Matchweek 31 in the Premier League granted fans of the race for top-four spots a spectacle as the seven teams in contention found themselves celebrating, settling, or cursing after their matches. The midweek games played on April 4 and April 5 saw four of those teams go head-to-head, with Everton travelling to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Chelsea hosting Manchester City at Stamford Bridge. The other three faced clubs situated in the bottom half of the league table.
Everton and United share points
The lone Tuesday match of the high-profile set of fixtures between Everton and Manchester United ended with a 1-1 draw. A surprise goal from Everton captain Phil Jagielka, his first in the PL since May 2015, in the 22nd minute allowed Everton to hold the lead all the way through the rest of the full ninety minutes…until stoppage time.
After a Luke Shaw half-volley in the 94th minute was clearly handled in the box by Ashley Williams (resulting in an immediate red card and penalty), Zlatan Ibrahimovic converted from the penalty spot and secured a point at home for United.
While a win would have moved Everton ahead of their opposition in the PL standings, the draw keeps them in seventh place with 51 points, three points behind both Arsenal and United at 54 points in fifth and sixth place respectively. Arsenal and United also have two games in hand on Everton, leaving the Toffees frustrated at the likely scenario of missing out on the top four.
Arsenal looking better?
Looking to redeem themselves from an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion and a tough 1-1 draw with Man City in their previous two matches, Arsenal pounded West Ham United 3-0 with goals from Mesut Özil, Theo Walcott, and Olivier Giroud.
A top-four finish and a spot in the UEFA Champions League next season seems to be a must for the Gunners with the prospect of rebuilding this offseason seeming more and more likely everyday. The potential departures of manager Arsene Wenger and big name players such as Alexis Sanchez, Hector Bellerin and Özil means Arsenal need the draw the Champions League offers to players in order to tempt key signings they will need to make come the transfer window.
Currently fifth in the league and four points out of the top four is not the ideal position for Arsenal, but they have a game in hand on each of the top four teams (two on Liverpool) and could press for a late-season run if they can continue to perform as they did against West Ham. In their way, however, are three matches against fellow top-seven teams Everton, Tottenham, and Manchester United.
Chelsea thriving, City (barely) surviving
An Eden Hazard brace secured yet another win for Chelsea and raised their point total at the top of the table to 72. Chelsea have dominated the league this year due in large part to Hazard playing in tremendous form after the off-year he had last season and the team’s resilient defensive efforts, especially from Thibaut Courtois in goal and summer signings N’Golo Kante and the returning David Luiz.
It is hard, at such a late stage in the season, to imagine anyone but Chelsea emerging as Premier League champions, and with an 18-point cushion separating them from fifth place, it’s safe to say Chelsea will appear in the Champions League next season.
After winning five straight matches from the end of January until March, Manchester City came into this game having drawn their last three. The loss leaves them in fourth place and as Public Enemy No. 1 for the clubs sitting outside the top-four.
Just like last season, second place Tottenham has been consistently great this season due in large part to the team’s stellar defense and Harry Kane scoring at ease. With both Kane injured and captain goalkeeper Hugo Lloris falling ill just before gametime, Spurs should still have been confident heading into a game against 18th place Swansea City, who have conceded 33 goals at home so far this season, a league-high.
A Wayne Routledge goal in the 11th minute, however, gave the Swans the confidence they needed to hold that 1-0 lead until the bitter end. That is when Tottenham became Tottenham again. Three goals in the game’s final six minutes gave Spurs a huge 3-1 victory on the road and kept themselves within a manageable distance of Chelsea at the top of the table.
Reds feeling blue
The last time Liverpool and Bournemouth faced off was back in December, when the Cherries shocked Liverpool in a 4-3 defeat, one of Liverpool’s five losses this season.
Liverpool seemed to have changed their luck as they held a 2-1 lead nearing the end of the match, conceding a goal to Bournemouth early when a pressured back-pass from Georginio Wijnaldum found its way straight to Benik Afobe, who opened the match’s scoring with an easy goal.
After a failure to clear a long throw-in, a blocked shot fell to Josh King’s feet and he equalized in the 87th minute to deprive Liverpool of a much-needed three points and forced them to settle for one. The lapse in defensive judgment led manager Jurgen Klopp to express his distaste after the match, saying it made him “nearly vomit.”
A majority of Liverpool’s struggles this season have come from their back line, and although they lead the league in goals, they have conceded the most goals among teams competing for the top-four.
Having played all 31 matches this season without any reschedulings or interferences, Liverpool sit in third place with 60 points. Wins from teams with games in-hand could see Liverpool fall as far as sixth on goal differential, proving just how important a win at Anfield against Bournemouth would have been.
The rest of the season seems easy for the Reds; their highest-ranked opponent remaining is eight placed West Brom. Considering all their losses this season have come to teams in the bottom half of the table (the only exception being ninth place Southampton) and their undefeated record against teams competing with them for a Champions League spot, an easier end of the season could prove to be either a blessing or a burden for Liverpool.