Race for the Premier League title, top 4 spices up

If yesterday’s results were any indication for the signs of things to come, the premier league fanatics are in for a nail-biting end to the season. With Liverpool’s stalemate with Manchester United and Arsenal’s convincing 2-0 victory on Sunday, the race for the premier league title and top 4 has become intense.

Liverpool’s lead was cut down to a point yesterday as they drew with an injury-struck Manchester United team.

According to ESPN, Liverpool seemed curiously tentative from the very start — their passing was off, their touch uncertain, their shooting nonexistent. They had plenty of the ball — 65 percent by the end — but barely created a chance. It was United who went closer to winning, despite spending the second half in a setup most aptly illustrated by Romelu Lukaku being turned into a patrolling, workhorse right winger: for an afternoon, the Belgian Dirk Kuyt.

Andrew Robertson, the Liverpool left-back claimed – “We kept going right until the end. In the last five to 10 minutes we were the side trying to win it and trying to get the three points – but a point at Old Trafford is never a bad result.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, said he saw the 0-0 draw at Manchester United on Sunday as two points dropped but added that the injury problems suffered by United had disrupted his side’s flow.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United’s interim manager was still optimistic about the result.

 

“I was very impressed by my team — the attitude and the character we showed in adversity. Everything that could have gone wrong first half went wrong. Second half we were magnificent,” said Solskjaer.

There were a few positives for the United manager who is looking to make his job permanent.

Arsenal’s win over Southampton at the Emirates on Sunday moved United back down to fifth in the table with 11 games to play, but Solskjaer said: “We’ve got players to come in.”

Arsenal cruised to victory over a disjointed Southampton thanks to two first-half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan at the Emirates, taking them back into the top four in the Premier League.

Arsenal took the lead in the sixth minute in bizarre circumstances, Lacazette neatly back-heeling in a pass from Mkhitaryan while the rest of the team were still appealing for a penalty after Lucas Torreira took a tumble in the box.

The home side doubled their advantage minutes later when Southampton keeper Angus Gunn, making only his second Premier League appearance, cleared the ball straight into the path of Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi.

The midfielder bolted forward and passed across the goal to the unmarked Mkhitaryan, who thumped his shot low into the corner.

Chelsea and Manchester City played the Carabao Cup yesterday. This was the second time that both the team faced each other in the last two weeks, with Chelsea being thumped 6-0 in the Premier League game. Though it might not have a direct bearing on the Premier League, it highlights the ongoing problems in the club. The talking point of yesterday’s game was Kepa Arrizabalaga’s own version of a mutiny.

Kepa had been treated twice for cramp during extra time before Sarri decided he had seen enough and tried to send on former Manchester City goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who famously saved three shootout penalties in the 2016 final as City defeated Liverpool.

Instead of coming off, Kepa simply stood his ground, wagging a disapproving finger in open defiance of Sarri who, as the situation descended into complete farce, allowed this flagrant display of player power to win the day.

With Chelsea already in a difficult position with their recent two-window transfer ban, this further raises questions if there has been a falling out between the players and the manager. However, the club’s defender David Luiz insists the Chelsea players support Maurizio Sarri –

“The coach has the power over the group. He has our respect. People can think in a negative way or a positive way. It is about our lives, it is always like that. People are negative, people are positive, people are happy, they are sad.”

“For me, there is not a problem here for that. We all believe in his philosophy, we all believe in the way he wants us to play. That’s why we did a great game against the best team in Europe at the moment. Apart from that, it was a misunderstanding and we all want to do what is best for Chelsea,” he said.

Chelsea has since issued a statement saying that the goalkeeper will be fined a week’s wages for his conduct.

Earlier this month, FIFA banned Chelsea for a period of two transfer windows after violations of the Article 19 and Article 18b of the Regulation on the Transfers and Status of Players (RTSP) nearly two months after the club completed the signing of Christian Pulisic.

Article 19 concerns the registration of minors. Chelsea are accused of having played youngsters — most of them kids on trial — in their youth teams without registering them. And FIFA rules state that they need to have the requisite paperwork even though the football association, who not coincidentally have also been found to be in breach, have rather more relaxed rules, which is why they are likely to join Chelsea in their appeal.

Article 18b, on the other hand, relates to “third-party influence.” Basically, a  practice which used to be legal until 2017 but no longer is, of entering into agreements with outside parties (usually agents) that influence how another club operates in employment and transfer-related matters.

However, all is not lost as Chelsea can look at a few positives. The fact that they could keep out the formidable duo of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero is an achievement of its own. Exclusion of Marcus Alonso from the starting line up in the finals was also a big statement from Sarri. His replacement, Emerson was beyond impressive.

Their star player Eden Hazard was also at the top of his game stacking up impressive numbers.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the game week was Tottenham’s defeat in the hands of a defiant Burnley who won 2-1.

Burnley’s Chris Wood broke the deadlock for the hosts early in the second half as he rose to head home Dwight McNeil’s inswinging corner – his fourth goal in as many games.

Harry Kane, making his first appearance since 13 January, equalized after latching on to Danny Rose’s quick throw-in and poking past Tom Heaton, before Ashley Barnes tapped in Burnley’s winner late on.

Kane’s return didn’t amount to much as he struggled to get into the game in a first half that saw him on the end of several hefty challenges by Ben Mee and James Tarkowski. When he did escape their attention, he fired wide from the edge of the box and saw a header easily saved by Heaton.

He improved in the second period, drawing a magnificent save from Heaton who sprang acrobatically to his right to keep out a swerving shot bound for the top corner.

But not even the in-form Burnley goalkeeper could deny Kane a goal on his return as he latched on to Rose’s throw and poked home to level.

However, with Spurs pouring on the pressure late on the Clarets stood firm, with second-half substitutes Fernando Llorente and Erik Lamela both denied by blocks.

Mauricio Pochettino, who was angered by a number of decisions including the award of a corner that led to Burnley’s opener, had to be pulled away by Clarets defender Phil Bardsley as his frustrations spilled over after the game.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche, speaking to BBC MOTD said: “It was a thorough performance and a good win. We know there’s a lot of work to be done but they’re certainly putting in the work. We’re not a side who can slick it around like Man City but we have very good players. We waned to get in behind them. I thought our front two were outstanding.”

“I thought we had it then we gave them a sloppy goal from a throw-in. We needed to be alive and we switched off but for us to keep going and get the result was massive. They are top-quality players so we just had to concentrate on ourselves. We made it hard for them and that was what the gameplan was. We are getting back to ourselves now. We need to keep being resilient and compact. That’s what we did.” Said Burnley goalscorer Ashley Barnes on Sky Sports.

Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris speaking to Sky Sports claimed – “Obviously it is a big disappointment. Today was a good opportunity for us and we missed it. It was a tough game. We expected a battle. We conceded the first goal and it makes things harder. Especially when you concede a corner that didn’t exist. It is part of the game.”

Kane commented further on the defeat and said:

“We’re disappointed because it’s a game we feel we should be winning, especially ­because we had a nice little break as well over the last 10 days or so, we were fresh.

“It’s a shame because when we needed to find another level, ­another gear, we didn’t have it in the locker. We have a tough week coming up, so we have to dust it off and be ready for that.”

Curated by Srinjoy Dey with inputs from Bleacher Report, ESPN, BBC, Goal.com and The Guardian.