This weekend's EPL slate opened with several teams looking to better their positioning in the standings, and while some of them were unable to get the job done, others rose to the occasion.
The opportunities to make a move are lessened with each passing week, and there was undoubtedly a sense of urgency on Matchday 32. That led to some impressive triumphs that could change the balance of power within the Premier League moving forward.
Here is a closer look at where things stand in the EPL table currently, along with further analysis regarding the squads that shook things up most on Saturday.
Manchester United supporters haven't had much to cheer about this season with their team struggling to remain in the hunt, but the Red Devils took out their frustration on Aston Villa this week. Manchester United didn't technically move up in the standings, but by virtue of their 4-1 win over the Lions, they are now just two points behind Tottenham for sixth and three back of Everton for fifth.
Ascending to a Champions League spot is looking quite unlikely for United at this point, so fifth place is likely the main target as the Red Devils hope to lock up a Europa League berth. As has often been the case over the years, superstar striker Wayne Rooney was the driving force behind Man U on Saturday as he netted a pair of goals.
According to OptaJoe on Twitter, Rooney is now the fourth-most prolific scorer in EPL history:
There was plenty of pressure on United as a team entering this match, but that was especially true for manager David Moyes. He has had a miserable first season at Old Trafford, and there are plenty calling for his ouster. Prior to Saturday's match, however, Moyes said that even legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson would be struggling this season, per BBC:
If Sir Alex was here it would be difficult for him as well. It could have been the case no matter what this season. But it has been so un-Man United, which is why we have to look to continue a policy of building, improving, getting better.
Moyes was able to get the monkey off his back for the time being with such a big win over Aston Villa, but United must continue to play well down the stretch in order to quiet the detractors. Based on how good the Red Devils looked this weekend, a strong finish to the season could be on the horizon.
Southampton have enjoyed a solid campaign to this point, and while a top-five finish seems extremely unlikely at this juncture, the Saints have an opportunity to make some noise down the stretch and set themselves up for success next year. Southampton took a big step toward that on Saturday as they destroyed slumping Newcastle 4-0.
The Saints entered the match just one point behind Newcastle for eighth place in the standings, and they made it known that they intended to stake claim to that spot. Southampton didn't net their first goal until stoppage time at the end of the first half, but that clearly demoralized the Magpies for the remainder of the contest.
Forward Jay Rodriguez was responsible for half of the Saints' tallies against Newcastle, and he is now second in EPL in scoring among English players this season:
15 - The only English player to have scored more Premier League goals than Jay Rodriguez (15) this season is Daniel Sturridge (20). Boast.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 29, 2014
Not only is that a big deal for Southampton, but it also bolsters Rodriguez's chances of representing England at the World Cup in Brazil this summer. With Rodriguez wanting to prove his worth to those in charge of the English national team, Southampton will be extremely dangerous over the coming weeks.
Which squad had the most impressive performance on Saturday?
While Swansea City have largely struggled through the 2013-14 EPL season, there is still plenty for them to play for. The Swans are desperately trying to avoid relegation, and they entered the week with their status very much in doubt. After emphatically dispatching of Norwich City 3-0, however, Swansea City have given themselves some breathing room.
Not only did they increase their lead over 18th-place Sunderland to eight points, but they also jumped over Norwich and into a 13th-place tie with Hull City in the process. By virtue of a better goal differential, the Swans technically have 13th all to themselves.
Winning in any fashion would have been good enough for Swansea fans, but the manner in which they did it was promising. Midfielder Jonathan de Guzman netted two goals, and the Swans simply took the play to Norwich, according to former EPL star and current analyst Gary Lineker:
Swansea are 2 up against Norwich, the 2nd a delightful move finished by De Guzman. The Canaries rarely sing outside their own cage.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) March 29, 2014
Swansea trail Aston Villa and West Ham by a single point, so they could potentially move up to 11th in the coming weeks. Overtaking 10th-place Stoke may be a bit of a reach since they are seven points behind, but it's far from impossible.
Considering how poorly the Swans have played at various points this season, a mid-table finish would actually be a great result.
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