Premier League Review – Gameweek 31

Everton 0 – 2 Arsenal

Arsenal recovered well from their duo of cup exits with a slick performance at Goodison Park to see off an unusually lacklustre Everton side in Saturday’s early Premier League kickoff.

One thing you can’t accuse Everton of being this season is boring. They have failed to pick up anywhere near as many points as they would expect, but that is generally down to defensive problems rather than a lack of scoring ability. However, that attacking ability was nowhere to be seen on Saturday as they put on a lifeless performance against an Arsenal side who hadn’t won any of their previous four Premier League games. Arsenal’s slick passing was an instant problem for Everton, with Alexis Sanchez putting Danny Welbeck through on goal to round Joel Robles and slot home after seven minutes. 35 minutes later teenager Alex Iwobi scored Arsenal’s second on the day of his first Premier League start for the club.

Everton have now won just one of their last nine Premier League matches at Goodison Park, and they looked a shadow of the team that beat Chelsea in the FA Cup last weekend. This leaves them down in 12th position in the table with just 38 points. Arsenal remain a long shot to win the title, but this win saw them keep pace with Leicester and Spurs at the top and extend their lead over 5th placed West Ham to five points.

Chelsea 2 – 2 West Ham

A brace from Cesc Fabregas saw Chelsea come from behind twice to earn a point against top four hopefuls West Ham in a thrilling match at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

West Ham looked to get off on the front foot against Chelsea from the first whistle, and their optimism was duly rewarded when Manuel Lanzini’s long range curler beat Thibaut Courtois 17 minutes into the game to give the visitors the lead. A beautiful free kick on the stroke of half time gave Cesc Fabregas and Chelsea a goal, but Andy Carroll gave the Hammers the lead again with his first touch of the ball. The previously excellent Michael Antonio gave a penalty away in the 89th minute though, which Fabregas gratefully converted to continue Guus Hiddink’s unbeaten start to his second life in the Premier League. Replays showed that Antonio’s foul was actually outside the box though, a point which Slaven Bilic’s was keen to get across in his post match interview.

A win here would have seen West Ham leapfrog Manchester City into 4th position, but they remain in 5th and a point behind City. Manchester United’s derby day win moved them level on points with the Hammers though. Chelsea remain in 10th position, and the ten points between them and an unlikely top four finish is looking like an increasingly insurmountable gulf.

Crystal Palace 0 – 1 Leicester

Leicester hung on for another narrow victory on Saturday as they beat Crystal Palace to maintain their five point lead at the top of the Premier League and moved one step closer to the most unlikely title victory in Premier League history.

As the footballing cliche goes: These are the sorts of victories that title winners need. Leicester were made to work extremely hard against a stubborn Crystal Palace side on Saturday as Alan Pardew’s men looked for their first Premier League win since the middle of December. But Leicester’s, and Riyad Mahrez’, quality shone through yet again as the excellent attacking midfielder turned in a Jamie Vardy cross. There was no danger of a rout here despite Palace’s poor form, and the Eagles battled valiantly as they searched for an equaliser, with a Damien Delaney shot that cannoned back off the crossbar being the closest they came. But Leicester hung on to pick up another vital three points.

Leicester remain five points clear at the top of the Premier League after Spurs’ win on Sunday, but they now have just seven games remaining to hold on to this lead. Crystal Palace may have put in an improved performance, but they are still in trouble. They are one of the most out of form sides in the league and, after Norwich’s win, are now just seven points above the relegation zone.

Watford 1 – 2 Stoke

Stoke stifled the goal shy Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday as they moved a step closer to their best ever Premier League finishing position with a 2-1 win.

Watford started the game brightly, but soon after the visitors took control of the ball and proceeded to dominate possession for the majority of the match. Jon Walters grabbed the opener as he steered home a cross from Phil Bardsley, and then Joselu added a second to the tally as he pulled off a beauty of a lob after a botched clearance from Heurelho Gomes. 2-0 down and Watford still couldn’t get a foothold in the match, and despite Troy Deeney’s late header the game looked like it was won a long time ago.

This was Watford’s 3rd straight defeat in the Premier League, and despite their FA Cup success last weekend they will still be worried by the rate at which their Premier League season has tailed off. They have only won two of their last 13 games, and their season is threatening to peter out after such a bright first half. They are now in 14th position, whereas Stoke leapfrog Liverpool to move into 7th.

West Brom 0 – 1 Norwich

Norwich picked up a big three points in the context of their Premier League survival chances as they beat a flat West Brom in one of the most torrid games of football you’re ever likely to see.

There’s is next to nothing of interest that happened in this game. Both team’s played out an appallingly boring first half of football, with the first and only shot on target in the whole match coming in the 50th minute as Robbie Brady put the visitors ahead. West Brom didn’t even look like threatening to get back on level terms, and the remaining 40 minutes of the game was played out with no shots on target and barely an attack to speak of.

This crucial victory moved Norwich out of the relegation zone, and after the Tyne-Wear derby ended all square they are now two points clear in 17th position. West Brom remain in a typically drab position in the Premier League, with their 11th position showing no real possibility of being improved upon after Saturday’s performance.

Swansea 1 – 0 Aston Villa

A performance typical of Aston Villa this season saw them lose once again against a Swansea side who have all but secured their Premier League future.

Aston Villa performed fairly well in the first half of this game, controlling possession well but ultimately failing to threaten the goal of a dreary looking Swansea side. But once again, a simple lapse in concentration and a failure to make their possession count lost them the game. Federico Fernandez bundled in after a comedy of errors by the Villa defence and Brad Guzan after a Gylfi Sigurdsson free kick left the defender with an open goal. This allowed Swansea a bit of relaxation time, and they were much better in possession after their goal, although the slick interplay was lacking and there wasn’t really any evidence of a second goal coming in this game.

This lifts Swansea ten points clear of the Premier League relegation zone, and their 36 point tally is surely looking good enough for them to survive the relegation battle now. Aston Villa remain at the bottom of the table, and now find themselves 12 points adrift of safety with only 21 left to play for. They may as well just relegate them now.

Newcastle 1 – 1 Sunderland

One of the most important Tyne-Wear derbies in memory kicked off a promising selection of Sunday football as both sides looked to stay out of the Premier League relegation and boost their chances of survival.

Both Newcastle and Sunderland started the day in the relegation zone after Norwich’s win on Sunday, and both badly needed a win. The passion on display was evident, but Newcastle’s defensive instability was also on show as they left Jermain Defoe unmarked in the box, allowing his to volley in the opener just before half-time. The hosts had lost their last six Tyne-Wear derbies, but they responded well in the second half. It eventually paid off as Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross was headed in by Aleksandar Mitrovic in the 83rd minute, sparking wild celebrations from Mitrovic and the crowd alike and resulting in an hilarious embrace between him and a pitch invader. Mitrovic was then knocked clean out when challenging for an aerial ball which forced him off the field of play, much to his displeasure.

Both needed a victory, but a draw was certainly a fair result. Newcastle are three points adrift of Norwich though whilst Sunderland are two points off safety. However, there are promising signs for both teams. Newcastle ended a run of four straight defeats on Sunday and a last gasp winner against their fiercest rivals will inject some much needed vigour into the fans and players. Sunderland have now drawn their last three matches, but at least they aren’t losing any more.

Southampton 3 – 2 Liverpool

A second half collapse from Liverpool saw them relinquish a two goal lead against Southampton to put a dampener on their hopes of a top four position in the Premier League.

Liverpool set out in the first half playing some very slick football to impress their travelling fans, and they made their dominance count as Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho scored within five minutes of each other to give Liverpool a comfortable looking lead. But it seems their Europa League exploits on Thursday had worn them out, a point which was evident as Liverpool gave away a penalty. Sadio Mane saw his penalty saved, but he made amends when he cut past Mamadou Sakho to halve the deficit. Graziano Pelle curled in the equaliser in the 83rd minute before the excellent Mane put Southampton in the lead four minutes from time.

This lifts Southampton three points clear of Liverpool as they remain in 7th, whilst Liverpool sit in 9th. They have a game or two in hand on every team in the Premier League, but they are still seven points off a top four position.

Manchester City 0 – 1 Manchester United

Manchester United got a crucial win over their hosts in a pulsating Manchester derby, boosting their own top four hopes and effectively ending Manchester City’s Premier League title challenge.

Jamie Carragher made a point in the pre match build up of recommending that Marcus Rashford be relegated back to bit part player now that his blistering start to his senior team career had petered out, but I think he’ll be eating his words now. The 18 year old striker proved the difference as he tore experienced centre back Martin Demichelis apart on Sunday. The centre back has an extra 17 years of experience on the teenage forward, but he was made to look like a Sunday League footballer as he struggled to cope with his pace and directness. The first of many failures on his part came as Rashford left him on the floor thanks to a blistering turn of pace as he turned him and slotted home the only goal of the game in the 16th minute. Demichelis then went in rashly on him in the box, a challenge that somehow was seen as fair despite being a stonewall penalty. Manchester United continued to dominate the first half but couldn’t add to their tally, despite the best efforts of Anthony Martial. Demichelis continued his torrid afternoon in the second half as he played an awful back pass to Joe Hart, who had to be stretchered off with a calf injury after rescuing his side from the awful ball. Demichelis was substituted shortly after to end what Robbie Savage described as one of the worst Premier League performances in history. Manchester City looked partly revived in the second half, and as the final whistle loomed they began to apply heavy pressure on the visitors’ goal. The post denied Sergio Aguero late on and a catalogue of blocks and tackles from the excellent Chris Smalling earned Manchester United a vital three points.

This leaves Manchester City a huge 15 points off leaders Leicester, and considering their awful Premier League form at the moment there is a real danger that incoming manager Pep Guardiola will be inheriting a side who aren’t even in the Champions League. They are only a point above West Ham and Manchester United below them, who will both fancy their chances of taking advantage of the Citizens’ poor form.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 – 0 Bournemouth

Harry Kane inspired a routine and comfortable Tottenham Hotspur win over Bournemouth on Sunday as they kept pace with Premier League leaders Leicester.

It took just 43 seconds for Harry Kane to get on the end of a Kyle Walker cross and turn it in on Sunday, and after that there was really no way back for Bournemouth. 15 minutes later Kane added a second as he teamed up with Dele Alli yet again, taking his tally to 21 Premier League goals this season. This sees him top the scoring charts in the Premier League, and he played a part in Spurs’ third goal as he saw his long range shot parried into the path of Christian Eriksen shortly after half-time. This was another comfortable and confident display from an up and coming side who would certainly be worthy Premier League winners should Leicester slip up in the run in. Kane is showing no signs of slowing down either, and he has now scored 23 goals in his last 30 Spurs appearances, with his early opener making him only the 5th English player to reach 20 Premier League goals in consecutive seasons.

This saw Spurs slash the gap at the top of the table to five points once again, and at the moment they are just churning out the victories and hoping that the steely determination of Leicester fades at some point. Bournemouth didn’t really threaten at all in the match and were resigned to bit part roles in another Spurs win. They won 3-2 at Swansea last weekend, a result which saw them all but clinch Premier League safety for the season, and you could tell. The players may as well have been on holiday on Sunday.

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