Foxes secure Champions League qualification

By Ryan Moran

  • Leicester move within three wins of the title with victory over lowly Sunderland.
  • Manchester United conceded three goals in just over five minutes against Tottenham
  • Andy Carroll earns West Ham a draw against Arsenal. 

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Sunderland 0-2 Leicester City

A Jamie Vardy brace moved Leicester City within three wins of the title at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland have six games to overcome a four point deficit to gain Premier League survival after Sunday’s defeat.

After a goal-less first half, Vardy twice found the net to condemn the hosts to their 17th defeat of the season. Sunderland had chances to level the scores, Jack Rodwell finding the crowd and not the net from close with the Black Cats’ best effort. Kasper Schmeichel made a fantastic reaction save from a deflected shot to keep the scores level as the Foxes were solid in both defence and attack.

Leicester’s England contingent of Vardy and Danny Drinkwater combined for the first goal but Sunderland had a shout for a penalty as the sliding Robert Huth’s hand made contact with the ball after Patrick Van Aanholt crossed low into the box. Pressure was mounting at 0-0 as Vardy expressed his frustration at a poor pass out wide but the now 21-goal striker saw his side home breaking away late on to secure the victory.

With Tottenham only able to accumulate 80 points, another nine points will see the Foxes home. All football fans would rather see the title won at Claudio Ranieri’s club but they won’t want to leave it that late.

Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Manchester United

Manchester United’s late arrival after their team bus was stuck in traffic was the start of a bad day at the office. The Red Devils fell back to a four point deficit on fourth placed Manchester City, while Tottenham’s impressive six second half minutes keep their thin title hopes alive. A Leicester slip up is needed for Spurs to make up the seven point gap separating the sides. 

A goal-less first half left the tie for the taking and the floodgates opened for the home side once Dele Alli broke the deadlock from close range. A Toby Alderweireld header doubled their lead before Erik Lamela scored the last goal of a six minute period to forget for United.

The Red Devils only had five efforts on target as Louis Van Gaal’s side seemed to set his side up to stop Spurs at the sacrifice of victory. Marcus Rashford was withdrawn for makeshift striker Ashley Young. The injury to Timothy Fosu-Mensah was the turning point as the youngster proved hard to beat, his replacement Matteo Darmian less so. Two minutes after the Italian set foot on the pitch Alli opened the scoring. David De Gea prevented the scoreline being even worse thwarting both Eric Dier and a Harry Kane header.

Their lack of impact for large periods of the game will be a concern as United look set for Thursday nights in Europe rather than the preferred Tuesday and Wednesday night Champions League slots. A win streak until the end of the season will be their only chance to keep the dream of a top four finish alive.

It was a title winning display from Spurs, playing with patience a maturity beyond their years for a young side. Their ability to keep the ball comfortably and pass backwards to go forwards with a goal threat shows Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy finally in full effect. A devastating five minute period 70 minutes into the game showed resolve, a team not panicking even when dominating and not making that break through.

 

West Ham United 3-3 Arsenal

As Upton Park closes in on its last hurrah this fierce London derby will leave a lasting memory. Comebacks, controversy and Andy Carroll took centre stage for the Hammers as Arsenal’s hopes of the title was dealt a defining blow.

A draw leaves third placed Arsenal 13 points adrift of Leicester with eight games to play. The chance to cut the deficit to eight points was squandered as the away side let a two-goal lead slip. The influential duo of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez opened up a two goal lead, converting from Alex Iwobi assists, but went in level at half time.

Protagonist Carroll used his physicality to bully Arsenal’s back four and West Ham’s decision to target the frontman proved invaluable. His opposite number Laurent Koscielny felt the full force of Carroll as the towering striker earned a yellow card in the fourth minute. The tightrope wore thin as an elbow in an aerial challenge with Gabriel Paulista drew controversy but the striker rode his luck and got his reward.

A back post header gave the Hammers a lifeline before a rebounded effort in first half stoppage time sent the sides in level. The ex-Liverpool player completed his hat-trick, towering the helpless Hector Bellerin at the back post only for Koscielny to fire in Arsenal’s equaliser.

It was déjà vu for the fading Gunners. Having topped the table on goal difference over current leaders Leicester in the middle of January, Arsene Wenger’s side drift out of contention with every week that passes. If Tottenham continue to pick up points, the knife will be twisted further if Arsenal’s North London rivals finish above them.

West Ham pinpointed crosses as a weakness and exploited it to a tee to come from 0-2 down to lead 3-2, a sign the Gunners have work to do before a title falls their way. Their attacking class of Ozil and Sanchez was let down by a poor defensive display as Carroll got under the defender’s skin to wreak havoc. If Manuel Lanzini’s two early disallowed goals had stood, would Arsenal have been able to withstand that shift in momentum in West Ham’s favour? Luckily for them Lanzini’s efforts were disallowed. A performance of this stature defined why Arsenal have fallen short yet again, the same old story for Arsenal fans.

With Manchester United playing on the Sunday, West Ham failed to take the initiative and put the pressure on the fifth placed side. A draw leaves the Hammers four points behind the Red Devils.

Liverpool 4-1 Stoke City

A Divock Origi brace helped Liverpool to a comfortable victory in preparation for Dortmund’s Anfield visit. The Reds leapfrog their opponents into eighth and will take great positives as Daniel Sturridge played the full 90 minutes and Joe Allen stepped up his game in the absence of Jordan Henderson.

Alberto Moreno opened the scoring from distance before Bojan Krkic levelled. Daniel Sturridge finished Sheyi Ojo’s cross before Origi’s second half brace issued a warning to their Europa League visitors. The Belgian headed the third and his cross-come-shot put the result to bed as Liverpool claimed all three points.

Sturridge was influential in Liverpool’s second placed finish in the 2014/15 campaign but injuries have hindered his progression. 90 minutes and a goal stands the striker in good stead to feature against Jurgen Klopp’s former side, a massive positive given a lack of top class options.

Allen impressed in the place of the injured Henderson in midfield while Origi is finally settling into life at Anfield. The striker failed to break into the side at the beginning of the season but chances are becoming more regular, leaving Klopp with decisions to make as to who starts up front. Youngster Ojo showed pace and intent, assisting Sturridge’s goal adding more options for the German and assisting Liverpool’s much needed climb up the table back to where they should be.

As for Stoke, they move down to ninth place, a position they have finished in in the last two seasons under Mark Hughes. A promising side were undone by a Liverpool side who once in front, stayed in front as the Potters had no answers. Record signing Giannelli Imbula will be key in the engine room role looking at next season but today the attackers, other than Bojan’s goal, couldn’t convert chances.

Swansea City 1-0 Chelsea

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s second half strike ended Guus Hiddink’s 14 game unbeaten league run. As a result of their victory, Swansea have taken four points from Chelsea this season, while the Blues won a meagre point from a possible six over the two games.

An experimental Chelsea side, featuring Matt Miazga and Ruben Loftus-Cheek making their second consecutive starts, looked shaky as Jefferson Montero left Cesar Azpilicueta with nightmares. The winger had the better of the full back on a number of occasions and his poorly cleared cross was rifled in by Sigurdsson.

The away side pushed for the equaliser in the latter stages of the game, Alexandre Pato coming close with a fancy flick just wide of the post from Pedro’s cross their closest chance. The Blues will want to avoid a similar run to Manchester City after the announcement of Pep Guardiola’s arrival, given Antonio Conte’s arrival was announced in midweek followed by this defeat. Two men on the day gave the Chelsea defence a headache as Chelsea under 21s were denied a debut. Charlie Colkett, Ola Aina and Kasey Palmer were all left on the bench as unused substitutes but are likely to be given a chance before the end of the season.

Sigurdsson has scored his ninth goal since the start of 2016, only bettered by Kane and Sergio Aguero with 11. His volley through three Chelsea bodies was enough to clinch victory despite a late onslaught by the Blues. However, the damage had already been done as a poor performance by Miazga and a lack of clinical finishing in the final third cost the current champions. Chelsea’s defence backed off as Montero had the beating of Azpilicueta from start to finish.

With both sides safe for this season, attention should start to turn to next season. The likes of Miazga and Loftus-Cheek will be using the final six games to impress the incoming boss and Pato also looks to earn a contract at Stamford Bridge. Swansea are 13 points clear of safety and are all but there in their attempts of survival since Francesco Guidolin’s arrival.

 

Aston Villa 1-2 AFC Bournemouth

Aston Villa survive for another week as Norwich failed to pick up any points against Crystal Palace. In a toxic atmosphere around Villa Park, Jordan Ayew started the comeback but the home side couldn’t find the equaliser.

A half empty stadium watched on for the first seven minutes as protests continued, this week representing the seven titles the club has won, in another in a number of digs at the hierarchy led by owner Randy Lerner.

An intricate finish by Steve Cook from a rehearsed corner routine gave the Cherries the lead at half-time. Josh King’s chipped finish doubled the lead after beating Ciaran Clark to a loose ball. The atmosphere affected the play as passes went astray but Bournemouth were over the line, avenging their 1-2 defeat from the opening day of the season. Callum Wilson’s return was met by rapturous applause after seven months out, for the final stages of the game because of an injury to King.

Ayew has led by example up front for a Villa side lacking fight. With 15 points from five games needed to survive, it’s all but over for the Villans. The Ghanaian ended a run of 10 games without scoring but was well deserved for a player playing for the cause. While it is unlikely that Ayew will play for the side in the Championship the striker is playing with desire, something a number of his teammates lack. Kieron Richardson missed a succession of chances to finish, the most notable an Ayew pass across goal grazed by the foot of Richardson, summing up their woeful season.

 

Of the other fixtures:

Crystal Palace 1-0 Norwich

Southampton 3-1 Newcastle United

Watford 1-1 Everton

Man City 2-1 West Brom

Crystal Palace host Everton in the only midweek fixture on Wednesday 13th April at 20:00 BST but a full fixture list resumes as Norwich host Sunderland for the 12:45 BST kick off on Saturday 16th April.

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