The Premier League in Review: Day of the Dead
Another Premier League weekend, another round of controversy, and this time a referee was at the heart of it all. Jon Moss had to be escorted from the pitch after a performance at The King Power Stadium which might be considered erratic, sending off Jamie Vardy for a second yellow card for simulation, awarding a penalty kick to West Ham United for holding in the penalty area, and then doing the same for Leicester City four minutes into stoppage time, by which time West Ham had turned Leicester’s lead around. There is probably too much to say on the subject to do it justice here – so look out for a further treatise on the subject of this match in the next couple of days – so we shall suffice for now to say that, whether by accident or design, a draw was probably a fair enough result.
Tottenham Hotspur, therefore, have an opportunity to cut Leicester’s lead to five points this evening, though their can be no mistaking that their trip to play Stoke City is a fiendishly difficult one. Spurs supporters might have been celebrating West Ham’s point at The King Power Stadium, but there was perhaps almost as much significance for them in Arsenal dropping two points against Crystal Palace later yesterday afternoon. Arsene Wenger has already written off winning the title for this season on the basis of this result, but the real test now facing Arsenal is that of whether they can hang onto their place in the Champions League spot after results elsewhere dropped them to fourth place in the table. This was the sluggish sort of performance that Arsenal supporters have become all to used to this season, and it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that, more than any other club, they will come to look back upon this season as a wasted opportunity. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, continue their glacially slow inch towards survival. They’re almost there, but not quite yet.
It was a result that, if we’re honest with ourselves, had been coming for a while. Sunderland had been playing reasonably well without getting the points that they deserved as a cumulative whole, while Norwich City, who had looked as if they had turned a significant corner in their performances recently, put in a performance of troubling mediocrity in losing to Crystal Palace last week. Still, though, on afternoons of such tension we seldom expect such a polished performance from the away side, and Sunderland’s might just have been the best they’ve put in all season. Furthermore, they’ve opened up the relegation battle in a way that few would have expected, on the balance of what we’ve seen over much of the last few weeks.
Far from being dead and buried as so many of us had assumed, both Sunderland and Newcastle United stirred to life this weekend, and just in the nick of time, as well. At St James Park yesterday afternoon, Newcastle United matched Sunderland’s achievement penny for penny with a three-nil of their own against Swansea City, and this was a performance which had all the trademarks of having been born on the notebooks of Rafael Benitez. Any manager, on appointment to a new club, has a period of time during which he has to adjust to his new position, to the culture of the club at which he has arrived, and to get his head around the task ahead, should there be one. Benitez, it rather felt, finally hit that groove for Newcastle United yesterday afternoon, and the question that now remains is that of whether his team will be able to build upon this, whether he might just run out of time before the end of the season, or whether the next blow to the team’s apparently brittle confidence will prove to be enough to send Newcastle to the Championship for all of his best efforts.
There was, of course, one club for who there was no salvation, for whom there could be no realistic prospect of Premier League football next season. Aston Villa were finally, formally relegated yesterday afternoon after losing at Old Trafford against Manchester United, although the truth is that the goal difference that the team would have been attempting to claw back meant that they effectively already down prior to this particular match. Villa didn’t play especially well, yesterday.They were cut open by the one decent move that Manchester United put together all afternoon and Marcus Rashford scored a goal which prompted those who presumably only ever react to loud noises and bright lights to start chattering of whether he should go to the European Championship finals with England this summer – short answer: no, he should not – but, while Villa weren’t as hopelessly abject as they have repeatedly been over the course of the last few weeks, it still looked a little as if they were playing whilst drugged on sleeping pills.
Manchester United were little better, and the return of Wayne Rooney ended in a substitution and the background hum of thousands of people scratching their heads at the same time at the idea that he could be of much use to England in France this summer. United’s win turned the heat up a tiny amount on Manchester City, who were playing in the evening kick-off that television executives were certain would be important in August against Chelsea, but Manchester City brushed Chelsea aside with ease, winning by three goals to nil against a team that looks as if it’s going to need to be thoroughly gutted and rebuilt before the start of the new season. Indeed, Chelsea’s switched-offness was so clear that it would be unsurprising to see the club finish this season in the bottom half of the Premier League for first time in exactly two decades.
At The Hawthorns, meanwhile, Heurelho Gomes, the Watford goalkeeper, did just about the most Heurelho Gomes thing possible in conceding a penalty against West Bromwich Albion and then saving it. With a couple of minutes left to play, he repeated the penalty saving trick to ensure a one-nil win for Watford. In the weekend’s other dead rubber matches, Liverpool beat Bournemouth by two goals to one whilst Everton and Southampton played out a one-all draw which leaves Robert Martinez’s popularity around Goodison Park hanging in the balance somewhat. Southampton stay above Liverpool – whose best route into next year’s Champions League remains winning the Europa League – but they only now do so by dint of goal difference. All eyes this week, however, will be on the Premier League and the Football Association. The fallout from the match between Leicester City an West Ham United seems likely to hang over the rest of the Premier League season like a cloud.
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