Following on from the ever-tedious international break, the Premier League’s returning weekend has abundantly refused to disappoint.
Saturday saw workaholics Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool grind each other to a score draw, Arsenal and Chelsea both knock their opponents for four and Norwich City stage a potentially Premier-League-status-saving comeback against relegation rivals Newcastle United.
This afternoon, meanwhile, Leicester City extended their lead at the Premier League’s summit to seven points with a 1-0 win over Southampton and Manchester United replicated the scoreline against Everton during the 4pm kickoff – with Anthony Martial scoring the 1000th Premier League goal at Old Trafford. Quite a landmark.
But the relentless entertainment wouldn’t mean a thing if we didn’t learn from it – something which has become almost an official ethos at Football Fancast. Indeed, we posed FOUR key questions regarding Sunday’s games yesterday afternoon and with the results all confirmed, we now have our FOUR equally crucial answers.
On the surface, not a chance. When your captain heads home to find his first goal of the season and just the 22nd of his 597-game career, you know you’re in that magical place all title-winning sides find themselves at this point of the season – where results are relentlessly ground out even if performances aren’t so spectacular.
That was precisely the case this afternoon and a run of five 1-0 wins from their last six games has seen the Foxes go seven points clear of their closest rivals Tottenham Hotspur. With just six more fixtures remaining, it would take an almighty capitulation for Leicester to miss out from here.
But reports of ‘Leicester City – Premiership Champions’ scarves going on sale outside the King Power Stadium inspire an unwelcome sense of de ja vu. Remember when Liverpool fans started celebrating wildly in April 2014 after beating Manchester City, only to end the season in second place?
It’s not worth reading much into a 4-0 win over a workaday Watford side who are now entirely focused on their FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace, even if Arsenal did pull it off with some style yesterday afternoon.
In fact, it’s almost classic Arsenal to produce poor results in season-defining fixtures before carving up a rank-and-file Premier League outfit whilst playing a bunch of young kids like Alex Iwobi, leaving Gunners fans to lick their lips at what happen might next season. I’ll give you a hint – they’ll look like challenging for the first five months and then capitulate in traditional fashion.
So as you can tell, I’m not tipping Arsenal to stage the most miraculous of comebacks and become a fixture in the title race once again. They may catch up with local rivals Spurs, who just couldn’t produce the goods against Liverpool yesterday, but are now nine points behind Leicester City and would need a miracle to come anywhere close to closing the gap.
The one-nil win against Everton pretty much epitomised Manchester United’s season. An incredibly underwhelming performance overall but eventually a result that pushed them in the right direction – owing much to the club’s youngsters rather than their established talents.
They’re now just one point away from fourth-placed rivals Manchester City after the same number of games (31), so at this point anything is possible – especially considering the Citizens may find themselves more preoccupied with the Champions League if they claim a decent result against PSG this week.
But in terms of quality, there’s still only one winner and it’s not the Red Devils. Their performance against Everton was lumpy and aimless for large periods, requiring some invention from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to get them through. City, meanwhile, have just welcomed back Kevin De Bruyne and boast a squad of incredible depth and talent.
The performance against Manchester United wasn’t particularly condemning of Roberto Martinez; Old Trafford is a hard place to go and for all their shortcomings, there’s a reason the Red Devils are currently in fifth place.
But at the same time, not much paid off for the Everton gaffer this afternoon. Reselecting John Stones at the heart of defence, starting Gerard Deulofeu, moving Ross Barkley into deep midfield and making just one substitution until the 87th minute were all decisions that failed to have the desired effect.
Likewise, this Everton side is abundantly talented and probably should have caused a largely uninspiring United team far more problems today – managing just a single shot on target and one against the woodwork.
Overall, it feels like the Toffees lack direction and Spurs’ impressive rise this term should leave Everton fans lamenting the season they could’ve had.