Manchester City took another step closer to winning the title on Monday night with a 0-2 victory over Stoke. This victory means that a win against Everton on 31st March will set up the chance to win the title at home to United on 7th April. United took a great stride towards finishing second by beating Liverpool 2-1 over the weekend, while Spurs’ victory at Bournemouth allowed them to leapfrog the Reds. In London, Chelsea and Arsenal both got back to winning ways with wins over Crystal palace and Watford respectively, but I still find it unlikely either will be able to make up the gap to the top 4. Towards the bottom of the table, Newcastle’s 3-0 win over Southampton brought an end to Mauricio Pellegrino’s time in charge of the Saints with them just 1 point outside the relegation zone.
Too little, too late?
It was a while back now that I suggested Pellegrino’s job could be in danger, so I am surprised they have waited until so late in the season. They don’t have another league match until 31stMarch (at West Ham) so they have a bit of time to get used to a new manager, but the performances have been so poor the extra points earlier in the year would have likely been a big help. Their 8 remaining games include trips to Arsenal, Leicester and Everton and home matches against Chelsea and Man City, so with so few matches remaining there is no guarantee a new manager will be able to save them. Clearly something needs changing as they were dire against Newcastle with the defence not dealing with Kennedy’s run and a simple ball forward for the first goal, while the second goal was far too simple for the Magpies to break downfield following a Southampton corner. They have sold their best players for years and it was always going to catch up with them eventually, I just hope that they are getting a manager who will not run if they don’t avoid the drop.
Bad scenes in London
Next time I want to remind myself why I prefer rugby over football, I just need to watch West Ham’s match against Burnley. I can understand that the fans are not happy but there is a way to show it and that was not it! To invade the pitch on multiple occasions not only disrupts the game, I would also argue it disrupted the focus for the West Ham players. The defence were at sixes and sevens for the second goal and I can’t help but wonder if Joe Hart would have dealt better with Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson’s long range shot for the third goal. Not only that, a football match is a family day out, and yet the actions of some fans were so bad, the Burnley players felt they needed to empty the bench to make room for children from the crowd (max respect to them for this). Scenes like this should not be seen at football matches in 2018 and I hope we don’t see a repeat anytime soon. If I was a West Ham player, I would want to get out of that toxic atmosphere as soon as I could!
The good, the bad or the ugly?
Within the space of a few seconds during Leicester’s 1-4 win at Leicester, I saw the best of Jamie Vardy before being reminded why I struggle to like him as much as many people do. His goal to pull Leicester level against the Baggies was a contender for goal of the season! The skill required to volley that ball as it came over his shoulder – with his weaker foot! – and not just get it on target but control it beyond the keeper and into the far corner without taking eyes off the ball was absolutely sublime. Unfortunately the celebration was less sublime as he appeared to goad the fans and front up to someone in the crowd. I can imagine that if someone is hurling abuse from the crowd (again going back to why I prefer rugby) it can be hard not to react, but Vardy often appears to toe the line between celebrating and provoking the fans. If he put that extra effort into playing, then he could perhaps push Harry Kane for a starting spot in the England squad.
There were 2 red cards in this weekend’s matches, but there really should have been 3. Jordan Ayew and Anthony Knockaert both received straight red cards at the weekend for poor challenges with high feet and neither of them have any grounds to argue the decision.
Knockaert appeared to see the red missed having had the ball kicked into his face moments before by Leighton Baines, and then seconds later dived into him and was lucky to not make more of a contact. I can understand that it won’t feel nice taking a football to the face at close range, but that was pathetic!
I have more sympathy for Ayew as I genuinely feel he was reaching for the ball and got his challenge wrong, but he made contact high up Jonathan Hogg’s leg with his studs. Hogg was lucky to not receive a red though as his boot was also off the ground and he did (accidentally in my opinion) stamp on Ayew as they collided, much like Pogba’s sending off against Arsenal earlier this season.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the tackler and tackle both get sent off before – unless the tackle has reacted and struck out – but in this case a double red would have been warranted. With the incident happening in the 11th minute, I can’t help but wonder what impact that would have had on the game.
Round 31 predictions:
So this will be a bit of an odd round as only 4 games are being played in this round at the moment, with the other games to be played at a later date (still to be confirmed). As injuries and form fluctuations could affect my predictions for those games, I will just be predicting the confirmed games for now and will add in the other games as they come up.
AFC Bournemouth v West Bromwich Albion – Bournemouth win
Huddersfield Town v Crystal Palace – Draw
Stoke City v Everton – Everton win
Liverpool v Watford – Liverpool win