Week 27 of the Premier League sees a late show from Leonardo Ulloa help Leicester to three points at home to Norwich; Spurs maintain the two-point gap with victory over Swansea, and Arsenal slip five points behind after a loss to Man Utd.Norwich at home.
It was the perfect tonic after that last-gasp defeat at Arsenal. It nearly ended as bitterly as the gin that’s often paired with it.
Before the match, Claudio Ranieri said this game would be tougher than that crushing defeat. In many ways, he was right. Leicester is leading the Premier League. Teams look at them differently. They prepare for them differently. The bus will get parked.
If you need evidence that Norwich came here to defend well and snatch a winner on the counter-attack, then consider that Leicester’s 58% possession was only the third time they had the ball more than their opponent’s all season.
If you are going to win the league, then you have to win matches like these. Man Utd built a dynasty on the back of winning when playing poorly. Leicester did exactly that before substitute Leonardo Ulloa stormed into the six-yard box to put away a Marc Albrighton cross in the 88th minute, after some good work by the wizard Riyad Mahrez.
The Canaries wings have been clipped. They are dropping down the Premier League table with all the grace of stone. It was their seventh league game without a win. They have picked up one point in that time. If Sunderland or Newcastle can get their cogs whirring Alex Neil’s side are in trouble; then again, when are they not when playing in the Premier League?
Both Spurs and Arsenal had the opportunity to close the gap at the top to two points. Spurs took it. Arsenal did not. Spurs have lived in the shadow of their North London neighbours for a long time. They look positively radiant now they have stepped into the light.
Spurs have never lost a Premier League game against Swansea, and the Welsh club has never won a game at White Hart Lane in their history. All that looked like changing when Alberto Paloschi gave the Swans a shock lead after Angel Rangel’s shot fell kindly to him in the six-yard box.
But Spurs are made of sterner stuff these days.
Only the brilliance of Lukasz Fabianski kept them at bay until Kyle Walker dragged his shot hopelessly across the six-yard box, only for Nacer Chadli to poke home the equaliser in the 70th minute. Swansea was feeling the cosh after that, and seven minutes later, Justin Rose smashed the ball home from just inside the box to give Spurs a deserved win.
Arsenal went to Old Trafford on the back of a tanning by Barcelona and without a victory in their last eight visits to the Theatre of Dreams. That horrid run now extends to nine courtesy of another wonder show by the United new kid Marcus Rashford.
I can imagine the 18-year old sat at home thinking, “I can do better than this lot,” as United’s expensive foreign flops bore United fans week in and week out. He got his chance in midweek against Danish side FC Midtjylland and repaid his bosses faith in him by scoring two debut goals.
“The young ones can play well in their first game, but not always their second game,” said Van Gaal.
Well, this was his second game. And he once again reasserted that faith with another brace to put United two goals ahead in the first 32 minutes of the game. United old boy Danny Welbeck headed Arsenal back into contention just before half time, but a deflected Ander Herrera goal regained the two-goal cushion for the men in red. Mesut Ozil made it an interesting last 20-minutes when his shot struck the ground and bounced into the net, but they never looked like taking anything from a game that real champions elect would have won, given United’s bad injury problems.
It’s rather fitting that West Ham’s fans will bid a fond farewell to the Boleyn Ground knowing that they have witnessed the club’s finest performance in the Premier League. Slaven Bilic has done what Sam Allardyce failed to do during his time there, and that’s turn the Hammers into a team that understands the word consistency.
Michail Antonio’s solo goal in the 30th minute, his third goal in four games, was good enough to ensure West Ham’s unbeaten home record kept rolling on – they have not lost a home game since August.
Sunderland will be kicking themselves. Once again, the final score didn’t reflect their performance on the pitch, and if they go down, they will go down knowing that it could have been avoided. Once again, the lack of a killer touch in front of goal made all the difference. A dodgy linesman decision or two also contributed. The Black Cats could have climbed out of the bottom three. They didn’t. I am sure they will by the end of the season.
I think we can rid our minds of an Aston Villa great escape. It’s wasting valuable space. It was another toothless, spineless, pitiful performance by a team that has been a Premier League stalwart for so long. At the end of the game, Remi Garde even said that his team lack both the skills and the desire to get out of this hole they have so expertly dug for themselves.
Sometimes Stoke turn it on – sometimes they don’t. Much depends on the mood of Marko Arnautovic. Today, the big man was on fire, scoring twice and looking every inch a player who could find himself at a much greater club next season.
There is only one club that can currently match Aston Villa’s abysmal run. Crystal Palace’s defeat at West Brom was their 10th game without a league win. Craig Gardner scored the day’s fastest goal when he put the Baggies ahead in the 11th minute; Craig Dawson made it two with a solid header in the 29th minute, and a beautiful goal from the resurgent Saido Berahino in the 31st minute gave Alan Pardew’s men a mountain to climb in the second half.
Give Palace credit. They very nearly grabbed a point. Two second half goals from Connor Wickham – his first from open play this season – brought them to a whisper of a draw. Only poor officiating prevented that from happening. Palace was denied two clear cut penalties when 3-1 down. However, Pardew knows talk of what might have been just papered over some Grand Canyon wide cracks.
Chelsea continued their excellent run of form by coming from behind to beat Southampton at St Mary’s. Coming into the game Southampton were unbeaten in 10; Chelsea unbeaten on 7. Shane Long put the Saints ahead with a delightful little flick over the keeper in the 42nd minute, but a howler by referee Martin Atkinson acted as the 12th man for Chelsea when they needed it most.
With the linesman flagging wildly for a free kick to Southampton deep inside their half, Atkinson waved play on, and Cesc Fabregas curled a cross into the box that somehow made its way past Fraser Forster. It was the first goal Forster had conceded in 708 minutes of play – a club record; he would concede another in the dying moments of the game when Branislav Ivanovic rose highest in the box to thunder home the winner for Gus Hiddink’s men.
Here are the rest of the results:
Week 27 Results
Leicester 1 v 0 Norwich
West Brom 3 v 2 Crystal Palace
Southampton 1 v 2 Chelsea
West Ham 1 v 0 Sunderland
Stoke 2 v1 Aston Villa
Watford 0 v 0 Bournemouth
Man Utd 3 v 2 Arsenal
Spurs 2 v 1 Swansea
Premier League Standings (After 27 Games)
1st. Leicester – 56 pts.
2nd. Spurs – 54 pts.
3rd. Arsenal – 51 pts.
4th. Man City – 47 pts.
5th. Man Utd – 44 pts.
6th. West Ham – 43 pts.
7th. Southampton – 40 pts.
8th. Stoke – 39 pts.
9th. Liverpool – 38 pts.
10th. Watford – 37 pts.
11th. Chelsea – 36 pts.
12th. Everton – 35 pts.
13th. West Brom – 35 pts.
14th. Crystal Palace – 32 pts.
15th. Bournemouth – 29 pts.
16th. Swansea – 27 pts.
17th. Norwich – 24 pts.
18th. Newcastle – 24 pts.
19th. Sunderland – 23 pts.
20th. Aston Villa – 16 pts.