Five Things We Learned: The survival scrap is here, Pep’s shadow looms large and Ranieri is bizarrely short of confidence

Jen Offord picks out five key features from a terrific midweek round of Premier League action, including: Wayne Rooney’s welcome distraction and the continuing scourge of poor refereeing decisions.

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The relegation dog-fight begins

It has been a good week for a number of possible relegation candidates.

It’s too late for Villa, let’s be honest, so I’m not even bothering to write about them anymore – it’s just too depressing (except for when I write about them in a minute, but bear with me).

However there’s plenty of hope elsewhere after the bottom three teams all picked up points this week: Newcastle in a six goal thriller against Manchester United, Sunderland giving Swansea a hard day at the office in another six goal thriller, and doomed Villa snatching three points from Crystal Palace at home (their first win since the opening day of the season).

The Swans now linger just above the drop zone and I predict that Newcastle will stay up, but it’s too early to say really, isn’t it?

Earlier in the season, I had been thinking that Crystal Palace might be looking at a shot at Europe, albeit the rubbish version of Europe that no one cares about, but after four games without a win have they begun the descent towards bottom-half obscurity that we all know they’re capable of?

Rooney proves a welcome distraction

It was a pretty sad day at the office for Louis van Gaal on Tuesday as his side drew 3-3 with Newcastle – a team who someone of Manchester United’s pedigree should surely be comfortably beating. Commenting after the match, defender Chris Smalling went as far as to say “it feels like we lost the game” and Van Gaal even commented that his team have “bored” him at various points in the season.

But on an individual level it was a good day for Wayne Rooney, who scored two goals to bring him within eight of Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record at United. Not that you’d know it was a good day from his comments after the game, when he said that the team couldn’t “go on conceding three goals every game”. But he’s not wrong there: looking at the results there haven’t been a huge number of clean-sheets for United this season.

Pep Guardiola plays Keyser Söze

According to reports, this weekend will be the last chance saloon for Van Gaal to give Manchester United something to smile about. But if he were to leave, who would replace him at Old Trafford? One name that just will not go anywhere is Pep Guardiola, soon to depart the helm at Bayern Munich and wanted by all Premier League teams, so we are told.

Guardiola has become some kind of mythical beast, looming over the Premier League since what feels like the dawn of time, but never more so than now. With Chelsea currently under the temporary stewardship of Guus Hiddink, Van Gaal on the brink of an early bath, Jürgen Klopp surely soon to be bored of having a rubbish team and Manuel Pellegrini making a sow’s ear out of a silk purse, where might the Spaniard end up?

Guardiola has this week apologised to his Premier League counterparts, remarking on the speculation: “Normally, in my career as a trainer, as a player, I respect my colleagues, so I am sorry. It wasn’t my intention. ”

But is it too late to say sorry, Pep? Not to Pellegrini, apparently, who was quick to point out the apology wasn’t aimed at him…

Curiouser and curiouser

Just over a week since the curious decision to send off Bournemouth’s Simon Francis and award a penalty for a perfectly legitimate tackle on Jamie Vardy, we’ve seen yet more dodgy refereeing decisions.

In Sunderland’s game against Swansea, doubt was cast over THREE of the goals, with two of Jermain Defoe’s strikes arguably offside and a penalty awarded to the home side against Wes Brown when in fact the Andre Ayew just tripped over his own feet. In what seems to have been a show-stopping example of bad decisions, referee Graham Scott incurred further wrath for sending off Kyle Naughton after at worst a yellow-card worthy tackle on Yann M’Vila.

And elsewhere, Manchester City were denied a clear penalty (that would have given them the chance to win the game in stoppage time) when Everton’s John Stones took a dislike to the cut of Raheem Sterling’s jib and fouled him in the area. That’s the second time that Stones has gone to ground and made a rash challenge at a key moment in a matter of weeks. This time he got lucky, but he needs to cut that out of his game and quickly.

Ranieri should love the skin he’s in

Finally, is anyone else wanting to see a bit more optimism from my NFM (new favourite manager), Claudio Ranieri? Relatively unscathed, Leicester have come through a tricky spell of matches against Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City to find themselves STILL joint top of the league after a 1-0 victory at Spurs.

Speaking after the match, Ranieri – the king of down-playing – remarked: “Unfortunately it’s January, not May. There’s so much work to do. We have to remain calm and believe in what we’re doing.”
Perhaps Jose Mourinho’s new role in football could be as a life-coach for Premier League managers…

Read more from Jen here

You can follow Jen on Twitter @inspireajen

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