Jen Offord picks out five features from the weekend’s matches, including Arsenal’s stuttering title challenge, Wayne Rooney’s return to form and Leicester’s rogue choice of penalty taker.
Chelsea are done four
Saturday’s controversial last-minute equaliser against Everton saw Chelsea take home a much-needed point – ‘much needed’ if you agree with manager Guus Hiddink, who was talking about the reality of a “relegation battle” earlier this week.
Let’s face it, Guus was attention seeking with that. Realistically, there are plenty of other teams worse than Chelsea who have the relegation battle well and truly covered; they need not worry this year.
But to make that top four . . . well, the Blues would need an average of 2.7 points per match, we were told at the beginning of the week. Having picked up only two points in as many games, what already felt like a tall order must now surely be impossible?
Everton boss, Roberto Martinez was understandably unhappy about the final goal from John Terry, which came after stoppage time should rightfully have ceased and, adding insult to injury, was clearly offside. In the wake of so many other dodgy decisions this week, we wait with breath that is far from baited for the calls to introduce more technology to assist the officials.
Do Leicester deserve their spot?
It occurred to me this week, watching another not particularly great Leicester game, that the Foxes might not actually be all that good? How could it be, after another pretty average performance, that they were still second in the league? Don’t get me wrong, we all love an underdog and Claudio Ranieri remains my new favourite manager, but do they really deserve to be up there?
Leicester were awarded their ninth penalty of the season, against Aston Villa on Saturday, thanks to a handball by Aston Villa’s Aly Cissokho in the area.
That’s five more penalties than any other Premier League side this season, and to make it even worse, it was the second that Riyad Mahrez has failed to put in the back of the net – making him the only player of the season to miss more than one penalty. Leicester still took a point away from the game, but it might be time to start asking questions about their choice of penalty taker . . . and their place in the top four.
Spurs are the real deal
With Tottenham youngster Dele ‘Pelé’ Alli signing a brand spanking new contract with the North Londoners this week – cementing his future with the club and confirming his potential for a bright England future – all eyes were on him on Saturday as Spurs took on strugglers Sunderland.
But a convincing four-goal win against the Black Cats came courtesy of another talented Tottenham midfielder, Christian Eriksen, who netted a double.
The transformation at Tottenham has been truly remarkable at times this season. They have the best defensive record in the division (which would have been scarcely believable just a year ago) while only free-scoring Leicester, Man City and Everton have a greater goal tally than the Lilywhites.
It’s still far too early to say – though that’s not stopped me recently – but Spurs fans must surely be daring to dream that they could be serious contenders?
Over to Roo
Wayne Rooney scored the winner in this weekend’s much-hyped Liverpool versus Manchester United fixture. So in case you’ve not got your abacus handy that puts him within seven goals of Bobby Charlton’s United goalscoring record.
It was a crucial win for boss Louis van Gaal, who still seems highly likely to be receiving his P45 at the end of the season. However, is a 0-1 victory in such an historically important fixture good enough for a club of United’s size? That question mark probably says it all.
Butland for England
I can’t get my head around this season. We’ve seen some tremendous upsets and some unexpected heroes and villains, but have we actually seen much good football?
Arsenal remained top after the weekend’s matches, but played out a goalless draw at Stoke. Stoke. That following another draw earlier in the week (although admittedly, six goals were scored in the earlier fixture).
The real star of the match, if the pundits are to be believed, was Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland, who made his 81st save of the season. Impressive stuff, I’m sure we can all agree. And if Butland carries on performing like this then Joe Hart would be right to feel under pressure for his place in the starting England team at the upcoming Euros.
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