Already we have reached the end of Gameweek 31 of the 2016/17 Premier League season, and the Chelsea machine remains well-oiled and rolling towards the title, after the Blues beat Bournemouth 3-1 to maintain their seven point lead over Tottenham, who’d already laid their hand upon the table having beaten Watford 4-0 in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Liverpool’s 2-1 turnaround victory at Stoke sees them remain third and in a strong position to claim a Champions League spot at the end of the season, with the last place in the top four currently occupied by Manchester City, who comfortably disposed of Hull at the Etihad. Rivals Manchester United kept in touch of the leading pack with a 3-0 triumph at Sunderland to go fifth, ahead of Arsenal’s meeting with Crystal Palace on Monday night.
Further down the league, Everton came out on top in a 4-2 thriller at Goodison Park against defending champions Leicester to remain seventh, and inflict Craig Shakespeare’s first defeat in charge of the Foxes, whilst West Ham United picked up a crucial 1-0 victory at home to relegation threatened Swansea to ease the pressure on manager Slaven Bilic. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough remain in danger having failed to break through Burnley’s resistance, a goal-less draw at the Riverside leaving the ‘Boro six points adrift of safety in the bottom-four and Burnley still without an away win all season.
But who were the stand-out stars this week, as we accelerate towards the home-strait at the end of the Premier League season?
Coach: Jurgen Klopp
The Kop favourite gets the nod this week for his inspired half-time substitutions, even if they were blindingly obvious to anybody wanting to play the role of Football Manager. Missing several key players, including Adam Lallana and Sadio Mané, Klopp was forced to throw teenagers Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn into the firing line away at Stoke, and the two failed to come up trumps in the opening half, the latter probably unlucky not to have won a penalty in the opening 45 minutes.
Another two of the big names omitted were Philippe Coutinho, who had been struggling prior to the game with illness, and was passed fit to feature from the bench on the morning of the match, and compatriot Roberto Firmino, who had suffered from accumulated fatigue, also named amongst the substitutes. The German called upon them at half-time, with Liverpool trailing by a goal to nil to Jon Walters’ opener, and the Brazilians duly responded. Coutinho, the record Brazilian goal-scorer in the Premier League, netted the equaliser, before Firmino snatched the points with a brilliantly executed half-volley over flailing goalkeeper Lee Grant. They may well have been forced in the circumstances, but Klopp’s half-time tactical switch worked a treat, and anybody could tell by the way in which he hugged goalkeeper Simon Mignolet at full-time just how priceless this result was in Liverpool’s quest for the top four. A huge result, ensuring the Liverpool chief is well worth his money in our Pick of the Week.