Only four games to review in Week 30 of the Premier League as the FA Cup quarter-finals eat into the action; and Newcastle sack Steve McClaren and hire Rafa Benitez.
It was October that Liverpool sacked Brendan Rodgers, and I promised you six more managers would lose their heads by the end of the season. I have since predicted two of those to leave in the shape of Jose Mourinho, and Tim Sherwood – another of my predictions came true on Friday when Newcastle finally sacked Steve McClaren.
The former England manager only managed to win 7 of his 31 games in charge at St James Park. 24 points from 28 games is their most dismal performance in their Premier League history.
In 2008/09, Alan Shearer donned his cape and flew into Newcastle hoping to save his beloved team from relegation with eight games remaining. Former Liverpool and Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez has ten games.
Shearer failed, and so will Rafa.
“Scared is not the word. I know that it is a difficult situation. I have done the maths” Benitez told the Sunday Sun.
From Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo to Jonjo Shelvey and Fabricio Coloccini, what has Benitez let himself in for? According to the Sunday Sun Benitez does have a break clause allowing him to walk away should he fail to find the spark that will light a fire underneath this team’s ass and propel them up the table.
Sunderland and the survival instincts of Big Sam or the culture and class of the Spaniard?
Newcastle face Leicester on Monday night followed by the local derby on the weekend. After those two fixtures the dust will begin to settle, and when it does, I see this being a very brief love affair indeed.
Here are Newcastle’s last ten games.
Crystal Palace (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Man City (H)
Spurs Throw Down The Gauntlet
With Leicester not playing until Monday, Spurs had the opportunity to close the gap to two points with a game that looked as easy as making salad – Aston Villa.
It was a better performance from Remi Garde’s men – who hit the woodwork on three occasions – but with Harry Kane spearheading their attack, Spurs have gone from a team with no bite, to a team that doesn’t seem to want to let go.
Kane struck twice either side of the half-time break to reduce Leicester’s lead to just two points. He has now scored 18 times in the past 22 Premier League games, 11 in 12 of his past away games, and 17 times in the Premier League (only Vardy with 19, and Lukaku 18 have scored more).
That’s the difference between a side that challenges for the title, and one hoping for a Europa League spot.
Only Dagenham & Redbridge have poorer home form than Villa in the entire football league.
Saints Fly High
Southampton took advantage of the reduced fixture list by moving two places into the seventh spot after a hard-earned victory away at in-form Stoke. Mark Hughes’s side had won three out of their last four games leading into this one, but they were at sixes and sevens after Graziano Pelle remembered his scoring boots to net twice in the 11th and 30th minutes. They were the Italians first goals in 12 Premier League games.
Stoke hit back but didn’t have enough firepower to grab a draw. Marko Arnautovic scored his 10th Premier League goal of the season with a near post flick in the 52nd minute. Southampton finished the game with 10-men after referee Lee Mason made a blunder by sending off Sadio Mane for what he thought was a deliberate elbow to the head of Erik Pieters. Southampton has confirmed they will appeal the decision.
Bournemouth Are Safe
Ok, so not mathematically, but in the past four seasons, 37 points has been enough to stave off relegation. Bournemouth now has 38 points after a tremendous victory against Swansea at Dean Court.
It wasn’t the most outstanding game of Lukasz Fabianski’s career. It was the Polish keeper’s mistake that allowed Max Gradel to give Bournemouth a 37th-minute lead. Mo Barrow equalised with his first-ever Premier League goal after a mazy dribble and shot two minutes later, and Fabianski was once again at fault allowing Josh King to beat him at the near post five minutes into the second half.
Gylfi Sigurdsson had scored six times in his previous ten games before this. He now has 7 in 11 after equalising for the Swans in the 62nd minute, but a Matt Ritchie cross was headed into the back of the net in the 78th minute by Steve Cook to capture what could be Bournemouth’s most significant victory in their history.
Swansea, who were once again without their luckless manager, Francesco Guidolin, have work to do, eight points clear of the drop zone.
Stalemate at Carrow Road
It’s 13 matches since Norwich last won a football game, but their goalless draw with Man City will feel like one that’s for sure. City’s inability to beat a Norwich side on the worse run of form in the Premier League means they are now almost certainly out of the title race. They have only won twice in eleven attempts on the road. It was Norwich’s first clean sheet since the second game of 2016. City has not won back-to-back league games since October, and it’s not enough.
Premier League Odds
Leicester has a two-point lead at the top with a game in hand, and that’s good enough for the bookies to have them at 10/11 for the title. It’s a two horse race for sure, and Spurs are 9/4.
At the other end of the table, all bets are off when it comes to Aston Villa. Norwich is 4/11, Sunderland 1/2, and Newcastle 4/6.
Week 30 Results
Norwich 0 v 0 Man City
Stoke 1 v 2 Southampton
Aston Villa 0 v 2 Spurs
Bournemouth 3 v 2 Swansea
To Play (Mon, 14 March)
Leicester v Newcastle
Premier League Standings (After 30 Games)
1st. Leicester – 60 pts.
2nd. Spurs – 58 pts.
3rd. Arsenal – 52 pts.
4th. Man City – 51 pts.
5th. West Ham – 49 pts.
6th. Man Utd – 47 pts.
7th. Southampton – 44 pts.
8th. Liverpool – 44 pts.
9th. Stoke – 43 pts.
10th. Chelsea – 40 pts.
11th. West Brom – 39 pts.
12th. Everton – 38 pts.
13th. Bournemouth – 38 pts.
14th. Watford – 37 pts.
15th. Crystal Palace – 33 pts.
16th. Swansea – 33 pts.
17th. Sunderland – 25 pts.
18th. Norwich – 25 pts.
19th. Newcastle – 24 pts.
20th. Aston Villa – 16 pts.