- Everton 0-2 Arsenal
Home form gets the locals restless
Like a Cillit Bang advert or London-based soap, Everton never looked quite the same without their Barry. Serving his one match suspension following his sending off against Chelsea in the FA Cup, Gareth Barry had to watch his teammates put in an abject performance that warranted exactly what they got. Nothing.
The Gunners got their season back on some sort of track as they ran out comfortable winners thanks to first half goals from Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi.
Evertonians are getting increasingly frustrated having only seen their side win four – three of which against those currently in the relegation zone (Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland) – of their 16 home league games. Roberto Martinez’s side supposedly contains three players worth at least £30m each (Stones, Barkley and Lukaku). The locals would hope for a better return than twelfth in the league and the FA Cup might just provide the well-dressed Spaniard with some breathing space.
Arriving in 2013, he claimed that he would bring Champions League football to Goodison Park. A lack of obvious replacements could well see Martinez get another chance having come close in his first campaign when they finished fifth and seven-points off Arsenal. But last season’s disappointing eleventh and 23-points off fourth spot felt very much like a Robert Madley step backwards. He would certainly be hoping to have plenty of financial backing in the summer from billionaire businessman, Farhad Moshiri, following the recent takeover. But the Leicester City story has only added pressure to the likes of Martinez.
2. Chelsea 2-2 West Ham
Hammers hurt but not broken by big decisions
Slaven Bilic’s men earned a credible point away to rivals, Chelsea, but it should have been three.
It’s a tribute to the season West Ham are having that they can come away from Stamford Bridge as disappointed as many of the home fans have been this season. But the Hammers should take great pride in their performance, which warranted a victory.
The away side took the lead through a brilliant Manuele Lanzini strike. But they were the sufferers of referee Robert Madley’s bizarrely long strides or inability to count to ten. Having awarded Chelsea a freekick deep into first-half stoppage time, Madley appeared to set up the wall 12 instead of ten-yards from the ball. Cesc Fabregas duly took advantage with a brilliant curling effort, while Angelo Ogbonna received a yellow card for rightfully protesting.
Despite the body blow, the Irons’ fans were back to blowing bubbles instead of hot air when Andy Carroll – who replaced Diafra Sakho on the hour-mark – made it two-one with his first touch.
Fortunately for Guus Hiddink’s side, they were the beneficiaries of a tight call in the 89th minute as time was running out. Michail Antonio tripped Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but replays suggested the offence took place outside rather than inside the area. Fabregas capitalised again on Madley’s mistake to draw the sides level from the spot.
West Ham are displaying good form and sitting just a point behind fourth placed Man City. Any hopes of Champions League football at the Olympic Stadium next season shouldn’t be dampened following their misfortunes here.
3. Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester
Are the Foxes claiming title-winning victories?
It seems the Leicester fairytale is likely to have a happy ending that massage parlours can only dream of offering.
Claudio Ranieri’s side claimed their fourth one-nil victory from their last five games. Those with glasses half-empty would say it suggests dropped points aren’t far away. Those with glasses half-full would spit out the cliché that it’s a sign of champions.
Beating Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace this calendar year is the equivalent of passing your driving test. Everyone’s happy for you, but you’re not the only one who has done it. However, as the Eagles continue to take part in the annual Pardew-slide, Leicester maintained their five-point gap over their nearest rivals, Tottenham – who were level on points with Palace on Boxing Day!
It was no surprise that the two-standout performers for Leicester this season – Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez – would combine for the only goal of the game. But continuing to rely on a goal and a clean sheet so often may be asking too much. The pressure could be increased should Spurs win at Anfield the day before the Foxes take on the Saints.
4. Watford 1-2 Stoke
Hornets losing their sting towards end of season
Watford suffered a home defeat as their form continues to stumble, much like that of their key strikers, Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney.
Since the turn of the year, Watford have played 11 games and won eight-points with Ighalo and Deeney scoring four of their club’s six goals. The 11 league games at the end of 2015 saw Quique Sanchez Flores’ side pick up 17-points with Ighalo and Deeney scoring 14 of their team’s 18 goals.
When one or both play well, the team often succeeds. But as soon as their form naturally dips, the team suffers and this will have to be addressed in the summer to avoid the ‘second season syndrome’.
5. West Brom 0-1 Norwich
Vital victory for Cannaries
Robbie Brady’s scrappy goal gave Alex Neil’s side the three points, which keeps them out of the drop-zone.
A first win in 11 – including eight defeats – further boosted confidence after a well-earned nil-nil draw at home to Man City. Every point is key from now until the end of the season as the Canaries battle for survival with Sunderland and Newcastle.
Norwich’s next three fixtures are: Newcastle (H), Crystal Palace (A) and Sunderland (H). Avoiding defeat at home to their relegation rivals will be particularly important as they both have a game in hand lying three and two-points behind.
6. Swansea 1-0 Aston Villa
Swans all but safe
A turgid affair was decided following a defensive lapse by Brad Guzan in the Aston Villa goal.
Swansea leapfrogged Palace as they took one step closer to safety. But it wasn’t as comfortable a victory as most expect against Remi Garde’s Villa side these days. A side that will no doubt go down as one of the worst in Premier League history along with Billy Davies’/ Paul Jewell’s Derby County – whose relegation was confirmed on 29th March during their awful 07/08 campaign.
Aston Villa should have started planning for life in the Championship four months ago. There’s more chance of David O’Leary (what is he doing now?) coming back than Frenchman Garde staying on.
7. Newcastle 1-1 Sunderland
Tyne-Wear derby spoils shared
A game, which neither team could afford to lose, ended in a…draw.
Despite deserving their lead at half-time, Sunderland conceded a late equaliser to Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. Late equalisers have cost the Wearsiders four-points in the last two games, which would have seen them sit two clear of Norwich by now.
Sam Allardyce will be hoping they won’t be ruing those dropped points come the end of the season.
Newcastle meanwhile, look more organised and dogged under new manager Rafa Benitez. But that wasn’t particularly difficult given the state of the side towards the end of Steve McClaren’s reign. The Magpies will need to go for the win against Norwich on Saturday 2nd April at Carrow Road to maintain hopes of avoiding relegation.
8. Southampton 3-2 Liverpool
Saints’ comeback sees Reds pay price for costly misses
An unlikely comeback ensured Ronald Koeman’s side still had something to fight for as a European spot remains within their grasp.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool paid the price for not putting the fixture out of sight by half-time, despite leading two-nil at the break.
Southampton’s Shane Long had an appeal for a penalty turned down in the opening ten minutes. There was clear contact from Dejan Lovren, but the Irishman may have been better off taking the shot on instead of appearing to unnaturally change his running path to make sure Lovren collided with him.
With the Reds two to the good, Joe Allen wasted a great opportunity to all but kill the game following a flowing counter-attack. The man who looks more like the Welsh Jesus than the Welsh Xavi – a label Brendan Rodgers so kindly gave him upon his arrival at Liverpool in 2012, essentially sticking a nail into his Liverpool career there and then – should have done better when well placed in the middle of the area with only Fraser Forster to beat.
Half-time substitute, Sadio Mane saw his penalty saved early in the second-half. The Senegalese striker made amends for his earlier miss to bring his team back into the game with less than half an hour to play.
Then Christian Benteke – another Liverpool player whose future is in doubt – managed to miss a very good opportunity as he dragged his effort wide of the far-post.
Graziano Pelle and Mane went on to each score in the last ten minutes and give Southampton a win that at half-time was rated at odds of 33-1. Liverpool, rather Benteke and Allen, will hope to not look back at this game and those misses as the moment a top four spot had all but gone.
9. Tottenham 3-0 Bournemouth
Spurs hot on the Foxes tails
Tottenham continued their pursuit of a first top division title since 1961 with a comfortable 3-0 victory against the pink-shirted Cherries.
As the pressure mounts on those in search of glory or survival, an early goal to settle the nerves becomes all the more important. So mask man, Harry Kane, scoring within the first minute certainly helped.
It was a routine win from there on in as Mauricio Pochettino’s side closed the gap back to five-points behind table toppers, Leicester City. Spurs can also look forward to no longer playing Thursday/Sunday following their elimination from the Europa League at the hands of favourites Borussia Dortmund.
Whilst the amount of rest time is no different to a Champions League side playing Wednesday/Saturday, not always having to play after your rivals could prove to be a crucial factor in this fascinating title race.
10. Man City 0-1 Man Utd
Will Guardiola have Champions League football?
When it was announced that arguably the most wanted manager in world football agreed to join Man City in the summer, everyone assumed he would be leading them into the Champions League next season. But after another stale performance that made a month old baguette look positively fluffy, the prospect of City playing Thursday/Sunday became a distinct possibility.
England’s latest superhero, Marcus Rashford (18 years old), showed the lack of respect for elders that’s associated with his generation, by mugging off Martin Demichelis (35 years old) right until the 53rd minute when Manuel Pellegrini eventually put the Argentinian out of his misery.
Louis Van Gaal’s team put in a disciplined and organised performance following their Europa League exit to Liverpool. With an FA Cup replay still to come against West Ham, the season could end a lot better than many were predicting at Christmas for LVG. Or it could be another trophyless campaign and a seventh place finish, which the Dutchman will still regard as progress because they played more games this year.
Man City’s poor form – which includes only one victory against any of the sides currently in the top nine (home to Southampton) and one win (home to Villa, so it doesn’t really count) in their last six – doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. And that’s a big worry when Man Utd and West Ham sit just a point behind. Even Liverpool can get within four-points if they win their game in hand.
Clearly the ageing side of City needs to be addressed in the summer, along with the centre-backs, particularly after Vincent Kompany’s latest injury setback. But Guardiola was probably banking on recruiting new players with Champions League football on offer.