The Premier League In Review: …For Tomorrow We Die
After the final whistle blew at Selhurst Park yesterday afternoon, they stayed behind and they sang. Another Premier League weekend has drawn to a close and the top three in the table remain as they were before a ball was kicked, but with one significant difference. We’re one week closer to the end of the season. The finishing in line is in sight. Leicester’s performance in winning at Crystal Palace wasn’t one of the most sparkling that they have put in this season but it was enough, and at this late stage in the game enough is as much as anyone at Leicester could or would be hoping for. Enough, as they say, is enough.
The weekend had begun with Arsenal winning at a canter at Goodison Park against Everton, an ominous result for the two clubs above the Gunners in the league. Rumours that Arsenal are completely imploding are usually considerably wide of the mark, and Saturday’s routine win served to act as a reminder that the third-placed team isn’t quite out of the championship race, although it does now rather feel as though they may run out of games before the slip-ups that would be required to propel them back to the top of the table before they occur. Still, with talk starting to build over whether they may not even qualify for next year’s Champions League, this was three welcome points won with the minimum of fuss – a welcome change to the histrionics that often follow Arsenal around at this time of year.
Leicester’s lead at the top of the table was eight points for a little over twenty-four hours, but this wasn’t destined to last. Tottenham Hotspur took less than a minute to click into gear against an AFC Bournemouth which played as if it knew that it completed the task of having done enough to stay in the Premier League for another year last week. Harry Kane scored twice – taking him to the top of the top goalscorers list for the season – and a third goal early in the second half from Christian Eriksen took them back to within five points of the leaders. Spurs, however, still have the toughest run-in of those at the top of the table – they may not have any more comfortable matches than this one against this season, though.
Tottenham’s next opponents are Liverpool at Anfield in two weeks time, and exactly how that turns out may come to depend on which Liverpool team turns up for that game. Liverpool were two goals up and cruising at Southampton this afternoon before a second half collapse of prodigious proportions at St Mary’s Stadium. A particularly calamitous performance came from Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, who came on as a substitute after a three month absence on account of a hamstring injury, conceded a penalty and otherwise put in a performance which was about as far from what manager Jurgen Klopp would have hoped for as might have been imagined. Liverpool’s best chance of getting into the Champions League next season would now seem to come with winning the Europa League and all that this would entail.
At the bottom of the table, meanwhile, bad performances and bad matches don’t necessarily have to make for bad results. There was little to get excited about on the pitch during yesterday afternoon’s match between West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, but Norwich supporters are now celebrating one of the best weekends of their season so far following the coupling of their one-win at The Hawthorns with Newcastle United and Sunderland cancelling each other out at St James Park earlier today. The Tyne-Wear derby was always considerably more likely to be more bluster than finesse, and a goal apiece seemed like a a fair enough result, with a late goal from Aleksandar Mitrovic cancelling out Jermain Defoe’s first half goal for Sunderland. Sam Allardyce will most likely be nominally happier than Rafael Benitez at the result, although Newcastle United’s next match against Norwich City still gives them half a chance of positioning their heads back above water.
And finally, in a world in which “the race for fourth place” is a real thing rather than a satirical comment on how seriously professional football takes itself these days, this year’s battle for one place below the bronze medal now seems to have boiled itself down to three clubs. West Ham United remain the form team following a two-all draw at Stamford Bridge yesterday from which Chelsea required a late penalty that may well have been incorrectly awarded to salvage a point from, whilst twenty-five hours later and a couple of hundred miles further north, Manchester City’s end of season death-plunge took its most serious step yet with a home defeat at the hands of Manchester United. A first half goal from Marcus Rashford as Martín Demichelis became momentarily befuddled by the concept of a player running in a straight line past him was enough to separate the two teams.
Quite what Pep Guardiola would do without Champions League football is anybody’s guess, but Manchester City do at least remain in fourth place in the table for the time being, and there are few people who would hold much conviction that Manchester United are guaranteed to put together the sort of form that would take them comfortably into fourth place and into the next year’s competition. Today, however, has been a good day for Louis Van Gaal. He saw something approaching the best from Rashford and the only other truly bright spot to come out of this season for the club, Anthony Martial, and somehow or other, despite this being a season of CRISIS – if you believe that this actually was any such thing in the first place – his team remains one point off a Champions League place, come the start of next season. Those plucky Old Trafford underdogs, eh?
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