Manchester City took another step towards the Premier League title this weekend with a 1-3 demolition of Everton. That win at Goodison Park means that they can win the league at the Etihad on Saturday with a victory against local rivals Manchester United, who beat Swansea 2-0 this weekend. Staying near the top of the table and Tottenham’s 1-3 victory at Stamford Bridge (including stunning goals from Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli – who needs Harry Kane?!) has almost guaranteed them a place in the Champions League next season, while the defending Premier League Champions will be back in the Europa League. West Brom’s relegation is as good as confirmed following their 1-2 loss against Burnley and with Alan Pardew leaving, the club will surely be looking for a manager who will help them in the Championship rather than rushing to find someone who can potentially save them from inevitable relegation. Mark Hughes’ attempts to save Southampton from relegation got off to poor start with a 3-0 loss at West Ham in an atmosphere unrecognisable to that of Round 30, while Stoke fell to a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal.
I feel so sorry for Jack Butland on pretty much a weekly basis. With Joe Hart out of favour, this is his big chance to represent England in a major tournament, yet Stoke’s form could be his undoing. The Potters have the worst defensive record in the league (61 goals conceded – 4 more than West Ham or Watford) and yet despite that, Butland has actually had a pretty good season. He has made some mistakes, but he has also put in a number of great performances an made some brilliant saves. In fact, he has made the most saves of any keeper in the league this season with 120, 11 more than Łukasz Fabiański in second.
Butland’s problem has been the men in front of him. Despite a selection of good quality defenders (Wimmer, Shawcross, Zouma, Martins Indi), Stoke just haven’t been able to defend effectively! This weekend the defence allowed Arsenal 11 shots on target, including 2 penalties… I doubt there are many keepers who would have conceded less than 3 goals had they been in Butland’s place. I still expect him to make the England squad, but he may have to make do with a space on the bench. Hopefully Gareth Southgate will look closely at Butland and give him every chance to compete with Jordan Pickford for the number 1 jersey.
No Aguero? No problem this weekend for City as they ran out 1-3 winners at Goodison Park. Their front 3 of Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sané all got on the score sheet in this game and showed that even if the City careers of the original stars that brought City success (like Aguero and Vincent Kompany) are coming to an end, there is still plenty of success to come for City. Take a look at the table to the side showing the 2017/18 Premier League stats for the starting front 3 against Everton. With the oldest of them being 23, it can be argued that none of these players have even yet reached their peak and yet they have scored more goals between them than almost half the teams in the league this season! With Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva playing just behind them, this attacking quintuplet will cause problems for any team and should probably be the focal point of this team going forward over the next few years. If they can keep Aguero then that will be fantastic for them as he is such an experienced and natural goal scorer that these players can learn off even if he is not playing so many minutes going forward. If not, bringing in a player like Riyad Mahrez would push all the front 3 to be at their best, though I feel they would be better suited to bringing in a striker with a bit more physicality and height to give them a Plan B if the usual beautiful attacking play doesn’t work.
Mixed day for Mané
Sadio Mané may have got Liverpool’s first goal against Crystal Palace but he had mixed fortunes in this match. As well as having a first half goal disallowed for offside, he was also booked for simulation following a challenge from Andros Townsend. While the replays clearly show Townsend making contact with Mané, the Senegalese winger’s fall to the floor was not only delayed but also highly theatrical. Going by the ban earlier in the season for Oumar Niasse when he “exaggerated the effect of a normal contact to deceive the referee”, then this is clearly a dive and I can see no defence for Mané. It’s just a shame that the referee punishing him for the dive means that eh will not receive a ban for his actions.
In the second half, he was lucky to stay on the pitch as he tussled on the edge of his box with a couple of Crystal Palace players, ended up on the floor and – with all the arrogance of a striker at a top-table club against a lesser raked team – reached out and grabbed the ball with his hand even though the ref was allowing play to continue. This denied Crystal Palace a chance in the final third so I have no idea how the referee has not given him a second yellow here. It was clear that Jürgen Klopp knew Sané had got lucky as he subbed him off within minutes of the incident. I can’t help but wonder how the match would have finished had Sané received the card he deserved.
While on the subject of cards not being given, there are very few things I hate more than players waving imaginary cards at referees as Yohan Cabaye did following Sané’s handball. There is no need for it and professional players should be setting a better example. Unfortunately, respect to referees generally seems low on FIFA or the FA’s agenda, so the Frenchman is sure to get away with this.
Round 33 predictions:
Everton v Liverpool – Liverpool win
AFC Bournemouth v Crystal Palace – Palace win
Brighton & Hove Albion v Huddersfield Town – Brighton win
Leicester City v Newcastle United – Leicester win
Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win
Watford v Burnley – Draw
West Bromwich Albion v Swansea City – Swansea win
Manchester City v Manchester United – City win
Arsenal v Southampton – Arsenal win
Chelsea v West Ham – Chelsea win