Premier League Week 23 Table: Biggest Takeaways from Weekend's Matches

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 19, 2014

Week 22 of the Premier League won't be wrapped up until West Brom and Everton take the pitch on Monday, but 18 of the 20 clubs are already moving on to Matchday 23 with their weekend in the books.

It was far from a thrilling slate of games overall, with fewer marquee matchups to offer than usual. But a couple of surprises combined with dominating performances from top squads, made it a weekend to remember.

Tough as it may be to make bold conclusions from one result during such a long season, here are some sure things you can take away from Week 22 and how they will unfold over the coming weeks and months.


Manchester United Are Done Defending Their Title

Premier League Table: Week 23
2Man City22162450
7Man United22114737
10Aston villa22661024
11Hull City22651123
12Norwich City22651123
13Stoke City22571022
14West Brom2149821
15Swansea City22561121
16Crystal Palace22621420
18West Ham22461218
20Cardiff City22461218

When David Moyes and Manchester United walked off the Stamford Bridge pitch as 3-1 losers to Chelsea, they saw hopes of defending their 2012-13 Premier League title—unofficially, of course—slip away.

With the loss, the Red Devils are now 14 points back of table-leading Arsenal through 22 games. They boast a record of 11 wins, four draws and seven losses—they had just five losses all season last year when they won the title.

Making up 14 points obviously isn't impossible, but what truly shoots United's title chances in the foot is the fact that three clubs are top contenders for the title. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea are all within two points of the lead.

Hope remains for United fans that one—maybe two, if they're lucky—of those clubs may falter down the stretch. But all three of those high-flying clubs falling apart in the later third of the season is nothing short of improbable.

Even if they get all the help they can muster, it will be no simple task for United to turn things around. The defense is a mess, the offense is only reliable when Wayne Rooney is firing on all cylinders and the depth doesn't seem to be there in the midfield this season. 

Never say never, but it's time for United to start saying 'next season.'


Liverpool Slipped Up at the Wrong Time

Brendan Rodgers' club seriously needed three points over the weekend. Facing a sputtering Aston Villa club at Anfield had all the makings of another win to keep pace with the top three clubs in the table.

And like clockwork, they faltered.

Aston Villa sprinted out to an early 2-0 lead on the road thanks to Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke goals in the first 36 minutes. Daniel Sturridge netted Liverpool's first just before the half and Steven Gerrard saved a point for the Reds with his 53rd-minute penalty.

But despite the comeback, the end result was still far from ideal for Liverpool. 

Now with 43 points, Liverpool are six points down from third-place Chelsea after their win over United. Just as well, Tottenham knotted themselves up with Liverpool in the table at 43 points with a road win over Swansea. 

With each of the top three clubs looking poised to continue winning and Spurs making a run of decent form as of late, the Reds can't afford too many more lapses if they want to finish in the top four.


Samuel Eto'o's Breakout Game Could Not Have Come at a Better Time

It's not often that a player of Samuel Eto'o's caliber doesn't make his first appearance in the Premier League until after his 32nd birthday. It was unclear whether he could regain his superb form at this stage of his career and against this quality of competition.

Well, it's clear now.

Eto'o single-handedly took down United at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea's 3-1 win, scoring all of his side's goals en route to a hat-trick just 49 minutes in. 

The Cameroon native has been wrestling for playing time at the striker spot with Fernando Torres, both of whom have been regular components at the top of Chelsea's attack. And now, Torres could face a long road to recovery after injuring a ligament in his knee in substitute relief for Eto'o late in the win, per Mourinho on Chelsea's Twitter:

Now that Torres is out of the fold for the immediate—and maybe distant—future, Eto'o can finally nestle into that starting striker slot on a permanent basis until Torres gets back to fitness. 

And if his most recent showing is any indication, that's a great sign for Chelsea and their title aspirations.


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