The Premier League may not have a playoff system to finish the season but, man alive, the past few matchdays sure have felt like a playoff, haven't they?
A race to the title. Battles for European places. Survival of the fittest in the relegation zone. It's enough to make a man giddy.
The NHL and NBA postseason may be just getting underway, but in England, the whole season has felt like a playoff tournament. It's been brilliant stuff, and that didn't change in Matchday 35. Let's take a look at the updated table and break down the weekend's action.
|Premier League Table|
|12||West Ham United||35||10||7||18||38||48||-10||37|
|16||West Bromwich Albion||34||6||15||13||41||54||-13||33|
The result of the weekend, without question, was Sunderland's shocking 2-1 victory over Chelsea. You could spend half an afternoon listing why the result was such a surprise:
- Chelsea are second on the table and trying to catch Liverpool for the Premier League title, so everything was on the line for the Blues.
- Chelsea was at home, where they had previously been unbeaten in 77 matches under Jose Mourinho.
- Sunderland are last on the Premier League table.
- Chelsea has a world-class side with a budget that practically makes them a small country. Sunderland has Jozy Altidore. What else needs to be said?
Jose Mourinho's post-match "press conference" was dripping with sarcasm, passed along via Miguel Delaney of ESPN:
What a result. What a season. Madness abounds.
Tottenham opened the action with a 3-1 win over Fulham that was shaky before it was decisive. Paulinho scored first in the 35th minute with an easy-as-you-like tap-in on Christian Eriksen's brilliant free kick into the box (though Fulham really should have gotten a head on the ball) before Steve Sidwell tied things up again just two minutes later with a nice run into the box and finish.
But Spurs mostly dominated in the second half, pulling away from Fulham with goals from Younes Kaboul and Harry Kane. Spurs nearly made things more interesting than necessary late in the game, when Eriksen clearly got a hand on a Hugo Rodallega flick in the box, but Hugo Lloris saved the penalty attempt, and Spurs held on to the 3-1 win.
Of course, the subtext to this game was the public (though mild) spat between manager Tim Sherwood and midfielder Sandro. It started when Sandro tweeted the following before the match, seemingly unhappy with not being named to the squad:
After the game, a journalist asked Sherwood about the tweet, and the manager wasn't exactly cryptic in his answer, via Joe Prince-Wright of Pro Soccer Talk:
He’s entitled to do what he wants. He’s right, he’s not injured. He’s not good enough to play in my team at the moment and when I think that he is good enough he will play. I don’t care about reputation. I like Sandro as a kid. He has got qualities but I am picking people ahead of him.
Well alrighty then. Perhaps when you've resigned yourself to being sacked after the season, you don't really need to bother with diplomacy.
In other action, Aston Villa kept themselves at arm's length with the relegation zone, earning a scoreless draw against Southampton. With a game in hand on 18th-place Cardiff City and five points clear, the Villains would have to really collapse to go down next season.
Speaking of Cardiff City, the club took a small step toward climbing back out of the relegation zone, earning a 1-1 draw against Stoke City. Norwich City are still two points clear of Cardiff with a game in hand, but they also have to play Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal down the stretch, meaning they may not earn another point this season.
As Fulham enthusiast Andy Glockner notes, the Cottagers may yet be able to sneak out of the relegation zone given Cardiff's draw and Norwich's home slate:
Remember, Fulham finish with Hull City at home, Stoke on the road and Crystal Palace at home. If they can't get three points out of those matches, they deserve to go down.
Crystal Palace is proving to be no pushover, however, as they beat West Ham, 1-0, for their fifth-straight win. They've vaulted themselves to 11th on the table with an impressive 43 points and could play a major part in the title race moving forward, with matches against Manchester City and Liverpool to come.
Finally, Swansea City did well to distance themselves from relegation, beating Newcastle 2-1 behind a Wilfried Bony brace. The in-form striker won the game two minutes into second-half stoppage time with a converted penalty, much to the heartbreak of Newcastle fans.
As OptaJoe noted, Bony has saved his finest football for the latter portion of the season:
On Sunday, the teams near the top of the table that needed to win did so. Liverpool earned a 3-2 win over Norwich City to keep themselves in the driver's seat for a title, while Arsenal rolled over Hull City, winning 3-0 as Mesut Ozil returned to action and Aaron Ramsey shined, playing a part in all three goals. That kept the Gunners in fourth place and three wins away from returning to the Champions League.
And then there was Everton versus Manchester United.
The Toffees beat the Red Devils, 2-0, ensuring that Manchester United would miss the Champions League and finish with their lowest point tally and lowest down the table ever in Premier League play. It also sparked rumors the next day that David Moyes would be dismissed as manager. From SportsCenter:
He certainly left a mark on the club (just not the one he would have wanted to leave), according to Bleacher Report UK:
That's some bit of irony that it would happen after he lost for the second time against his former club.
Finally on Monday, Manchester City kept themselves alive in the title race with a 3-1 win over West Brom. After a week in which they lost to Liverpool and drew with Sunderland, failing to take points on Monday would have all but ended their title hopes.
So now all eyes turn to next weekend's Chelsea versus Liverpool match. Anything less than a victory will end Chelsea's title hopes, while Liverpool can draw and still would win the title if they won their last two games. A victory would give them a decisive advantage in the title race.
But, if they were to lose, Manchester City would be in a position to win the league title by winning out, since even if Liverpool won their final two games in that scenario, the teams would be tied in points. City currently has a superior goal differential, but they also have to face an Everton side looking to catch Arsenal in the Champions League race, so everything remains up in the air.
Add in the relegation battle and, well, you'd be crazy to miss a single match. If you thought this weekend was nuts, just wait.