Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday Morning Keeper: EPL Week 37

Yaya Celebrates his Two Goals
(Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk)
Call it "survival Sunday" or "the race to the title", regardless of how you slice it, the league will be decided on multiple fronts next Sunday after virtually all the teams involved in the title and relegation races earned similar results. 

The biggest match of the weekend was clearly league leaders Manchester City heading up to play fourth place Newcastle in what many thought might be the stumbling block for the Citizens in the title bid. After they Monday victory over United to take over the lead, some thought there might be a little celebration hang over from City and that they could trip up. Newcastle, on the other hand, was hungry for a victory in a very tight race for third and fourth place and the automatic Champions League bids for next season. A draw wouldn't help either team, and it was clear both sides were willing to put numbers forward to earn some goals. Keep in mind, the two best keepers in the league were facing each other with Tim Krul having fifteen clean sheets, and Joe Hart having sixteen on the season.


The first half was fairly even, both sides were moving the ball well through the midfield, but there were only two or three scoring chances from each club. The counter attacks from both clubs were met by physical tackles which led to a combined five yellow cards issued by referee Howard Webb in the first half. The teams went to the locker room scoreless and came out in the second half with much of the same counter-to-counter play. The game changing move came in the 62nd minute when Roberto Mancini took out Samir Nasri and put in Nigel De Jong in the midfield. The move was intended to free up Yaya Toure to move forward on attacks, perhaps getting that breakthrough goal... and that's exactly what happened. In the 70th minute, Toure was given a little too much space at the top of the 18 yard box and ripped a shot curling around the right-side of an out-stretched Krul to give City the 1-0 advantage. There were plenty of more chances for both sides, more so for City who could have pushed the result to 4-0 but missed on several close shots. Demba Cisse for Newcastle looked to draw things even with a header off a cross in the 79th minute, but the shot missed just wide. Joe Hart had his hands full with several great saves in the final minutes, but Toure scored a second goal to seal the match just before stoppage time. For City, it all comes down to their match with QPR at home next Sunday; they win and the title is theirs. Newcastle travel to Everton next Sunday and need to win to have a shot at third or fourth place as they sit two points back in fifth behind Arsenal and Tottenham.

Back in Manchester, United had their way for the loveable Swans of Swansea later on Sunday. Although the backline held for the Swans for the better part of the first half, poor clearances kept giving the ball back to United, and you just can't do that if you want to win. Paul Scholes made it look clinical in the 28th minute directing in a shot attempt from Michael Carrick. Then it was Ashley Young, who actually stay on his feet for most of the match, converting a free ball in the box off a Rooney shot attempt. If anyone thought United would pour on the goals in an attempt to cut into City's goal differential lead, they were mistaken. The reason Swansea are a middle of the table team on their first season in the Premier League is because they don't roll over and die. Danny Graham just about deflected a shot in for the Swans, but an quick reaction from David de Gea kept the ball out. Scoring attempts continued from both squads through the second half, but the match ended 2-0 and with United looking to QPR as their only chance of retaining the title this season. United will travel to Sunderland next weekend, which is no easy road victory, but they will be watching the sidelines for queues from the City match.

Bolton, who have suffered injuries and the near death of Fabrice Muamba, had a 2-0 lead late in the second half against WBA, but ended up in draw. The Wanderers sit in 17th place, in the relegation zone with their last match at Stoke next weekend. A tie won't help them next week, they must win and hope for a loss by QPR or Wigan as their goal differentials are too much to make up with just a tie. Meanwhile, Wigan and Blackburn play today in what could secure Wigan position in next season with a win and even with a draw most likely. Blackburn has to win their last two matches to have a shot of staying up, but it looks likely the one time premier league title winners will be heading down to the Championship next season.

Here is a look at the top and bottom of the tables with just one week to play keeping in mind the Wigan/Blackburn match still to play today. ESPN2 will be caring the Man City v QPR match and the rest of the nine matches on Sunday will be shown live across the Fox Sports Network of channels and online (check your local listings).

1. Man City - 86 pts, +63 GD (27-5-5)
2. Man United - 86 pts, +55 GD (27-5-5)
3. Arsenal- 67 pts, +24 GD (20-7-10)
4. Tottenham - 66 pts, +23 GD (18-9-9)
5. Newcastle - 65 pts, +7 GD (18-8-10)
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16. QPR - 37 pts, -22 GD (10-7-20)
17. Wigan - 37 pts, -22 GD (9-10-17)
18. Bolton - 35 pts, -31 GD (10-5-21)
19. Blackburn - 31 pts, -28 GD (8-7-21)
20. Wolverhampton - 25 pts, -41 GD (5-10-22)

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