Monday, April 23, 2012

Monday Morning Keeper: EPL Week 35

Someone call the engraver down at EPL headquarters and tell him to hold off on putting anything more than "Manchester" on the trophy for this season.

Two short weeks ago, Manchester United held an 8 point lead in the standings with six to play and just took the edge on goal differential as well, City had lost 1-0 at Arsenal and people were calling for Roberto Mancini's head. Fast-forward to today, three matches have occurred, United has managed just 4 points, and City has managed a perfect 9 points. The teams are separated by just 3 points and as the soccer gods would have it, play each other next Monday for what could be the title decider. I would argue that the upcoming match might be the most important Manchester Derby in their 163 meetings, counting the upcoming match and dating back to 1881. I will have a detailed look at the match next Monday and the history of the Derby, but for now let's see what happen this weekend.

I would say that everyone on the planet likely put the chances of Everton winning at Old Trafford on Sunday at about zero percent; the team hadn't won at the stadium in over 20 years. After a frustrating defeat in the FA Cup semifinal to Liverpool last week, it was assumed that Everton would just roll over and die still reeling from their defeat. That was not the case, and United likely underestimated the determination of their competitor. Everton (and Man City) fans rose to their feet 30 minutes into the first half when Nikica Jelavic scored to put the Toffees up 1-0 and put the Old Trafford crowd into a bit of silence. But as had been the case several times this season, Wayne Rooney found his way to the ball and drew the teams even just before the half. If anyone assumed the match would likely be decided on a single goal in the second half, they would truly surprised at the outcome. The first fifteen minutes of the half found Nani and Danny Welbeck scoring for United pushing the lead up to 3-1. The United fans started waving their "Why Always We #20" signs and the commentators went to their scripts over the greatness of the team and that the championship was theirs. Frankly, did anyone really think Everton could come back? "Side Show Bob" Marouane Fellaini gave hope to Everton as he pulled one goal back for the team in the 67th minute, but just two minutes later Wayne Rooney scored his second goal and with a 4-2 lead, the United fans again though it was over. However, in the final eight minutes of the match, Everton scored two more goals and even with an astonishing five plus minutes of "Fergie" injury time, the Toffees held the backline and managed a well deserved 4-4 draw. The result helped Everton maintain seventh in the table right between Chelsea and Liverpool and if all holds, the streak of top eight finishes for the team will stretch to 6 seasons. United have to remember, they are still in the driver's seat for the title. If they manage a win or tie at City next Monday, the title race will indeed be over, but their recent play has cast a bit of doubt in the United camp.

City's match at Wolverhampton was more a formality than anything else. The second place team in the table, scoring like a machine over their last three matches, traveling to the worst team in the league who knew that their relegation fate could be sealed in just ninety minutes. Sergio Aguero was able to get the scoring started half way through the first with a fantastic fake out of the last defender and a light touch past the keeper. However, the Wolves had a bit of fight in them with a handful of chances in both halves including a couple that forced Joe Hart to a fully outstretched position. Samir Nasri scored a much deserved goal in the 74th minute and that was the match as the teams both seemed the play out the final fifteen minutes, the last nail in the Wolves premier league season had been driven. After fighting off relegation in the final minutes of last season, the Wolves become the first team to learn their fate still with three matches to play. For City it means the head games of Mancini claiming the title race was over have worked and the Citizens have a chance to take the title.

The biggest surprise of the season, Newcastle, as played off all the people who thought they didn't have a chance to stay in the top four after their early win streak. The Magpies have proven them wrong and have moved into forth in the standings after a win this weekend against Stoke, 3-0.

With the Wolves already sent down, two relegation spots remain with four teams still very much in the running. We have expanded our bottom table standings to show the teams in contention as just three matches remain.

1. Man United - 83 pts, +54 GD (26-5-4)
2. Man City - 80 pts, +60 GD (25-5-5)
3. Arsenal- 65 pts, +24 GD (20-5-10)
4. Newcastle - 62 pts, +11 GD (18-8-8)
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16. QPR - 34 pts, -18 GD (9-7-19)
17. Wigan - 34 pts, -26 GD (8-10-17)
18. Blackburn - 31 pts, -26 GD (8-7-20)
19. Bolton - 30 pts, -29 GD (9-3-21)
20. Wolverhampton - 23 pts, -41 GD (5-8-22)

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