Last weekend’s round of fixtures in the Premiership will have to go down as one of the most boring in recent history. There were no big surprises, no real back-and-forth games and even Stoke vs Liverpool – which ended up 5-3 to the Reds – was far from being as exciting as the scoreline suggests. The clubs that comprised the top seven going into the weekend all won; of those, Arsenal were the only ones who did not win by two goals; while only West Ham and Sunderland enjoyed victories over teams (Cardiff and Fulham) who had started the match higher in the table than them. Outside of Newcastle – who sat in 8th at the beginning of play and were thus the highest placed team to lose, 2-0 to Manchester City – having a goal disallowed for a questionable offside call, then their manager, Alan Pardew, calling his opposite number, Manuel Pelligrini a f*cking old c*nt (for which he later apologized at least), there was not much in the way of controversy either.
Of the seven Premiership games that were contested last Saturday, five ended with a 2-0 scoreline: Chelsea’s victory at Hull; Everton’s defeat of Norwich at Goodison Park; West Ham’s vital win at Cardiff; and Tottenham’s triumph over Crystal Palace at White Hart Lane. In that last game, Spurs survived an early scare when Jason Puncheon missed a penalty in such an hilariously awful manner it literally made me laugh out loud. So bad was the miss, it is now the most
embarrassing thing to happen to Puncheon in a Premier League match, despite last season in a game for Southampton against Everton, him having to leave the pitch in the second half to answer the call of nature, which became the subject of chants from the Saints fans. Elsewhere, Sunderland moved off the bottom with a 4-1 win at Fulham, in main part thanks to a hat-trick by Adam Johnson; Southampton got just their second victory in ten matches as they beat West Brom 1-0 at St. Mary’s; Arsenal got revenge for their opening day defeat to Aston Villa as they won 2-1 on Monday night; and as mentioned above, Liverpool gave up a two goal lead in the first half, but recovered to beat Stoke, 5-3.
The dominance of the teams in the top third of the table last weekend was a reflection on how there are really three separate mini-leagues in the Premiership this season. At the top, you have three clubs who are competing for the title, currently separated by two points: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. After that comes a group of four teams aiming to finish in the Champions League places: Liverpool – who might still harbor ambitions of winning their first championship since 1989/90, but seem unlikely to usurp all three of the sides above them – Everton, Tottenham and Manchester United. Then – after Newcastle and Southampton who are both in something of a no-man’s land, unlikely to be involved in the European race, but too far above the rest to drop too far – comes the relegation scrap, which this season sees 11 teams at risk of dropping out of the division. Thanks to Sunderland’s recent revival, no club has yet been cut adrift and a string of victories could see any of the bottom three propelled into mid table, while Hull and Aston Villa – who are in 10th and 11th places respectively, but only five points above the drop zone – need to avoid a run of bad results that could see them plummet in the standings. All of the bottom 11 – Hull, Villa, Stoke, Swansea, West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, West Ham, Cardiff, Sunderland and Crystal Palace – have won between 4 and 6 of the 21 fixtures thus far and, with 17 more remaining, any of those three could find themselves relegated by the end of the season in May.
This weekend, the standout fixture is Chelsea versus Manchester United at Stamford Bridge, though that contest does not quite have the same importance as it has in recent years, as only the home side are among the title contenders this season. With that match being played on Sunday at 4pm local time, both Arsenal and Manchester City will have the opportunity to put pressure on the Blues as they both have home matches on Saturday against Fulham and Cardiff respectively. Elsewhere, with these fixtures being a reversal of the games from the second week of the season, Spurs travel to Swansea; Liverpool host Aston Villa; West Brom entertain Everton; and Newcastle have an away match against West Ham. At the bottom, Crystal Palace take on Stoke; Norwich and Hull meet at Carrow Road; and Sunderland face Southampton in the early kick-off on Saturday.
Last week, 7-3; Season, 110-100
Home teams listed first
Sunderland vs Southampton – Draw
Arsenal vs Fulham – Home win
Crystal Palace vs Stoke – Draw
Manchester City vs Cardiff – Home win
Norwich vs Hull – Away win
West Ham vs Newcastle – Away win
Liverpool vs Aston Villa – Home win
Swansea vs Tottenham – Draw
Chelsea vs Manchester United – Home win
West Brom vs Everton – Away win