With the end of the season fast approaching, the pressure’s really beginning to tell in the Premier League. While those near the bottom of the table are nervously partaking in low-scoring encounters as they seek to keep the points tally ticking over, many of the sides at the top are still struggling with turbulent form and underwhelming performances.
But the pressure throughout the division is precisely why we love the Premier League, and Gameweek 29 certainly wasn’t short of talking points. We run through all the action in the top flight with a look back at those who triumphed and those who toiled…
With Joe Hart still stuck on the bench at West Ham, the race for England’s World Cup gloves is well and truly on – and after contrasting fortunes for two of the leading candidates in Gameweek 29, it’s quickly becoming Jack Butland’s spot in the starting XI to lose.
While Jordan Pickford came under the spotlight on Match of the Day for conceding two goals he could have easily prevented by positioning himself better and being more proactive, Butland made six huge saves to seal Stoke City what could prove to be a vital point away at Southampton.
The Three Lions face Netherlands and Italy later this month and Butland looks set to enter the international break as Gareth Southgate’s No.1.
The situation is starting to become toxic at Everton and the 2-1 defeat to Burnley on Sunday was another damning blow to Sam Allardyce’s tenure.
While there’s no shame in coming up short at Turf Moor, it marked Everton’s sixth defeat in nine Premier League games and their fifth straight loss on the road in the top flight.
Toffees fans always felt uneasy with the appointment because of Allardyce’s notoriously pragmatic and attritional style of play, but when it’s not getting results either the one-time England gaffer is left without a leg to stand on.
An abrupt dismissal this summer now seems inevitable unless Everton can start picking up good results while playing positive football.
Slaven Bilic became the fall guy for West Ham’s horrendous start to the season, but a shock capitulation against Swansea on Saturday suggests the problems at the London Stadium stem far deeper than the man in the dugout.
Although injuries were no doubt a factor – at one point, West Ham’s defence at the Liberty Stadium consisted of four full-backs – the result and manner of performance highlighted the inconsistent mindset at the heart of this team that oft falls victim to complacency.
While Bilic surely wishes his former club no ill-feeling, he will have felt somewhat vindicated on Saturday as the Irons took a nervous step back towards the relegation zone.
It’s all well and good blaming Arsene Wenger, but the 2-1 defeat to Brighton on Sunday was as much about the will of the players as tactics, philosophy, transfer policy or any other grievance that can be put at the Frenchman’s door.
Arsenal’s players simply weren’t up for the challenge from the off like Chris Hughton’s side were, rushing to a two-goal lead within 26 minutes and seeing the game out from that point. Of course, if the players are no longer responding to Wenger, a change is inevitably needed.
But especially after such a humiliating week in which Manchester City humbled them twice, there was a disturbing lack of professional pride on Sunday. Arsenal’s most experienced players need to take a look at themselves.
Crystal Palace may have missed out on just rewards for what was a fantastic performance against Manchester United, but the Eagles need to look at the positives amid their relegation scrap.
Only a Nemanja Matic wonderstrike in added time stopped them from picking up a huge point against the second-best team in England and it’s vital Roy Hodgson retains that mentality and positive approach in the coming weeks when his side face Chelsea and Liverpool.
If the South Londoners can take a few points from those games, they’ll enter the run-in with fate largely in their hands as they encounter a number of relegation rivals.
Chelsea’s passive performance at Manchester City on Sunday has moved the debate over defensive football to the very heart of the Premier League. It’s one thing Newcastle playing for goal difference against Pep Guardiola’s side, but it’s another when the Premier League’s reigning champions are doing it as well.
Handing City three points essentially before a ball was kicked, Antonio Conte’s approach has been rightly criticised from practically all quarters.
Perhaps it will be vindicated at the end of the season should the top four race come down to goal difference, but it so sharply contrasts with the mentality of the Premier League that it’s hard to truly see the merits of the anti-football that has disappointingly been seen throughout all levels of the top flight this season.
Speaking of defensive football, after all the criticism Jose Mourinho has received this season, last night’s incredible comeback at Selhurst Park was undoubtedly a crucially therapeutic and cathartic experience for Manchester United.
Hardly stunning football, excepting Matic’s winning goal, but United’s three goals after going two down contained delicious traces of the Ferguson years and provided a positive spin to a gameweek that will mostly be remembered for how painfully dull Chelsea made its headline clash.
That comeback also breeds vital belief into a United squad that has often looked uncertain of itself in recent months.