EPL round-up: Giroud brace seals win for Arsenal, Chelsea beat ten-men Hull

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Unstoppable: Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring their third goal against Newcastle

Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla both scored twice as Arsenal closed back up on the Barclays Premier League's top four with a 4-1 win over Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium.

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Arsenal took the lead after 15 minutes when right-back Hector Bellerin won the ball in midfield, before it went out to Sanchez, one of several players rested in midweek.

The Chile forward held up possession on the right before chipping the ball across the six-yard box, where Giroud powered a header into the top-right corner.

The hosts doubled their lead after 54 minutes. Sanchez played a sliderule pass into the Newcastle penalty area, which Cazorla gathered and clipped a sublime finish into the far corner to celebrate his 30th birthday in style.

Before Newcastle could regroup, it was 3-0 after 58 minutes.

Bellerin got to the right touchline before crossing for Giroud, who expertly guided the ball past Alnwick at the near post with the outside of his left boot.

Newcastle reduced the arrears after 63 minutes when  Perez headed in a free-kick from Jack Colback.

Arsenal soon regained composure, with Cazorla completing the scoring with a penalty two minutes from time.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa scored as Chelsea won 2-0 at home to Hull City.

Jose Mourinho's side went ahead in the seventh minute at Stamford Bridge, with Hazard ghosting in from the right flank to head home Oscar's in-swinging cross from the left. 

Costa made it 2-0 eight minutes later, gathering a pass from the influential Hazard and drilling a shot past Allan McGregor to claim his 12th goal of the campaign.

Manchester City registered a seventh successive win in all competitions, but victory against Leicester City came at the cost of injuries to striker Dzeko and captain Kompany.

Having previously lost top scorer Sergio Aguero to a knee injury that will keep him out until next year, City saw Dzeko withdraw from the starting XI after hurting himself in the warm-up.

It meant that 18-year-old Spaniard Jose Pozo started up front on his own, but after a laboured start, the champions went ahead in the 40th minute when Frank Lampard tucked away a pass from Samir Nasri.

It was the former Chelsea midfielder's 175th league goal, taking him level with Arsenal great Thierry Henry in fourth place in the all-time Premier League scoring chart.

Meanwhile, West Ham United squandered an opportunity to claim third place after being held to a 1-1 draw at Sunderland. Stewart Downing equalised for the visitors with a low, deflected shot shortly after Jordi Gomez had put the hosts ahead from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute.

Burnley climbed out of the relegation zone by beating Southampton 1-0 at Turf Moor.

Southampton winger Dusan Tadic saw a penalty saved by Tom Heaton, enabling Ashley Barnes to claim the winning goal with a deflected shot 17 minutes from time.

Craig Gardner scored the only goal as West Bromwich Albion won 1-0 at home to Aston Villa, who had West Brom old boy Kieran Richardson dismissed for a studs-up lunge on Stephane Sessegnon.

Elsewhere, Stoke City striker Peter Crouch swiftly cancelled out a headed 11th-minute opener by James McArthur as Mark Hughes's team claimed a 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.

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Gray & Keys PL predictions: Liverpool too ordinary

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Battle at Old Trafford: Liverpool go head-to-head with Manchester United in a must-win game.

Liverpool take on bitter rivals Manchester United at Old Trafford tomorrow in a game that Brendan Rodgers must win to restore some confidence amongst his players.

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Andy Gray and Richard Keys who front beIN Sports’ EPL coverage discuss Rodgers’ management and whether he can get a result to put Liverpool on track.

Andy Gray: Brendan Rodgers is finding out what life as a Premier League manager is all about when you don’t have marquee performers. Liverpool are no different from last year in that the vast majority of that team is made up of average players.  

Last season he had four outstanding performers in Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez. They made the difference.
Suarez has gone, Gerrard is a shadow of his former self, Sturridge has been injured and Sterling hasn’t played that well. This game is not all about managers, it’s about players. If you’ve got outstanding players you can be a great manager.  If you haven’t got good players then you will never make it as a manager, it’s as simple as that.

However, the manager has to carry the can and if he doesn’t start getting it right he could very well be fired in the not too distant future.  The one thing that concerns me about him is team selection. I don’t think he picked the right side last Tuesday when he needed a victory against Basle.  He left talented players like Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho sitting on their backsides on the bench and played people like Joe Allen and Lucas. Sorry, but I didn’t get that.

Under pressure: Brendan Rodgers

You can look at last year and say he did brilliantly, falling just short of winning the title, but I could have managed Liverpool last year and so could most of you.

They didn’t have the worry of the Champions League so he could pick a team every week with Suarez and Sturridge at the top end of the pitch playing out of their skin, assisted by Raheem Sterling. This year he does not have that luxury so he has to decide what his best side is and get on with it. Instead, he keeps shuffling the pack and for me he is trying to be too clever. I don’t think he knows what his best team is and that’s the problem.

I don’t really know how he is going to handle this game against United. He will hope that the history of this fixture and the great rivalry that exists between Liverpool and Manchester United will motivate his players but I can’t see it. This Liverpool side is a far cry from the great teams I used to watch; it’s an ordinary side and I can’t see them getting anything at Old Trafford. 

United aren’t playing great but  they are winning games.  They are getting the job done without being that good and that’s the difference between these two sides. United have a big advantage with the talent they have up front with the likes of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney who are playing well at the moment and that will be decisive. 2-0 United.

Richard Keys: I think Brendan Rodgers started to believe the publicity he was creating for himself. There are two episodes as coach of Liverpool that stand out for me. The first was the signing of Mario Balotelli. 

I can’t remember anyone saying what a steal that deal was. He backed off Loic Remy to buy this guy in the misguided belief that he could educate him. Well, he hasn’t done that. Secondly, he arrogantly, in my opinion, and stupidly made those seven changes against Real Madrid in the Champions League. 

At the time I said that was the night he would be confirmed as a football genius or we would look back on as a watershed in his career. I am not saying it’s too late because if he wises up a bit and gets back to the basics he can turn this around but Liverpool, as Andy says, have saddled themselves with an awful lot of ordinary players.

The minimum requirement for Rodgers this year is to deliver Champions League football for the club next season. If he doesn’t then he should go and so far this season he has yet to convince me that he is the finished article. The game at Old Trafford is a huge test but I don’t think he is going to get anything from it. United aren’t that good but they have the confidence that Liverpool lack. 2-0 home win.

Chelsea v Hull

AG: Nobody, apart from the most biased Hull fans, will see anything other than a Chelsea win here. Steve Bruce’s side is struggling and it’s not about to get any better. 3-0.

RK: Chelsea were disappointing at Newcastle, but Hull at home is a totally different proposition. I’ll say 2-0 because Jose Mourinho likes Bruce and he’ll call the dogs off once they are 2-0 up. 

Leicester v Man City

AG: City have had five fantastic results and have closed the gap at the top of the EPL to three points but the danger now is that they get complacent against teams like Leicester. If they take their foot off the gas they could be in for a surprise but I think they’re better than that and they’ll win this 3-1.

RK: Against Roma, City displayed all the characteristics I have been looking for from that dressing room. My only fear is that they put so much into that game that they might get caught.  
However, Leicester look totally flat and devoid of any motivation. If City stay sharp they will win this 3-0.

Arsenal v Newcastle

AG: Newcastle’s winning run shuddered to a halt but they are a much better side than people give them credit for. However, at the Emirates, Arsenal, with Alexis Sanchez back, will be too good for them. 2-0.

RK: Arsenal are a bit of a faltering machine. The best they can hope for this season is a top four finish and I am convinced it’s time for Arsene Wenger to step aside. Newcastle believe in themselves and they can get something out of this. 2-2 

Burnley v Southampton

AG: The Saints have got to stop the rot. Three games, no points, they have dropped out of the top four and everybody is saying they’ve been found out. I don’t think so. They are a good side and although it will be tough at Burnley they can get a draw here. 2-2.

RK: Ronald Koeman will have made it more than clear to his players that they need a result after three defeats. It’s never easy to go to Burnley but Southampton can win this 2-1.

Crystal Palace v Stoke

AG: If the Palace that played at Tottenham last week turns up they could get a result but Stoke had a great win against Arsenal and they aren’t bad away from home. 0-1.

RK: No love lost between the two managers here but this is a difficult one to call. If Palace are at their best they can win this. 1-0.

Sunderland v West Ham

AG: The Hammers are flying with nine points from three games which will boost their confidence but Sunderland need to win and because it’s at home I think they will beat Sam Allardyce’s side. 2-1.

RK: Sunderland did well at Anfield last week and there is a gutsy goal in them so I’m going 1-1.

West Brom v Aston Villa

AG:  Villa will fancy this but the Baggies desperately need a victory and home advantage will be decisive. 1-1.

RK: I can’t really get my head around what’s happening at West Brom; it’s a bit of a mess so I can’t agree with Andy. 2-1 to Villa.

Swansea v Tottenham

AG: You never know what Spurs are going to be like and that must be frustrating for their fans. It’s hard to call this one but I think Swansea will nick it 1-0.

RK: Tottenham’s post-Europe record is awful and I can’t see anything changing at Swansea, a team that is neat and tidy and can get the job done, particularly at home. 3-1.

Everton v QPR

AG:  I haven’t been that impressed with my old team this season and I wonder if the Europa League is proving to be a bit of a distraction.  However, QPR’s away form is abysmal so Everton should win this easily. 3-1.

RK: QPR will dig in and they are due a point away from home but the truth is they really are not good enough. Easy 2-0 home win.

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Real Madrid’s record run continues in emphatic style

Andy West 13/12/2014
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Isco fever: The Real Madrid players celebrate their opening goal.

Real Madrid warmed up for the FIFA Club World Cup in fine style by recording their 20th consecutive victory with a flatter­ing 4-1 triumph over struggling Almeria last night.

Los Blancos will head out to Morocco this weekend with the intention of returning to Spain as world champions, and they secured the points through goals from Isco, Gareth Bale and a clinical late dou­ble from Cristiano Ronaldo, along with a penalty save from Iker Casil­las.

The visitors came close to an early goal when a long-range thunderbolt from Toni Kroos was deflected onto the crossbar and Ronaldo sent the rebound narrowly off target with a spectacular over­head effort.

Another golden chance came the way of the league leaders when Bale surged clear down the left, but the Welshman couldn’t find Karim Benzema when he opted to cross rather than shoot.

But the deadlock was soon broken with a moment of brilliance from Isco, who controlled a deep cross on his chest on the left of the penalty area and cut inside onto his right foot to whip and unstop­pable curler into the bottom right corner.

Almeria were under the lead­ership of interim coach Miguel Rivera after the recent sacking of previous boss Francisco Rodriguez, and the hosts got back on level terms against the run of play when a right wing cross was half-cleared as far as Verza, who promptly thrashed a fierce drive past the diving Casillas.

But parity didn’t last for long as the visitors regained their lead before the interval, when Kroos delivered an inswinging cross from the right wing and Bale was left unmarked in the centre to glance home a firm and well-placed header.

Early in the second half another break from Bale gave the visitors a chance to give themselves breath­ing space, but he appeared to be caught into two minds between shooting and passing to Ronaldo and ended up drifting the ball wide of the far post.

Almeria soon had a glorious opportunity to level for the second time when Edgar Mendez raced into the area and was brought down by a clumsy challenge from Marcelo.

Verza stepped up to strike the penalty firmly towards the right corner, but Casillas dived full-stretch to his left to make a superb save.

And having survived that scare, Madrid eventually wrapped up the points with a late brace from top scorer Ronaldo, who finished eas­ily after latching onto passes from first Karim Benzema and then Dani Carvajal.

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