EPL Gameweek 38: Review

The 2016/17 Premier League season has finally drawn to a close with a flurry of goals scored in a number of games that meant little more than pride. Rather than focusing on one match for this last gameweek, The Mumbler has done a short review of each fixture:

Arsenal 3-1 Everton

Arséne Wenger’s side did all that they could to try and maintain their impressive and consistent qualification for the Champions League.

Arsenal took an early lead through Hector Bellerín, but the Gunners were reduced to 10 men after the foolish dismissal of Laurent Koscielny for a dangerous foul just 14 minutes into the game.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, the home side still enjoyed slightly more possession and just five attempts fewer than their opponents. Ronald Koeman’s men ended a strong season poorly with just four points from the last 15 available.

This summer’s focus will be on the possible personnel changes at Arsenal – on and off the pitch – as they prepare for this Saturday’s F.A. Cup final against Champions Chelsea.

It was difficult to tell which side was a player down after Koscielny’s sending off.

 

Burnley 1-2 West Ham

The Hammers earned their first away win after six without at a ground that has proven difficult for most visitors.

While Sean Dyche will be disappointed to miss out on finishing 13th, he can be delighted to have survived their first season back in the Premier League.

Goals from Sofiane Feghouli and André Ayew saw West Ham come back from a losing position for only the second time this season.

It was a deserved victory for the London side who bettered their hosts in attempts, attacking third passes, ball recoveries and interceptions.

This summer will see one manager (Dyche) looking to keep hold of his prized assets and the other (Salven Bilic) his job after a difficult campaign at the London Stadium.

West Ham managed far more ball recoveries than the normally hard-running Burnley.

 

Chelsea 5-1 Sunderland

The Champions became the first team in Premier League history to win 30 games in a season with an emphatic victory over bottom-club, Sunderland.

Against the script, the Wearsiders went ahead through Javier Manquilo after just three minutes but within five the Blues were level through Willian.

Eden Hazard, Pedro and a late brace from Michy Batshuayi sealed the rout as club captain, John Terry, brought an end to his illustrious career at Chelsea with a controversially pre-planned substitution on the 26th minute to match the number on his shirt.

Unsurprisingly, the hosts dominated the game with four times as many attempts on goal (28 to seven) and over seven times as many completed passes in the attacking third (220 to 30). That led to over 70% possession as David Moyes’ relegated side had little to offer once they went behind.

Recruitment is key for Antonio Conte ahead of a Champions League campaign next season. For Sunderland, however, there will be a big turnover in staff following Moyes’ departure and an uninspiring squad that’s bound to lose at least one of its two best players (Defoe) during the upcoming window.

Chelsea completely dominated their opponents with the attacking third passes a clear indication.

 

Hull 1-7 Tottenham

Harry Kane consolidated his place at the top of the scoring charts with a hat-trick at Hull bringing his tally to 29 league goals. The England international joins the select group of Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Michael Owen and Alan Shearer as the only other previous back-to-back winners of the Premier League Golden Boot award.

Having suffered relegation last Sunday, Hull could only hope to do to Tottenham what Newcastle managed last season with a victory for pride. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the game was all but finished after just 13 minutes by which time Kane had already got a brace.

It was three by half-time as Dele Alli scored his 18th of the campaign. But all the plaudits were saved for Kane who managed to score nearly a quarter of his goals (seven) in the final two games of the season. Those strikes brought his minutes per goal down to just 87 and also saw him finish top for goal involvement with a total of 36 (29 goals, seven assists) bettering Alexis Sanchez’s 34 (24 goals, 10 assists).

The writing seems to be on the wall regarding Marco Silva’s future as the Portuguese manager is likely to have a few suitors following an impressive first several months in England.

Tottenham need to have a more productive transfer window than last summer while there remains constant rumours about the future of Kyle Walker amongst others.

Kane’s seven goals from eight shots on target during his last two games saw him comfortably take the Golden Boot award for a second consecutive season.

 

Leicester 1-1 Bournemouth

Junior Stanislas’ first minute opener put the Cherries on their way to ensuring an impressive 9th place finish in only their second season in England’s top division.

The former Champions equalised in the second half through top scorer Jamie Vardy who has scored eight in the 13 appearances since Craig Shakespeare took over from Claudio Ranieri.

Eddie Howe would have been disappointed not to have won only their second game on the road out of 11 this calendar year. A victory that would have seen them finish above south-coast rivals, Southampton.

But in retrospect, the visitors were fortunate to come away with a draw having been under pressure for the vast majority of the second period. The Foxes had 11 attempts to Bournemouth’s three as well as another Vardy goal which was wrongly disallowed for offside.

Given the upturn in form since Shakespeare’s appointment, it would seem harsh not to reward him with another season, but the Leicester owners have already proven they’re not adverse to making such decisions.

Leicester were far more threatening in the second-half after a poor display during the opening exchanges.

 

Liverpool 3-0 Middlesbrough

The Reds got the win they needed to finish in the top four but it didn’t come without its tension.

Within eight minutes of the kick-off, both Arsenal and Man City were leading which meant Liverpool were in 5th position. And as the half went on, a sense of anxiety and desperation started to exchange between the players and fans as Middlesbrough defended deep, often deploying Rudy Gestede on his own up front and sitting six across the back.

Liverpool were guilty of trying too many potshots from distance as few players besides Philippe Coutinho seemed willing to take responsibility. It was reminiscent of that fateful loss at home to Chelsea in 2014 when they were going for the title under Brendan Rodgers. That second half display showed a lack of composure as the hosts desperately sought an equaliser and this felt similar.

But just like the wins at West Brom and Watford, Jürgen Klopp’s side grabbed an opener just before half-time. Giorginio Wijnaldum might only be scoring at home but he’s now done so in big moments which include Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Burnley. The Dutch midfielder drilled his shot past Brad Guzan at the near-post much to the delight and relief of the supporters.

Within 10 minutes of the second half, the game was dead and buried as Coutinho deceived Guzan with a free-kick and Adam Lallana slotted in a third.

Middlesbrough could have really cranked up the fear had Patrick Bamford been awarded a penalty in the first-half. But once they went behind, they looked like a side that won just once in their last 21 league matches.

Before Wijnaldum’s goal, it looked like a similar performance to the second-half against Chelsea three years ago.

 

Man Utd 2-0 Crystal Palace

True to his word, Mourinho fielded a team largely made up of youngsters with the Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday.

Despite the weakened line-up, United went two-up through debutant Josh Harrop and Paul Pogba. The latter came off at half-time as a precaution while Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace failed to exploit the lack of experience.

An impressive debut for Mitchell who was joint-top for chances created (2) and interceptions (3); fourth for attacking third passes (12); joint-second for take-ons (2/4) and fouls suffered (2); and second for tackles (5/6).

It was clear that there was little riding on this fixture which for the home supporters is an indictment of the seasons gone by since Sir Alex Ferguson left. A disappointing 6th place finish for one of the world’s richest and most expensively assembled sides shouldn’t be excused irrespective of whether or not they claim the Europa League trophy and subsequently, Champions League qualification.

Man Utd’s first win in six league matches condoned Crystal Palace to their fifth defeat in the last 10 games. But those 10 included matches against each of the top six, three of which were won. Those unexpected victories ultimately sealed their survival which was confirmed last week at home to Hull.

 

 

 

 

Southampton 0-1 Stoke

Fans at St. Mary’s have been left disappointed by the shortage of entertainment throughout the season and this match was no different.

Claud Puel’s men failed to score in front of their supporters for a fifth consecutive match which left the Saints with just 17 goals at home this season. Only relegated duo Middlesbrough and Sunderland scored fewer.

This is despite attempting the seventh highest number of shots per game at home (15.8) and ranking eighth for shots on target (4.8). That raises questions over the quality of opportunities and finishing, particularly as the attacking options at Southampton have had various issues. Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin have been dealing with injuries, Manolo Gabbiadini failed to rediscover his form after returning from injury, Shane Long lacks a clinical edge and record signing Sofiane Boufal has been ineffectual in his debut campaign.

Should Puel stay then the summer’s focus will surely be on attacking reinforcements that he can rely upon as well as replacing any big names that are once again poached by the bigger clubs.

Peter Crouch’s winner on the hour mark meant Stoke managed eight points from the last 30 on offer to end a stagnant season in 13th. Mark Hughes may look to strengthen his defence with players such as Phil Bardsley, Geoff Cameron, Glen Johnson, Ryan Shawcross and Erik Pieters at least 29-years-old come the start of next season.

Southampton had nearly twice as many passes in the attacking third, yet Stoke created 50% more chances.

 

Swansea 2-1 West Brom

Despite anticipating a dramatic relegation battle just a few weeks ago, four wins from the last five games saw Swansea propel themselves to 15th place. Tony Pulis’ West Brom, meanwhile, failed to win any of their last nine league matches – their last win coming at home to Arsenal in mid-March – yet they still ended the season in the top 10.

Jonny Evans’ opener was cancelled out by Jordan Ayew before the Swans’ top scorer, Fernando Llorente, scored the winner with less than five minutes remaining. The former Juventus striker has been a success this season, netting 15 goals which have led to 13 points, the exact difference between the Welsh side and low-scoring Middlesbrough.

West Brom’s target man, Salomón Rondon, has had a less productive season having scored just once since his hat-trick of headers in the corresponding fixture five months ago. Pulis will hope to get more of what he wants this summer while Paul Clement will be looking to build on an impressive term since taking over in January, which led to a Manager of the Season nomination.

Swansea have had much more joy from their target man this season as Llorente scored one and provided the other against WBA.

 

Watford 0-5 Man City

Pep Guardiola can look forward to another crack at the Champions League next season as his Man City side finished 3rd in the league with a thumping victory over a depleted and disjointed Watford.

The Hornets announced earlier in the week that Walter Mazzarri will be leaving Vicarage Road after this fixture to continue the Pozzo family’s tradition of regularly replacing their manager. Unfortunately, Mazzarri’s challenge to motivate his players was made even harder with all six centre-backs unavailable against one of the league’s more potent attacks.

True to form, Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sané and Kevin De Bruyne found gaps all over the home defence to go 4-0 up before half-time. The Citizens only added a fifth in the second period as Aguero desperately tried to claim his hat-trick but was denied by Heurelho Gomes and a gaping miss from close-range.

It brought a sorry end to Mazzarri’s tenure with six straight defeats including five games without scoring. Keeping Watford in the Premier League despite the frequent changes should be commended but the terrible run of form and the Italian’s lack of English proved to be the former Napoli manager’s undoing.

Guardiola said he feels better prepared for a title challenge having endured his first season in England. The Spaniard will no doubt be tapping into the market for new players, particularly at full-back, as the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy depart.

David Silva, De Bruyne and Sané were carving Watford apart, particularly during the first-half.

PREDICTION CHECK
The Mumbler’s pre-season predictions were unsurprisingly proven vastly wrong through a combination of under and overestimations on certain sides. Perhaps a mid-season prediction after the January transfer window would have been more accurate. Check the table below to realise that you’re wasting your time reading any of The Mumbler’s posts:

One right, three within one position and seven within two. Those in red are four or five out.

EPL Gameweek 37: West Ham 0-4 Liverpool

Liverpool took all three-points from their first trip to the London Stadium despite playing under great pressure following Arsenal’s win at Stoke City the previous day.

Knowing they’d need to win, Jürgen Klopp’s men showed the type of cutting edge that has been lacking in recent weeks as the Reds took full advantage of the fortuitous breaks against a West Ham side who had little more than pride to play for.

Slaven Bilic’s team enjoyed their best night at their new home ground last time out when they defeated London rivals, Tottenham, to end their winning streak and title challenge under the Friday night lights.

Line-ups
Due to injuries, the home side were without key personnel, including club captain, Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyaté and former Liverpool forward, Andy Carroll. Those absences saw Edimilson Fernandes and Håvard Nordveit make up the central midfield pairing with Jonathan Calleri up front.

Liverpool were without the injured Roberto Firmino while Lucas Leiva – who was a doubt leading up to the game – was on the substitutes’ bench.

That meant Daniel Sturridge started his first league game for Liverpool since the 2-2 draw at Sunderland on the 2nd January where the England international opened the scoring. Adam Lallana also returned to the starting line-up for the first time in just under two months.

Due to the personnel available to Klopp, the German manager opted for a diamond formation rather than his preferred 4-3-3.

Cutting the Diamond
This allowed Sturridge and Divock Origi to play in their more natural positions and the outcome suggests that individually, they are more effective as a pair rather than the central forward of a front-three.

The last time they started together was at home to Tottenham in the League Cup. Sturridge grabbing a brace to earn a 2-1 victory in late-October. Last season, the Reds travelled to Southampton in the League Cup quarter-final with both strikers starting up top. Despite conceding to now Liverpool winger, Sadio Mané, within the first minute, they managed to run out 6-1 winners with two for Sturridge and a hat-trick for Origi.

This formation could have been used in Mané’s absence, particularly when facing those sides who sat back. Unfortunately for Klopp, Sturridge has been unavailable too often. But Origi and Firmino may have found more joy against the likes of Southampton, Palace or Watford in recent weeks.

It’s an especially useful approach against three-man defences but there’s always the danger of being too narrow when not in possession. You’re potentially exposed down the flanks which West Ham’s Sam Byram nearly exploited in the opening stages.

Liverpool were a far greater threat on Sunday than they had been since Sadio Mané’s injury during the Merseyside Derby. Despite only losing one of the seven games since, The Reds have laboured in attack, often failing to move the ball quickly enough against disciplined defences.

Coutinho often played as one of the midfield three during Brendan Rodgers’ most successful season at Anfield.

Coutinho
Many expected Philippe Coutinho to play just behind the front two but that role was taken up by Lallana. Instead, Liverpool’s chief playmaker returned to the deeper role of the 2013/14 season. The campaign that saw Liverpool fall just short of winning their first Premier League title.

This allowed the creative Brazilian to have more space as West Ham defended deep in numbers. His eye for a through ball was evident when the former Inter Milan player found Sturridge in acres of space having broken the home side’s disjointed offside trap.

Showing great composure, Sturridge rounded Adrián before passing into an empty net to give Liverpool a vital first-half lead.

Prior to the first goal, Coutinho nearly provided an assist for Joel Matip on more than one occasion. The defender should have done better with a free header at the far-post but was denied by the crossbar, while there were two further instances that saw the Cameroonian head towards goal unchallenged. Those corners contributed to the game high six chances Coutinho created.

In the second half, Liverpool doubled their lead after Giorginio Wijnaldum’s brilliant volley cannoned off the bar only to be half cleared to Coutinho a little under 35-yards from goal. After a great first touch and dummy strike, he weaved his way to just outside the box before drilling into the bottom corner. It was a similar goal to the one he scored against Spurs in the line-ups image from 2014.

His second and Liverpool’s third of the day all but sealed an important victory as a swift counter-attack was emphatically finished. Dancing across the area with short strides and deft touches against defenders scared of bringing him down, Coutinho lashed home from close range to leave Adrián no chance.

That saw Liverpool’s number 10 reach a career high 12 league goals and eight assists which is the same goal involvement as Eden Hazard (15 goals and five assists). Coutinho is, however, 16 minutes better than his Chelsea counterpart in terms of minutes per goal (179 to 190).

Two goals and an assist from a deeper role meant Coutinho was far more productive against West Ham than he was the previous week during the stalemate with Southampton.

Lady Luck
Despite going three-clear, the away side needed a big slice of luck, particularly at one and two-nil.

Just before half-time, during which Simon Mignolet’s goal had rarely been threatened, Andre Ayew had a golden opportunity to equalise as Liverpool once again failed to clear a corner.

The former Swansea forward was unable to convert from a couple of yards as he struck the foot of the post with both attempts before Mignolet gratefully grabbed hold of the ball.

At two-nil, another West Ham corner not fully cleared saw Wijnaldum have an aerial duel with Winston Reid in the penalty box. The Dutch midfielder led with his arm which caught Reid and made contact with the ball but referee, Neil Swarbrick, failed to spot the incident. Adding salt to the wound, Liverpool went up the other end and scored their third much to the frustrations of Hammers’ players and supporters.

Following some great work by Sturridge down the right-flank, Wijnaldum then saw his miskick kindly fall to Origi who instinctively side-footed in at the near-post to cap a comfortable and deserved win, albeit with a bit of fortune.

Liverpool benefitted from slices of luck but they deserved the three-points as they managed more shots on target than West Ham’s total number of attempts.

Summary
The four consecutive away wins could all but seal Liverpool’s place in the top four, although they still have to beat already relegated Middlesbrough at home to confirm their place in Europe’s elite competition. This Sunday’s fixture can’t be taken lightly and Klopp was quick to point that out during his post-match interviews. Supporters only have to look at Sunderland’s post-relegation win away to Hull to realise that teams can perform better when there’s no pressure on the result.

For West Ham, this loss brought such a disappointing end to their debut season at the London Stadium that few fans remained to applaud their players during their lap of honour. Heading into the final round of fixtures, Bilic’s side can finish anywhere from 11th to 16th with rumours still circulating over the Croatian manager’s position.

EPL Results (Gameweek 37):
West Brom 0-1 Chelsea
Man City 2-1 Leicester
Bournemouth 2-1 Burnley
Middlesbrough 1-2 Southampton
Sunderland 0-2 Swansea
Stoke 1-4 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 4-0 Hull
West Ham 0-4 Liverpool
Tottenham 2-1 Man Utd
Chelsea 4-3 Watford
Arsenal 2-0 Sunderland
Man City 3-1 West Brom
Southampton 0-0 Man Utd
Leicester 1-6 Tottenham

EPL Gameweek 36: Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd

Previously, this was one of the most anticipated games of the season but this dour contest only served to highlight the current state of both clubs. One is struggling to make the top four for the first time in 20 years and the other is prioritising the Europa League over domestic matters.

Gone are the days of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira eye-balling in the tunnel before kick-off, much to the disappointment of Phil Neville and Martin Keown.

Line-ups
Arsène Wenger made two changes to the side that lost at Tottenham last Sunday. Rob Holding replaced Gabriel in the back-three, while former Man Utd striker, Danny Welbeck, was preferred to Olivier Giroud. A more dynamic and versatile option for the home side.

José Mourinho made eight changes from his side’s semi-final first-leg win at Celta Vigo last Thursday. The Portuguese manager also gave Axel Tuanzebe his first Premier League start. The 19-year-old had a decent game which saw him finish top for tackles (five from seven) and joint-second for interceptions (three). The lack of intensity at The Emirates would have eased his introduction to top tier football but the full-back still had Alexis Sanchez and co to deal with.

First-half Goalkeeping
Both David de Gea and Petr Cech were called upon during a fairly tepid first-half and both produced good saves to keep the scores level going into half-time. Cech denied Anthony Martial at his near-post as well as Wayne Rooney after the Man Utd captain pounced on Holding’s poor backpass.

De Gea pulled off a smart save from Aaron Ramsey as the Welsh international looked to drill his right-footed effort into the far bottom corner. But the former Atletico Madrid keeper could do little about Arsenal’s quick-fire goals in the second-half.

The Ox & Xhaka
Less than 10-minutes in, Granit Xhaka received a pass from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and was able to venture forwards under little pressure. Thirty-yards from goal, the midfielder took aim and benefitted from a deflection off Ander Herrera who had turned his back on the strike. It looped over a helpless de Gea to give the home supporters something to cheer about.

The time and space Xhaka had in the middle of the field was representative of United’s deep defensive approach – Henrikh Mkhitaryan only attempted seven passes in the attacking third during the hour he was on the pitch. Understandably, it’s a percentage play to allow your opponents a pot-shot from distance because the other options are closed off. But Mourinho will still be disappointed – even more so if it was Luke Shaw at fault – by how much time was afforded.

Man Utd went more direct with their balls into the attacking third with particular focus on the left-wing. Arsenal completed more passes in this area with 114 to United’s 91.

Man Utd’s deep defensive blocks led to an unsurprisingly high number of interceptions in their half.

Xhaka – one of Arsenal’s big summer signings – has come in for plenty of criticism, largely due to his poor disciplinary record. But the Swiss international had one of his better games on Sunday and could still prove to a decent purchase once he curbs his tendency to get sent-off and adjusts to the Premier League. His 93.24% pass completion (69/74) was one of the game’s highest.

Just a few minutes later and Arsenal doubled their lead thanks to some great work by Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right. The recently converted wing-back created the half a yard he needed to deliver a pinpoint cross for Welbeck to head home from close range. The cross dipped perfectly between Phil Jones and Chris Smalling – whose lack of availability has frequently an publically been condemned by their manager.

With two assists, this new wing-back role seems to suit Oxlade-Chamberlain and his physical attributes. He also managed the joint-second most tackles with three from the four attempts but there’s still room for improvement as he conceded five fouls, more than any other player.

Defensive United & Soft Arsenal
Mourinho’s implementation of defensive tactics against a rival fuelled a passionate debate between Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville during Sky’s Monday Night Football. Both are captivating pundits and made valid points, but there were a couple of comments by former United defender, Neville, that caught the attention.

Whilst acknowledging Man Utd’s league season has been unacceptable, particularly as they, along with neighbours City, were many people’s favourites for the title, Neville suggested it isn’t Mourinho’s team. A fair comment given it is his first season and he’s only added four players to his 24-man squad. But that isn’t to say the other 20 are useless or unwanted. Based on that approach, only four are Antonio Conte’s players at Chelsea yet he’s about to win the league.

It was also mentioned that Mourinho’s been unbelievable in the transfer market, a reference to the £45m raised from the sales of Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay. But that isn’t as impressive as presented given the pair cost nearly £50m just a season earlier and there has been a notable inflation in the transfer market which is partly influenced by United’s signings of Anthony Martial (2015) and Paul Pogba (2016).

But as Carragher was claiming, the tactics applied, particularly away to those in the top six, aren’t in-keeping with the traditions of United or the players at Mourinho’s disposal.

Despite initial appearances in the line-ups image, it was another case of a near back six instructed to all but suffocate the opposition and hope to utilise the frontman’s pace – in this case, Martial – on the counter-attack.

Carragher emphasised the fact they’ve failed to score in the four away trips to their rivals this season. The rest have managed at least four, which doesn’t reflect favourably on the pragmatic manager.

Mourinho’s side do however, have an opportunity to score their first goal and claim their first win at a top rival when they return to North London next Sunday for Tottenham’s final game at White Hart Lane. A challenge the former Chelsea man will no doubt relish.

Despite United’s scoring issues on the road, they have still managed more points than Arsenal. The Gunners’ solitary point came in the corresponding fixture at Old Trafford thanks to a late Giroud header. Failing to defeat such sides – home and away – has only driven many supporters to wanting Wenger out, although they did at least manage to edge past Man City in the recent F.A. Cup semi-final.

But the table below doesn’t make for great reading as Arsenal currently find themselves with the same points return as Watford against those in top seven. The Hornets claiming a surprise victory at The Emirates earlier this year. Furthermore, Bournemouth and 16th placed Crystal Palace have earned more points than The Gunners albeit via more games.

Summary
United’s 25-game unbeaten run finally came to an end, bookended by defeats in London (Chelsea and now Arsenal). As has previously been highlighted on The Mumbler, their points return during that period still didn’t better Chelsea’s or Tottenham’s such were the number of draws (12). But there was an inevitability to this outcome as the away side focus on Europe and continue to deploy such tactics.

Arsenal’s faint hopes of scraping into the top four remain after Liverpool drew at home to the Gunners mid-week opponents, Southampton. But with Stoke City away – a typically unattractive fixture for Wenger and a side that hasn’t beaten any of the top seven – next weekend, this victory could prove to be nothing more than a moral boost ahead of the cup final.

EPL Results (Gameweek 36):
West Ham 1-0 Tottenham
Man City 5-0 Crystal Palace
Bournemouth 2-2 Stoke
Burnley 2-2 West Brom
Leicester 3-0 Watford
Hull 0-2 Sunderland
Swansea 1-0 Everton
Liverpool 0-0 Southampton
Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd
Chelsea 3-0 Middlesbrough
Southampton 0-2 Arsenal

EPL Gameweek 35: Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal

A win in the final North London derby held at White Hart Lane would guarantee Tottenham their first finish above Arsenal in 20 years. Spurs were under even more pressure after Chelsea’s victory at Goodison Park just moments before kick-off. But Mauricio Pochettino’s men continued to improve their reputation as genuine title challengers with their 14th consecutive home win.

Line-ups
Mousa Dembélé wasn’t deemed fit enough to start which saw Son Heung-Min step in as Spurs reverted to a 4-2-3-1. The versatile, Eric Dier, lined up alongside Victor Wanyama while Kieran Trippier got the nod ahead of Kyle Walker at right-back. The former Burnley defender doesn’t possess the same pace as his teammate but has impressed in his few league starts, particularly with his delivery.

Arsène Wenger continued with the same 3-4-2-1 formation which brought narrow wins away at Middlesbrough and home to Leicester. The Frenchman made three changes from their last match with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud replacing Hector Bellerín, Francis Coquelin and Theo Walcott respectively.

Shots fired
The home side made the most of the atmosphere and looked the more likely to score from the first few minutes when Harry Kane tested Petr Cech with a low-drive. Tottenham would go on to pepper Cech’s goal with 13 of their 20 attempts on target. Nine of those came in the second half, while Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen failed to hit the target from very good positions in the opening 45 minutes.

These opportunities were the result of Tottenham’s territorial advantage. Both sides had a similar number of completed passes (326 to 312) and subsequent possession (51.1% to 48.9%), but it was Spurs who racked up 106 to Arsenal’s 77 in the attacking third.

Arsenal’s lack of end product was best summed up by Spurs defender, Jan Vertonghen, coming closer to scoring than any of the visiting players with two decent attempts from outside the area.

The Gunners were kept at bay as they failed to create any clear-cut chances. All of their efforts on target were from distance which rarely troubled Hugo Lloris in the Tottenham goal.

Eriksen v Özil
The battle of the playmakers saw Tottenham’s in-form Dane get the better of his German counterpart as Mesut Özil continues to struggle. The former Real Madrid man has been linked with a move away from the Emirates and recent performances suggest his employers will be best off cashing in.

Eriksen only had three assists and no goals in his first 11 league appearances this season. The following 22 appearances have yielded an impressive eight goals 14 assists.

Özil is clearly talented and his 19 assists last season further validates that. But much like former Spurs player, Dimitar Berbatov, he suffers from his nonchalant appearance as it can irk supporters if things aren’t coming off. If it works, he makes it look effortless, but if it doesn’t, he looks like he’s lacking effort.

Of the five games Özil has missed, Arsenal have only won one (Crystal Palace at home), drawn one (Bournemouth away) and lost three (Liverpool home and away as well as West Brom away).

During this encounter, Eriksen managed to create four chances, double Özil’s two, which he managed with nine fewer passes in the attacking third.

Eriksen should have opened the scoring in the first-half when he side-footed Son’s deflected shot onto the crossbar, but his effort in the 55th minute provided Dele Alli the chance to convert the rebound and open the scoring. Özil, on the other hand, failed to muster a single attempt at goal.

Goals
After taking the lead, Spurs smelt blood and doubled their advantage just three-minutes later when Kane drew a foul from Gabriel to earn his side a penalty. The England striker made no mistake from the spot as he found the bottom corner with great accuracy to score in his fifth successive appearance against Arsenal.

For the next 20 minutes, Tottenham managed six attempts, three on target, as their opponent’s goal came under siege. Only Cech prevented the hosts from truly embarrassing their North London rivals.

The away side were also fortunate not to concede a second penalty as the largely anonymous Alexis Sanchez handled the ball on the byline. Referee, Michael Oliver, instead awarded a corner as the Spurs players protested while Sanchez proclaimed his innocence by pointing to the side of his torso. Replays showed it hit his raised arm but we shouldn’t rely on the Chilean to clarify where a ball strikes him following his antics against Leicester last Wednesday.

Tottenham’s run
Much like Eriksen, Tottenham got off to a pretty slow start this season. The four consecutive draws in October/November was their longest winless streak. But since they ended that run with a dramatic turnaround at home to West Ham, Pochettino’s side have averaged an impressive 2.43 points per game (56 points in 23 games). To put that in perspective, the table below shows all Premier League winners and their average points per game:

As you can see, this season’s Chelsea are on the third highest points per game average since the Premier League started in 1992. If Antonio Conte’s side win their remaining four matches then only José Mourinho’s debut campaign with the Blues would have bettered their tally of 93 points (2.45 points per game).

Whilst Spurs are likely to miss out on their first title in 56 years, they can be mightily proud of their general performances. It’s no embarrassment to be beaten by a team that accumulated such a return of points but Pochettino will be desperate to build on this campaign and fly out of the blocks at the start of next season.

Summary
Arsenal’s ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League took an expected hit on Sunday despite both Manchester clubs failing to win.

Amongst the Gunners’ remaining five games are home ties against Man Utd and Everton as well as an unfavourable trip to Stoke City. They do at least have an F.A. Cup final against a rampant Chelsea side to ‘look forward’ to, but that could be another disappointment given both teams’ respective forms.

For Spurs, this was a big one and not just for sentimental reasons. Finishing above Arsenal means more to the fans than the club but this summer presents an opportunity to start establishing a superiority that’s been the complete reverse since Wenger arrived.

Failing to win a trophy will become an issue next season if they perform well under Pochettino without any silverware to show for it. The psychological barriers they’ve broken this season: finishing above Arsenal, winning games emphatically or late on, and ending Chelsea’s winning streak; should provide them in good stead for the future as long as they retain and add to the current squad.

EPL Results (Gameweek 35):
Southampton 0-0 Hull
Stoke 0-0 West Ham
Sunderland 0-1 Bournemouth
West Brom 0-1 Leicester
Crystal Palace 0-2 Burnley
Man Utd 1-1 Swansea
Everton 0-3 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 2-2 Man City
Tottenham 2-0 Arsenal
Watford 0-1 Liverpool

EPL Gameweek 34: Man City 0-0 Man Utd

At the start of the season, many thought this Manchester derby would be a title decider. But due to their poor campaigns, despite heavy investment, both clubs were battling it out in search of a top four spot and Champions League qualification.

There was less pressure on José Mourinho’s side as they still have the Europa League, which could provide an alternative route to Europe’s elite competition. Meanwhile, Man City’s F.A. Cup semi-final defeat to Arsenal last weekend ensured Pep Guardiola will finish without a trophy and outside of the top two for the first time in his managerial career.

Given Mourinho’s preferred tactics against his rivals, namely Liverpool away and Chelsea at home, there was an anticipation that this derby would fail to entertain the spectators, unlike the corresponding fixture in September. Alas, the pragmatic Portuguese manager didn’t disappoint, much to the neutral’s disappointment.

Line-ups
Guardiola opted for a more conventional right-back with Pablo Zabaleta preferred to Jesús Navas so to enhance the defensive qualities of a backline that may be vulnerable to the counter-attack. Raheem Sterling, meanwhile, started instead of the injured David Silva, which saw Kevin De Bruyne play a more central role.

Antonio Valencia returned to the starting line-up in place of Ashley Young while Michael Carrick replaced the injured Paul Pogba in midfield. In attack, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford were brought in for Jesse Lingard and club captain, Wayne Rooney.

Stifling the opponent
Not for the first-time this season, Mourinho deployed tactics designed to stifle the attacking opportunities of his opponent. This approach has driven plenty of discussions as to whether he needs to be so defensive in search of success given the club he is managing and the players he has at his disposal.

Thursday’s stalemate was as anticlimactic as another fixture excessively hyped up by Sky earlier in the season. ‘Red Monday’ between Liverpool and Man Utd last October felt more like BoRed Monday and this derby wasn’t much different.

As the table above shows, in both games, United relinquished possession in order to set up deep defensive blocks which meant fewer passes, especially in the attacking third. Thursday’s match saw a particularly low pass completion score of less than 70% too.

Man Utd protected their penalty box well but showed little ambition going forwards.

Against City, the Red Devils scored their lowest possession stats since Opta started recording the data in 2003. Their previous record was from the draw at Anfield.

The goalkeepers’ distribution highlighted the teams’ different approaches.

To be fair to the trophy laden Mourinho, his tactics weren’t devoid of any attacking intent. The inclusion of pacey forwards Anthony Martial and Rashford suggested the counter-attack was a viable and potentially lethal option. But the latter was left isolated in the second-half as the former and Mkhitaryan ended up playing more as wing-backs.

The lack of attacking penetration by the visitors was evident in the number of attempts on goal. In fact, Sergio Aguero alone had three times as many shots as Man Utd (nine to three). The game would have been very different (and better) had the Argentinian converted his early opportunity from close-range instead of hitting the post.

Despite United’s few attempts, they could easily have taken the lead when Herrera had a free header at the far-post on the stroke of half-time. Aside from the miss, the Spaniard did deliver a solid performance as he provided ample protection for United’s defenders. Impressively, the former Athletic Bilbao midfielder attempted nearly a third of his side’s 38 tackles (12).

Man City were struggling to break their opponents down even though they had 19 attempts at David de Gea’s goal. Unfortunately for the home side, nearly all of their attempts were at least 12 yards away. Silva’s absence was proving a bigger loss as the game progressed.

City had the quantity of chances but ultimately lacked the quality.

Boost and Blow
On a more positive note, Gabriel Jesus’ return will bring a welcome lift ahead of the final stretch of games. Three of those remaining five fixtures are at the Etihad (Crystal Palace, Leicester and West Brom), which should give the Citizens and their young Brazilian striker an advantage over their rivals.

Marouane Fellaini’s stupidity in being lured in by Aguero for a sending off with 10 minutes remaining will see the Belgian suspended for United’s following three-matches: Swansea (h), Arsenal (a), and Tottenham (a).

Unbeaten run
This draw did, however, extend Man Utd’s impressive unbeaten run to 24-games. Their last league defeat was six months ago on October 23rd as Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge ended with a 4-0 defeat Chelsea. Here’s how the top seven have done in their last 24 league games:

As you can see, despite going on such a long unbeaten run, nearly drawing as many games as they have won has seen Man Utd only rank third in the table. They’re as far behind Tottenham in terms of points as they are ahead of City – a side who started brilliantly but has stuttered since.

Mourinho is right to be proud of the unbeaten record, particularly in this competitive league, but nearly all fans would instead rather the point tallies of Tottenham or Chelsea.

There is at least a defensive foundation to build upon next season which has seen United concede only 12 goals and keep 12 clean sheets during this period. Preventing an opponent from scoring more than one goal is impressive, but the lack of firepower must be addressed as they sit more than eight goals below the average.

Summary
Man Utd will need more wins than draws in their remaining fixtures if they’re going to pip two of their rivals to a top four spot. Mourinho’s talk of prioritising the Europa League over a top four finish is more mind games than reality as is often the case with the deflective manager. He would undoubtedly love to prevent two of Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal from enjoying the riches and prestige that comes with Champions League qualification and playing out a draw on Thursday night only validates this.

But their fixture list on paper at least is far harder than those aforementioned rivals, in addition to the increasing number of injuries testing a very deep squad.

Man City should be content with the point, but disappointed not to have inflicted some damage on their neighbours and ending their unbeaten run. Failing to make the most of their possession has become an unwanted theme this season and Guardiola will be looking to make some big changes in the summer. His remarks during the post-match interview already hinted to the obvious issues at full-back with ageing legs his only current options.

They travel to Middlesbrough on Sunday in search of the three-points that are becoming increasingly valuable as this season draws (hopefully more entertainingly than this game) to an end.

EPL Results (Gameweek 34):
Bournemouth 4-0 Middlesbrough
Hull 2-0 Watford
Swansea 2-0 Stoke
West Ham 0-0 Everton
Burnley 0-2 Man Utd
Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace
Chelsea 4-2 Southampton
Arsenal 1-0 Leicester
Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland
Crystal Palace 0-1 Tottenham
Man City 0-0 Man Utd

EPL Gameweek 33: Man Utd 2-0 Chelsea

José Mourinho came into this match looking to avoid a third defeat of the season against his former side. League leaders Chelsea, meanwhile, hoped to reestablish their seven-point advantage over London rivals, Tottenham.

What developed over the 90-minutes was a perfect implementation of the Portuguese manager’s defensively controlled tactics as they kept their top four hopes alive.

Line-ups
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was dropped as Mourinho set his side up in a similar way to their F.A. Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge last month.

Antonio Conte was without his first-choice keeper after Thibaut Courtois injured his ankle during a reported basketball commercial event. Asmir Begovic stepped in for the Belgium number one.

Marcos Alonso was unable to participate due to illness and pulled out during the warm-up. It ended a run of 25-consecutive league appearances which went as far as back as the loss at Arsenal that triggered the successful formation change. As a result, Kurt Zouma came into the side while the versatile Cesar Azpilicueta initially started in Alonso’s place.

Formation
Man Utd’s approach was fixated on a stubborn block with Matteo Darmian playing an auxiliary centre-back and man-marking Pedro. Alongside the Italian defender were Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo who kept Diego Costa quiet and frustrated. Captain for the day, Ashley Young, then dropped into a left-wing-back position when out of possession to cover Victor Moses down the right while Antonio Valencia did the same on the opposite flank. That left a two vs two in the middle between Pogba and Marouane Fellaini and Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic.

This led to a toothless attacking display by the league leaders who failed to manage a single shot on target.

When the home side had the ball, they exploited the channels behind Chelsea’s wing-backs, isolating the wider centre-backs when possible. The pace of Jesse Lingard and more noticeably, Marcus Rashford, enabled this option as Ibrahimovic – who prefers the ball to feet and crosses into the box – sat on the bench.

This troubled a Chelsea side clearly disjointed by Alonso’s absence, which was to be expected given the consistency of their wing-backs’ presence in the starting line-up since September. It was little coincidence that Chelsea’s recent defeat at home to Crystal Palace occurred when Moses was unavailable. The Blues’ current squad doesn’t provide cover for what are specialist positions and this will be a priority over the summer.

Man-marking Hazard
The greatest tactical move by Mourinho was putting Ander Herrera on Eden Hazard. Chelsea’s most dangerous player and one of the favourites for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, was reduced to one of his quietest games of the season as Herrera followed the Belgian playmaker all over the pitch.

Hazard’s lack of tactical intelligence was highlighted as he failed to drag Herrera out to the wings for a prolonged amount of time or tightly support Diego Costa upfront. Graeme Souness on Sky rightly pointed out that Hazard should have tried to get Herrera yellow carded as soon as possible to put him on the back foot. But the Spaniard was able to hold out until the 73rd minute before he was cautioned as Hazard didn’t attempt a single take on during the game.

By that point, Man Utd were two-goals to the good and Chelsea looked devoid of ideas. Both goals were largely down to man of the match, Herrera, who first benefitted from an unseen handball before playing one of the passes of the season for Rashford to score a 7th minute opener. The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder scored his first Premier League goal in 14 months via a deflection off Zouma Just a few minutes into the second-period.

The above table shows Hazard’s stats against the top seven sides this season. Sunday’s loss at Old Trafford was only the third time in the 11 games that he failed to attempt a shot on goal – the other two came against Liverpool.

Hazard’s only assist was provided via the winning of a free-kick which David Luiz scored from during the 1-1 draw at Anfield. But his goal return of seven in 11 has been impressive.

However, Herrera really did a number on Hazard as he struggled to have any impact in the final third.

Pogba v Kante
In a pre-match interview, almost as defensive as Mourinho’s line-up, Paul Pogba tried to justify his peformances this season, which have been average at best, by comparing himself to Kante. The world record transfer cited the praise Kante has been receiving despite scoring far fewer goals from midfield while Pogba has a queue of critics jumping on his every mistake.

Previously, the Frenchman has shown little to no care about the criticisms he’s received as he appears confident and unflustered by the pressures such a high price tag carries. This response was inconsistent with his past demeanour and totally misguided.

Any football fan who watches both players regularly will know they have very different roles. Kante is a destroyer in midfield who retrieves possession for his side before starting off the counter-attacks. He essentially does the work of two players such is his timing and energy. Pogba, on the other hand, is a more attack-minded player who has great athleticism and an eye for the spectacular in the final third.

The table below compares each player over the season in terms of defensive and attacking duties. Their ranking in brackets are based on players with a total number of appearances greater than the league’s average.

Statistics gathered from whoscored.com.

As expected, Kante excels in the defensive tasks while his French compatriot enjoys more success further forwards. Chelsea’s midfielder has an 88.8% pass completion compared to Pogba’s 85.2% which is influenced by the former Juventus midfielder playing further up the pitch. This is supported by his 1.9 key passes per game with Kante managing just 0.6 and Pogba can feel slightly aggrieved that his teammates haven’t helped rack up more assists.

But it’s unwise to start defending himself to the media when he is quite clearly failing to match his Serie A performances in recent seasons. That’s not to say he can’t, but keeping as low a profile as a human emoji can is the better approach than comparing yourself to one of the six PFA Players’ Player of the Year nominations.

Summary
This win has at least made the title race marginally more interesting, although the four-point lead and more favourable fixtures still leaves Chelsea as big favourites. But the manner of this defeat and their issues triggered by Man Utd’s set-up coupled with a missing wing-back will give future opponents food for thought.

The once sturdy backline has now gone 10 league games without a clean sheet while Costa is going through a dry patch at the other end with no goals in his last five appearances. Conte looked slightly deflated on the touchline and will need to get his side back on track. This weekend’s F.A. Cup semi-final against title challengers, Tottenham, could really have a psychological impact on both teams.

Mourinho’s tactical victory would have given him great pleasure as he prepares for the second-leg quarter-final tie against Anderlecht at Old Trafford on Thursday. These three-points were a must following results elsewhere in the top four battle but the Europa League still looks a more likely route to Europe’s elite competition for the Red Devils.

EPL Results (Gameweek 33):
Tottenham 4-0 Bournemouth
Crystal Palace 2-2 Leicester
Everton 3-1 Burnley
Stoke 3-1 Hull
Sunderland 2-2 West Ham
Watford 1-0 Swansea
Southampton 0-3 Man City
West Brom 0-1 Liverpool
Man Utd 2-0 Chelsea
Middlesbrough 1-2 Arsenal

EPL Gameweek 32: Everton 4-2 Leicester

This weekend’s game of the week came at Goodison Park where two attacking sides exchanged blows during a high-tempo opening quarter. Ronald Koeman saw a disciplined display by his young side towards the latter stages of a match which delivered a valuable three-points.

Leicester City, meanwhile, went into this match with less pressure following the five consecutive league wins that pulled them away from the relegation zone.

Line-ups
Everton welcomed back January signing, Morgan Schneiderlin, following his two-game injury lay-off, which allowed Tom Davies to form a midfield three along with Idrissa Gueye.

The Toffees were, however, without the suspended Ashley Williams after his red card during the draw at Old Trafford last Tuesday.

As a result, Matthew Pennington partnered Phil Jagielka in defence as the hosts set-up in a 4-3-2-1 formation.

Craig Shakespeare clearly had the Champions League on his mind as he replaced half of his starting outfield players from the midweek win over Sunderland. Danny Simpson, Christian Fuchs, Wilfred Ndidi, Riyad Mahrez and Shinji Okazaki were all rested ahead of their trip to the Spanish capital for their quarter-final tie against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Frantic opening
With only 30 seconds played, Davies scored his second Premier League goal to give Everton a very early lead. It was the joint-fastest goal of the season, assisted by Kevin Mirallas’ impressive run.

The Belgian capitalised on Leicester’s lapse in concentration as versatile Daniel Amartey was pulled way out of position. Referee, Robert Madley, played advantage as Davies beat Kasper Schmeichel at his near-post.

Amartey followed Mirallas across the pitch which opened up plenty of space for Davies to penetrate and ultimately score from.

But Leicester were level just a few minutes later as Islam Slimani slotted his shot between Joel Robels’ legs following Demarai Gray’s quick counter.

It was all triggered by a turnover of possession in their defensive third with Leighton Baines caught up field in support. Holding midfielder, Schneiderlin, jumped into a tackle on Gray which allowed the former Birmingham winger to attack Everton’s backline at pace with Jamie Vardy and Slimani in support.

Schneiderin (centre, yellow) shouldn’t have committed himself as it left Pennington and Jagielka exposed to a 3v2 situation.

Baines (yellow) was unable to track back having been caught up field, which allowed Slimani to score from an inside-right position.

The visitors completed the turnaround by the 10-minute mark as Marc Albrighton whipped a cross-come-shot into the far top corner. There were question marks again over Robles who misjudged the flight of the set-piece as he stepped forwards expecting a cross into the crowded penalty area.

Barkley
A quarter of the game in and the hosts equalised through star striker, Romelu Lukaku. Ross Barkley drifted out to the right-wing and produced a cross of real quality which Lukaku gratefully headed home.

Both players involved in the goal were criticised following their performances in the Merseyside Derby last week. Lukaku also received an ear-bashing from Williams as he failed to retain possession or exploit decent openings that would have doubled Everton’s advantage against Man Utd.

Barkley, meanwhile, produced a man of the match performance that saw him rank second for take-ons (four), attacking third passes (23/28) and overall pass completion (89.2%), which was marginally bettered by Gueye’s 89.6%.

Leicester on set-pieces
Five-minutes before half-time saw Everton turn the game on its head. Jagielka met Mirallas’ corner and headed beyond Schmeichel from close-range as Yohan Benalouane failed miserably in marking the scorer.

This was the third time this season a Premier League match had five goals in the first-half, each one finishing 4-2 (Crystal Palace v Liverpool, Hull v Middlesbrough and Everton v Leicester).

With over half an hour remaining, Jagielka again was first to a Mirallas corner which Lukaku eventually swept into the corner. The former Chelsea forward’s brace means he’s now four clear of Harry Kane in the league’s scoring charts and one ahead of Middlesbrough’s season total.

But Shakespeare will be particularly concerned with Leicester’s defending from corners, especially as they’ll be up against an Atletico side who thrive on set-pieces.

However, despite scoring from three of their 14 attempted crosses during the entire game, Everton only put the ball into the box on two occasions in the second-half.

Despite the success of the first-half, Everton attempted far fewer crosses in the second.

Shakespeare’s impact
Unsurprisingly, the decision to sack Claudio Ranieri – who had led Leicester to a miraculous title win last season – raised a number of sentimental eyebrows. But the Thai owners’ difficult decision has been vindicated as Leicester and Shakespeare have earned 15 from a possible 18-points.

Below are two tables comparing the last six league games of Ranieri’s tenure with the first six of Shakespeare’s:

As you can see, there’s been a marked improvement in the average number of goals per game since the change in late-February, and that’s been helped by a 50% increase in shots per game.

The number of goals conceded has nearly halved despite a very similar amount of shots against per game, which brings into question the quality of those opportunities since Shakespeare took charge.

Two other areas of difference are the number of successful tackles and ball possession. Ranieri’s last half-a-dozen matches saw Leicester have 5% less of the ball and succeed with five fewer tackles compared to their most recent league fixtures.

Granted, the fixtures themselves would have an influence on the above stats, e.g. Man Utd and Chelsea at home for Ranieri would naturally result in far less possession. But there were signs that Leicester’s struggles were due to a combination of new personnel, a slightly altered approach as opponents became familiar with their previous tactics, and additional fixtures.

The table below shows Leicester’s rediscovered form has them much closer to last season’s averages:

One player who has appeared to benefit from the managerial change is Vardy. Leicester’s top scorer has unearthed his ruthless streak to quash any thoughts that he’s a one-season-wonder. The England international has achieved an impressive five goals and three assists in his last six league appearances, which is the exact same stats he managed during his first 22 appearances under Ranieri.

Summary
Leicester will be hoping to dust themselves down having won the previous six matches under Shakespeare, but there are clear areas for improvement before what is one of the biggest games in the club’s history. Their aim should be to at least remain in that tie after the first-leg, much like they did at Sevilla in the previous round.

Koeman, meanwhile, needed this win having seen his side perform poorly at Anfield and then miss out on a great win in the dying moments against Man Utd. That probably explains the reduced attacking ambition (one shot and one cross) once his side got that two-goal cushion.

Coupled with West Brom’s home defeat to Southampton, seventh appears all but sealed and the Toffees can now look forwards as they try to catch Man Utd and Arsenal.

Given the resources available, being the best of the rest outside of the top six will be an achievement in Koeman’s first season. The Dutchman will hope to maintain that momentum into the summer transfer market and following season as question marks remain over the futures of Barkley and Lukaku.

EPL Results (Gameweek 32):
Tottenham 4-0 Watford

Man City 3-1 Hull
Middlesbrough 0-0 Burnley
Stoke 1-2 Liverpool
West Brom 0-1 Southampton
West Ham 1-0 Swansea
Bournemouth 1-3 Chelsea
Sunderland 0-3 Man Utd
Everton 4-2 Leicester
Crystal Palace 3-0 Arsenal

EPL Gameweek 31: Chelsea 2-1 Man City

Premier League logoChelsea bounced back from their surprise defeat to Crystal Palace with a vital victory over rivals Man City. This tightly contested fixture saw goalkeeping errors cancel each other out as Eden Hazard just about made the difference to edge his side closer to the title.

For Pep Guardiola, this, along with the draw at Arsenal on Sunday, would have reaffirmed his thinking that his squad needs a lot of work. His defence continues to lack consistency, preventing the Citizens from joining Europe’s elite.

Line-ups
For the second consecutive match, Chelsea saw a change in personnel within their back-six due to Victor Moses’ injury. Prior to last Saturday’s loss, Antonio Conte’s side enjoyed a 22-league-game-streak without any alterations to their defence.

This time, the Italian manager opted for a more defensive adjustment with Pedro returning to his natural position and César Azpilicueta filling in at right-wing-back. That saw Kurt Zouma make his first league start of the season as one of the three central defenders.

Pep Guardiola continued with Jesús Navas as an unconventional right-back, while like Zouma, Fabian Delph made his first start of the season in place of Raheem Sterling. The former Aston Villa midfielder only misplaced six passes out of 103 (93.2% pass completion), five of which were in the attacking third.

There was also the long-awaited return of Vincent Kompany who was making his first league appearance since the 2-1 win at Palace in mid-November.

line-ups

Chelsea had a more defensive line-up than the Crystal Palace game while Costa (not Hazard) led the line.

Goalkeeping errors
For all the attacking quality that was on display, the first two goals were the outcome of goalkeeping mistakes.

Hazard’s 10th minute opener was the result of Willy Caballero’s lapse in concentration as the Belgian’s tame side-footed effort took a slight deflection off international teammate Kompany. Caballero claimed to have been slightly unsighted but his reactions, or lack thereof, suggested he should have done better.

Just over quarter of an hour later, Man City were level as Silva and Sergio Aguero capitalised on an uncharacteristic mistake by Thibaut Courtois. Belgium’s number one under hit a chipped pass which went straight to Silva who saw his driven effort parried into Aguero’s path for an easy tap-in.

But with 35 minutes played, Chelsea restored their lead after Fernandinho brought down Pedro in the area. Caballero temporarily redeemed himself having saved Hazard’s penalty but the Argentinian goalkeeper couldn’t prevent the rebound.

Possession v Control
This fixture saw Chelsea finish with their lowest possession at home this season (39.5%). As a result, only Eden Hazard reached double-figures (10) for attacking third passes. Half as many as Man City’s left-back, Gaël Clichy.

David Silva created six chances, three in each half. Although, in the second half, two of them were from set-pieces following the introduction of Nemanja Matic for Zouma at half-time. This restricted the spaces between Chelsea’s defence and midfield.

Silva was encouraged further forwards by the midfield duo of Delph and Fernandinho. Delph finished with a game high 11 ball recoveries as well as the most tackles (four out of six) and joint-top interceptions (four) and fouls suffered (four).

kante-v-delph

Of those who attempted more than 25 passes, only Kante with 95.1% from his 41 attempted, had a better pass completion than Delph.

But aside from the goal, Courtois was only really tested soon after Aguero’s equaliser when he rushed out to close down Leroy Sané’s clipped attempt.

In the second-half, City did come close via a couple of crosses. First with Kompany looping header landing on the bar and then his centre-back partner, John Stones, getting slightly ahead of the ball when a corner reached him six-yards from goal in injury-time.

attacking-third-passes-comp

A lot of Man City’s attacking third passes were in the deep wide areas as Chelsea sat back in preparation for their counter-attacks.

Hazardous for City
The 2014/15 Players’ Player and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year has enjoyed another successful campaign having struggled to repeat his form during Mourinho’s final months in charge last season. Hazard’s brace on Wednesday brought his total to 13 league goals, just one shy of the tally he achieved when Chelsea won the title two seasons ago.

Guardiola and his side will be happy to see the back of Hazard who also scored the third at The Etihad to seal their 3-1 victory in early-December.

Once again, he was an influential figure having finished second for chances created (3), take ons (3/4) and fouls suffered (3). He also claimed the joint-most interceptions (4) and third highest recoveries (7), highlighting the forward’s defensive side to his game.

hazard-v-hazard

Hazard had both a defensive and attacking impact during both games against City this season.

Etihad v Stamford Bridge
Chelsea ran out victorious in both fixtures this season, yet it would be fair to argue that Guardiola’s City were the better side on each occasion. But their failure to convert chances and ball possession into wins has been symbolic throughout the Spanish manager’s debut season in England.

The table below compares the two matches which highlights how efficiently Chelsea operate compared to their possession-based opponents:

mci-v-che-comp-che-v-mci

There are plenty of similarities to be drawn from the above comparison, including:
– Possession stats nearly identical.
– Passes in general and the attacking third very much alike.
– Man City creating more chances and attempting more shots than Chelsea.
– Man City attempting far more crosses without great success.

But the key difference is seen in both sides’ conversion rates. Chelsea are comfortably in the double figures while Man City barely got above 7%. This is in part due to the quality of opportunities with Chelsea enjoying easier chances on the counter-attack. They relinquish the ball which encourages City to commit more players during attacks and therefore have more players out of position once possession is turned over. This was particularly evident at The Etihad with all three goals created from long-direct passes.

Guardiola will need to address this issue as his side is likely to remain top of the possession charts in future seasons. Their vulnerability to counter-attacks is an issue which an ageing defence is struggling to overcome – see Romelu Lukaku’s equaliser for Everton at The Etihad.

Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp once stated, “If you aren’t an option, then you should be protection.” The former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich managers could both do with drilling that mentality into their current teams.

Summary
Whilst Man City managed to have double the amount of shots on goal than Chelsea concede on average, their defensive frailties continue to hinder any progress under Guardiola. Their next match is at home to a rejuvenated Hull City, which won’t be easy given the impressive impact Marco Silva has had since arriving in January.

Conte, on the other hand, has enjoyed a great first season at Chelsea which has been helped by very few injuries to his first-team. In Hazard, the Italian manager has one of the season’s best performers whose contributions to their success have been enhanced by the tireless efforts of N’Golo Kante in central midfield. That has allowed Hazard the freedom to take on opponents as he ranks second in the league for dribbles per game (4.4).

Chelsea travel to Bournemouth – who secured a late draw at Anfield on Wednesday – seeking the first three of the 18-points they need to guarantee a fifth Premier League title in 12 years. Based on the efficiency of their performances this season, The Blues will do it with two-games to spare.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 31):
Burnley 1-0 Stoke
Leicester 2-0 Sunderland
Watford 2-0 West Brom
Man Utd 1-1 Everton
Arsenal 3-0 West Ham
Hull 4-2 Middlesbrough
Southampton 3-1 Crystal Palace
Swansea 1-3 Tottenham
Chelsea 2-1 Man City
Liverpool 2-2 Bournemouth

EPL Gameweek 30: Liverpool 3-1 Everton

Premier League logoIt was April Fools’ and the Merseyside Derby conjured up one nomination following Ronald Koeman’s surprisingly “proud” assessment of his team’s performance as Everton failed to win at Anfield for the 17th consecutive season.

Both sides came into this match in good form with seventh placed Everton accumulating the most league points in 2017. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, meanwhile, were in better spirits having drawn at Man City and beaten Arsenal ahead of the international break.

Line-ups
Key players for both sides were unavailable due to injuries suffered during those internationals.

Klopp had to decide who he should use to replace Adam Lallana. Dropping Philippe Coutinho and bringing Divock Origi into the frontline was one option, but the German manager instead utilised the experience of Lucas Leiva so not to disrupt his fluid forwards.

Everton were without the unfortunate Seamus Coleman as well as Irish compatriot James McCarthy. Ramiro Funes Mori and January signing Morgan Schneiderlin was also out injured as Koeman opted for a 3-4-3 formation.

The Toffees used a similar approach during their emphatic home win against Man City. But on that day, they started Gareth Barry, Kevin Mirallas as well as the aforementioned Coleman Funes Mori. But due to the injuries, Everton lacked the balance and experience with Mirallas a notable exclusion while Matthew Pennington, Mason Holgate, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies all made their first Derby starts.

As a result, Koeman selected his youngest starting 11 since arriving at Everton in the summer and it undeniably showed.

line-ups

Between the lines
Davies and Idrissa Gueye were exposed by the formation as Ross Barkley and Calvert-Lewin found themselves in no man’s land failing to support the isolated Romelu Lukaku or help cut out the penetrating passes to Liverpool’s forwards.

Sadio Mané and Coutinho were able to receive the ball between Everton’s midfield and back-three far too easily which led to the opening goal.

Mané and false nine Roberto Firmino were able to exchange passes under little pressure before the Senegalese wideman dribbled towards Everton’s penalty area. As the defenders backed off with Coutinho providing a decoy run, Mané drilled a left-footed strike through Pennington’s legs and into the far corner past a static Joel Robles in goal.

Attacking threats
The visitors only looked dangerous from a couple of corners with Phil Jagielka first heading over and then helping the ball on from which Pennington – who hadn’t played a single minute of first-team football this season – equalised.

Liverpool looked most dangerous when man of the match, Coutinho, had possession. The Brazilian put on the sort of performance that preceded the ankle injury he suffered against Sunderland in late-November.

The playmaker restored his side’s lead just after the half-hour mark and only a couple of minutes after Pennington’s goal as he first beat Gueye and then cut inside Everton’s scorer to curl beyond a helpless Robles.

Everton nearly equalised almost immediately after the break, once again via a set-piece. This time it was the other centre-back, Ashley Williams, who got on the end of Barkley’s free-kick but failed to cushion it back across goal and away from Simon Mignolet’s grasp.

Despite returning from international duty on Thursday night by private jet with teammate Firmino, Coutinho looked sharp and provided the assist for Divock Origi’s 60th minute goal. The forward had only been on the pitch for a few minutes after replacing the injured Mané and his shot deceived Robles who wrongly tried to pre-empt where the effort was going.

coutinho-v-barkley

Coutinho was far more influential than Everton’s playmaker, Barkley, who could easily have been sent off in the first-half with another poor challenge in a Merseyside Derby.

take-ons-comp

The number of take-ons by Liverpool were predominantly on the left which was not only where Coutinho lined up, but also Pennington.

From then on, Liverpool managed the game both in and out of possession, as they created opportunities on the counter. Holgate did force Mignolet into a good reactive save following his deflective strike towards goal but Everton and the league’s top scorer, Lukaku, did little to suggest they were capable of creating a nervy finish.

Summary
Reflecting on the Derby, Koeman should have deployed a 3-5-2 with a deeper defence as the ageing Williams and Jagielka lack the sufficient pace to chase Liverpool’s attacking but narrow trio. Pulling back and tightening the wing-backs would frustrate the hosts and encourage their full-backs, James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, further forwards to provide the width. This would then leave Liverpool’s centre-backs and holding midfielder, Lucas, more exposed which Lukaku and Mirallas – who should have started ahead of the inexperienced Calvert-Lewin – could exploit with their speed and power.

There was a clear change in Everton’s attacking approach a few weeks ago at Tottenham when Mirallas was introduced and the Belgian nearly pulled a goal back after dribbling across Liverpool’s area.

Koeman could then put the peripheral and inconsistent Barkley into a midfield three from which Davies has played his best football since breaking into the first-team.

Klopp on the other hand was vindicated in his selection of Lucas who helped nullify Lukaku’s impact. The Brazilian also finished top for completed passes and tackles.

The Reds will be delighted to once again enjoy bragging rights on Merseyside but the victory was tainted by the potential loss of another key player to injury. It looks like they’ll need to address their issues against those lower down the table without Lallana and now possibly Mané. Their lack of squad depth was exposed during his absence in January when he was representing Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. But that blow has since been softened slightly by Arsenal and Man Utd both dropping points over the weekend as the race for the top four continues.

Lukaku vs Top Six
There’s been plenty of speculation regarding the future of the former Chelsea forward, including a possible return to Antonio Conte’s side. But this fixture raised questions over his impact against the top teams as he failed to have a single attempt at goal.

lukaku-v-liv

Lukaku was restricted to just one attempt at goal over the two games against Liverpool this season.

Below is Lukaku’s goal return against the current top six since he arrived at Goodison Park in 2013:

lukaku-at-eve-v-top-6

Over the course of nearly four seasons, he’s managed a return of one goal every four and a half appearances.

But any critics should take into account Lukaku’s age and the consistency of supply he’s receiving compared to the forwards at those top six sides.

It is, however, right to liken him to Didier Drogba because of his size, power and goal tally. But the Ivorian was a late bloomer who wasn’t occupying defences and scoring goals in the Premier League until he arrived from Marseille at the age of 26.

Lukaku turns 24 next month and is likely to enjoy far better service against the top teams once he regularly plays for one. Everton are the best of the rest at the moment but there is still a gulf between them and the sides above which often results in less possession, support and ultimately chances.

lukaku-v-drogba

The table above shows Lukaku has a better rate than Drogba despite playing in a less dominant team and still being at least several years shy of his peak level. He may not be so prolific in the bigger games, leading to suggestions he’s a flat track bully, but the expected move in the summer should prove it’s too soon to judge.

Top 7 Head-to-Head
Much has been made of Liverpool’s form amongst the top six but that’s improved even further when Everton are included as top-four outsiders.

top-7-head-to-head

Having played all six teams both times, Liverpool can look forward to what should be an easier fixture list for their remaining eight matches. Their return of 26 points is far better than any of their rivals and only Chelsea can get to within a point if they beat Man City (home), Man Utd (away) and Everton (away).

Liverpool’s struggles to consistently defeat those further down the table is an easier problem to resolve than failing to beat their nearest rivals. Arsenal’s situation is alarming with just one win against their fellow top four challengers – at home to Chelsea in September – this season, which suggests they, along with Everton, will end up with Europa League qualification.

Statszone Key smallEPL Results (Gameweek 30):
Liverpool 3-1 Everton
Burnley 0-2 Tottenham
Chelsea 1-2 Crystal Palace
Hull 2-1 West Ham
Leicester 2-0 Stoke
Man Utd 0-0 West Brom
Watford 1-0 Sunderland
Southampton 0-0 Bournemouth
Swansea 0-0 Middlesbrough
Arsenal 2–2 Man City

EPL Race for the Top Four

Premier League logoWho is going to finish in the top four this season appears to be the closest battle with Chelsea looking imperious and the current bottom three struggling to escape the drop. But with less than two months of the campaign remaining, which of the challengers are best positioned to gain that big financial windfall? 

A closer look at each side’s remaining fixtures, current injury lists and outstanding commitments should provide a better assessment of who’s best placed to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

The Candidates
Chelsea – Phenomenally consistent in Antonio Conte’s first season in charge. A winning streak of 13 on the bounce saw the Stamford Bridge side create a gap between them and the chasers at the top of the table, which has since been extended to 10-points. 

Tottenham – Proving last season wasn’t just a flash in the pan with another strong campaign under Mauricio Pochettino despite a lack of impact from their summer signings. Spurs will be looking to have another shot at the Champions League following this season’s disappointing attempt that prematurely ended at the group stage.

Man City – Pep Guardiola’s 10 wins in all competitions at the start of the season gave a sense of hope and expectation that diminished after some stuttering results, particularly at home. A seven-game unbeaten run in the league has repositioned City amongst the top three, a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand.

Liverpool – Jürgen Klopp’s men were seen as Chelsea’s biggest rivals at the turn of the year but a dour turn in form has seen the Reds fall off the pace. Although, one loss in their last five appears to have somewhat steadied the ship.

Man Utd – The big money signings and appointment of José Mourinho brought the X-factor back to Old Trafford. But United have drawn too many matches and continue to be chasing despite an impressive 18-game unbeaten run.

Arsenal – There’s turmoil at the Emirates with an increasing number of supporters calling for Arsène Wenger to leave the club he’s served for over 20 years. Constantly finishing in the top four but failing to mount a serious title challenge in years has seen many a protest against the Frenchman which has started to transfer onto the field. The Gunners seem out of ammunition having lost four of the last five league matches.

Everton – Outsiders for a top four push, Ronald Koeman has enjoyed a solid first season with the league’s top scorer, Romelu Lukaku leading the line. The Toffees overcame a patchy set of results from late-September to mid-December with one defeat in their last 12 as they remain on the tails of the top six.

Remaining Fixtures
Below is a closer look at each of the candidates’ fixture lists with each game allocated one of four categories dependent on that team’s current position in the league. 

remaining-fixtures

Of course, some of this is subjective but it gives a clearer visual as to which candidate has the easier run in. Man Utd for example have to play five out of the six fellow candidates, the last three of which are away from home.

Everton and Arsenal are next in terms of matches against the top sides with four fixtures against their nearest rivals. Meanwhile, Liverpool, only have the Merseyside derby this weekend before embarking on a final eight-game streak which doesn’t include any of the top seven.

On paper at least, it doesn’t bode well for the chasing trio of Man Utd, Arsenal and Everton who will be looking to displace the current occupants of fourth spot, Liverpool.

Aside from The Reds, Tottenham’s run-in appears favourable, with their two rival matches taking place at White Hart Lane where Spurs are on a club-record run of 10 league wins in a row. Three of their remaining six away matches are at relegation battlers while one of the harder contests will be Saturday’s trip to Burnley’s fortress, Turf Moor.

The next two matches for Guardiola’s City could solidify or jeopardise their position in the top three with a trip to leaders Chelsea following this Sunday’s visit to the Emirates.

There’s a strong case to argue that those in grey (mid-table sides) are a preferred opposition as they have little to play for. Given the current league standings, it’s hard for any team to break into the top-seven, with eighth-placed West Brom seven-points shy of Everton. Whereas the relegation fight is really just between the current bottom five following Leicester’s return to form under Craig Shakespeare.

One team that’s slipping towards the relegation zone is Watford, who have managed just two wins from their last 13 league matches. Only Man Utd and Arsenal don’t have to play the Hornets before the end of this campaign which could ensure a nervous finish for Walter Mazzarri.

Corresponding results
Should results reflect the first round of fixtures, Chelsea would storm to the title by finishing just shy of 100-points, a full 19 clear of second-placed Tottenham. There would be no change to the current positions despite Man Utd and Arsenal having two-games in hand on Liverpool. 

But taking the average points per game so far and multiplying that by the number of remaining fixtures sees Liverpool and Man Utd separated by only 0.19 points. Again, the positions don’t change but this at least emphasises how one slip can make all the difference. Something those from the red half of Merseyside will attest.

corresponding-fixtures

Manchester at home
The two Manchester sides were tipped to challenge for the title following the high-profile appointments of two of the game’s most successful managers along with some lavish summer spending. But one of the reasons that has failed to materialise is their respective home forms which upon reflection are far from impressive. 

man-city-and-utd-home-form

Reflecting as far back as Sir Alex Ferguson’s final campaign, demonstrates their struggles to convert home matches into home wins. As it stands, Man City are averaging fewer points than any of the previous four seasons at the Etihad. The Citizens can only match their lowest number of wins if they manage to win all of their remaining five matches. This is in part due to Guardiola’s men not killing games off when in control. Three noticeable examples came against Everton, Chelsea and Tottenham, all of which are challenging at the top end of the league.

The Red Devils, meanwhile, are registering a home form only worsened by David Moyes’ post-Ferguson stint as manager during the 2013/14 which coincided with the club’s lowest Premier League finish. Like their neighbours, Mourinho has bemoaned his side’s luck having failed to convert their dominance into victories against the likes of Burnley, Stoke, Hull and Bournemouth.

Below shows a table which highlights just how far United and City are behind compared to their top-seven rivals. The two lowest scorers have accumulated the two lowest average points per home game.

top-7-home-form

To achieve a top-four finish, both sides will need to adopt a more ruthless approach to hosting their opponents who more often than not leave Manchester with at least a point.

Injuries & Commitments
A club’s season can be rocked by the sudden loss of a player through injury. So far, Conte has had very few disruptions to his Chelsea side, particularly in terms of fitness. Tottenham have recently lost top scorer Harry Kane for a short spell on the sidelines but the England international is expected to return soon.

Gabriel Jesus’ arrival at Man City got everyone excited as the Brazilian temporarily kept Sergio Aguero out of the side until he broke his metatarsal in February. But such is City’s squad depth, Jesus’ absence has hardly been noticed. 

Liverpool showed the lack of quality within their first-team when top scorer Sadio Mané went to represent Senegal in the African Cup of Nations in January. But with no further commitments beyond the league, Klopp’s side should benefit from extended time on the training field. They’ll just need Henderson, and now Lallana, to return to action sooner rather than later.

At Old Trafford, Mourinho has been dealt a number of minor injuries. The additional fixtures in the Europa League and F.A. Cup will see his deep squad fully tested as they could potentially play double the number of matches Liverpool have (18 to nine).

Wenger often has to deal with an injury crisis at the Emirates but the current list isn’t too destructive. Santi Cazorla has spent the vast majority of the season on the sidelines while Petr Cech’s recent injury prior to the international break shouldn’t rule out the former Chelsea keeper for too long.

Everton have probably been hit the hardest due to their naturally smaller squad and the caliber of players missing. Record signing Yannick Bolasie suffered a knee injury earlier in the season but Seamus Coleman’s recent leg-break against Wales could play a vital role in the Toffees good form slowing down.

injuries-and-commitments

Info gathered from physioroom.com

Summary
As exciting as it could potentially be with high pressures on every team during each game, particularly those from second to sixth, the current top four looks the most likely outcome. 

At the moment, Man Utd appear to be the biggest challengers but will probably fall short due to their poor home form and a challenging set of remaining fixtures, which could increase thanks to success in other competitions. Success that via the Europa League could actually provide their easiest pathway to next season’s Champions League.

Liverpool are the most vulnerable amongst the top four, but their fixture list and lack of extra commitments should put them in a strong position to claim Champions League qualification for only the second time since 2009. However, the Reds have already shown how their form can suddenly plummet, and they’ve struggled against teams further down the table since December, which could provide a small opening for United and possibly a resurgent Arsenal.

What we know for sure is that there are plenty of teams looking to take advantage of any dropped points from now until the 21st May. With 11 games between the top four candidates still remaining, there will be plenty of opportunities for them to exploit.