This week's round of Premier League action has continued to throw up surprises—at both ends of the table.
There has been a change at the top, with a new team taking charge in the battle to be crowned league champions, and at the bottom, with those involved in the relegation battle leapfrogging each other.
One team gained bragging rights over their most fierce rivals, whilst another managed a feat that they'd never managed in their 140-year history.
Here are five things we learned from the midweek Premier League action.
Robin van Persie missed 10 games for Manchester United over the recent weeks, and many may have thought that the Dutch striker would lack match practice upon his return. In fact, nobody would have blamed him if he was a little rusty.
But, in typical RvP fashion, the 31-year-old proved the doubters wrong and shone—scoring after just six minutes into his return.
Van Persie had featured just once since November 10—a period in which United lost a huge 16 points, effectively ruling themselves out of the title race.
There’s no doubt that the Red Devils missed their talismanic striker, but his performance in the comfortable 2-0 win over Cardiff will give them hope of securing a Champions League spot come the end of the season.
Arsenal are all too familiar with just how consistent you have to be for the duration of the season in order to lift the title. In seasons gone by, the London club have challenged for the Premier League, only to fall away at the very end.
And it had all been going so well for Arsene Wenger’s men for the first six months of the season. Six months in which they had led for the majority. But, once again, it appears that the wheels may have fallen off.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Southampton are no pushovers and, if you’ll excuse the horrid football cliché, St. Mary’s is a tough place to go. But if you’re to go on and win the Premier League, then you should really be coming away from Hampshire with all three points. Arsenal didn’t. They were held to a 2-2 draw and lost ground to a team who have been strong all season and only look like improving.
Manchester City have been hot on the heels of the Gunners all season long and have questionably played the most entertaining and efficient football in the league. After all, they managed to put six past Tottenham and Arsenal and seven past a hapless Norwich.
And after City's tremendous endeavour in the first six months of the campaign, they’re now top dogs courtesy of their 5-1 hammering of Spurs at White Hart Lane. And who would be surprised if they stayed there for the rest of the season?
Roberto Martinez has worked wonders at Everton this season. Prior to their clash with fierce rivals Liverpool, the Toffees had lost just two Premier League games all season and were sitting in sixth—one point off the Champions League places.
Their form at home has been impeccable, and they’ve also claimed a number of vital wins on the road. But their most recent game saw them come unstuck, and in the worst possible place: Anfield.
The latest installment of the Merseyside derby was billed as one of the most exciting in recent years—especially after the 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture at Goodison Park earlier in the season.
But all the hype surrounding the clash was quashed pretty early on as Livepool ran riot. Brendan Rodgers’ men claimed all three points and the bragging rights with an emphatic 4-0 win.
In similar fashion to the return fixture at the back end of November, Villa went two goals down early on in their West Midlands derby with West Brom. A Chris Brunt cracker was shortly followed by Fabian Delph turning the ball into his own net as a chorus of boos erupted from the discontented home fans.
It looked bleak for the hosts, who had never overturned a 2-0 deficit to win in the Premier League, but a stirring fightback saw them take the lead with just over half an hour on the clock. Andreas Weimann and Leandro Bacuna restored parity for the Claret and Blues before Fabian Delph’s stunning strike edged them in front.
But in what turned out to be a mad first half, Youssouf Mulumbu tied the score following a neat passing move from the visitors.
Their first chance to win a game from two down appeared to have slipped away, until Christian Benteke’s penalty on the hour mark sealed the victory.
Tony Pulis took over as Crystal Palace manager at the end of November with the newly promoted team sitting six points adrift of safety and in 19th position.
Stats were continually thrown around, with everybody seemingly relegating the London-based club before the turn of the year.
“Palace have never survived a season in the Premier league in four attempts…”
However, there was one thing in their favour. And it was yet another stat.
“Tony Pulis has NEVER been relegated as a manager in 21 years…”
But surely not even he could keep Palace up?!
Well, he’s certainly doing everything to prove the doubters wrong. Though just nine points separate Cardiff in 20th and Aston Villa in 10th, the Eagles now sit in 14th place having won six of their last 12 Premier League games.
Maybe it’ll be fifth-time lucky for Crystal Palace, and maybe Pulis will add another year onto that incredible run.