The Premier League is in the home stretch with most teams having less than 10 matches left to make their mark on the 2014/5 season.
Chelsea have sat on top of the standings literally from round 1 but lately even the Londoners are struggling to force results despite their array of star players.
Away at Aston Villa, they struggled to a 2-1 win, next a home win by the odd goal against struggling Everton. Somewhat bizarrely Burnley are causing the most headaches for the top teams, taking a point from the Blues at Stamford Bridge. The next fixture was another London derby against West Ham, where Chelsea were all but convincing while winning by 1 goal again. The fifth fixture was against Southampton who pushed Mourinhos men all the way to the final whsitle and probably deserved more than the point they got. On the plus side, Costa scored against the Saints, his first league goal in weeks and City keep faltering. Points: 11/15
Yaya Toure returned from the AFCON and we all expected normal service to resume but City are still not firing on all cylinders. Kompany’s form has been questionable all season but the blame for City faltering cannot be laid at the feet of the captain. A team full of exciting passers who can open even the tightest defenses are struggling to kill off lesser opponents. City dispatched Stoke by scoring 4 and yet conceded a goal in the process. They quickly followed this home game with another and trounced Newcastle 5-0. Things were looking up and the gap to Chelsea was closing. The next match was a tough trip to Liverpool who are the form team of 2015 and City came unstuck, losing 2-1.
Manuel Pellegrini: “They scored two beautiful goals, both from the edge of the box and impossible for Joe Hart to save.
In the following match City managed to edge a gutsy Leicester 2-0 before travelling to plucky Burnley for a Lancaster Derby. The hosts defying their table position to humiliate Pellegrini’s superstars 1-0.
Manuel Pellegrini: “It was a normal performance. I don’t think we played very, very bad, we created three or four chances.
Arsenal are in top form over the last 5 matches. Five wins from five has seen them climb into the top 3 on the ladder after losing to Spurs only a few weeks ago. Good wins against Leicester (2-1), Crystal Palace (1-2), Everton (2-0), QPR (1-2) and West Ham (3-0) as well as an FA Cup win against Manchester United will help to heal the wounds of a Champions League mauling. Only a point behind Manchester City and with every possibility of climbing to second, the Gunners are finishing the season with all men on deck and full steam ahead.
The next 4 matches will reveal a lot about the final position Arsenal will achieve with matches against Newcastle, Liverpool, giant killers Burnley and Sunderland, who have just appointed Dick Advocaat to rescue them from relegation after sacking Gus Poyet on Monday. If Arsenal can emerge unscathed from this run they might even be challenging Chelsea for top spot. Points: 15/15
It’s really difficult to understand what is happening at United. Early in the season Van Gaal was telling us how the players needed to adapt to his philosophy and that it would take time but he would persist with his 5-3-2 formation. On Sunday, United played with a 4-3-3 formation and played Tottenham off the park. The question that should be asked is did LvG change his mind or has there been some realization that his philosophy is neither entertaining nor successful in the EPL? Some other things to consider, Di Maria was suspended for the game and Mata was brought back, a success. In the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, the next best performance from the United team this season despite the result, Di Maria appeared to take up a position much wider than we had seen earlier this season and crossed a beauty of a ball for Rooney to head the equalizer before the disasterous backpass that cost them the game. United beat Burnley (3-1), lost to Swansea (2-1), followed by wins against Sunderland (2-0), Newcastle (1-0) and Spurs (3-0). Points: 12/15
Louis van Gaal said after Sunday’s game:
“Michael Carrick is not my second captain for nothing. He is one of the best passers also, not only wide but also forward. We need midfielders who have that passing. “
“We were never in the game.”
United will need more leadership and more performances like the Spurs game as their fixtures look daunting. Liverpool away, Villa OT, City OT, Chelsea away, points will be hard earned from this series.
The Reds haven’t dropped a point since the Liverpool Derby and are in fine form and haven’t lost a game since being demolished by United at Old Trafford in 2014. Liverpool, like United have a tough run of fixtures coming up with the grudge match against United first up this weekend. After that they travel to Arsenal, then welcome Newcastle before facing Hull. In this review period however they neatly put away a spirited Spurs (3-2), Southampton (2-0), City (2-1), Burnley (2-0) and managed to burgle a win (1-0) against Swansea. Swansea were by far the better team and created numerous chances in the first half, Mignolet in top form since his return to the first team. Liverpool are winning games but their defense still looks really shaky. They concede on average more than 1 goal per game and this area is probably the only one Rodgers needs to address. Henderson is proving to be an accomplished captain in the absence of Gerrard and his confidence and ability are showing far more than just his athletic ability since the talisman has been sidelined. Points 15/15
Southampton and Tottenham have fallen by the wayside a little in the last few games. Make no mistake Southampton will still take points off teams above them on the table and still have matches against Spurs and City in the run in to the title but with 8 out of 10 of their matches against mid-table teams and strugglers they might just force their way back into the top 4. Recently they lost to West Brom and Liverpool and drew with Chelsea taking the shine off their immediate form but the book is still open on their season.
Spurs have the same amount of points as the Saints and have battled well all season with Harry Kane emerging as a regular goal scorer but in the United game he didn’t even get a sniff of goal. Questions must be asked where the pace and width went Spurs are so used to. Spurs have a reasonably easy run to the flag with only City and Southampton on the fixture list, however they concede far too many goals (1.45 per game) and only score 1.59.
Should they win the 8 “easy” games they could be in with a shout come May.
West Ham, Newcastle and Swansea have all lost their way in the title chase, West Ham most notably have only won once in the last 13 matches. Newcastle have two wins in the last 10! Swansea have three in 10!