1. West Ham 3-3 Arsenal
Karma will be a Bilic for someone soon
For the third match in a row, West Ham drew and suffered another poor decision.
Manuel Lanzini’s goal, which would have opened the scoring, was wrongly ruled offside. This follows the game changing decisions during the Crystal Palace and Chelsea fixtures, which ultimately cost the Hammers two-points on both occasions.
While Arsenal went on to take a two-goal lead against the run of play, West Ham responded through the aerial prowess of Andy Carroll – who was making his first league start in three months. The first two of his three goals came in the final few minutes of the first half to leave Arsene Wenger’s men in shock.
The England striker then gave his side the lead early in the second half but Laurent Koscielny drew the Gunners level with a little under half an hour remaining.
The three-three thriller was great for the neutral but of little use to both sides. Arsenal will now be looking to consolidate third while West Ham need to make up five-points and 13 goals on Man City in the remaining six fixtures to earn a Champions League spot.
However, Europa League qualification isn’t out of the question and an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Man Utd – the last cup game at Upton Park – might see karma reward Slaven Bilic for his well-mannered conduct during post-match interviews despite his side’s misfortune. Others should take note.
2. Aston Villa 1-2 Bournemouth
Have faith in King
Goals from Josh King and Steve Cook left Aston Villa a draw or loss away from relegation. The Cherries meanwhile, have surpassed the magic 40-point mark and look on course for a comfortable finish to their maiden season in England’s top division.
King’s slow start – he didn’t score his first goal until late-November – raised doubts and concerns over whether or not the former Man Utd youth player could cut it at this level. But Eddie Howe’s perseverance and faith has been rewarded with three league goals in just over a month, all of which contributed to wins.
Another bonus for Bournemouth was the long-awaited return of their joint league top scorer (level with King) Callum Wilson. The pacey forward had made an immediate impact in the Premier League, scoring five in his first six games before suffering a knee injury at Stoke on 26th September.
3. Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich
Winless run brought to an end
Jason Puncheon’s first goal of the season gave Alan Pardew’s side a first win in 2016.
The 14-game winless streak saw the Eagles nosedive from 5th on Boxing Day (level on points with Tottenham) to 16th. The fact this win arrived against their nearest rivals looking to drag them into a relegation battle made it all the sweeter as Palace now sit six-points clear of Norwich with a game in hand.
The Cannaries will be looking for a response in their crunch game at home to Sunderland this Saturday. Sam Allardyce’s side is currently four-points adrift with a game in hand making this a fixture that neither side can afford to lose.
4. Southampton 3-1 Newcastle
Going down with a whimper again?
Newcastle’s weak first half showing against Southampton drew comparisons with the latter part of the 2008/09 season, which ended in relegation.
Rafa Benitez’s side got off to a terrible start when Steven Taylor kindly showed Shane Long where the goal was after just a few minutes. It didn’t get much better during a first half that saw Graziano Pelle double the Saints lead.
Whilst the Geordies and Andros Townsend in particular, put in an improved second-half performance (couldn’t really get worse), it wasn’t enough to allay any fears that this may be a repeat of 2009.
During the end of that season, Newcastle won just two of their last 20 league games. Today’s side is on a run of two in 16 with six still to play.
5. Swansea 1-0 Chelsea
Sigurdsson sparks into life to help save Swans
While Chelsea’s injury list highlighted the task waiting for incoming manager Antonio Conte, Swansea reached 40-points with their fourth win in the last six matches.
Spearheading their revival in 2016 is Icelandic Gylfi Sigurdsson who scored the winner at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday.
The playmaker has hit a rich vein of form since the turn of the year as shown in the table below:
|Gylfi Sigurdsson (Premier League stats)||2015||2016|
|Minutes per goal||722||135|
The Swans will be hoping his form can continue into the next campaign as they look to avoid a repeat of this season’s relegation scare.
6. Watford 1-1 Everton
Toffees drop points late in halves again
Everton’s James McCarthy opened the scoring at Vicarage Road in first-half injury time. Yet it came as no real surprise that they conceded an equaliser just two minutes later.
Dropping points from winning positions is becoming a recurring theme for Roberto Martinez’s side and some supporters are going far more public with their disapproval.
This season, Everton have won seven-points with goals from the 40th minute until half-time or 80th minute until full-time. However, they have lost double that through goals conceded during the same periods.
If the Toffees had avoided losing 14-points to late goals in either half, they would be level with Man Utd and four-points off fourth-placed Man City with a game in hand.
The last ten minutes of games alone have seen 10-points dropped compared to five earned, which suggests a lack of concentration, game management or fitness in the Spaniard’s youthful side.
Martinez will no doubt be hoping for improved results in the FA Cup as he looks to repeat his 2013 win with Wigan Athletic. Three of that starting XI is in his Everton squad (McCarthy, Joel Robles and Arouna Kone).
7. Man City 2-1 West Brom
Nasri scores winner during Manchester downpour
West Brom’s valiant display was dampened by more than just the weather.
Samir Nasri completed 90 minutes in the league for the first time in nearly seven months following injury. The Frenchman’s close-range finish earned City all three-points in a game that the Baggies deserved something from.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side will put cementing a top-four finish to one side as they focus their attentions on the home leg of their European against French champions PSG. A win or a draw of no higher than one-one will see the Citizens reach the semi-finals for the first time in their history.
8. Sunderland 0-2 Leicester
Clean sheets and clean attacks
It was nearly another one-nil but for the familiar sight of a rampaging Jamie Vardy bursting beyond the defence to score a second goal deep into injury time.
An even game between two teams that desperately needed the points was tipped towards the side of glory over survival when Vardy broke the deadlock. England international teammate, Danny Drinkwater, played an instinctive long ball into the space behind Sunderland’s backline for Vardy to gallop onto and confidently shoot past Vito Mannone.
It was a combination that has proven beneficial to Leicester throughout the season and will hopefully see similar results for England this summer.
Five of Drinkwater’s six assists have been for Vardy. That early pass from the middle of the pitch for Vardy to use his pace on has made Leicester a frighteningly quick and direct counter-attacking side.
But while Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Drinkwater have been getting the credit in an attacking sense, it’s the defence that has really improved over the course of what promises to be a magical campaign.
Kasper Schmeichel and the regular back four in front of him claimed their fifth clean sheet in a row on Sunday. That’s a stark contrast to their early season form, which didn’t see their first clean sheet arrive until 10 games in at home to Crystal Palace.
|Goals per game||1.26||0.43|
The table above shows what a difference a consistent backline can make. Credit also to manager Claudio Ranieri whose influence has naturally increased with time. They just need to maintain this form for a few more matches.
9. Liverpool 4-1 Stoke
Origi showing signs of potential
He was named in the Ligue 1 worst team of the season by French newspaper L’Equipe last season. But his form since returning from an injury sustained on Boxing Day has seen Liverpool fans regard him as a very useful impact sub or even a starter.
Following his performance away at Dortmund last Thursday, which included his side’s goal, Divock Origi came on as a half-time substitute to score two more in 20 minutes at the Kop end.
He was signed for £10m after the World Cup in Brazil where he looked like a striker with plenty of potential. But Liverpool loaned him straight back to former club, Lille, as part of the deal. L’Equipe’s labeling of Origi meant his return last summer was met with less optimism than the previous year.
However, since Jurgen Klopp took over, the Belgian striker has improved both physically and in his performances.
The two goals against Stoke took his tally for the season to four in the league and eight in total. Whilst that isn’t a lot for a striker, it is worth pointing out his lack of game time, which has increased recently.
Below is a table comparing Origi to Anthony Martial, arguably the most exciting young forward in the Premier League:
|Divock Origi||Anthony Martial|
|Age||21 (on 18/4/16)||20|
|Transfer Fee||£10m||£36m (+£21.6m in add-ons)|
|Goals (League)||8 (4)||13 (8)|
|Full League Games||2/33||24/28|
|League Minutes per goal||150.25||283|
|International Caps (Goals)||16 (3)||8 (0)|
Martial is clearly a talent and Man Utd’s biggest attacking threat. But given Origi’s upturn in form, it may be worth keeping an eye on his progress over the next few years at Anfield.
10. Tottenham 3-0 Man Utd
Two teams on different sides of the mountain
Mauricio Pochettino saw his side eventually claim a comfortable win via a six-minute blitz in the latter stages of the game.
Under the Argentinian, Tottenham have been associated with high intensity football played by a fit team. So it was no surprise that they would come out on top and score towards the end of the game as Man Utd began to tire.
United certainly weren’t helped by arriving 35 minutes before the half an hour delayed kick-off. But that didn’t really show during a first half, which saw Erik Lamela miss the best opening when he headed wide after being found unmarked, eight-yards out.
But as has often been the case this season, Louis Van Gaal’s team failed to have much of an impact in the final third apart from one chance Martial essentially created on his own.
Man Utd’s attacking threat and vulnerability during the six-minutes where all three-goals were scored was probably down to several players playing out of their natural positions. Tottenham’s players meanwhile, look like a stable side that’s perfectly comfortable with their tactics and roles.
Spurs looked every bit a side on the climb while United continue their stumbling and misguided descent post-Ferguson. “Lads, it’s Tottenham,” will have a very different meaning now.