Week 31 of the Premier League sees Leicester maintain their five point gap above Spurs with another one-nil win this time against Crystal Palace; Man Utd close the gap on neighbours Man City after a record-breaking derby win, and Norwich climb out of the bottom three.
Leicester is seven games away from creating one of the greatest upsets in the history of world sport after beating Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. There was a sense of familiarity about the game. Only Aston Villa are picking up fewer points than Alan Pardew’s men, the Foxes once again won by a goal to nil, and Riyad Mahrez was the executioner.
Palace is fortunate the season is only 38 games long. Had it been a few games longer they would fall into the relegation dogfight currently occupied by Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland. The team that started the season as scintillating as Leicester are dropping to the bottom of the league like a bag of anvils. It was their sixth straight home defeat.
Leicester has a bit of old school Arsenal about them. After starting the season with a ‘we’ll score more goals than you’ attitude, they have gone on a run that has seen them win four out of the last five games by a single goal to nil. On paper, it looks tight. On the pitch, it’s a different story. There are no nerves. There are no glances over their shoulders. They seem resolute.
Once again it was the deadly duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez that secured all three points for Leicester. Vardy playing the percentages with a low cross into the penalty area and the Algerian was on hand to score the winner in the 34th minute. It was his 17th goal of the season. They have 36 goals between them, more than seven Premier League teams have scored in their entire season.
Spurs ensured Leicester didn’t break away with a classy performance against Bournemouth. Leicester has Vardy and Mahrez. Spurs have Delle Alli and Harry Kane. The England duo read each others games so beautifully. Some players just click, and these two are like lock and key.
It was the combination of Alli and Kyle Walker who set Kane up to open the scoring after just 44 seconds. Alli set Kane up for his second on 16-minutes. At that point, the game was all over bar the Eddie Howe shouting.
Bournemouth players competed like men who had just escaped from the gallows. They are safe. It’s been a fantastic season. They well and truly took their foot off the gas in this one. Christian Eriksen scored a tap in after Artur Boruc spilled Kane’s shot to make it 3-0. Kane is now the leading scorer in the Premier League with 21 goals and enters the International phase as the first name on the England team sheet.
Arsenal Welcome Iwobi to the Premier League Fold
A few weeks ago I said this title race only had two horses. I want to change that view. Arsenal‘s defeat at the hands of Barcelona in midweek could be a turning point for the Gunners. They don’t have to worry about Champions League fixtures, they played exceptionally well, and they found a new star in the form of Alex Iwobi.
The 19-year old was a surprise starter in the Nou Camp. He was playing against Messi, Suarez and Neymar and didn’t look out of place. Arsene Wenger kept faith in him on Saturday. The 19-year old didn’t disappoint. Iwobi was involved in everything including a 42-minute debut goal to seal the points for Arsenal. Danny Welbeck had opened the scoring in the 7th minute.
“I like this group.” Said Wenger after the game. They are only 6-points behind Spurs with a game in hand. As Wenger says, if Spurs are in the title race and Arsenal could pull back the gap to three points then so are they. If they can put on vintage Arsenal displays for the rest of the season then who knows?
Champions League Hunt
It looks like England have failed in their last bid attempt to steer Alex Iwobi away from a Nigerian international debut, and herd him into Wembley. That will be a loss. However, there is also a young England man making waves over at Old Trafford in Marcus Rashford.
The 18-year old forward shot United back into the Champions League race with a classy display against an aged Man City side. The pace of Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial was too much for City’s backline. Rashford made Martin Demichelis look statuesque when he breezed past him to slot the ball home for the winner in the 16th minute. It was his fifth goal of the season and at 18-years and 141 days, he was confirmed as the youngest player to score a goal in a Premier League derby between the two.
City has only won three of their eleven games since announcing that Pep Guardiola will take charge at the end of the season. Both Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling will miss the England friendlies with muscle injuries. West Ham and United are now only one point behind City in the race for the top four spots.
It’s not often that West Ham faces off against Chelsea expecting to win, but a lot has changed this season. It’s West Ham fighting for a Champions League spot. The champions season is over -it’s only March.
The Hammers took the lead through a Manuel Lanzini wonder strike in the 17th minute. It was the first goal West Ham have scored at Stamford Bridge in six years. Cesc Fabregas made sure Chelsea went into the half-time break on level par with a superb free kick in the dying seconds of the first half.
West Hame came out firing in the second half. Chelsea looked stunned. Andy Carroll came off the bench to score his fourth goal of the season and if it weren’t for an appalling decision by the referee – who handed Chelsea a lifeline in the 88th minute when Michail Antonio’s unfair challenge on Ruben Loftus-Cheek was deemed to have occurred outside the box – the Hammers would have taken a deserved three points. Television replays show that it clearly wasn’t. Fabregas slotted the penalty home to steal a point. It was the first time in six years that the Spaniard had scored twice in a Premier League game.
Liverpool’s odds of making the last four are now 12/1 after blowing a two-goal lead at St Mary’s. Liverpool marched into the game unbeaten in eight in all competitions and looked to stretch that to nine after first half goals from Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge gave them a two-goal cushion. Joe Allen missed a golden opportunity to extend that lead to three before the referee blew for half time.
Ronald Koeman made some changes during the interval, most notably inserting Sadio Mane into the action. The man from Senegal missed a penalty after Martin Skrtel brought down Graziano Pelle in the box, but he made up for it with two goals either side of a cracker from Pelle, the last of which sent Koeman racing down the touchline to celebrate with his players.
The Saints harbor outside ambitions of making those Champions League spots but the bookies don’t share those sentiments, some of which make them as wide as 66/1.
Aston Villa inched a little closer to that mathematic certainty after defeat away to Swansea City. Two teams will join them in the Championship next season. They will come from the group of Norwich, Newcastle or Sunderland.
Norwich is hitting a run at the right time. Last week’s goalless draw with Man City was the catalyst. Their one-nil away win at stubborn West Brom was the first in 10-games. It was enough to elevate them out of the bottom three.
Sunderland’s run of six consecutive North East derby victories ground to a halt at the Stadium of Light in one of the most important games of the season. Both teams desperately needed three points. In keeping with the drama of the Premier League, a draw adds even more tension with time running out for both sides.
Sam Allardyce has never lost a relegation fight, and Rafa Benitez has never been involved in one. Ultimately, I think that will make the difference – that and Jermaine Defoe. Newcastle doesn’t have anyone like the former England striker. His opening goal was his 15th of the season, and that’s incredible when you consider Sunderland’s perilous situation. It’s just a shame about the back four. Sunderland has now failed to keep a clean sheet in 17 consecutive games.
Aleksandr Mitrovic headed the equaliser in the 83rd minute. It was his sixth goal of the season and Newcastle are going to need a lot more than that if they are to escape with Rafa at the helm next season.
Here are the rest of the results:
Everton 0 v 2 Arsenal
Crystal Palace 0 v 1 Leicester
Chelsea 2 v 2 West Ham
West Brom 0 v 1 Norwich
Watford 1 v 2 Stoke
Swansea 1 v 0 Aston Villa
Newcastle 1 v 1 Sunderland
Southampton 3 v 2 Liverpool
Man City 0 v 1 Man Utd
Spurs 3 v 0 Bournemouth
Premier League Title Winning Odds
Champions League Qualification Odds
Man City 8/13
Man Utd 15/8
West Ham 11/2
Premier League Relegation Odds (To Join Aston Villa)
Premier League Standings (After 31 Games)
1st. Leicester – 66 pts.
2nd. Spurs – 61 pts.
3rd. Arsenal – 55 pts.
4th. Man City – 51 pts.
5th. West Ham – 50 pts.
6th. Man Utd – 50 pts.
7th. Southampton – 47 pts.
8th. Stoke – 46 pts.
9th. Liverpool – 44 pts.
10th. Chelsea – 41 pts.
11th. West Brom – 39 pts.
12th. Everton – 38 pts.
13th. Bournemouth – 38 pts.
14th. Watford – 37 pts.
15th. Swansea – 36 pts.
16th. Crystal Palace – 33 pts.
17th. Norwich – 28 pts.
18th. Sunderland – 26 pts.
19th. Newcastle – 25 pts.
20th. Aston Villa – 16 pts.