Rival inconsistencies continue to help Leicester
The most outrageous title challenge of the Premier League era has been brought about through a combination of Leicester brilliance and a pack of rivals determined to help them in any way they can. The recent fixtures have been a great example of this. On the one hand, Leicester follow up an unfortunate home draw against the Baggies with a hard-fought win at Watford that came about through some inspired half-time substitutions and tactical adjustments. On the other hand, all of the Foxes’ title rivals had weeks of inconsistency. Man City thumped Villa only after being thumped themselves by Liverpool, while Arsenal and Spurs played out a pulsating North-London derby draw after both losing in midweek. If the impossible happens, so much of it will be because of just how good Leicester have been this season. However, if just one of the other contenders had the season-length consistency Leicester have had, then the miracle would be far less likely to happen.
Rondon rules; Mata misjudges
West Brom’s first home victory against Manchester United since Biblical times (the second game in a row that Tony Pulis has realised playing strikers can lead to victories) was a contrasting tale of two talented players. For the Baggies, Rondon scored his fourth goal in six during the sort of towering, muscular performance that has made his transition from Russian football a substantial success this season. Juan Mata meanwhile, one of the most calm, likeable and skilful players in the league, had a game to forget thanks to two deserved yellow cards in two minutes, each of equal stupidity. From deliberately blocking a free-kick to kicking Darren Fletcher three minutes later, his trip to an early bath did much to put United on the back foot. As one team enters a mini-revival, so it seems one has lost their momentum that they had done so well to build up recently.
Pardew’s Palace continue to plunge
A last-minute penalty was what took a result away from Crystal Palace against Liverpool, but it is only part of a wretched run during which Pardew’s men have been incapable of getting a win. The controversy was what he focused on post-match, but the reality is this was another game that his side seemed to lose more than the opposition won it. After a fine start which promised a top-six finish and the potential of the manager getting a call for the England job after the Euros, Palace’s season hangs over the precipice. They will most likely stay up, but more because of the sheer wretchedness below rather than their own chances of rediscovering their early-season form.
Three-way battle against the last two places
Aston Villa are down: that is now a given. Moreover, with Bournemouth and Swansea’s recent upward trajectory, there is a sizeable gap between the rest of the league and three sides threatening to join Villa in the Championship next season. Sunderland possess the best manager for the job; Norwich never look out of a game in which they play and Newcastle have the best individual players with the likes of Shelvey and Mitrovic. That is the positive spin on three clubs that have all at one point looked certainties for the drop. Smart money would go on Sunderland to stay up, as Norwich cannot seem to buy a win, while Newcastle’s alarming propensity to stop trying mid-defeat harms their league chances as much as it does their fan’s morale. However, in this season more than any, a sure bet is the hardest thing to come by.
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