Leicester City’s title surge rumbles on
The Leicester City bubble remains intact. As the harsh winds of January pass, Claudio Ranieri’s clutch of forgotten men and bargain buys remain atop of the Premier Legaue table on merit.
They would fall away, we were told, as soon as Arsenal and Manchester City shifted into fifth gear. But rather than focus on the failures of their rivals, the time has come to accept reality and give the enigmatic Italian his due rewards. Following the 3-0 dismantling of Stoke, another of this most peculiar of season’s brightest sparks, the Foxes are three points clear.
Nobody has any games in hand anymore. Just City, propelled by the irrepressible goal-scoring feats of Sergio Aguero, have a greater goal difference. The swagger which let Leicester down at Aston Villa last week, manifesting itself as arrogance for Riyad Mahrez’s second missed penalty of the month, has become a weapon once more.
A sprinkle of Guid-dust could keep Swans up
Premier League clubs buried in the relegation mire have an odd habit of getting managerial appointments horribly wrong. Step forward: Felix Magath’s failed Fulham renaissance, Brian Laws’ Burnley mess and Chris Ramsey’s Queens Park Rangers slide.
Swansea City’s decision, therefore, to pluck out 60-year-old former Bologna, Palermo and Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin runs the risk of joining a long line of recruitment mishaps.
One fortunate victory against a stuttering Everton side won’t silence the critics for long if the Swans embark on another patch of form like the one which saw predecessor Garry Monk dismissed.
But the work-rate and endeavour demonstrated by Guidolin’s side on Merseyside gives the Welsh club hope of survival - and a second win on the bounce. Away to West Brom next, a trio of victories could push the Swans yet further away from danger.
Costa writes the script in the capital
As football clichés go, whether it be half-time oranges or smashed teacups, none are a match for Arsenal’s annual slump. The Gunners are not suffering an apocalyptic downturn just yet, no matter how bitter the aftertaste of Diego Costa’s antics may be, but the warning lights are beginning to flicker red nonetheless.
Picking up two points from a possible nine has seen Arsene Wenger’s men surrender top spot and plummet to the murky depths of 3rd in the table. The inescapable inevitability of it all, however, remains the most frustrating factor for Emirates regulars.
It’s a testament to this campaign’s violently open nature that Arsenal remain in the title hunt - yet this defeat felt like a defining moment. Aside from the visit of Burnley in the FA Cup next weekend, tricky home clashes against Southampton and Leicester sandwich a jeopardous trip to Bournemouth. Wenger’s side have a big month ahead.
Everton’s Goodison complex crippling
You may be guaranteed goals at Goodison Park, with the famous Merseyside ground witnessing the most of all Premier League stadia this term, but Everton season ticket holders would surely take a little tedium if it translated into points.
The Toffees’ latest home failure, surrendering three points to a rejuvenated Swansea under new boss Guidolin, was their fifth home defeat of the season. For a side who consider themselves challengers for a European berth, this is bordering on crisis-territory.
Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, is lodged uncomfortably in the eye of the storm, forced to trudge down the tunnel at full-time amid a chorus of boos from the home faithful.
“We were looking forward to coming to Goodison and enjoying our football, but we can't find a way to do that," said the Spaniard, whose side have not won a home league game since November. “We have become fearful and expect the worst.”
Alli becomes Tottenham’s main man
It’s been a very good weekend for Tottenham Hotspur. With Arsenal and Manchester City continuing to surrender points, Mauricio Pochettino’s resurgent Spurs continue their gallop towards the summit. The 3-1 win at Crystal Palace represented more of a waltz, mind you, with Dele Alli’s strike worthy of the West End.
Signed from MK Dons and loaned back to stadium:mk last season, Alli has since taken the Premier League by storm and further cemented Pochettino’s status as English football’s adopted godfather.
Alongside England team-mate Harry Kane, the 19-year-old is thrusting Spurs into one of the tightest title races in recent memory.
Now five points adrift of Manchester United, a club in the midst of their latest crisis, there’s a reassuring top-four cushion forming – giving Spurs the freedom to mount a series title tilt.
Watford reverse the slide
Quique Sanchez Flores’s bid to be crowned Manager of the Year has suffered a considerable knock over the New Year with four successive defeats dampening Watford’s mood.
Points have been handed over to Tottenham, City, Southampton and Swansea with little fuss or resistance as the Hornets fell into the bottom half after previously threatening to challenge for Europe.
The visit of Newcastle United, this season’s Jekyll and Hyde club, represented the hosts with the opportunity to get back on track. Odion Ighalo was without a goal since 2015, but the Nigerian sparked his side’s return to form with his 14th of the season.
After his fist-pumping antics on the sidelines, Watford’s colourful boss was bullish at full-time, heralding a clean slate for his high-flying side.
He said: “It was a crucial match during the season - Newcastle are trying to avoid the same position as us [relegation]. We have got more of a gap to Newcastle now.” They can start looking up again now.
Liverpool are entertainers again
It would be a different story, of course, had Adam Lallana not been in the right place at the right time, but Liverpool continue to provide thrills and spills.
And that’s before we even mention Jurgen Klopp’s off-field spectacle. A devastating injury crisis is cutting deep at Anfield, testing the German’s expertise to its limit.
Yet the goals keep flowing - despite the absence of Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings and Divock Origi.
If the audacious attempt to ensnare Shakthar Donetsk forward Alex Teixeira from under Chelsea’s noses proves successful, the Reds rollercoaster could still hurtle towards a grandstand finish.
Eight points adrift of Tottenham, Champions League qualification, remarkably, remains the dream, albeit a faint one.
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