Although Matchday 21 in the Premier League lacks the usual marquee matchups, the overall parity throughout the league makes every fixture important. Whether it's the title chase, the race for European berths or avoiding relegation, there's very little margin for error.
Just because none of those races will get settled during Saturday's action doesn't mean the matches are any less important. When clubs miss their goal by a point or two at season's end, they look back at the missed opportunities throughout the season.
With that in mind, let's check out how the Premier League table is shaping up ahead of Week 22 with more than half of this week's play now complete. The standings are followed by the day's results and a recap of the matches.
Here are Saturday's results:
|Date||Home Club||Road Club||Score|
|Jan. 11||Cardiff||West Ham||0-2|
|Jan. 11||Southampton||West Brom||1-0|
|Jan. 11||Tottenham||Crystal Palace||2-0|
|Jan. 11||Manchester United||Swansea||2-0|
Chelsea overcame a sluggish opening half against Hull to score a 2-0 victory. Eden Hazard got the scoring started for the Blues about 10 minutes after the break, and they took complete control from there. Fernando Torres scored inside the final five minutes to eliminate any remaining doubt.
The club passed along manager Jose Mourinho's praise on the recent form of Hazard:
Mourinho: 'For Hazard to win the man of the match for the third consecutive game is something nice.' #CFC— Chelsea FC (@chelseafc) January 11, 2014
Where will Chelsea be when Matchday 21 ends?
With Arsenal and Manchester City idle on Saturday, the victory allowed Chelsea to move atop the table for at least the time being. Even if they fall back into third by the end of the matchday, the title chase is setting up to become very interesting between the trio of clubs.
Tottenham also remain quietly in the mix, if not for the trophy then certainly for a Champions League berth. They went into halftime scoreless before elevating their form in the second half, as Christian Eriksen and Jermain Defoe scored to knock off Crystal Palace.
Everton took care of business as well. Gareth Barry scored in the 23rd minute and the Toffees were basically on cruise control from there, holding a sizable possession edge and allowing Norwich to create very few chances. Kevin Mirallas delivered a nice free-kick goal to cap the win, which moves them into the top four.
Perhaps the most surprising performance of the day came from Sunderland. The Black Cats, who entered the day in the Premier League basement, took full advantage of a struggling Fulham side to score an impressive 4-1 win.
Adam Johnson netted a hat trick in the win. Paul Carr of ESPN notes that he's the third Sunderland player to accomplish the feat in Premier League play:
Adam Johnson is the third Sunderland player with a PL hat trick, joining Darren Bent & Kevin Phillips (2).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) January 11, 2014
Elsewhere, Southampton got a second-half tally from an in-form Adam Lallana to pick up three key points over West Brom. The Saints have slid down the table after a strong start, but the win brings them back closer to the top pack.
West Ham were forced to play the final 20 minutes a man down after James Tomkins was sent off, but they still managed to pick up the road win over Cardiff. Carlton Cole and Mark Noble scored for the Irons, who move out of the relegation zone for this week.
Finally, Manchester United got back on a winning track with a 2-0 triumph over Swansea. Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck netted second-half goals for a United side that desperately needed a win after a rough stretch across all competitions to keep within striking distance of the top four.