Leicester City – EPL Champions?
The dream is increasingly becoming a reality. Leicester City delivered an emphatic performance to brush aside Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium. A performance full of pace, power and incisive attacking threat was too much for City whose back four were again found wanting. Riyad Mahrez’s brace were sensational; his confidence is soaring with each passing game. His second goal was sheer class; giving Joe Hart the eyes and slotting the ball at Hart’s near post spoke volumes. Kasper Schmeichel in goals must have enjoyed his return to Manchester City, a player deemed surplus to requirements several seasons ago, the Dane gave an assured performance in goals and several eye catching saves to boot. Robert Huth defensively was a rock and his threat on Leicester’ set piece is now a concern for opposition with another emphatic header from a corner. City struggled to contain with the pace and power of Leicester’s midfield with Kante and Drinkwater providing game management and incisive passing to setup several goal chances. Vardy’s pace upfront was causing the City back four endless problems and his selfless running was allowing Mahrez to advance further into open space. The fixture list still looks daunting for the Foxes with a trip to Arsenal next weekend and a pivotal last three fixtures of the season with games against Everton, Manchester United and Chelsea but Leicester’s confidence grows with each passing game and it will require a top effort from the chasing pack to wrestle the title away from the East Midlands club. A fantastic story, a fantastic team whose pacey football and direct style has breathed huge life into a league season where the traditional top clubs have flat out under performed. It would be priceless if Leicester City won the league at Stamford Bridge, a fitting repose for Ranieri on his former employer.
Stamford Bridge Stalemate
1-1 draw. Manchester United’s defensive woes were exposed at the death as Costa benefited from a shambolic United defensive line. De Gea was in excellent form, several world class saves and it looked up until Costa’s late equalizer that the Spanish goalkeeper would give United the three points. Lingard’s strike early in the second half was superb and it was just reward for an excellent ten minute spell prior to the strike. United offensively looked more cohesive; a bit more width and with full back support to the likes of Mata to cross for Rooney. Chelsea to their credit had their chances but with De Gea in fine form throughout, it looked to be a forlorn afternoon. Zouma’s anterior cruciate injury will spark rumors that John Terry’s departure from the football club is wide of the mark. A game where both keepers excelled throughout. Courtois’ save from Martial in the opening period was sensational. Both managers will take positives from the game but ultimately a share of the spoils does little for either side’s European ambitions in the league.
Liverpool – Anfield Exodus
The ticket price hike in Anfield was giving the reaction that Ian Ayre needed to say as fans walked out after seventy-six minutes which sparked a Sunderland revival. Mignolet took a step forward in his penalty shootout heroics against Stoke in the League Cup but his contribution to Sunderland’s comeback would suggest that Klopp will look at his options in the off-season. Adam Johnson’s free kick goal was soft and with his back four rattled after that concession, Defoe struck for the equalizer. Liverpool prior to the last fifteen minutes were in total control, took their goals well and did not look threatened as Sunderland defensively looked vulnerable anytime the hosts attacked from wide positions. The ticket hike is a slap in the face of the fans and one wonders where FSG will use the increased revenue. Will they reinvest in the club or put it in their pockets?
Could Norwich’s 5-4 loss to Liverpool be the defining point of their season. Their lack of confidence was exposed in a 2-0 loss to Villa. Declan Rudd’s decision to come out for a ball which he never looked like getting spoke volumes as Agbonlahor scored his easiest goal of the season. Norwich are relegation certainties; cannot get clean sheets and their attacking options are having their work overtime to get anything from games. Naismith was an astute signing but Alex Neil may rue the fact that no defensive cover was added before the close of the January transfer window.
WBA are plunged back into the relegation battle. The Berahino saga of will he, won’t he stay at the football club extends for another transfer window and it reflected on the pitch as Newcastle comfortably beat Tony Pulis’ side. Mitrovic scored the winner and his goals will be crucial in the season run-in. The performances of Townsend and Shelvey as well will be important to the club but Newcastle now have enough attacking options to stave off relegation. Newcastle defensively will be put to the test but Saivet and Tiote’s central midfield defensive instincts should improve the side’s shape defensively.
Palace and Swansea share the spoils. Swansea slowly getting out of trouble and Palace continue to look for a proven striker to win games. Adebayor signing is a sign of desperation from Alan Pardew such is their need for a striker to score goals. Swansea will survive but there could be an exodus come the end of the season. Ashley Williams surely will move to another football club with league title aspirations.
Bournemouth will rue the fact that Flamini was not given his marching orders yesterday, two footed lunge at the ball and no red card was a shocker. Arsenal from then on cruised to victory; great goals from Ozil and Chamberlain but if the red card was issued, the game could have gone in a different direction.
Tottenham win again, a good win against a tough Watford side. Trippier’s strike at the back post in the second half was enough but Tottenham’s passing and movement yielded several gilt edged chances. Another clean sheet for Tottenham and the fixture list does not seem to be hindering their progress in league and cup fronts. The true test is when the Europa League action returns; the lack of preparation time for league games could be decisive.