Premier League Review – 2/3rd April 2016

The face that has donned milk bottles since February.

1. Aston Villa 0-4 Chelsea
Pato is real as home fans protest

More than two months since joining Chelsea on loan, Alexandre Pato finally made his debut. The Brazilian – who came on to replace the injured Loic Remy in the 23rd minute – looked sharp against a very poor Villa side.

His best work came either side of half-time. He first won and converted a penalty before the break following Aly Cissokho’s clumsy challenge. Within a minute of the second half, his perfectly weighted pass found Oscar who squared for Pedro to finish and kill the contest at three-nil.

The television coverage seemed to spend more time showing despondent and disillusioned Villa supporters than the game itself. Many called for American owner Randy Lerner to show his face as posters were held questioning what the future might hold for those at Villa Park. With three home matches remaining, empty seats and spray-painted spare sheets will be a recurring theme until the season ends, which can’t come soon enough for those who according to the locals aren’t fit to wear the shirt.

 

2. Arsenal 4-0 Watford
Iwobi on the mark again

Alex Iwobi made it two in two as he coolly finished against a Watford side that appeared to have more than one eye on the FA Cup semi-final.

The Nigerian international added further credence to the theory that England missed the boat by putting in another eye-catching performance. At 19 years old, Iwobi looks like he has the ability and physique to enjoy a fruitful career. But England won’t be the beneficiaries of his qualities as they opted not to include him in the international set-up beyond one appearance for the U18s.

With Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck coming into form and fitness, Arsenal’s belated title challenge appears to have some substance. But it may all be too late for the Gunners as Leicester continue to edge-out victories.

 

3. Bournemouth 0-4 Man City
De Bruyne makes timely return

Kevin De Bruyne scored during his first league start in 10-weeks as Man City had the game all but won after 30-minutes at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium.

The Belgian finished off a superb move that involved Sergio Aguero and David Silva as Manuel Pellegrini welcomed back his most affective midfielder to support City’s pursuit of fourth. His sixth league goal of the season brought him level with fellow big summer signing, Raheem Sterling – who injured his groin during the Manchester derby before the international break. But while the former Liverpool player has shown glimpses of form, De Bruyne has been a consistent performer when fit. His return of nine assists in the league is six better than that of Sterling’s and City fans wouldn’t hesitate to opt for De Bruyne if they had to choose one or the other to be fit for the remainder of the season.

 

4. Norwich 3-2 Newcastle
Newcastle twice concede minutes after equalisers 

The relegation six-pointer swung back and forth in the final six minutes as Norwich ran out victorious.

The game turned when Aleksandar Mitrovic came on after an hour of play with Norwich leading one-nil. His first equaliser arrived on 71 minutes with a header that deflected off Ryan Bennett. Three minutes later, Dieumerci Mbokani rifled home.

With time ticking away, Mitrovic converted an 86th minute penalty and the body blow of conceding so late left the Cannaries vulnerable. But Martin Olsson’s low drive in injury time saw Newcastle pay the price for failing to avoid conceding minutes after their equalisers. A price that may well cost them their Premier League status.

 

5. Stoke 2-2 Swansea
Swans comeback thwarts Stoke’s European hopes 

Stoke City gave up a two-goal lead to leave their Europa League chances looking as likely as their team on a wet and windy night never being referenced in relation to Europe’s best.

Goals from Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alberto Paloschi saw Swansea get one point closer to safety.

But it will be Mark Hughes’ men who will rue the missed opportunity of maintaining pressure on those above them. Their next match is away to Liverpool where they cruelly lost on penalties in the League Cup semi-final. Revenge instead of European football will be on the agenda this Sunday.

 

6. Sunderland 0-0 West Brom
Foster stakes claim for England squad 

Sunderland’s fourth successive draw only took place due to some poor finishing and a noticeable performance by West Brom’s Ben Foster. The English goalkeeper did himself no harm in being recognized as a valid replacement for the injured Jack Butland in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.

Sam Allardyce’s team meanwhile, is looking a far more solid outfit since the transfer window closed (losing just twice by one goal at home to Man City and away at West Ham). But he’ll be concerned by the return of just one win in that same period. There’s added pressure on results following Norwich’s late winner and the Black Cats will be looking at spending next season in the second tier if they don’t start converting draws into wins.

 

7. West Ham 2-2 Crystal Palace
Payet magic not enough for Hammers

A goal sent from the gods, crashing down to give Isaac Newton a new law on gravity. Dimitri Payet’s freekick exploits continue to wow supporters so much so that a deadball within 30-yards of goal is as good as a penalty. As long as Messi, Neymar, Suarez or Demba Ba isn’t taking it.

The France international scored via a freekick from 30-yards against Russia with his first touch during the last week. But where he normally curls up and over the wall, he instead opted for Wayne Hennessey’s side. Like most of the crowd, the Welsh keeper thought it was over before it suddenly dipped and clipped the underside of the crossbar on its way in.

But West Ham was undone once again by a poor refereeing decision. Mark Clattenburg gave Cheikhou Kouyate a straight red for what was at absolute most, a yellow. If karma exists, Slaven Bilic should be expecting a flurry of decisions to go his way in their next match, which is Arsenal at home.

 

8. Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham
A high intensity draw sees Spurs drop two-points

An entertaining encounter at Anfield saw Tottenham’s title challenge take a slight dent.

Both teams are associated with high and intense pressing, so it was no surprise that possession was regularly lost or passes misplaced. Liverpool’s pass completion of 69.8% was only the second time under Jurgen Klopp that they reached less than 70. The other game was surprisingly during the 4-1 win over Man City at the Etihad with a 67.9% pass completion.

The intensity made both defences look shaky – something Spurs’ fans are less familiar with this season compared to Liverpool’s. But it also made for an enjoyable game where either side could argue they deserved to win.

Both goals were of a high standard as Harry Kane netted his 22nd of the season. Surely his last two seasons and all-round game is deserving of a starting place in France this summer!

Tottenham’s task of catching Leicester won’t get any easier next weekend as they host Man United at White Hart Lane.

 

9. Leicester 1-0 Southampton
Captain Morgan extends lead at the top to seven points

Leicester won 1-0 for the fifth time in their last six matches.

Wes Morgan’s header in the first half was enough to earn the Foxes one of their most vital wins this season having played the day after Spurs’ draw with Liverpool.

Taking advantage of their rival’s slip-up means they need four wins from the last six games to guarantee the title. Their remaining fixtures are: Sunderland (A), West Ham (H), Swansea (H), Man Utd (A), Everton (H) and Chelsea (A). Swansea and Everton have nothing to play for so they’re very winnable games, particularly with the home advantage, while Chelsea away on the final day should be a dead rubber for the Blues. But history tells us that the last day of the season is as predictable as this entire campaign (see West Brom 5-5 Man Utd 2012/13 or Middleborough 8-1 Man City 2007/08).

North London supporters aside, the rest of the world’s football fans will be hoping Claudio Ranieri can steer his men to glory.

 

10. Man United 1-0 Everton
Martial maintains Man Utd’s chase of City

Man United followed up their derby defeat of local rivals City with another one-nil victory.

Anthony Martial’s goal in the second half settled a game that had few clear opportunities. Everton’s Phil Jagielka headed against the crossbar as the Toffees searched for an equaliser but instead found a third straight defeat.

Martial’s goal makes him United’s top scorer in the league with eight, one ahead of the injured Wayne Rooney. For a team often associated with goals, that simply isn’t enough from your leading marksman. That’s nothing against Martial who given his age and the pressure of an astronomical fee, has proven to be his side’s biggest attacking threat. But the Red Devils will need improving in the final third should they want to challenge for the title as their reputation, revenue and spending expects.