Premier League Team of the Week XXXVI feat. Southampton and West Ham stars
Following the shock result at White Hart Lane last Monday where West Bromwich Albion all but ended Spurs’ title hopes, Leicester City needed only three more points to secure a momentous Premier League trophy. The race for the top four is still up in the air, while it appears as though the battle to avoid relegation will continue until the final game of the campaign. Relive how this weekend’s fixtures unfolded and flick to the next pages to discover who made it into The Boot Room’s Premier League Team of the Week.
Early on Sunday afternoon, title-chasing Leicester City travelled to the North West to take on what is historically the best team of the Premier League era. Still without Jamie Vardy, Ranieri’s side needed to pick up all three points to be mathematically sure of holding the trophy aloft, while Louis Van Gaal’s side had their own Champions League qualification desires to be concerned with. With barely eight minutes on the clock, one of several early forays down the right flank by Antonio Valencia culminated in a cross which Anthony Martial whipped home, immediately calling Leicester’s resilience and character into question. Manchester United were playing fantastically well in the game’s opening period, but The Foxes hit back just after the quarter hour mark through captain Wes Morgan. After opening his account for the season only recently, he doubled his tally for the campaign with a powerful close-range header. This was far from the last incident of note in the first 45 minutes, with referee Michael Oliver’s judgement being called into question on two occasions. Firstly, a Danny Simpson error presented the chance to Lingard to race clear, but the full-back was able to get back at the England youngster with a fair degree of physical contact. Later, Riyad Mahrez probably should have had a penalty when he knocked the ball around Marcos Rojo only for the Argentine to bring him down. Nothing was given in either instance, and a high intensity match continued.
The fast-paced football was replaced by rather repetitive fouling and disruptive tackles in the second half. There was not a great deal of golden chances for either side, but arguably Leicester City looked the more likely to grab a winner if there was indeed to be a victor on the day. With less than five minutes to go however, Danny Drinkwater was given his marching orders for a tug back on Memphis Depay on the edge of the penalty area. He was only slightly less aggressive towards the referee than Jamie Vardy had been a couple of weeks ago, and will hope that retrospective action is not going to be taken. Ranieri’s troops then had to survive the short amount of time remaining with only ten men on the pitch, which they just about managed to do, knocking the ball firmly back into Tottenham’s court for their match on Monday night which is a must-win for the White Hart Lane outfit.
Before the series of Premier League fixtures this weekend, Manchester City occupied third position in the table, but with the return leg against Real Madrid to come on Wednesday, their attentions could well have been targeted away from St Mary’s. Ronald Koeman’s side on the other hand have recovered well since their mid-season slump in form and are one of the most dangerous sides in the league currently. The home team started exceptionally quickly, with their attacking trio of Dusan Tadic, Sadio Mané and Shane Long causing no end of bother for the Manchester City defence. Shane Long was the first to net for the south coast outfit, beating Nicolas Otamendi to the ball, before Mané scored his first of the day with a neat finish past Joe Hart. Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal just before half-time spurred on the visitors and gave them hope of rescuing the situation, but a second for Mané ten minutes into the second half was a hammer blow to those particular aspirations.
The Citizens really were humbled when the home side’s number 10 scored his hat-trick with more than 20 minutes of the match remaining. The sensational youngster that is Iheanacho struck again with just over ten minutes to go, finding the top corner with a sumptuous strike from outside the area. The young Nigerian was the sole shining light for City on an otherwise thoroughly disappointing evening. What effect will the nature of this 4-2 defeat have on their mid-week match-up with European royalty Real Madrid, even considering the swathes of changes that Pellegrini made to his line-up with that match in mind? Only time will tell, but with Manchester United now breathing down their necks for fourth place, they cannot afford to slip up against Los Blancos.
Rafael Benitez did not have an immediate impact on Newcastle United’ fortunes when he arrived at the club, but is more than making his mark now. With much riding on their result at home to Crystal Palace, an Andros Townsend free-kick which was whipped into the top corner broke the dead-lock on Saturday. The former Spurs man had always looked to be the most likely player on Newcastle’s side to make the difference, and so it proved to be the case. The Geordie faithful must have had their hearts in their mouths when a penalty was awarded to the visitors midway through the second half but the former hero on the Tyne; Yohan Cabaye, smacked his spot-kick down the middle of the goal only to see his effort saved by Karl Darlow. Did the jeering from the home support play a part? This is possibly true, but the 12th man was surely in full effect throughout the game, regardless of this incident in particular. Dependent on results elsewhere, the three points at home to The Eagles might have been enough to leave them sitting outside of the bottom three.
Newcastle’s nearest and dearest – Sunderland – are also deep in the relegation mire and but for some more heroics by top scorer Jermain Defoe, Stoke City would have taken all three points. However, when the notorious goal-poacher was clumsily brought down in the penalty area and converted the chance from 12 yards out himself, they succeeded in not letting The Magpies gain too much ground on them. This could easily prove vital come the final day, currently only one point adrift of Newcastle but with one game in hand.
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