Building on the fantastic Premier League matches which took place in mid-week, the top flight returned once more this weekend and there were plenty of heavyweight clashes. Leicester travelled to Manchester City in a match that would surely have a significant bearing on the eventual destination of the title, but would not decide it. There were a bundle of talking points and great individual performances once more, so read on to discover The Boot Room’s Team of the Week.
The story of the season; Leicester City, came to the home of their title rivals in the early game on Saturday. Manchester City were desperate to close the gap to the side who had topped the table by three points following The Foxes’ deserved victory over Liverpool in midweek. While multiple other plot-lines were at play, the game could almost be distilled to a battle for supremacy between Jamie Vardy and Sergio Aguero. The Argentine had 12 goals in his previous 10 Premier League appearances and Vardy had struck the back of the net twice against Liverpool in the last match. Whichever team could stop their opponent’s main man would be in fine shape to go on towards victory.
Completely against the vast majority of predictions, the game saw its first goal within three minutes of the kick-off through the unexpected source of Robert Huth. Riyad Mahrez’s skill and close control in tight areas meant that Alex Kolarov had to bring him down in a dangerous area and from the resulting free-kick, the powerful centre-half beat his marker to the ball and converted from close range via a deflection off Demichelis’ outstretched leg. Leicester City were so dangerous on the counter-attack; as they have been all campaign, and Joe Hart had a busy opening period of the game, repeatedly called into action. The pace of the game was frenetic, with chances being created at both ends of the pitch.
Not content for their first half’s efforts to be the limit of their ambitions, Leicester City scored again in the opening minutes of the half. Frequently the destructor in the heart of midfield, N’Golo Kanté turned provider for Riyad Mahrez after the dynamic number 14 drove though the middle of the field before allowing the dazzling feet of the Algerian to do the rest. The unlikely first-half hero Robert Huth added a second to his tally on the hour mark – this time it was a more stereotypical header over Joe Hart. Another goal for Sergio Aguero in his current run of form was little more than a consolation and spoiled Leicester City’s clean sheet late on, but did not have any influence on the final result.
Ranieri’s men stretched their lead at the top of the table from three points to five and now, their closest competitors come from North London rather than Manchester. After Pep Guardiola’s impending arrival at The Etihad stadium was confirmed last week, some peoples’ attentions will inevitably look towards the summer, but their present objectives cannot be ignored. Leicester’s next task in the Premier League is to travel to Arsenal while Manchester City are playing host to The Gunners’ bitter rivals – Tottenham Hotspur. They will be another tremendous pair of fixtures and the title picture may be a little clearer still by the final whistle of those games.
Manchester United started in a positive fashion at the home of last season’s Premier League champions, buoyed by their comfortable victories in recent matches. The Red Devils spent the vast majority of the early battles in Chelsea’s half, evidenced by the fact that they had won nine corners before a quarter of the game had passed. Diego Costa’s isolation was a concern for those supporting The Blues, but fortunately for Hiddink’s side, they wrestled back a portion of the control and began to create chances for themselves. Dominance for the away team returned at the start of the second period, with Martial once more at the heart of almost everything for Van Gaal’s side. The breakthrough eventually came around the hour mark when; finding himself in a pocket of space in the penalty area, Jesse Lingard span and smacked the ball into the top corner despite falling to the ground in the process. Manchester United were good value for their lead and it did not appear that Chelsea’s pressure would have an end result. However, some lazy defending by Borthwick-Jackson allowed Costa to stay on-side and round David De Gea, meaning the game finished one apiece. Van Gaal will be disappointed that his team could not hold out for the last few minutes but it was another encouraging display on their road back to form.
There were contrasting fortunes for the two clubs from Merseyside on Saturday. On the one hand, Everton ran out 3-0 winners for the third time in succession and perhaps appear to have put their defensive frailties to bed. Thanks to Liverpool’s result, The Toffees have now climbed above them in the Premier League table due to goal difference. With much of the talk in the build-up to the match surrounding the contention around Liverpool’s new ticket pricing structure, it seemed as though all three points would be theirs when Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana had put them two goals to the good with only 20 minutes remaining. As promised by multiple supporter groups, a walk-out was indeed staged on the 77th minute; representing the new maximum price in the Main Stand, but the players’ performance dropped almost from exactly this moment. Simon Mignolet failed to keep out a very stoppable Adam Johnson free-kick and with only a couple of minutes of normal time remaining, notorious finisher Jermain Defoe did what he does best to level the scores at 2-2. With Jurgen Klopp absent from the ground due to appendicitis, Liverpool fans will hope that the return of the German can spark a much better display against West Ham in the FA Cup and away to Aston Villa in the league.