The big story of the weekend came on Sunday at Old Trafford, where Manchester United helped hand title contenders Tottenham a lifeline with a 2-0 victory over leaders Chelsea, whilst keeping up the pace with the top-four. The gap at the top is now a mere four points going into the final five matches, and the title race remains wide open.
Meanwhile, Liverpool remain third after victory at West Brom, whilst Manchester City tightened their own grip on a Champions League place with an emphatic win at Southampton. Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Middlesbrough keeps them just about in touch, but with seven left for the Gunners to play and trailing Manchester City by seven points, their hopes of the top-four are hanging by a thread.
Elsewhere, Everton kept up their recent run of good form with a 3-1 victory over Burnley, Crystal Palace came from two-down to salvage a point in a thrilling match with Leicester, Hull kept one eye over their shoulders after succumbing to defeat at Stoke, and Swansea remain in trouble after slumping to defeat at Watford.
Sunderland remain bottom and in deep trouble after only managing a draw with West Ham,which left the lack Cats nine points from safety but with one game in hand over Hull, who lie just above the relegation trapdoor.
But who stood out the most an an enthralling Gameweek 33, where the title race was blown wide open and the relegation rat-race took yet another twist?
Coach: José Mourinho (Manchester United)
Mourinho’s opponent in the dugout, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, absolutely castigated himself after the game, after his Blues succumbed to defeat at Old Trafford against a United side that they had beaten twice in league and cup on home turf this season.
If Conte failed to get his players fired up for the big occasion, Mourinho certainly didn’t, and his side executed the game plan to perfection as the Portuguese got one over on his former side for the first time since taking the reins at United.
His side were just shaded in terms of possession, but that doesn’t take away from how the Red Devils – far from the overly defensive mentality Mourinho has been accused of adopting this season- monopolised the ball, enjoying more opportunities than the visitors and ensuring they were restricted to no shots on target.
Mourinho’s biggest calls came before the game even kicked-off, with Juan Mata out and Henrikh Mkhitaryan named amongst the substitutes, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini were named in the starting line-up, but the biggest decision was that the fatigued Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced to settle for a place on the bench, in favour of an attacking duo of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.
The chemistry between the two was a thorn in Chelsea’s side, whilst the defensive cover of Fellaini and Herrera allowed Paul Pogba to roam forward and wreak havoc behind them, a set-up which frustrated the Blues all over the park and re-ignited some doubt in the title credentials of Conte’s side.
For Mourinho, it was another tactical masterclass, and his attempt to rain on the title parade, just as he did back in 2014 at Liverpool when in charge of the Blues, was once more a success.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet (Liverpool)
Simon Mignolet seems to enjoy playing at the Hawthorns. The Belgian goalkeeper has kept a clean sheet on his last two visits to the Albion, and another fine performance to shut-out the Baggies seems him get the nod as goalkeeper in our team for the second week running.
A big save near the end of the game preserved another vital three points for Liverpool in their quest for the top-four, and he even remained unnerved when opposite number Ben Foster charged forward twice in a vain attempt to help provide the equaliser.
Despite being much maligned in seasons gone by, Mignolet has been one of the stars in Klopp’s Liverpool side of late, and his new-found reliability will only help the cause.
Right-Back: Daryl Janmaat (Watford)
It may have looked a dead-rubber to Watford for some in terms of the respective league positions of themselves and relegation-threatened Swansea, but in reality, this result was huge, as a Watford side who have been struggling in recent weeks mustered a huge victory to get themselves over the 40 point mark and almost certainly guarantee Premier League football next season.
The winner was gifted to the hosts in the end after an uncharacteristic error from Swansea centre-half Alfie Mawson, from which Etienne Capoue profited, but much of Watford’s solidity at the back in shutting out the battling Swans was owed to the presence of right-back Daryl Janmaat.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Martin Olsson, and Luciano Narsingh were given no joy by the Netherlands international, whose defensive awareness kept the Hornets well regimented at the back, whilst his runs forward also caused the visitors problems.
Centre-Back: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)
Vincent Kompany has had a frustrating time of things of late with injury after injury keeping him out of the reckoning for Manchester City, but he was back amongst the goals over the weekend, his sheer delight visible on his face after his bullet header opened the scoring at Southampton.
His defensive performance was another plus, adding some stability to a rear-guard that has developed an unwanted knack of conceding goals over the course of the season. Dominance in the air, awareness on the ground, a typical captain’s performance from Vincent Kompany.
Centre-Back: Phil Jagielka (Everton)
The Everton skipper has amassed a handy record of scoring in his last three consecutive games for the Toffees, following his latest goal-scoring exploits in Everton’s triumph over Burnley at Goodison Park.
The England international is looking like a potent threat from set-piece situations, and his overall leadership and reading of the game has been pivotal in helping Everton’s surge up the table following their recent run of impressive form.
He finished his goal off with all the instinct of a clinical forward too. Goal-line technology confirmed that his initial headed effort had crossed the line, but after Tom Heaton was somehow able to claw the ball away, Jagielka was still able to react first to slam the ball into the back of the net to make sure.
Left-Back: Marcos Rojo (Manchester United)
Besides making more clearances from inside the box, with nine, than any of his teammates in United’s win over Chelsea, it was his personal duel with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, and how he went about getting the best of the Spain international, that helped sway the game in the hosts’ favour.
Rojo kept Costa firmly on a leash, shackled for much of the contest, and luckily ended up on the right side of some sensible refereeing after the Chelsea forward lashed out in frustration at a rare, poorly-timed challenge from the Argentine.
The duel between the two was a joy to watch, and it was crucial in restricting the Blues to having no efforts on target, giving David de Gea a quiet afternoon.
Right-Midfield: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)
There were several performers on the day who were instrumental in Stoke’s victory over Hull, which almost guarantees their Premier League status for another year, but for us, Xherdan Shaqiri pips them, not only for his absolutely wonderful long-range strike which all but killed the game, but for his expert assist for the first goal.
His neat ball inside was picked up by another of Stoke’s stars on the day, Marko Arnautovic, who drilled a fierce shot into the top corner to hand the Potters the initiative. Perhaps unlucky to have not made it in himself, the consensus was that his Swiss teammate was just that little more influential.
Centre-Midfield: Ross Barkley (Everton)
For a man concerned with off-field distractions of late, with the manner of Ross Barkley’s performance against Burnley, you wouldn’t have thought he had a care in the world, other than winning games of football of course.
Shutting out the headlines, Barkley was the lynch-pin in the Everton midfield, constantly looking to trouble Burnley with his direct running and passing.
He was in the right place at the right time to thwart Michael Keane, clearing the defender’s headed effort of his own goal-line, and eventually made a telling impact at the other end when his fierce drive flew beyond Tom Heaton after taking a ricochet off Ben Mee.
The nigh-perfect end to a difficult week.
Centre-Midfield: Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
Eden Hazard troubled Ander Herrera to the point that the Spaniard was dismissed for a second yellow-card the last time the two sides met in the FA Cup, but in this game, Herrera firmly kept hold of his composure and played like a man on a revenge mission.
He followed Hazard around the Old Trafford pitch like a dog, not giving the Belgian a yard of space and thus neutralised the mercurial winger’s influence on the game, but his most telling impact was at the other end, where, despite his defensive midfield position, he scored and assisted in the Premier League for the first time since October 2015.
Fortune was on his side as the referee waved away the handball shout in the build-up to the goal, which allowed Herrera the time and space to play an inch-perfect pass through for Marcus Rashford to score, before his deflected strike beat the scrambling Asmir Begovic – in for the injured Thibaut Courtois – to put the game beyond the Blues.
It may just be that with this latest defeat, the Blues are losing their grip on the title too.
Conte will argue his players lacked lustre and motivation, shouldering the blame on his and the team’s approach to the game. On this evidence from Herrera, perhaps they were simply outclassed.
Left-Midfield: Leroy Sané (Manchester City)
Sané has developed a helpful knack of scoring goals for City away from the Etihad. His strike at St. Mary’s was his third in their last four games away from home, and he showed great persistence to get his goal, netting from Kevin de Bruyne’s wonderful pass after Fraser Forster had pulled out a splendid stop earlier on to deny him.
The youngster’s lung-bursting 40-yard run to support the Belgian was what helped craft the goal, having shown the desire to get into a position to receive the pass.
It is fair to say that the player signed from Schalke, whom many thought would be a signing for the future, is quickly turning into one of Pep Guardiola’s key players.
Expect more from him in the Premier League and indeed on the international scene in the future.
Centre-Forward: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)
Sometimes unleashing young, raw talent is the way to go in football, and Marcus Rashford proved the theory right again, running the league leaders ragged after José Mourinho showed his faith in the youngster by starting him up-top in an attacking duo with Jesse Lingard.
Very few players have troubled Chelsea’s cast-iron defence since Conte switched to a back-three, but Rashford’s chemistry with Lingard, along with the support of Pogba, exposed once more all of the Blues’ frailties, and reminded the Old Trafford faithful that Rashford is a special talent and not just a half-season wonder.
His finish beyond Begovic after being played in by Ander Herrera showed all the instinct, swagger and verve of a seasoned veteran, which would have made the watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic proud.
More importantly, being one of England’s brightest prospects for the future, he looks at home at one of the highest levels in world football. It goes without saying that many United supporters would like to see him start games consistently.
Centre-Forward: Son Heung-Min (Tottenham Hotspur)
Son Heung-Min has been one of the most improved players in Mauricio Pochettino’s squad this season.
His early season run of goals helped carry the side before Kane rediscovered his shooting boots, and he has stood up and been counted when it has mattered the most, the spells when Kane has been out injured, providing a helping hand for six Tottenham goals in his previous four Premier League appearances, assisting one and netting five himself.
Bournemouth’s case at the weekend wasn’t helped by their approach to the game, but Spurs this season have confirmed themselves as title contenders by showing their clinical streak against both lesser and stronger opposition, and Son has often been at the heart of their creativity, finding himself amongst the goals yet again.
What a transformation from the player who endured such a difficult season in England last campaign after arriving from Bayer Leverkusen. Spurs are firmly in this title race, and much of that is owed to the South Korean.
Premier League: Team of the Week XXXIII
Coach: José Mourinho
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