With the EPL season nearing its thrilling conclusion, each and every match is of the utmost importance. That much was clear Saturday as many of the Premier League's top teams jockeyed for position in the standings.
Chelsea entered the day with a substantial lead, but several elite squads had an opportunity to either close the gap or keep pace. Of course, not every team is battling for a league title, but positioning is still huge in terms of trying to qualify for the Champions League or even simply trying to avoid relegation.
The EPL table was shaken up significantly on Matchday 30, and here are three clubs in particular that changed their fortunes.
The Citizens entered Saturday's slate of games knowing full well that they needed to beat a middling club like Hull City in order to keep pace with Chelsea. That was ultimately the case, as Manchester City came away with a huge 2-0 victory, but the odds were stacked against them from the start.
With Hull's Nikica Jelavic about to break in all alone on City goalkeeper Joe Hart, all-world centre-back Vincent Kompany hauled him down in the 10th minute. That resulted in an early red card, according to ESPN FC:
RED CARD! Kompany sent off after tackling Jelavic on a breakaway.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 15, 2014
While Manchester City are obviously more talented, playing an entire match with 10 men is less than ideal. City are among the best offensive squads in the league for a reason, though, and that was evident, as David Silva and Edin Dzeko both scored to secure an unlikely triumph.
What made City's win at Hull even more impressive, however, was the fact that the Citizens' recent history on the road against the Tigers has been shaky at best, per Infostrada Sports:
Hull are unbeaten in their last 7 home league matches against Manchester City, since a 2-1 defeat in old Division Two back in October 1909.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) March 15, 2014
Manchester City persevered, though, and at the time of the victory, they pulled to within six points of first-place Chelsea with two matches in hand. City essentially control their own destiny, although they have to continue to win matches.
Doing so under such difficult circumstances Saturday seems to suggest that City are ready for a battle down the stretch.
Although Southampton have been unable to maintain the pace that saw them ascend to the top of the EPL table early in the season, the Saints have enjoyed a strong campaign and still have a chance to get something out of it. Southampton entered the day in ninth place with 42 points, but getting as high as sixth in the coming weeks is a reasonable goal.
The Saints took a big step toward accomplishing that goal Saturday by defeating Norwich City by a 4-2 score. Southampton dominated the match in every sense of the word, outshooting Norwich significantly and controlling possession for much of the contest, although Norwich nearly pulled off an improbable comeback with two goals in the closing minutes.
Southampton were especially dominant in the first half, as they put on a passing display, according to Squawka Football:
Southampton have completed 47 passes so far (92% accuracy). Norwich have managed just 8 passes (53% accuracy).— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 15, 2014
Perhaps the most important aspect of the win was the fact that Southampton was able to gain some confidence on home soil. While the Saints have been a great road team this season, manager Mauricio Pochettino discussed the importance of excelling at home as well prior to the match, per Matthew Rogerson of Goal.com.
This club is having a historic season with the number of away wins we've had but we could've done better in some home games. We want to continue playing well and to change the dynamic of the results we're getting at home.
The Southampton players rose to the occasion and granted their manager's wish, although Pochettino probably got a case of deja vu when the lead nearly slipped away. Whatever the case, now Southampton must continue to thrive at home moving forward in order to improve their standing even more.
Which squad made the most progress in Week 31?
There are important races taking place throughout the EPL standings, and the race to avoid relegation is among the most intriguing. West Bromwich Albion entered the day right on the cut line in a tie with Cardiff City at 25 points. The Baggies were technically outside the relegation zone due to goal differential, but they were far too close to comfort.
West Brom earned themselves some breathing room on Matchday 30, however, as they scored a huge 2-1 win over Swansea City. Things looked dire from the onset, with the Swans taking a 1-0 lead in the second minute behind a Roland Lamah goal, but West Brom were able to battle back in the second half.
Stephane Sessegnon tied things up in the 52nd minute, and Youssuf Mulumbu put the Baggies up for good in the 85th minute. Not only does the win help West Brom immensely, but it was heartbreaking from Swansea's perspective as well, according to Eurosport.com:
West Brom's triumph tightened things up significantly near the bottom of the table, but while they are safe for now, they can't afford to rest on their laurels if they want to remain in the EPL next season.
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