. On Saturday, Yohan Cabaye, brought in to help fill the holes in midfield, scored the only goal as Newcastle beat visiting Wigan, 1-0. The Magpies are unbeaten after nine games and in fourth place. Before Sunday's games involving the top three, Newcastle was level on points with Chelsea and just one point behind Manchester United. That is heady company.
Certainly, you did not have to be close to the club to see that the antics of Barton and Carroll might be destructive and distracting. Yet has Newcastle really become so good so quickly? Wigan, which had lost four straight and is lasting the standings, looked better for long periods on Saturday. Pardew said as much after the game. As against Spurs six days earlier, Newcastle's defense looked shaky but rode its luck. At the other end, it scored when it had to. Certainly this team seems to have goals in it, but so far it has not played any of the other top-five clubs. Newcastle has faced Spurs and Arsenal and drew at home to both of them. Its pretensions will truly be tested when it plays the two Manchester teams and Chelsea on three successive Saturdays in November and December. For now, the squad is no doubt still a happy one.