With Chelsea still pulling away from the league at the top of the Premier League table, now with a ten-point lead over second place, the battle for the runner-up spot is now starting to become to the focus of the league.
That focus played out in a big way this weekend, with Liverpool soundly defeating Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, and both Arsenal and Manchester United picking up wins. Those four teams are separated by just two points — Spurs and Arsenal are both on 50, with Liverpool and United on 49 and 48, respectively.
Manchester City can pull ahead of the lot with a win on Monday as they’re sitting on 49 points, but that doesn’t change the fact that the battle for second place is becoming a close-fought affair between five talented teams. None of the five are perfect by any means — all of them have had some pretty pronounced struggles at times this season — but when they get into form, each team is wildly entertaining and can beat pretty much anyone in the league.
This isn’t a race that’s going to cool off any time soon, and unless Chelsea suddenly fall back to earth, the struggle to see who finishes behind them is going to be the highlight of the last stretch of the season, especially when these teams face off against one another, like in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Tottenham this weekend.
Arsenal 2-0 Hull City
Manchester United 2-0 Watford FC
Middlesbrough 0-0 Everton
Stoke City 1-0 Crystal Palace
Sunderland 0-4 Southampton
West Ham United 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
Liverpool 2-0 Tottenham Hotspur
Burnley 1-1 Chelsea
Swansea City 2-0 Leicester City
Alexis Sanchez is back
One of his brace of goals was a last-second penalty, but that doesn’t change that Sanchez was absolutely fantastic for Arsenal on Saturday. He’s struggled off and on this season, but right now it looks like he’s on a definite uptick in form.
If this performance was a sign that he’s heading in the right direction again, then the EPL should watch out, because that would mean that Arsenal just got a lot more dangerous.
Claudio Ranieri is running out of time
Given a vote of confidence by Leicester’s board this week, it seemed that Ranieri would have at least some time before needing to worry about losing his job, especially with the club’s statement saying that they wanted him in charge of the Foxes’ upcoming Champions League tie. But after a miserable performance on Sunday that saw Leicester slip into 18th place, time may be running out for Ranieri now.
Leicester were beaten soundly, a 2-0 loss to a Swansea City side that entered the day even with them on points and hardly impressing themselves for much of the season. In theory, Leicester should have been able to look good in this match, but instead they were utterly flat, with Swansea completely outclassing them for the majority of the match.
It was the kind of performance that will amp up the pressure on Ranieri, falling so far short of expectation and potential. And if Leicester don’t figure out how to vastly improve in the next ten days before the first leg of their tie against Sevilla, they’re going to get humiliated in the Champions League.
Burnley aren’t great, but they’re a lot of fun
Chelsea didn’t drop points on Sunday because their opponents played fantastically, but Burnley were still able to do just enough to frustrate their opponents and keep them in the match until the end. That created the opening for Robbie Brady to have a chance to score a crucial equalizer off a late free kick — an opportunity he did not let go to waste.
It was a phenomenal free kick, and one that helps proves why Burnley made it a priority to sign Brady in January. He’s going to help make their attack a lot better than it is, and if they can improve enough, we might just see them finish in the top half of the table.
Manolo Gabbiadini is taking the EPL by storm
Since joining Southampton in January, Gabbiadini has scored three goals in two matches, opening a lot of eyes and raising hopes for Southampton fans who have seen their team’s attack struggle for much of the season. It’s been fun to see a talented striker in such good form — but perhaps it’s a little too early to raise expectations for him just yet.
We’ve seen it happen time and again: a striker comes into the EPL, sets things on fire for a little while, gets anointed as The Next Big Thing, then fades into relative obscurity. There’s a lot for Gabbiadini to prove if he’s going to avoid that kind of fate, especially since he got off to a hot start when he joined Napoli two years ago, before falling out of favor and struggling for playing time the last 18 months.
But if he does keep this form up and finally becomes a consistent danger in the final third — watch out. Manolo Gabbiadini has the talent to do it, he just needs to find the drive and consistency.
Sadio Mane’s return has given Liverpool a new gear
While Mane was out of the Liverpool squad during the African Cup of Nations, Liverpool’s attack was missing a certain dynamism and element of pace that only he could provide them. That element was on display in a big way against Tottenham on Saturday, and he scored a brace because of it.
Mane’s pace and trickery out wide does a lot to help open up the rest of Liverpool’s attack, which tends to be narrow without him. His presence and ability on the flank forces teams to play a bit more honestly instead of just crowding the middle, and that gives the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino the room they need to make things happen in the middle of the pitch.
Of course, there’s all the things Mane can do on his own — like score great goals and absolutely clown a defender or two. Liverpool are definitely much better off with him back in the side than they were with him gone.