Goals were plentiful on Saturday, with goalkeepers picking the ball out of their own nets in disgust an astonishing 32 times in just eight games. The usual suspects carried the load with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City combining to score 17 of those goals, while some of the game’s premier playmakers will show up repeatedly in the highlights.
Luis Suarez, in particular, continued his scorching play with a hat-trick that helps him on his quest to rewrite the Premier League record books.
There wasn’t much movement in the table, but Matchday 31 was certainly kinder to some than it was to others. See for yourself:
|14||West Ham United||30||8||7||15||-8||31|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||30||5||13||12||-12||28|
Saturday’s results won’t do Arsenal's title chances any good, as they fall to fourth place and need a lot of help to climb into the driver’s seat. As we enter the home stretch, the championship race is heating up with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all staking their claim to Premier League glory with dominant performances.
At the bottom of the table, Fulham are as good as relegated, and things look bleak for Cardiff City. The Black Cats of Sunderland still have the games in hand to claw their way out of the relegation zone, but losing a winnable game to Norwich City isn’t a good start to that process.
Here’s a roundup of Saturday’s results, followed by recaps of the day’s most memorable games.
|Newcastle United||1-0||Crystal Palace|
|Hull City||2-0||West Bromwich Albion|
|West Ham United||0-2||Manchester United|
|Aston Villa||1-4||Stoke City|
Chelsea Trash Arsene’s Anniversary Party
The importance of this all-London clash could not be overstated for a few reasons. For starters, it is must-watch television any time two of the league’s best teams face off. That was particularly true on Saturday, as Chelsea’s loss to Aston Villa the previous week gave Arsenal and Liverpool a golden opportunity to sneak in and claim the crown of Premier League royalty.
With Chelsea facing a relatively easy schedule to close out the year, their two matches against Arsenal and Liverpool would be the best chance to prevent the Blues from winning the league trophy.
|Mar. 22||vs. Arsenal||4|
|Mar. 29||at Crystal Palace||17|
|Apr. 5||vs. Stoke City||11|
|Apr. 13||at Swansea City||15|
|Apr. 20||vs. Sunderland||18|
|Apr. 27||at Liverpool||2|
|May 3||vs. Norwich City||13|
|May 11||at Cardiff City||19|
If that wasn’t enough for you, the fixture marked Arsene Wenger’s 1000th match as the manager of Arsenal—but Jose Mourinho spoiled the party. Actually, “spoiled” doesn’t do justice to the embarrassing performance and result that Wenger’s side suffered at Stamford Bridge.
The final score read six goals to none, but the match was decided in the first 10 minutes. It was a frenzied start with both sides creating chances, but that pace left Arsenal vulnerable to a counter-attack. The “old man” Samuel Eto’o put the hosts in front thanks to a beautiful, curling strike with his left foot in just the fifth minute.
It only took two minutes for Andre Schurrle to put the visitors in a two-goal hole. A handball on the goal line by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to prevent a third goal proved ineffective as Eden Hazard converted from the penalty spot and the play resulted in Kieran Gibbs being erroneously sent off for the infringement.
Playing with only 10 men and trailing by three goals, the outlook was grim for the Gunners, but the Blues never took their foot off the pedal with two goals by Oscar and a breakaway one-on-one goal by Mohamed Salah in the 71st minute to cap off the win.
It was unfortunate that such a special occasion for Wenger was so completely and utterly ruined, but the showing in such a critical game provokes questions about his less-than-stellar record against the league’s best teams and the lack of mental fortitude by his side.
This wasn’t the first time this season that Arsenal have disappeared on the big stage against the title contenders:
The Gunners have conceded 34 goals on the season—half of which have come in three games against the top three teams in the table.
ESPN’s Kevin Palmer expounded on the difference between the two teams, focusing on Chelsea’s big-match mentality that stems from their boss, Jose Mourinho:
Although many teams head into games of this magnitude with hope rather than expectation in their hearts, Chelsea exude the latter when confronted with a direct rival.
The presence of a manager in Jose Mourinho whose winning mentality has carried him so far in the game and a captain in John Terry whose dogged determination appears to drag those in blue to fresh heights when the stakes are raised. ...
Evidence of Chelsea's killer mentality was displayed as they continued to go for the throat of their rivals when they had them at their mercy.
Chelsea’s ability to thrive in the most important games has helped them hold onto their place atop the league table, while Arsenal’s inability to do so has all but cost them the chance at the Premier League title.
The Gunners still have the FA Cup to look forward to, but it looks like it’s another season of falling short in league play.
Suarez’s Hat-Trick Fuels Liverpool’s Demolition of Cardiff City
In such a heated Premier League race, goal difference could end up deciding the victor—just like it was for Manchester City in 2012. Thanks to Chelsea’s thrashing of Arsenal, the Blues had managed to sneak back into the goal difference conversation with Manchester City and Liverpool (plus-44 and plus-41, respectively, before Saturday’s play).
The Reds made sure to regain their advantage in the goal difference department thanks to a 6-3 road victory at Cardiff City.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Liverpool, however.
Brendan Rogers’ side had to claw back and score equalizers on two occasions. Jordan Mutch found the back of the net in the ninth minute, and Luis Suarez responded with a clinical finish in the 16th minute to level the score.
Not even 10 minutes had passed before Fraizer Campbell had scored Cardiff City’s second goal, but Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel once again displayed his knack for scoring important goals by tying it up just before half-time.
It was all Liverpool in the second half, and they proceeded to dominate the match:
|Team||Shots||Shots on Goal||Possession|
They took the lead on an unfortunate play for Cardiff City. Two of their players were off the field after needing attention from the training staff, and Skrtel took advantage of a short-handed Cardiff defense on that play with by converting a header off a corner kick in the 54th minute.
Suarez scored twice more to end with a hat-trick and continue his torrid pace and cement his place in the record books:
Luis Suárez is the 4th player with 3 PL hat tricks in a season. Shearer (2x), Van Nistelrooy, Berbatov (!).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 22, 2014
Suarez has been nothing short of spectacular, and with eight games left, he looks likely to break the Premier League record for most goals scored in a season:
Luis Suarez (hat trick today) now has 28 goals this season, 3 shy of the PL record held by Alan Shearer & Cristiano Ronaldo (38-game season)— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 22, 2014
In fact, Suarez has single-handedly outperformed entire teams this year:
Goals this season in the Premier League: Cardiff - 26 Sunderland - 26 Crystal Palace - 19 Norwich - 26 Luis Suarez - 28 VIA: @TSBible— 8 Fact Football (@8Fact_Footballl) March 22, 2014
The result doesn't help Cardiff City as they are fighting for the right to remain in the country’s top division, but the performance was a solid one for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, and he relayed his pride in his post-game press conference, via PremierLeague.com:
We're disappointed we didn't get anything. Our first-half performance was fantastic. The performance once again was good. Now we turn to a big game with West Bromwich Albion next weekend. Teams around us lost today as well. We'll keep fighting.
On the other side, every point is critical for Liverpool and their match against Chelsea on April 27 could be a title-deciding game. Brendan Rodgers has to be happy with how his team is performing at the moment, and they certainly look good enough to win it all.
With the Premier League race heating up and the three top contenders in superb form, you don't want to miss the next two months of football.