If you thought that we’d have to wait at least another week to see the sort of miraculous comebacks the Champions League has just produced, then guess again. The Premier League has so far done an excellent job in providing similar levels of entertainment. Looking at the fixtures, this weekend, particularly the Saturday, didn’t look like one in which we’d be witnessing any major upsets, so prepare to be shocked.
Looking at the day chronologically, it started with a huge match between fierce rivals Crystal Palace and Brighton. Other than a loss to Manchester United, Palace’s recent form has been fairly impressive, including some strong away victories against the likes of Leicester and Burnley. The same couldn’t be said for Brighton, who had lost to both those same teams within their last 4 games. Consequently, Palace went into the game as fairly strong favourites expected to pick up all three points in a match they and the fans would have been desperate to win. However, as we know, form often counts for nothing when it comes to grudge encounters like this. The game was fiery right from kick off when Knockaert clattered into Milivojevic and was lucky to only see yellow rather than red. Nonetheless, the game continued 11 Vs 11 with former Eagles’ fan favourite Murray opening the scoring for the visitors, this his 100th league goal for Brighton. It feels like Milivojevic has scored just as many from the penalty spot since making his move to South London, adding another not long into the second half after Townsend was blatantly tripped in the box. Surely the home side would go on to at least earn a point having come from behind, but it wasn’t meant to be. As if a defeat to your greatest rivals wasn’t already bad enough, this one will be particularly bitter for Hodgson’s men. This is because it was Knockaert, lucky to even have played anything over 30 seconds of the game, who curled the winner into the top corner from 20 yards out. Palace will feel hard done by but it is Brighton who come away with the bragging rights and a much needed victory to help them climb out of their recent rut.
Five 3 o’clock kick-offs followed this fearsome clash, two of which involved the Premier League’s bottom clubs. Any hopes of unlikely survival for either Huddersfield or Fulham were now well and truly buried. Neither were able to add any much needed points onto the board, Huddersfield comfortably beaten 0-2 by Bournemouth, who have often struggled on the road, and Fulham losing 3-1 at Leicester. It’s hard to take many positives out of what has been such a disappointing campaign for them both. Yet, they’re now almost at the point where they can start preparing for life in the Championship rather than the Premiership, and they’re in decent positions to do that. They share one similarity which is that they both possess young, passionate managers. It’s fair to say that Siewert has had a very difficult start to life in English football, but you couldn’t expect much more considering the position his side were already in when he joined the club. Fulham’s interim manager Scott Parker, though vastly experienced in the game as a player, has also struggled since the sacking of Ranieri, suffering two defeats in his first two games. Again, it would be unfair to judge him on these fixtures alone, coming up against Chelsea at home and Leicester away, two games they’d do well to get anything from. Both managers will be eager to make their mark as coaches and the Championship could be the best place for them to do that. If they are given the opportunity to prove that they are ready, there’s no reason why both these sides can’t make swift returns to the top tier once they suffer their inevitable fates.
Their situations weren’t helped by the fact that a few of their nearest competitors all picked up three points today. We’ve already touched on Brighton’s unexpected victory and the others were greatly of the same nature. Newcastle have really picked up their form, now looking more like a mid-table side than one threatend by relegation. The arrival of Miguel Almiron has played a huge part in this rejuvenation, the Paraguayan immediately settling into life with his new club. Things didn’t look to be going as smoothly in today’s game though. The Magpies found themselves 0-2 down to Everton until the 65th minute of the game when Rondon kickstarted an unbelievable comeback from the home side. Perez added two more quickfire goals to give his side a 3-2 victory and take them further from the drop zone. Although it’s not as great a shock as a side coming back from 2 goals behind and winning, Cardiff’s solid display in beating West Ham 2-0 probably wasn’t expected by many. Like Brighton, Cardiff have been in far from impressive form losing their last 3 games conceding and 10 goals in the process. Why would anything be different against a side who possess players capable of causing any team problems on their day? Though still not out of the relegation zone, Cardiff are only 2 points adrift; more displays like this would leave them with every chance of remaining in the Premier League.
Despite all these shocks, we haven’t yet mentioned what was arguably the most surprising of them all. In recent weeks Tottenham have shown that they are somewhat vulnerable even with Harry Kane. They may have just comfortably reached the Champions League Quarter-finals, but they were also winless in three Premier League games. A visit to the 17th placed side would, on paper, ordinarily seem like the perfect opportunity for Spurs to bounce back from a minor slump. They looked like doing that, completely dominating in the first half and going into the break with a one goal lead. Given how the game was going, no one would have predicted that Southampton would turn this around. Their young right back, Valery, has now scored against both Manchester United and Spurs, his 76th minute goal levelling the match. Beyond this point, Southampton continued to pile on the pressure, and it paid off. James Ward-Prowse has really come into his own in recent weeks and he kept up his goalscoring form when he fired in a glorious free-kick. A late push from Spurs proved ineffective and it was Southampton who claimed a crucial 2-1 victory in their fight for survival. As for Tottenham, they now aren’t really any more likely to claim a top 4 spot than any of those just below them, a real disappointment on their part having been cruising in third place for much of the season.
Unfortunately for the neutral, this is where the surprises end. Leaders Manchester City played host to a competitive Watford side. Playing a weakened side against arguably the best team in the league probably wouldn’t be every managers plan A. Yet, you can’t really blame Gracia given the circumstances; his side currently sit 8th in the league in a position where they don’t have to worry about what’s above or below them, all credit to them for being in that situation by this point in the season. They also have an upcoming FA Cup tie with Crystal Palace, a competition which may now be Gracia’s priority, so it makes sense to rest players for that. Despite making 7 changes, Watford looked secure and kept Man City at bay until the first minute of the second half. Sterling opened the scoring with a goal which should have been disallowed for offside. Thankfully, this didn’t end up being decisive, the winger adding two more later in the half to claim the matchball. Deulofeu’s goal just moments after coming on ending up being nothing more than a consolation, Man City comfortably claiming the win. This result sees them extend their lead to 4 points, Liverpool now under pressure to beat Burnley tomorrow and close the gap again.
Weekends like this are the exact reason why the Premier League has a reputation for being so unpredictable, and rightly so. The Arsenal Vs Manchester United match tomorrow looked like the only game of real significance that could truly go either way. Of the 7 games that were played today, you could argue that 4 ended up surprising us. Ordinarily, you’d be lucky to see more than one upset across an entire weekend, let alone four in a single day. No opponent can be taken for granted, not even those greatly threatened by relegation.