Another busy Saturday of Premier League action kicked off with Manchester City scoring a decisive victory over Southampton. The win immediately put more pressure on the other title contenders set to take the pitch this weekend.
As you'd expect, the championship race is grabbing most of the headlines during the stretch run of the campaign. The other battles are just as heated, though, as clubs fight for European berths and attempt to avoid relegation.
With each passing matchday the margin for error becomes even more thin. It should make for a highly entertaining closing stretch to the season. As for now, let's check out how the table shapes up following Saturday's action.
|Premier League Table - Week 34|
Here's a look at the day's results:
|EPL Matchday 33 - Saturday Scores|
|Date||Home Club||Road Club||Result|
|April 5||Manchester City||Southampton||4-1|
|April 5||Aston Villa||Fulham||1-2|
|April 5||Cardiff||Crystal Palace||0-3|
|April 5||Newcastle||Manchester United||0-4|
|April 5||Norwich||West Brom||0-1|
Manchester City deserve a lot of credit for their play in recent weeks. They have controlled their own destiny in the title race for awhile, but because it was due to matches in hand, the pressure was on for them to keep winning to maintain that edge.
The Sky Blues have done exactly that and continued to roll with a solid triumph over Southampton. While City weren't at their best for most of the match, a five-minute stretch near the end of the first half turned the tide in their favor with a pair of stoppage-time goals and they never looked back.
Mark Booth of the club's official site passed along comments from manager Manuel Pellegrini, who said all of the title contenders face a sense of urgency and he's proud of how his side has responded:
The four teams have the same pressure until the end of the season—they all want to win the title. Everyone knows that they must win—whether they know our result or not.
We just depend on ourselves until the end of the season—it's important to continue playing the way we did in the second half because I thought it was a great performance.
A crucial matchup against Liverpool looms next weekend for City. After that, the schedule gets more favorable over the final month, which means they should be in good shape to capture the title as long as they maintain solid form.
Their crosstown rivals, Manchester United, also continued their recent improved play with a convincing performance to cruise past a struggling Newcastle side. They did it without Wayne Rooney, who's trying to overcome a toe injury.
Juan Mata slid into the No. 10 role he's always been best suited for and looked far more comfortable spearheading the attack. He scored twice and was in complete control of the midfield, which is what United was seeking when it brought him in during the winter window.
Kevin Palmer of the Sunday World thinks it will be a turning point for the Spanish star at United:
The win keeps the Red Devils within striking distance of a European berth and provides them with some much-needed momentum as they aim to eliminate defending champion Bayern Munich from the Champions League on Wednesday.
Another key winner during the second wave of matches on Saturday was Crystal Palace. The Eagles faced the very difficult task of going out on the road against a Cardiff side desperate to get closer to safety. They put together one of their most complete efforts of the season to earn all three points.
Jason Puncheon scored just after the half-hour mark to give Palace the lead and Joe Ledley added another with about 20 minutes remaining. The defense took care of the rest as it prevented Cardiff from generating many great chances even though they controlled possession.
Puncheon added an exclamation point in the final minutes as Palace earned themselves some breathing room above the relegation zone, at least for now.
Elsewhere, Fulham picked up a win over Aston Villa, but will still need a tremendous late charge to avoid relegation. Hull edged Swansea in a match that should ensure the Tigers' safety. And West Brom helped out their relegation cause as well with a road win over Norwich.
Saturday's action concluded with Chelsea hosting Stoke at Stamford Bridge. Although it didn't qualify as a true must-win match for the Blues at this point, their title hopes would have taken a major hit if they didn't earn all three points. But they did and moved atop the table for the time being.
Looking ahead, Everton and Arsenal will get things started on Sunday. The clubs are locked up in a fierce battle for the fourth Champions League spot. A win for the Toffees would move them within one point of the Gunners with a match in hand.
Liverpool look to advance their championship dreams when they travel to West Ham in the late match on Sunday before Tottenham and Sunderland finish up the matchday on Monday.