Few clubs around the Premier League aren't involved in some type of race heading into the campaign's final quarter. Whether it's for the league title, a European berth or avoiding relegation, the parity should make for a tremendous stretch run.
Matchday 28 kicked off with a handful of matches Saturday. Three of the four main championship contenders were in action, as Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all sought three points to keep pace. Elsewhere, Everton and Newcastle were trying to remain within striking distance of the top five.
Knowing that, let's check out how the table looks following the busy day of action. It's followed by a list of Saturday's outcomes and a recap of the action from around the Premier League.
Premier League Table
|Home Club||Road Club||Result|
For a while, it appeared Chelsea were going to let valuable points slip away against Fulham, which haven't found their stride this season. The match was scoreless at halftime, and the Blues' attack was sluggish in the final third.
Luckily for the league leaders, the combination of Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard started clicking on all cylinders in the second half.
Twice in the span of 13 minutes, the dynamic Belgian midfielder used his creativity and distribution skills to get Schurrle the ball in space, and the forward converted on both chances. In turn, Chelsea went from being in danger of dropping points to being in firm control.
Schurrle added another goal three minutes after his second tally to complete the hat-trick.
John Heitinga scored to get Fulham on the scoreboard with about 15 minutes to go, but it was too little too late for the last-place club.
The Premier League passed along comments from Schurrle after the breakout performance:
"It's a perfect day of course. The team showed a different face in the second half, more aggressive" - Andre Schurrle #FULCHE— Premier League (@premierleague) March 1, 2014
Chelsea's second-half explosion proved even more valuable thanks to a lackluster showing from Arsenal on the road against Stoke City. A 1-0 Gunners loss moved the Blues four points clear atop the table. Manchester City is six points back with two matches in hand.
It was very much a forgettable outing for Arsenal. Even though they won the possession battle pretty handily, it was a massive struggle to generate good scoring chances. When they did, such as a Yaya Sanogo opportunity late in the match, the finishing touch went missing.
Jon Walters and Stoke made them pay. The veteran stepped to the penalty spot and made no mistake in beating Wojciech Szczesny to give the Potters a 1-0 lead in the 76th minute. They buckled down defensively from there and held on for the win.
OptaJoe noted Arsenal didn't register a shot on frame in the second half:
0 - Arsenal did not manage a single shot on target in the second half vs Stoke. Nullified.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 1, 2014
Paul Carr of ESPN added some details about Arsenal's road woes against Stoke:
Arsenal is now winless in 4 straight league games at Stoke City & has 1 win in 9 league games there since 1982.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 1, 2014
All told, the Gunners remain in title contention, but their path to the top becomes trickier to navigate following the defeat.
Romelu Lukaku played the role of hero for Everton. The striker came off the bench in the second half and netted the only goal of the match in the 81st minute to beat West Ham. It was a much-needed win for the Toffees at home as they hunt for a European berth.
Everton were actually in command throughout. They held possession for nearly 70 percent of the match and generated 22 shots. Only three of those attempts were on target, however, which is why the presence of somebody with a nose for goal like Lukaku is so important.
The club provided a shot of the striker sending home the winner through a crowd:
Everton moved within two points of Tottenham for fifth with the win.
The most notable thing that happened in Newcastle's victory over Hull wasn't Moussa Sissoko's pair of goals or the key win for the Magpies, but rather an altercation between Alan Pardew and David Meyler.
After the situation quickly turned heated, Pardew headbutted the midfielder and was sent off. ESPN FC noted the scene:
OH WOW. Alan Pardew -- Newcastle manager -- just headbutted David Meyler, a Hull City player.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 1, 2014
Newcastle's official site supplied the manager's post-match remarks:
I'm the Newcastle United manager and I would like to apologise to all our fans for my conduct.
It was wrong and is a wake-up call for me to go and sit down and have a think.
I did not mean any damage to the guy but I have moved my head forward. I tried to push him away with my head but I should not have done that.
I apologise to everyone. I should not have got involved in it.
Following the incident, the match resumed and Newcastle continued their roll to a 4-1 win to keep outside hopes of a European spot alive. They must find top form down the stretch to keep pushing up the table, though.
Which club will win the league title?
In the late match, Liverpool got goals from three different players to pick up an impressive 3-0 road win over Southampton. Luis Suarez's short scoreless streak came to an end inside the first 20 minutes, and he was later joined on the scoresheet by Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard.
While most of the title talk has surrounded the trio of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, it's Liverpool that now sits in second place. The Reds' attack has been relentless throughout the campaign, and they will certainly be in the mix to the end if Suarez gets hot again.
As Max Bretos of ESPN notes, things are getting serious now for Liverpool:
Liverpool keep scoring coupled with clean sheet on the road.... Title aspirations getting serious now.— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) March 1, 2014
Looking ahead, the Premier League action continues Sunday with a trio of matches. Aston Villa welcomes Norwich to Villa Park, Swansea takes on Crystal Palace and Cardiff will go out on the road to try and make life difficult on Tottenham.
As mentioned, the overall closeness of the numerous different races going on throughout the league means nearly every match will have a serious impact on the table. It all comes down to which clubs are able to elevate their level of play over the final few months.