Tightly contested battles are currently being waged throughout the EPL table, and the events of Matchday 21 on Jan. 11 didn't make the picture much clearer. With some top contenders for the league title picking up some victories, as well as some bottom-feeders, it was certainly an unpredictable and exciting day of Premier League action.
Based upon how close many of the races within the standings are right now, it wouldn't be particularly surprising to see several of them come down to the final few matches of the season. Even so, each and every match is of the utmost importance since every point counts.
Here is a look at how the Week 22 table is shaping up thus far, as well as some further analysis regarding the clubs that shook up the standings most.
Matchday 21 started with a tilt that certainly looked one-sided on paper, with Chelsea taking on Hull City. Although Hull have hung tough in the middle of the table this season, their talent level simply can't compare to Chelsea's. The Tigers weren't exactly run off the pitch on their home grounds, but the Blues proved to be the superior team with a 2-0 victory that temporarily moved them into first place, one point ahead of Arsenal.
Belgian phenom Eden Hazard was the biggest difference-maker, as he ran Hull ragged. The 23-year-old winger was constantly on the attack, and he ultimately scored the game-winning goal with a beautiful shot from outside the box in the 56th minute.
Hazard also helped put a bow on the triumph by assisting in creating the buildup for Fernando Torres' goal in the 87th minute. After scoring against Hull, Hazard has now contributed to eight goals over the past eight games, according to OptaJoe:
If Hazard continues playing like this moving forward, then it will be extremely difficult for Arsenal and the other top clubs to hold off Chelsea. The Blues are among the most explosive attacking teams in the EPL, but they're also defensively sound, as they showed against Hull. The Tigers didn't get a single good scoring look throughout the match, and there was never really a doubt that Chelsea would prevail.
Everton's strong first season under Roberto Martinez continued on Saturday, as the Toffees thoroughly dominated Norwich City in an impressive 2-0 home win at Goodison Park. Everton have been among the top-of-the-table clubs all season long, and they have the fewest losses in the entire league with just two. If Toffees had been able to convert a couple more of their draws into victories, they could very well be on the precipice of first place right now.
Even so, they are very much in the thick of things. Beating Norwich moved Everton from fifth into the all-important fourth spot, as they vaulted past idle Liverpool. The Reds will have a chance to reclaim their spot with a victory over Stoke City on Jan. 12, but Everton supporters have to be happy with their current standing.
Also, things figure to get even better now that the Toffees have secured Spartak Moscow winger Aiden McGeady, according to Sky Sports:
BREAKING: Everton sign Aiden McGeady on a permanent deal from Spartak Moscow for an undisclosed fee. #EFC— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) January 11, 2014
McGeady has had a fine season in Russia, with seven assists in 12 appearances, but his stay with Spartak hasn't gone as well as originally hoped. He was a stud while with Celtic, which included a season that saw him score eight times and dish out 24 assists in 2007-08. McGeady has the ability to be an elite playmaker, and that should be huge for Everton in their pursuit of a Champions League spot. Their win over Norwich was another step in the right direction.
Which team scored the biggest win on Matchday 21?
West Ham United entered their Matchday 21 clash with Cardiff City in dire straits, sitting 19th in the EPL standings. But their 2-0 road victory may have turned their fortunes around for the better. With the win, West Ham moved ahead of Cardiff City and into 17th place on goal differential. That temporarily puts them outside the relegation zone, but there are still plenty of matches left to be played.
The win was particularly huge for manager Sam Allardyce after a 6-0 loss to Manchester City on Jan. 8. The Hammers have been struggling through a rough stretch, but Allardyce's squad showed up and performed for him against Cardiff. According to Alistair Magowan of BBC Sport, current Reading striker Jason Roberts believes that his former manager will persevere at West Ham:
If the board and the fans stay supportive, I think he will turn it around. If West Ham had another manager and found themselves in this situation, people would say you need an Allardyce-type manager to come in.
Roberts' words proved prophetic on Matchday 21, but it remains to be seen if West Ham can keep the positive momentum moving forward. Beating Cardiff on the road figures to be huge for the team's confidence, though, and it will be interesting to see how the Hammers build upon this.
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