Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez, the best player we never get to see: Premier League results
The National offers results, goalscorers, commentary and recaps throughout the Premier League weekend.
• Everton v Liverpool, midnight, beIN Sports 2HD
• Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal
MCI: Sane 47’, Sterling 71’; ARS: Walcott 5’
• Tottenham 2-1 Burnley
TOT: Alli 27’, Rose 71’; BUR: Barnes 21’
Spurs avoided what would have been a deeply disappointing result at White Hart Lane against 16th-placed Burnley, with Dele Alli quickly cancelling out Ashley Barnes’ opening goal and Danny Rose eventually finding a winner in the middle of the second half.
With three points and rivals Arsenal falling at Manchester City, Spurs clawed within a point of the top-four.
• Bournemouth 1-3 Southampton
BOU: Ake 6’; SOU: Bertrand 14’, Rodriguez 48’, 85’
Jay Rodriguez is a talent. He’s always been a talent, of course, it’s just that we so rarely get to actually see it.
Rodriguez is a talent with a poacher’s nose for goal, the kind of player who seems to find a way to score in every which way from any which spot, bounced headers and curling beauties and weird dribblers and long-range lasers. Only he makes it look good, he brings style, in the way that those who can’t inevitably get tagged with the ‘poacher’ label.
It was nice to see Rodriguez being that again Sunday.
His first goal, his first in fact away in the Premier League since March 2014, was a simple run-on finish, meeting Steven Davis’ cross – itself coming after a lovely backheel flick-on by Sofiane Boufal – with a slide, right foot outstretched, jabbing it in for the 2-1 lead. The simple stuff of poachers, no? And yet Rodriguez gave it a hint of flair all the same, sliding in as he did, seeming to come out of nowhere at just the right moment.
His second was the real treat, though. Turning around on a stray bouncer just outside the area, the 27-year-old gave the ball a crack and jolted it improbably, thunderously into the tiniest of top-left corners.
And that’s the real allure of Jay Rodriguez, that ability to snatch goals out of thin air. An ability we’ve been robbed of, unfortunately, for a very long time. His famous, or infamous I suppose, bouts with injury have almost obscured how real his production was just a few years ago. He scored 15 goals in 2013/14 for Southampton, in his second season with the club. He was only 24, a lot more seemed promised.
Thanks to an entirely wiped out 2014/15 and another injury-marred 2015/16, it has never been delivered. His steps back now this season have been halting. They always are. They always will be when your knees have gone through what Rodriguez’s have.
But it was there on display on Sunday. That talent. With any justice it’ll soon be a regular show.
• West Brom 0-2 Manchester United
MNU: Ibrahimovic 5’, 56’
• Stoke 2-2 Leicester
STO: Krkic 39’ (pen), Allen 45+3’; LEI: Ulloa 74’, Amartey 88’
• Crystal Palace 0-1 Chelsea
CHE: Costa 43’
Chelsea won again. Chelsea won again, as they have done for the last 11 league matches. Chelsea won again, as they have done for the last three matches, by a 1-0 scoreline.
Chelsea were pretty good. They were pretty good, too, at Sunderland, and before that against West Brom. Not dominant or emphatic, but fine.
Diego Costa produced a nice header, the result of Eden Hazard’s marauding build-up and Cesar Azpilicueta’s well-placed cross. Always hard to keep down, Costa rose up, well over his Crystal Palace counterparts, gave it a little headbutt and dinked it into an open right half of the net.
It was a fine goal, though it will turn up on no best-of season-ending lists. It was another fine three points, though they will hardly count as memorable in May.
This is beginning to resemble something. This is like what Leicester did last season.
When Chelsea are merely fine, they seem still to win. They can be much less than their best, and yet it still is comfortably enough to be better than the likes of Palace or Sunderland or West Brom or Middlesbrough, all middling teams they have beaten 1-0 in this 11-match win streak.
When they are their best, it can produce a jaw-dropping 3-1 win over Manchester City, an impressively resilient 2-1 victory over Tottenham, or an imperious 5-0 battering of Everton. Either way, Chelsea win. Whether exuberant or workmanlike, Chelsea win, and win, and win some more.
Leicester, remember a season ago, beat Liverpool 2-0 and Man City 3-1 in early February to essentially announce, “Yes, this is real, yes, we can really win this thing.” It was the next month though that sealed their title.
At Watford, 1-0. Newcastle, 1-0. At Palace, 1-0. Southampton, 1-0. At Sunderland, 2-0. Five matches, six goals, trophy won.
It is not at all meant as a knock on Chelsea to call them the new Leicester. Antonio Conte’s side are on 43 points now, nine ahead of Liverpool and Arsenal, which feels on first glance an astonishing kind of gap. It speaks to Chelsea’s excellence, and they will again be better than they were on Saturday. Which, to be clear, was fine.
If they become champions, it will be precisely thanks to these wins, the points they glean from them, when they were fine and not excellent.
It is a difficult, and some might say lucky, balance to strike. After all, at plus-24, Chelsea’s goal difference would hardly seem to warrant nine points on Liverpool (plus-20) and Arsenal (plus-20). But Leicester didn’t even lead the league in goal difference last season (plus-32, to Spurs’ plus-34), and yet they won the league by 10 points, and their title was no less tangible than any other before it.
To win a title this way, with spasmodic bursts of the stupendous bookending stretches of competent win-collecting, is – well, you get the idea. It’s plenty fine.
If Chelsea do lift the trophy in May, no one will much likely remember Diego Costa’s fine header or a fine 1-0 win away against Crystal Palace in December.
But who remembers, say, Riyad Mahrez’s 34th-minute goal or the 1-0 win away he scored it in back on March 19?
Against – well, hey, how about that? Against Crystal Palace.
• Middlesbrough 3-0 Swansea
MID: Negredo 18’, 29’ (pen), De Roon 58’
Middlesbrough picked up another three much-needed points as Alvaro Negredo’s first-half double lofted them back solidly into mid-table, at 14th.
Boro had been drifting into relegation territory after a fast start to the season, losing four and drawing three in seven consecutive matches before beating Bournemouth last week and Swansea on Saturday. Maarten De Roon added the third on 58 minutes.
Bob Bradley’s seat will be hot after a second successive uncompetitive defeat following their first victory under the American last weekend.
• Sunderland 1-0 Watford
SUN: Van Aanholt 49’
David Moyes’ Sunderland continue to fight their way out of the bottom three in fits and starts, this time winning on Patrick van Aanholt’s early second-half strike.
With three points, annual escape artists Sunderland are on 14, one off Crystal Palace in the safety of 17th.
• West Ham 1-0 Hull
WHU: Noble 76’ (pen)
Surprise strugglers West Ham avoided the indignity of dropping points at home to bottom side Hull thanks to a second-half penalty.
Mark Noble converted, delivering the win and putting West Ham on 19 points in 13th.
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Published: December 17, 2016 04:00 AM