The title race well and truly heated up this gameweek 32, with some unexpected results over the weekend. Alan Casey takes us through last week’s Premier Snakes and Ladders.
On March 30th 1964, Liverpool beat Tottenham 3-1 to go top of the table and go on to secure the title. Fifty years later, Liverpool went one goal better to down Tottenham 4-0 to go top. There has been growing belief around Brendan Rodger’s side in the last few weeks and now even history seems to be on their side.
While all the talk now surrounds Liverpool, the debate focused on the Manchester City / Arsenal encounter in the build up to the weekend’s action. However, the match ended somewhat anticlimactically at 1-1; inflicting minimal damage to City’s title credentials but doing nothing for Arsenal who are now seven points off the summit. After grinding past Fulham on Sunday; Everton have now won five on the trot. They are now only four points behind, with a game in hand and they are also Arsenal’s next opponents.
But surprisingly it was the clash of lowly seventeenth place versus first that was the biggest catalyst for the change at the top. Crystal Palace staged the surprise of the weekend by securing all three points against Chelsea and in doing so they have blown the title race wide open. Mourinho’ side looked toothless and they will now be relying upon those around them to drop points.
Whereas the soon to be dethroned Champions, Manchester United got a badly needed confidence boost ahead of the next week’s daunting Bayern encounter with a 4-1 win over Villa on Saturday. Moyes can also take heart from the support echoing from the Stretford End despite protests flying over head. They remain seventh, however, Tottenham are now only two points ahead.
Further back, Swansea ended a bad run of form with a 3-0 win over Norwich. While another win for Stoke, now nestled nicely in tenth place with six points over West Ham in eleventh, appears to vindicate Hughes performance at the Brittania.
At the bottom, Sunderland faced West Ham on Monday after Cardiff moved up to eighteenth with a hard fought draw against West Brom. Fulham however, look all but relegated after losing 2-1 to Everton on Sunday, despite a brave display. But first, we will move back up the table to look at one of the great positives of the season, Southampton.
8th Southampton +1
With Southampton, mid table has never been so glamorous and they eased past Newcastle into eight place on Saturday after clattering the Magpies 4-0 at St. Marys. The clash of ninth and eighth place at this stage of the season normally has little at stake but clearly no one told Southampton.
Alan Pardew returned on Saturday after his touchline ban but his presence did not have the expected impact. Instead Southampton’s home grown contingent ensured that the debate afterwards centred on their prospects of making it to Brazil. Goals from Lambert and an aerobatic effort from Lallana, combined with a brace from Jay Rodriguez secured the win for the Saints. But it could have been even worse for Newcastle if only for the exploits of keeper Rob Elliot.
Like Newcastle, Southampton have been in a comfortable position in the table all season. But unlike the Northerners, it is impressive that they are gaining momentum towards the end of the season. But they have a relatively difficult run-in with Everton and both Manchester clubs down the line with City next.
The United encounter could be of most significance with only six points now separating the two clubs. So for Southampton there may still be more to play for this season than a few tickets to Brazil.
18th Cardiff City +1
It’s now eight points after twelve games for Solskjaer, not exactly the return expected upon his appointment in January. But their latest point, courtesy of a draw with fellow strugglers West Brom on Saturday, is enough to take them to eighteenth place. It’s a small step but a positive one at last.
Saturday’s encounter at the Hawthorns again illustrated how entertaining the relegation battle can be; for neutrals anyway. West Brom scored two goals within the first ten minutes; the opener after only two minutes. However, Cardiff pulled one back on the half hour mark and Caulker made it 2-2 after 73 minutes.
The game looked set for a draw until a frenetic period of extra time. West Brom snatched back the lead after four minutes of extra time and looked good for the win until Mats Daehli, introduced at the break by Solskjaer, secured a dramatic point for Cardiff less than a minute later.
In truth, Sunderland can send Cardiff back to nineteenth if they win on Monday. Indeed it is difficult to know if Cardiff gained a point on Saturday or lost two. That said, on Saturday they again demonstrated a fighting spirit to bring the game level on two occasions.
This trait has been apparent all along under Solskjaer’s tenure but has not always been rewarded. Cardiff will need to muster all that fighting spirit once again when they face Tony Pulis’s Crystal Palace next. There is still hope for Cardiff but with only six games left there is little time.
2nd Chelsea -1
Throughout the season, fans and pundits alike have dismissed Mourinho’s regular downplaying of Chelsea’s title chances as mind games. However, after the last away loss to Aston Villa and Saturday’s surprise defeat to Crystal Palace, there may be an element of truth in the ramblings of the Special One.
What is clear is that Chelsea have squandered an opportunity. Before last weekend, they had played three more games than City and could have pulled nine points clear and increased the pressure on Pellegrini’s side. Instead Chelsea are now second, only two points ahead of City in third who still have two games in hand.
Against Palace on Saturday, an own goal from John Terry in the 52nd minute, a very pleasant sight for most non-Chelsea fans, was enough to undo Chelsea. Palace were robust and determined, as ever under Pulis, but were unlucky with two denied penalty claims. Indeed they easily neutralised Torres and with the exception of the threat from Hazard, Palace were confident enough to lay siege on Chelsea’s goal for extended periods.
It could have been worse for Chelsea if City had managed more than a draw at the Emirates. But as it is, Chelsea are no longer masters of their own destiny, going into a potentially congested period of European action and with only six games left to pull the rabbit out of the hat. In a post match interview, Mourinho said that the title race is now a two horse race and maybe he was right all along.
1st Liverpool +1
Are we witnessing a return to the glory days at Anfield and a fitting Premier League title to crown Gerrard’s illustrious career? Liverpool fans certainly think so and who would question them right now. Liverpool have already swallowed up the Arsenal threat and Chelsea may now also have fallen into the trap. At this place in time, it appears that City now offer their most immediate threat, despite being two points behind in 3rd place, with two games in hand.
The noise generated by the Anfield faithful on Sunday would suggest they believe that they are witnessing something very special. And that belief was transferred to their players who took the lead after two minutes with Sterling’s cross forcing a Kaboul own goal. While the customary Suarez strike came after 25 minutes. Liverpool seem designed to face teams such as Tottenham with high defensive lines and added two further goals after the break.
Rodger’s men are now six matches away from ultimate glory but a sobering thought for fans is that they still have to face City and Chelsea. However, I can’t’ think of any reason for Liverpool to fear any side at this moment in time. But with that said, if they lose to City in two weeks time they could be back to third. This season’s table has a habit of punishing expectations and while the omens may be good for Liverpool, they can never be relied upon.
Alan Casey, Pundit Arena.
By Jon Candy from Cardiff, Wales (DSC06340) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.