Sunday saw four more games in the Premier League, let’s see how those panned out, beginning at The London Stadium as West Ham and Spurs did battle in the midday kick-off…
West Ham United 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1
The Hammers knew if could grab victory over Spurs here they would end the weekend back inside the top four and could end the weekend only a point off second place if results went there way, whilst Spurs were hoping to deny their London rivals any points here and keep their hopes of European football alive. Spurs were boosted by the return of Sergio Reguilon, but West Ham had Michail Antonio back too, and it was he who struck the first blow after just five minutes when Jarrod Bowen swung in a cross and Eric Dier let the ball go and saw Antonio stretch to get something on the cross, see the ball come back of Hugo Lloris, and the West Ham striker bury the rebound from close range, not brilliant defending it has to be said, but a perfect start for the Hammers in this one.
For the remainder of the first half, Spurs did most of the pressing but their only shots on goal came late on in the half when Erik Lamela and Harry Kane saw efforts well saved by Lukasz Fabianski, but they found a very compact West Ham backline very difficult to break down, although the hosts did look dangerous when they attacked and saw a Craig Dawson header well tipped over by Lloris. Could The Hammers hold onto their early lead and get into the top four, or would Spurs find a way to break through the compact host’s backline and deny their hosts a win and keep their own top-four aspirations going? They did make a double change at the break as a certain Gareth Bale, who had a decent game in Europe on Thursday, was brought into the contest along with Matt Docherty, could they make a difference?
Two minutes into the second period and West Ham found a second as Jesse Lingard burst through and fired a wonderful effort beyond Lloris, what a start he has had to his West Ham career, and it was a devastating blow to Spurs whose half-time team talk was well and truly out of the window, what could they do from here? Just past the hour mark they had a route back into the game after a Bale corner whipped in from the right saw Lucas Moura glance a lovely header in off the post, and it was very much game on, they were doing the majority of the pressing once again, and West Ham were having to defend very well to preserve their lead, and then they would also have to deal with Deli Alli for the final fifteen minutes after Spurs brought him on too to try and find at least a leveller in this one. Could West Ham hold on?
Only just, Bale, who had been brilliant since coming on, saw a rasping effort clip off the crossbar, and then very late on Vladimir Coufal tried to poke clear but hit it against Son Heung-min and saw it come off him and loop over Fabianski and hit the far post before being cleared, it was so close for the visitors, but they fall to a fifth defeat in six and are now nine points behind West Ham in fourth spot. Another superb win for the Hammers though who were just a point behind second ahead of Man United and Leicester’s games later in the day, what a remarkable season they are having.
Onto the early afternoon kick-off now and to Villa Park as The Foxes made the short trip to take on Villa…
Aston Villa 1 Leicester City 2
Villa knew a win here would see them climb to within a point of the top six, whilst the Foxes could go into second if they avoided defeat and put pressure onto Man United later in the day to try and retake second spot of them, and they would be taking on a Villa side without Jack Grealish too, a huge blow for the hosts, so how would this affect the home side? The Foxes began well and after eighteen minutes took the lead when Harvey Barnes laid a ball to James Maddison who bent a low effort along the floor and in off the post, and The Foxes had the early lead they wanted, and it came as Villa had just shown signs of settling in this tie, but they now had to try and find a response, but five minutes later Villa fell two behind as a Jamie Vardy effort was too hot for Emiliano Martinez to hold and Barnes followed into rifle the rebound into the roof of the net.
Martinez maybe should have done better there, but Villa already had a mountain to climb in this one. Villa did push The Foxes back at times towards the end of the half, but Leicester stood firm and wasn’t really troubled too much, and it meant the visitors were halfway to going second in the table and it was going to take some half from Villa to deny them this. Well, two and a half minutes into the second period Villa grabbed a goal back as a lovely one-two on the left between Matt Targett and Anwar El-Ghazi ended with Targett crossing into the box and the ball found it’s way through to Bertrand Traore who fired home from close range, and the hosts were right back in the contest, although once Leicester had cleated their heads saw a Maddison free-kick saved before Vardy got in but drove wide of the far post.
There was a worry for Leicester though just past the hour mark when Maddison had to be replaced after what looked like a foot/leg/hip injury, it was down his lower left side anyway, they will hope that is not too serious as he has been a key player for The Foxes, although their immediate concern was seeing this game out and getting the points, and they were having to do quite a bit of defending as Villa searched for a leveller and play on the counter when they could. Leicester did hold on though and it’s another win for Brendan Rodgers men who now go into second and three points ahead of Man United ahead of their game later on in the day, whilst for Villa, they gave it a good go in the second period, but it wasn’t enough as they fell to defeat here.
Back to the capital now and The Emirates as runaway leaders Manchester City visited Arsenal looking to continue their dominant form…
Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1
Mikel Arteta knew a win over his former employees could see then into the top eight as The Gunners chase European football once again, an unthinkable thought a few months ago after a terrible start to their campaign, whilst a win for City would make it EIGHTEEN straight victories and see them end the weekend with at least a ten-point lead at the top. City welcomed back Ilkay Gundogan and a certain Kevin de Bruyne to their starting line-up, whilst Arsenal had Kieran Tierney back in their eleven for the first time in a month, but it took City just 77 seconds to find a goal in this one as a lovely curling ball in by Riyad Mahrez found Raheem Sterling in the six-yard box and he rose to glance home a header unchallenged, and it looked rather ominous for the home side.
City dominated the opening half-hour and should have been three up after Sterling and then Gundogan missed decent openings, although the latter part of the half did see Arsenal get into more attacking positions, mainly down the left through Tierney, there were certainly more positive signs for The Gunners going into the second period. City started the second half on the front foot but once the game went past the hour mark it started to drift a little and at times went to walking pace, which was a little strange, City took off de Bruyne and brought on Gabriel Jesus, whilst Arsenal brought on Alexander Lacazette and Emile Smith-Rowe to try and ignite The Gunners and see if they could possibly get anything from the game. The spark never came though, and in fact, it was City who should have sealed it but saw Joao Cancelo curl wide with the outside of his foot, but City was never really threatened by the hosts and netted yet another three points and opened up a ten-point lead at the top once again. With just thirteen games to go, City are champions-elect surely…
The final game of Sunday took place in the North West as Manchester United took on Newcastle United at Old Trafford with both sides needing the points for very differing reasons…
Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1
The hosts had slipped to third after Leicester’s win earlier in the day, but United knew they would end the weekend second if they netted a win here, as for Newcastle the pressure was well and truly on after Fulham’s win on Saturday night meant they were only three points ahead of the bottom three at kick-off, but could the visitors really get anything from Old Trafford? Steve Bruce will of course have fond memories of Old Trafford as a player, but in thirteen games as a manager, just one draw and twelve defeats at The Theatre of Dreams wasn’t such a good record, so based on that their chances were not stacked in their favour, oh and United had thrashed Real Sociedad in the Champions League in midweek so were coming into this one with plenty of confidence.
Weirdly the hosts actually looked edgier early on and David De Gea had to tip over a deflected effort from Joelinton, and in fact, the visitors would have been happy with the opening half-hour or so, but, as the game reached the third-way point United edged ahead with their first real shot on goal, as Marcus Rashford nutmegged Emil Krafth down the left and then cut inside and fired an effort in at the near post, despite Karl Darlow getting a big hand on the ball, he should have saved it quite frankly, but Newcastle found themselves behind after a reasonable opening to this one.
Newcastle though responded six minutes later when a cross from Joe Willock wasn’t properly headed clear by Harry Maguire, and Allan Saint-Maximin struck a first-time effort into the ground and up into the roof of the net from twelve yards or so out, De Gea got his hand to it but could not keep it out when maybe he should have, and Newcastle had deserved parity in this contest, they had shown much-attacking prowess in this first half and it was the least they deserved. Newcastle began the second half very well, but then fell behind eleven minutes into the second period as Nemanja Matic was allowed to run into the box and fire across the box, and Bruno Fernandes got a slight touch on the stretch and allow the ball to reach Daniel James who was totally free on the right side of the box, and he fired an effort beyond Darlow inside the near post, and from nowhere the hosts had the lead once again, meaning Newcastle yet again had to find a response.
However, after they went ahead, the hosts were on the front foot, and with sixteen minutes left they won a penalty after Rashford was fouled by Willock, and Fernandes stepped up and dispatched the spot-kick to increase the home sides lead, Fernandes had not had the best of games if truth be told, but he had still managed an assist and then a goal, so not bad stats wise anyway, showing he can still make a difference even when he is not at it. Man United ended the game well and could have added to their three goals, not a vintage performance from them overall, but they did enough to get the three points and go back into second place, whilst for Newcastle they were very good for 55 minutes, but once they went behind they faded and have now lost eight of their last ten games, and are in a real relegation scrap now.
This is how the table looks after Sunday’s match ups…
Champions elect City (well they are aren’t they?) remain ten clear at the top, whilst United and Leicester at least keep them honest with wins too, West Ham ends the weekend in the top four after they defeat Spurs, and there is now a five-point gap from fourth to sixth, so The Hammers are looking good right now. At the bottom and Newcastle are only three points ahead of the bottom three, with Brighton (who play Monday night) four clear currently, so it could be a real scrap down at the bottom as the final third of the season approaches.
Just one game left for the weekend, and it’s the A23 derby at The Amex as Brighton & Hove Albion host Crystal Palace, as said before The Seagulls are now just four points above Fulham, and with Palace only three points further ahead, this is a game both would like to win for more than one reason, so could be a good one!!!