With 10 matches being played over this weekend, we have plenty to talk about.
1. Despite an out of sorts number 20, Manchester United inch closer to title no. 20
What has happened to the talismanic Dutchman? Once considered as a sure shot bet for the Golden Boot, Robin van Persie has dramatically fallen off the radar. With only a solitary goal in his last six appearances, he has been overtaken by Luis Suarez in the race to the coveted award. Despite the Dutchman’s profligacy in front of goal, Manchester United find themselves 15 points clear of their closest rivals Manchester City – thanks in no small part to a David Moyes scripted 2-0 victory for Everton over City… the same Everton who had roadblocked United’s road to glory last year with a pulsating 4-4 draw at Old Trafford.
Everton roared back from a humiliating 0-3 defeat in the FA Cup to Wigan to beat Mancini’s charges, even though they played the bulk of the second half with 10 men on the pitch after Steven Pienaar was sent off. With only 9 games to go and a yawning 15-point gap, surely there is no way back for City. Tie those red ribbons to the Premier League trophy, I say.
2. Video Replays – the need of the hour in the Premier League
Three separate incidents that raised the question – why don’t the match officials have video replays to assist them in their decision making? One, Marouane Fellaini’s handball inside the 18-yard box as he attempted to block Carlos Tevez’s shot. Surprisingly referee Lee Probert chose to award a free kick outside the box, much to the chagrin of protesting City players.
Two, a similar incident at the Stadium of Light as Danny Rose handled the ball and the referee awarding a free kick despite replays clearly showing the infringement to have been inside the box.
Three, the horror tackle by Wigan Athletic’s English striker Callum McManaman on Newcastle United’s Massadio Haidara, which resulted in the Frenchman being stretchered off to the hospital, probably out for the rest of the season. This incident went unsighted by referee Mark Halsey. The first two incidents could have had serious implications on the outcomes of those matches and while retrospective action against McManaman could still be taken, it could have been much worse for Wigan had they gone a man down in the first half itself. The standard of refereeing has been unusually shocking this weekend and it remains to be seen whether the FA takes steps to remedy these game changing decisions by introducing some kind of a video replay on the lines of the system used in the NFL.
3. Tottenham Hotspur: Fighting against their own past
Three defeats in their last three matches. Spurs fans will be forgiven for having that sinking feeling once again. In a season that promised so much, in a season that was earmarked as a chance to set the record straight, a season to avenge their humiliation of missing out on a Champions League spot last season (despite a top 4 finish) – their season is unravelling rather quickly. Add to that the Gunners are hot on their trail. The Lilywhites’ participation in the quarter finals of the Europa League will do their chances of a top four finish no favors as the hectic Thursday-Sunday schedule takes its toll come the end of the season. Their performances haven’t been bad – especially against Liverpool and Fulham, and they still have a 4-point lead over their North London rivals – but the Spurs faithful can only hope that their season doesn’t implode at the fag end; just like it did in the last two seasons under Harry Redknapp.
4. Arsenal and Chelsea take giant strides towards Champions League qualification as Liverpool’s top four dreams come crashing down
It’s weeks like these that go a long way in determining the fortunes of the top four hopefuls. Arsenal and Chelsea did their hopes no harm by registering identical 2-0 victories over their rivals. Arsenal were facing a slightly trickier opposition in Swansea away at the Liberty Stadium in Wales. A Nacho Monreal strike and a late strike on the counter by Gervinho helped the Gunners close the gap to 4th place North London rivals Tottenham.
A brilliant Eden Hazard helped Chelsea beat their West London opponents West Ham United 2-0, a match which saw the Blues mercurial midfielder Frank Lampard notch up a double century of goals for his side.
Liverpool were uncharacteristically poor versus Southampton in which aggressive pressing by the hosts and shambolic defending by the visitors saw the Merseyside team’s top four chances go up in smoke. With 12 goals in their last three matches many expected the resurgent Reds to steamroll relegation threatened Saints. But it was not to be as they were brought down to the ground with a resounding thud. Brendan Rodgers’ side are very much a work in progress.
5. The picture is becoming clearer at the bottom of the table
The Saints and the Villains pull away from the drop zone as Reading and QPR edge ever closer to the Championship. Southampton’s impressive 3-1 victory over a resurgent Liverpool gave them three priceless points and they are starting to draw away from the bottom three. A win for Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa over fellow relegation strugglers QPR helped them open up a three point lead over 18th place Wigan and condemned the Rangers to the bottom place on the League table. Joining them on 23 points and a good seven points adrift of safety are Reading, who were consigned to a 0-1 defeat at the hands of runaway leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford. So sacking Brian McDermott last week did nothing to reverse the fortunes of The Royals.
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