Seven things we learnt this weekend: The Premier League table is fascinating and Liverpool are genuine title contenders
Also, how In nine matches against the bottom six Sunderland have taken six points
Monday 17 March 2014
1. Premier League table makes for fascinating reading
This season is one of the most exciting for years with the Premier League table shifting every week. It's been a season when just as a team looks certain to march on to the title, they falter. First it was Manchester City and then Chelsea. With victories for Liverpool and Arsenal at the weekend against their respective biggest rivals, the teams in red are back in contention.
The other end of the league is just as interesting, with relegation 'certainties' Fulham finally getting a win at the weekend and ensuring no team at that end of the table can rest on their laurels.
2. Liverpool can win the Premier League title
A trip to Old Trafford, despite all that has gone on at Manchester United this season, remains one of the toughest tests in football. Yet Liverpool oozed confidence and quality in the intimidating atmosphere and deservedly ran out comfortable winners. With games against title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City still to come, Brendan Rodgers' side showed that they have the confidence to win those games.
3. In the must-win games, Sunderland fire blanks
When the boos rang around the Stadium of Light they were for both Crystal Palace and Sunderland, two teams who might join each other in the cold embrace of relegation. Should Sunderland go down, it will be for two reasons – the civil war unleashed on his own dressing room by Paolo Di Canio and their failure to beat the teams around them.
In nine matches against the clubs in the bottom six, Sunderland have amassed a grand total of six points. In four matches against those teams on Wearside – the absolute definition of a must-win game – Sunderland have yet to score so much as a goal.
4. A Mel win at last, but Baggies flag not yet a chequered one
Astonishingly, before their 2-1 win at Swansea City, the last time West Bromwich Albion won away was when Steve Clarke sat in the press room at Old Trafford explaining how his side had destroyed Manchester United. Forty-six days later Clarke was sacked. So it is probably not wise to set too much store by Pepe Mel’s first win as West Bromwich manager 65 days after his appointment.
But for a superb display by Ben Foster in goal, Swansea might have wrapped the match up before half-time. Mel is still not secure but if his side take points from their next three games – against Hull, Cardiff and Norwich Cities – the Spanish flags the Baggies fans have brought to back their manager will not have to be put away just yet.
5. Newcastle’s hopes are ropy on visits to rickety grounds
Once the furore about goal-line technology had cleared away and it became clear that Alan Pardew, watching the transmission from the team hotel, had not assaulted a waiter or thrown a television out of his bedroom window, Newcastle United could contemplate their fifth straight defeat at Fulham.
Craven Cottage has been one of the Premier League’s most inviting venues. However, Newcastle have always had a problem with elderly, slightly ramshackle football grounds. They failed to win on any of their final 15 visits to The Dell and only started beating Southampton when the Saints moved to a purpose-built venue that looks like most other modern football grounds.
6. Solskjaer signings won’t be the salvation of Cardiff
When Malky Mackay was finally prised from the manager’s room at Cardiff, most people believed the club would survive. Firstly, because however loathsomely Vincent Tan had behaved, he would provide hard cash in the January transfer window and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s track record with Molde was impressive. However, while Solskjaer’s tactics and Cardiff’s fight drew applause after the desperately narrow 2-1 defeat at Everton, a look at the team sheet suggested that the transfer budget might not be the key to survival. Four of the men Solskjaer has signed began on the bench.
7. Lambert should have head start on Carroll for Brazil
In the wake of Southampton’s 4-2 crushing of Norwich that will once more have Chris Hughton standing his round in Carrow Road’s last chance saloon, Rickie Lambert was asked about his hopes of going to the World Cup. Lambert, who was watched by Roy Hodgson, replied that he could not see the England manager taking both him and Andy Carroll, who had scored in West Ham United’s 3-1 defeat at Stoke City.
If it is a choice between Lambert and Carroll, the Southampton man should start inquiring about suncream because in his last, injury-blighted year England’s most expensive striker has scored five goals. Rather more pointedly, West Ham have won only one of those matches in which he found the net.
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