Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Matchweek 30 Preview: Hammers Crash the Party; Chelsea Smashed; Liverpool Rises; Spurs Sputter; Fulham Collapses

Chelsea opened the door and West Ham burst through to replace Chelsea in the top four as the race for Champions League qualification heats up. West Ham and manager David Moyes took advantage of a shocked Chelsea loss to West Bromwich Albion by defeating Wolves 3-2.  West Ham fans were understandably nervous as their team, playing without injured captain Declan Rice, went ahead by three goals before hanging on for the one goal victory. In their prior match versus Arsenal, the Hammers had squandered all of a three-goal lead. Wonder transfer Jesse Lingard opened the scoring for West Ham who padded their advantage on goals by Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen. Lingard’s goal was his sixth in eight appearances for West Ham.

Leander Dendoncker and Fabio Silva closed the gap for Wolves before West Ham was able to see out a seventh road victory of the season, tying a club record. The Hammers moved a point ahead of Chelsea for the coveted fourth Champions League place.  

In the most stunning outcome of the weekend, Chelsea was smashed 5-2 by Sam Allardyce’s battling Baggies. Chelsea had conceded only two goals in 14 previous matches under Tuchel while the five goals for West Brom were more than the Baggies had accumulated in their eight previous matches. A second yellow card by Thiago Silva reduced Chelsea to ten men after just 29 minutes with the Blues leading 1-0 on a goal by Christian Pulisic. West Brom’s Matheus Pereira then scored twice in first half stoppage time to put the Baggies in front before two second half goals by Callum Robinson and a tally by Mbaye Diagne completed the scoring explosion for the Baggies. Mason Mount scored Chelsea’s second goal when the Blues were already at a three goals deficit. Chelsea’ response to adversity will be subjected to scrutiny with this week’s Champions League match versus Porto. While the match with Chelsea was clearly the highlight of West Brom’s season, the reality remains that it is likely too late for the Baggies to escape relegation as they remain eight points behind Newcastle and safety. 

Missing the opportunity to gain on Chelsea in the race for the top four was a Spurs club who again came up flat for their manager Jose Mourinho. With a chance to move into the top four following Chelsea’s stumble, Spurs were unable to hold onto a 2-1 lead. A rare goal by Newcastle’s Joelinton had given Newcastle an early lead before two goals by Harry Kane inside a four minute first half stretch seemed to have the Spurs on course to crash the top four party. An 87th minute Newcastle goal scored by Arsenal loanee Joe Willock, however, evened matters at two goals apiece and secured a valuable point for the Magpies in their own relegation battle with Fulham. The missed opportunity for Spurs, despite the 18th and 19th goals of the season by their leading scorer, was a third disappointment in four matches following the club’s loss in the north London derby to Arsenal and elimination from the Europa League by Dinamo Zagreb.  

Defending Champion Liverpool moved back into the thick of the top four chase with a 3-0 defeat of Arsenal. A second half brace by Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah’s 18th goal of the season propelled the Reds to a statement win whereby they reasserted themselves in the race for the top four. Liverpool, who face Real Madrid this week in the Champions League, are now but three points short of qualifying for next year’s competition through the league table.

The loss to Liverpool was Mikel Arteta’s 50th Premier League match in charge of Arsenal and the Gunner manager has four more losses than those sustained in the first 50 games of predecessor Unai Emery. Both managers suffered more losses in their first 50 matches than Arsene Wenger incurred in his final 50 games at the helm of Arsenal. The lack of progress is disturbing and currently 10th place Arsenal will be absent from Europe next year unless the Gunners can surprisingly win this year’s Europa League.  

Everton, as with Spurs, failed to capitalize on Chelsea’s misfortune, conceding a late goal to Michy Batschuayi in a 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace. The 86th minute goal by Batshuayi, expertly assisted by Jeff Schlupp, offset a first half score by the Toffees’ James Rodriguez. Crystal Palace goalkeeper Vincente Guaita delivered a strong performance for the Eagles, but Everton will rue numerous missed opportunities by forwards Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison. All is not lost for the Toffees as, with a game in hand on the four other clubs currently battling for fourth, eighth place Everton’s five-point gap to a Champions League spot may still feasibly be bridged.  

At the top of the table, Manchester City continued their seemingly inexorable march to the league title with a 2-0 victory at Leicester. Benjamin Mendy and Gabriel Jesus scored second half goals as the Citizens sent off the Foxes. Mendy’s goal was just his second in league competition for Manchester City while the Jesus goal was his eighth league tally this season. The deep Manchester City squad had players such as Raheem Sterling, Ilkay Gundogan and Phil Foden starting on the bench as Manager Pep Guardiola rotates his squad in their pursuit of the quadruple. Leicester had no first half shots and managed only two shots on target in the second half against a dominant Manchester City defense which recorded its 28th clean sheet across all competitions this season, more than any club in the top five leagues of Europe. Leicester remained third in the table, four points ahead of new top four addition West Ham and five points ahead of Chelsea.  

Second half goals by Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood in a 2-1 win against Brighton enabled Manchester United to overcome an early Brighton goal by former Red Devil Danny Welbeck. Greenwood’s winning goal was his first score at Old Trafford. The 19-year-old striker becomes a key figure now for Manchester United who may be without injured striker Anthony Martial for the balance of the season.  Dean Henderson started in goal for Manchester United amid continuing uncertainty over the future of long-time goalkeeper David De Gea. The third consecutive league win puts Manchester United nine points clear of a potential fall from the top four. Brighton remains winless in thirteen matches at Old Trafford. In relinquishing their first half lead, Brighton missed an opportunity to distance themselves further from relegation and perhaps remove all doubts of survival. Instead, they remain on the periphery of concern, six points clear of Fulham and the drop.  

With just over 10 minutes left in their game with Aston Villa, Fulham had the lead and an opportunity to escape the relegation zone for the first time since December. The Cottagers then collapsed, losing 3-1 for a third consecutive loss and a fourth defeat in their last five league contests. The Cottagers had broken a scoreless tie in the 61st minute on a goal by striker Aleksandar Mitrovic who has been mysteriously absent from the Cottager line-up much of this season. With 12 minutes remaining in the contest, Aston Villa’s Mahmoud Trezeguet scored his first goal of the season and added his second just three minutes later to give the Villans the lead. Ollie Watkins added an insurance goal for Villa which matched the accumulated goal total for its prior five matches with the three-goal outburst. The squandered opportunity on Sunday for Fulham may prove devastating for their survival hopes. Fulham are three points behind Newcastle and have already played one more match than the Magpies.  

Southampton battled back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Burnley 3-2 for just the Saints’ second victory in their last 13 league matches. The Saints had not overcome a two-goal deficit in five years while the normally stout defense of Burnley had not relinquished a two-goal lead in six years. The Clarets built their lead on goals by Chris Wood and Matej Vydra before goals by Start Armstrong and Danny Ings enabled the Saints to claw level at halftime. Nathan Redmond’s winner and two vital stops by Southampton goalkeeper Frazier Foster then secured victory for the Saints who ascend 10 points clear of the relegation zone, three points above Burnley. The disappointing end to Burnley’s three match unbeaten run indicates there may still be work to do to ensure a sixth consecutive Premier League season for the Clarets.  

Sheffield United continued its tortured journey to relegation with a 2-1 defeat at Leeds in the clubs’ Yorkshire derby. The winner for Leeds came on an own goal by the Blades Phil Jagielka after Sheffield United’s Ben Osborn had tied the match in first half stoppage time to negate an earlier goal by Leeds’s Jack Harrison. Jagielka’s seventh career own goal is the second highest total by a player in Premier League history. Sheffield United lost for a 24th time in their 30 matches this season. Leeds won for a second consecutive outing to come level on points with tenth place Arsenal.

The Premier League in Europe

The Champions League on Tuesday will see Liverpool at Real Madrid while Borussia Dortmund, with Erling Haaland, visits the Etihad to face Manchester City.  Chelsea returns to action Wednesday when they face Porto in a match to be played in Seville, Spain due to COVID restrictions.  Thursday’s Europa League matches include a visit by Slavia Praha to the Emirates to face Arsenal while Manchester United travels to Spain to face Granada.

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