Gameweek 21 came to a close and there were wholesale changes to the Premier League table. THT takes a look
Chelsea continued their title charge with a 2-0 victory over Newcastle at home
Title favourites Chelsea were not up to their best but were good enough to beat Newcastle in a home game as regular goal scorer Costa and Oscar got their names on the score sheet. Not having won their last two games, Chelsea would have been feeling the pressure with defenders City having closed the gap to equalise on points with Chelsea. The London club, however, had some breathing space by the end of the day as
City were held to a draw by Everton at Goodison Park
The reigning English champions surely missed the reassuring presence of their Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure who is away on international duty playing for Cote d’Ivoire in the African Cup of Nations. Vincent Kompany and Aguero also completed their return from injury but started from the bench leaving Fernando and Fernandinho to manage midfield. Manchester City had early control of the game but inch by inch Everton crept into the game and in fact in the second half were on an even keel when Fernandinho broke the deadlock. However, less than 5 minutes later, Joe Hart had a lapse in concentration and came too far off his line allowing Naismith to convert Baines’ free kick and equalise for the hosts. The draw left City at 47 points from 21 games, 2 adrift of Chelsea at the top of the table
Southampton shocked Manchester United at home to trade league positions
Southampton came to Old Trafford and left with the unlikely complement of 3 points as they pulled off an unprecedented victory at the venue. Manchester United started a full strength side for probably the first time in the season with Ashley Young the only absentee due to injury. However, the combined powers of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria and Juan Mata were not enough to break down the stubborn defense of Ronald Koeman’s side. Tadic slotted in from close range for the visitors and the home side never looked close to equalising, finishing the game with 0 shots on target. Mata was hugely wasteful but that does not take away from the fact that United clearly did not have a tactic. The defeat also brought to an end an undefeated run that goes back to Nov 2 last year. Increasingly, the side seems to be struggling in the manager’s favourite 3-5-2 formation and the demise of that formation may be near. The result also saw Southampton and United swap their third and fourth places.
Crystal Palace climbed out of the relegation zone at the cost of Spurs
Crystal Palace started the game against Tottenham Hotspur joint 20th in the table and things seemed to be getting worse for Alan Pardew’s men when Spurs’ man of the moment Harry Kane opened the score minutes into the second half. A mauling akin to the 5-3 that Spurs handed out to Chelsea seemed to be in the offing when the hosts decided to shift gears and in an inspired half an hour of football took the game away from the London side. Dwight Gayle equalised off a penalty kick conceded by Stambouli and then Jason Puncheon met a superb cross from substitute Zaha before lashing home a fierce shot to put the hosts ahead with 10 minutes to go. The victory saw Alan Pardew’s side pull 1 point clear off the bottom in 14th place.
Arsenal and Liverpool win to keep Champions League hopes alive
Arsenal and Liverpool both won their respective fixtures against Stoke and Sunderland to keep their hopes of qualifying in the top 4 for a Champions League spot alive. Arsenal were helped on their way to a 3-0 win through an Alexis Sanchez brace after Laurent Koscielny had opened the scoring for the hosts in the 6th minute itself from a Sanchez assist. Arsenal look to be increasingly dependent on Sanchez as talks of their being a one man side are gathering weight. More importantly, trouble may be brewing if the irrepressible attacker is injured or worse, captured by one of the rival clubs in the upcoming summer transfer window as has been the wont with Arsenal and their best players (read Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie).
Liverpool coasted to a victory after Markovic scored the lone goal early in the game. Captain Steven Gerrard who is set to leave his club at the end of the season started for the visitors but was removed at half time in favour of Lovren. The midfield played decently throughout the game and it is apparent that Liverpool, more than anything else, need some strikers who can actually finish chances. Brendan Rodgers however effectively ruled out bringing in new players during the January window in his post match comments.
Elsewhere, Burnley and QPR continued their battle to escape relegation with the former club winning their game and climbing out of the danger zone. Leicester, in spite of defeating Aston Villa, failed to pull themselves off the bottom of the table. Hull City slipped back into the bottom three after losing to West Brom while in a midtable contest, West Ham and Swansea shared honours in a closely fought encounter at the Liberty Stadium.