Could West Brom actually beat the drop?
After stunning Chelsea 5-2 last weekend, the question hung over West Brom – was it one of those freak results or could the Baggies do it again?
Turns out, Sam Allardyce’s side had another big result in their locker, this time seeing off Southampton 3-0 at The Hawthorns.
Most of the damage was done in a sensational first-half performance, where West Brom looked like they had walked off the Stamford Bridge pitch straight into this game. The Baggies had 13 shots in the opening 45 minutes, last having more in February 2012 against Wolves (16).
- West Brom 3-0 Southampton – Match report and highlights
- WBA’s ‘lost’ goal: The most confusing VAR decision yet?
It was a controversial start when Mbaye Diagne’s header was ruled out for offside – despite the striker seemingly onside. But it almost spurred West Brom on further, and scored two quick goals as Matheus Pereira fired home from the penalty spot before Matt Phillips turned Diagne’s super pass home.
Allardyce changed tact in the second half, switching to a defensive mentality. “I wanted to see what Southampton would come out with,” the West Brom manager said of the change. The answer was very little, and the age-old tactic of scoring on the break played out perfectly for the hosts as Callum Robinson netted West Brom’s third.
Even when Southampton had 80.1 per cent of possession in the second half, you always believed the Baggies would see out the game with a much-deserved three goals. That may be down to the Saints’ blunt attack as well as West Brom’s improvement at the back.
When he came in, Allardyce wanted his new side to tighten up at the back and start finding the net – it is hardly rocket science. But Monday’s performance demonstrated that Big Sam has finally found the balance of both.
The next step is clear – keep producing the same for the final seven games of the season. Although the task seems insurmountable, anything can happen in the Premier League and West Brom will be hoping they can be one of those miracles.
Did the FA Cup distract Southampton?
The trouble with Southampton is you can never be too sure which team will turn up. Against Burnley last weekend, they produced a superb comeback to win 3-2 and arguably secure their spot in the Premier League for another season.
But Monday’s lacklustre showing against West Brom – easily beaten 3-0 by a team second from bottom – demonstrated just why they have been on the periphery of a relegation battle. Southampton have picked up just 10 points in 15 Premier League games in 2021 (W3 D1 L11), fewer than any other side.
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
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It was a demoralising result, coming six days before their biggest game of the season – an FA Cup semi-final against Leicester at Wembley. You would expect a similar XI to be made for the Sunday showpiece, but were the Southampton players distracted by their upcoming FA Cup tie?
Manager Ralph Hasenhuttl told Sky Sports: “One thing is clear – when we play like this, we do not have a minimum chance on Sunday. If they think they can rest today for Sunday, I think that’s not the right way to do it. We will have a very critical analysis of this game because it’s important, I think.”
Southampton have a golden chance to reach their first FA Cup final since the 2002/03 season. While Leicester have had their own out-of-sorts moments this season, they will walk all over the Saints if they produce the same performance on Sunday.
They must refocus and rediscover their scoring touch as Wembley glory awaits.
Can injury-hit Everton rise to biggest challenge of all?
Everton were a point and a place outside the top four when Richarlison headed them to victory at West Brom in early March.
Since then, a four-game winless run – consisting of two league defeats and two league draws – has seen them concede ground to West Ham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham in the race for Europe, while their hopes of silverware were dashed by Manchester City in the FA Cup.
Everton’s once promising campaign, which saw them top the Premier League in October, is in danger of unravelling in front of their eyes, and their most testing period of the campaign has coincided with a crippling injury crisis which has left Carlo Ancelotti’s squad threadbare.
The Toffees host Tottenham in a Friday Night Football clash of massive proportions with no room for manoeuvre if the target Ancelotti set out time and again this season – to bring European football back to Goodison Park – is to be realised.
After the draw at Brighton, captain Seamus Coleman admitted failing to quality for Europe would represent a “massive disappointment” for Everton, words which should act like a rallying call to his team-mates ahead of a season-defining final push.
Four points behind sixth-placed Liverpool and seven behind West Ham in fourth, Ancelotti’s squad have one last fight on their hands. Having proven countless times they have the stomach for it this season, can they rise to the biggest one of all?
- Brighton 0-0 Everton – Match report and highlights
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
Same old story for Brighton
Another point on the board, another step towards safety, and another season in the Premier League is within reach for Graham Potter and Brighton.
But despite the undoubtedly positive outcome of Monday’s somewhat underwhelming meeting with Everton, Brighton’s failure to get over the line at home once again left an all too familiar sense of disappointment.
No side in the Premier League have drawn more games than the Seagulls’ 12 this season, of which eight have come at the Amex Stadium. It means only Fulham and Sheffield United, sides in the relegation zone, have won fewer points at home than Brighton this season.
Had it not been for a string of impressive victories on the road, Brighton’s home form, the bedrock of their previous battles against relegation, could have been the very thing to undo their four-year stint in the division.
It may well still be, but with a seven-point buffer between themselves and the drop zone and just seven games remaining, Potter’s side look set to live to fight another day in the top flight.
Top of their list of priorities next season has to be addressing their home form once and for all, for it has not only hamstrung this season but continues to stand in the way of Brighton reaching their full potential under Potter.
Eight cup finals for Spurs
Jose Mourinho said after Sunday’s defeat by Manchester United that facts can’t be debated. The Premier League table doesn’t lie, either: Spurs are six points off the top four with seven games remaining.
It will take a big swing to bring Champions League football back to Spurs next season, a minimum expectation of Mourinho’s at the start of this campaign.
With Harry Kane’s future heavily debated since Saturday morning – he is expected to tell Tottenham he wants to leave if they fail to qualify for the Champions League next season – Spurs have eight cup finals between now and the end of the campaign. This may well be the sliding doors moment for the decade to come.
- Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United – Match report and highlights
- The Sky Sports pundits on Harry Kane’s future
Missing out on the Champions League has its footballing and financial cost, but they can go again next year. Lose Kane with it, and they don’t just lose a player. They lose their talisman, arguably their greatest player in generations, and they make another side immeasurably stronger.
And in this era where Spurs and Daniel Levy were meant to match this sparkling, world-class new stadium with regular silverware, while developing and signing world-class talent, they’ll have failed to keep their very own. It’s easy to see where things begin to go downhill from there.
Many say football has lost its importance and context this season without fans, but starting at Goodison Park on Friday night, this is arguably Spurs biggest period of this century.
Man Utd moving clear of the pack
Twenty-eight points won now from losing positions. Manchester United’s ability to conjure points after poor starts has been a feature of their season and rarely has it been as emphatic as here. Tottenham scored first but United showcased their attacking prowess in the second half.
If Fred’s role in scoring the equaliser was a surprise, the identity of the man who netted what proved to be the winning goal was more predictable. Edinson Cavani’s movement, latching onto a through-ball from the impressive Paul Pogba, might well have earned him a goal earlier. In the end, it did.
Cavani has shown what is possible for this team when there is a world-class striker waiting in the box. As Gary Neville pointed out on co-commentary for Sky Sports, the prospect of replacing him will be expensive but when it makes the difference as it did here, the need for such a player is clear.
His disallowed goal in the first half was a setback but perhaps not as much as it might have seemed. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledged afterwards that the incident had sparked United, but it remains a mystery why it requires any catalyst other than the referee’s whistle at kick-off to ignite this team.
What is known is that they have quality within the squad, underlined by Mason Greenwood’s powerful finish for the third goal late on. That is four Premier League wins out of four now, the only team in the competition in that kind of form, and it has seen them pull clear in second place.
That represents steady improvement. Third in his first full season, second in the next, Solskjaer is making some progress and with one foot in the Europa League semi-final, the hope will be that United will have a trophy to take into the summer too. Work still to do, but encouraging signs.
Lacazette enjoys spotlight in Auba’s absence
Granted, this was a Sheffield United side staring relegation full in the face, but there was a notable absentee for Arsenal as they kept alive their hopes of playing in European competition next season.
- Sheffield United 0-3 Arsenal – Match report and highlights
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
Sunday’s 3-0 triumph at Bramall Lane was carried out with minimal fuss and without Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was absent due to illness.
Mikel Arteta revealed afterwards that the Gabon striker has been unable to train for the past couple of days but is hopeful of him being back available for the Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague on Thursday.
The question, however, is whether Aubameyang will be selected after an impressive display by Alexandre Lacazette and his supporting cast in South Yorkshire. The fresh injury to Bukayo Saka and concerns over Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard may well force Arteta’s hand, but the Spaniard will be aware of a growing trend.
Arsenal have won 66.6 per cent of their six Premier League games this season without Aubameyang (W4 D1 L1), compared to 36 per cent of those with him in the team (9/25). So will the striker be overlooked during the club’s hour of need this week?
“We had a really strong performance and a clean sheet which was needed after a long time,” Arteta said. “We were efficient and intelligent with the ball. We showed the right attitude so overall I’m really happy. Winning always breeds confidence and we will need that heading into Thursday.”
Arteta will know all the about the role momentum can play in football after seeing Arsenal’s four-game winless run ended, and following a listless display against Liverpool last week, Aubameyang may just be facing a race against time to be named on the bench.
The cameo of the season?
Steve Bruce might have not made a more impactful substitution in his career. His decision to bring on Allan Saint-Maximin with his team a goal down and with just 33 minutes remaining can’t be described as inspired as the Frenchman is clearly Newcastle’s best player but timing is everything in football. Bruce unleashed him at just the right time. It looked only a matter of time before Burnley doubled their advantage in what was a one-sided match up until Saint-Maximin entered the fray.
Newcastle should be nowhere near the relegation zone with a player like this on their books.
Saint-Maximin – who before last week’s substitute appearance had been out since February – came on alongside top-scorer Callum Wilson, back after seven games out with a hamstring problem.
Bruce has been very vocal about how much they’ve missed the Frenchman this season and he has a point. In the 13 games Saint-Maximin has missed this season, Newcastle have won just twice. That win percentage rockets to 33 per cent (six wins from 18 matches) in matches that the 24-year-old has featured in. You can be certain if he’d played more than 1014 minutes this season, Bruce’s boys wouldn’t be fighting for survival, they’d be comfortably in mid-table.
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
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Bruce said: “Probably only Allan could have done that, and when you see games like that you see what we have missed. I hope we can keep them both [Callum Wilson] well because we are a different animal with them in the team.”
What chance an Old Trafford return for Lingard?
Gary Neville suggested on Monday Night Football after his latest man-of-the-match display that Manchester United may want to take Jesse Lingard back to Old Trafford after the end of his loan at West Ham.
Well, I wonder what the former United captain is thinking now after Lingard turned in another hugely impressive performance to help the Hammers edge out top-four rivals Leicester City in a five-goal thriller on Super Sunday?
⚽ Since his West Ham debut on Feb 3 @JesseLingard has been involved in more @premierleague goals than any other player (10 – 7 goals & 3 assists) and is joint top PL scorer with Harry Kane
He has scored in 4 successive PL apps for the 1st time in his career pic.twitter.com/Ur6idDinYw
Lingard’s first-half double, the first of which to open the scoring at the London Stadium was a piece of brilliance, meant the forward has now scored in four consecutive league games for West Ham.
- West Ham 3-2 Leicester City – Report and free match highlights
- How the teams lined up | Match stats | Premier League table
Not only that, but since making his top-flight debut for West Ham, the England international has been directly involved in more goals than any other player – seven goals and three assists.
⚽⚽ With his 2nd goal @JesseLingard has now equalled his best scoring @premierleague season despite not scoring before Feb 3
8 – this season
8 – 2017-18
4 – 2018-19
4 – 2015-16 pic.twitter.com/WlmsZwjWIU
And if he carries on in this form, then surely the 28-year-old will not only be in Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad this summer, but also back in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans next season?
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