In the final series of Premier League matches before the international break around the Easter weekend, there were some fiery encounters between teams desperate to put one over on their rivals and secure some much-needed three points in their quest to achieve end-of-season objectives. Who performed to their maximum to help their side? Read on to discover The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week and recall the key moments from the weekend’s action.
Neither of the Manchester clubs have enjoyed a stellar season, with securing a place in the Champions League for next season now their main priority. It is almost certain that only one; although perhaps neither, can achieve this, placing an even greater emphasis on the result of Sunday’s derby day occasion. Marcus Rashford wasted no time in making an impression in his first Manchester Derby, netting his fifth goal in eight appearances as he skipped past Martin Demichelis before coolly slotting beyond Joe Hart. Van Gaal’s troops managed the rest of the first half very effectively, and reached the interval without too many scares. Indeed, there was a strong case for Rashford earning a penalty for his side on the stroke of half-time but surprisingly, nothing was given after City’s Argentine centre-back mistimed a challenge.
As if The Citizens did not have enough on their plate, Demichelis conspired to create yet more difficulty as an under-hit back-pass caused Joe Hart to rush out and the England stopper injured himself in the process. He had to be replaced by Capital One Cup final hero Willy Caballero and soon after, Demichelis himself was withdrawn in a tactical switch. United defended stoically for the remainder of the match, playing primarily on the counter-attack, and their eventual 1-0 victory tightened up the race for the final Champions League qualification spot still further.
The Tyne-Wear derby on Sunday was one of the most important in recent memory, with the plight of both teams meaning that the outcome was worth much more than just the usual bragging rights. There was a common conception that the loser would be relegated, with the victor having a much greater opportunity of staying up. With The Black Cats’ terrific recent record in derby matches, they will arguably have been the more confident going into the fixture. Staying true to that trend, Sunderland began the game as the more potent, with a couple of half-chances going the way of Jermain Defoe in the first 20 minutes or so. The Magpies had begun to edge their way back into proceedings but little more than a few minutes before half-time, the former Spurs goal poacher hit a left-footed volley into the corner of the net after a scrappy period of play in the box.
With their fans a bag a nervous energy, Newcastle United huffed and puffed but created very few clear-cut opportunities as the second half progressed. It took a foul throw by DeAndre Yedlin on the half-way line for Sunderland to give anything away to their bitter rivals. Some great work by Georginio Wijnaldum allowed the Dutchman to dig out a cross to the back post where the much maligned Mitrovic climbed highest to head home the equaliser. With nobody able to change the direction of the match in the final few moments, Sunderland’s six match winning streak in derby matches was brought to an end by a 1-1 draw on Sunday.
After Liverpool had raced into a two goal lead within 25 minutes of play at St. Mary’s, fans of the Reds were starting to look upwards with hopeful glances towards top four qualification. It had been something of a smash and grab to secure that original advantage, so when Ronald Koeman’s men pulled one goal back near the hour mark, there was not much surprise, especially after Sadio Mané had his penalty saved early into the second period. Pressing for the equaliser, the south coast outfit threw men forward and in a three-minute spell, surged into a 3-2 lead through Graziano Pellé and Mané’s second of the day. With top four hopes now all but gone for the red half of Merseyside, all focus will now turn to their Europa League exploits as a method of securing Champions League football for next season.
Arsenal had endured a week from hell over the last few days going into Saturday’s game against Everton, being knocked out of both remaining cup competitions to Watford and Barcelona, and after their Premier League title challenge was hanging on by a thread, it was essential that they picked up all three points on Merseyside. An early Danny Welbeck goal after seven minutes gave Arsenal a lightning fast start. The former Manchester United forward has enjoyed some good form since his return from a long period on the side-lines and continued this at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime. Wenger’s side looked up for the challenge from the early moments and despite Everton’s strong recent form, they could not really gain much of a foothold. Alexis Sanchez looked to be back to somewhere approaching his best form after a fairly disappointing campaign overall and his combination with Mesut Özil was dangerous to say the least. The Gunners’ advantage was doubled with five minutes to go until the break when their Premier League debutant; Alex Iwobi, sprinted free on a counter-attack and finished through the legs of Joel Robles.
Their two goal-scorers linked up brilliantly well on several occasions with some intricate passing play, and the second half followed a pattern of attempted Everton pressure with repeated Arsenal parries on the counter-attack. A surprising lack of cohesion from the Merseyside outfit and some smart play from the visitors combined to make it a fairly comfortable afternoon’s work for Arsenal as they just about kept in contact with league leaders Leicester City, consigning Everton to their eighth home defeat of the season and the sixth in the last nine outings at Goodision.