Own goals, blown leads, crossbars struck—for teams desperate to secure points, the weekend's action was either unspeakably cruel or full of good fortune.
At this juncture of the season, there is no middle ground.
While the weekend's premier match—and arguably the most important match of the season—won't come until Sunday, when Chelsea travel to Anfield to face Liverpool, Saturday's action was still riveting. Let's take a look at the table and a look back at the results.
|14||West Ham United||36||10||7||19||38||49||-11||37|
|15||West Bromwich Albion||35||7||15||13||42||54||-12||36|
Everton scored two goals on Saturday morning in the weekend's first game. Unfortunately, both of them further solidified Arsenal's Champions League aspirations.
Antolin Alcaraz and Seamus Coleman each had the indignity of scoring own goals against Southampton, as the home side defeated the floundering Toffees, 2-0. It was a gutting result and puts Everton's Champions League hopes on life support.
Not at all, from our point of view it doesn't change at all. We have had eight wins in 10 games, that's a phenomenal return and allows us to go into the next two games trying to get maximum points.
We are working towards the biggest points tally that we can get and at the end of the season, we will see where that takes us. You cannot underestimate the good run that the team has been in. Today was a real setback, but we'll learn from this.
We're still a very young group, the amount of changes we had to make made it extra difficult today, but we'll be ready for next Saturday.
Martinez may be holding out hope, but the odds aren't looking too good, as Paul Carr of ESPN tweeted:
Everton's loss drops the Toffees' SPI odds of finishing in the top four to 5% (Arsenal at 95%).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) April 26, 2014
Everton wasn't the only team smarting after hurting themselves on Saturday. Fulham looked prime to earn a crucial three points and claw their way closer escaping the relegation zone after taking a 2-0 lead over Hull City early in the second half.
But Fulham's porous defense once again let them down, as Nikica Jelavic (75th minute) and Shane Long (87th minute) helped Hull earn the draw.
Yes, the draw left them just one point behind Norwich City (who lost to Manchester United, 4-0). But the chance to vault Norwich and likely control their own destiny down the stretch was lost, and will certainly be lamented at Craven Cottage.
Fulham enthusiast Andy Glockner was left to sort out Fulham's future after the match (and the relegation zone in general):
With the other results today, 37 points may not even be enough for Fulham now, but they almost certainly have to win their last two.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) April 26, 2014
I still think it would be best for Cardiff to win at Sunderland tmw, even tho that puts them on 33. They're no given to get anything else...— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) April 26, 2014
If Sunderland wins tomorrow, it's looking very difficult for Fulham to find a third team to stay ahead of.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) April 26, 2014
It's not looking great for the Cottagers.
It's not looking great for Aston Villa, either, though not quite as bad. The Villains fell victim to a Swansea City blitzkrieg, as the Swans beat them, 4-1, behind Wilfried Bony's brace. That leaves Aston Villa at 35 points, just four points clear of Fulham in the relegation zone.
With Hull City, Manchester City and Tottenham on deck—and no Christian Benteke to save them—the Villains may not earn another point this season. Certainly, points will be hard to come by.
Ditto for Norwich City, who still have to face Chelsea and Arsenal after being oh-so-welcoming in Ryan Giggs' managerial debut. Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata each notched braces for the interim manager, who might yet prove to the United brass that he's the man for the job moving forward.
West Brom's defeat of West Ham virtually guarantees their safety, however, as they not only stand five points clear of the relegation zone, but also have a game in hand on Fulham. Saido Berahino is the toast of the town today after his 11th-minute goal.
Of course, Norwich City is going to have a huge say in the relegation battle. They face Manchester United in the afternoon game and have to face Chelsea and Arsenal after that. It's hard to imagine the Canaries staying up this season.
Meanwhile, Liverpool lost control of their Premier League title destiny on Sunday with a 2-0 defeat against Chelsea. Captain Steven Gerrard, who has been an emotional leader during this unexpected run, had a critical lapse that led to a Demba Ba first-half goal. Gerrard's slip on the pitch was a shocking turn that evoked memories of another John Henry-owned franchise:
Steven Gerrard = Bill Buckner?— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) April 27, 2014
Meanwhile, City took care of their business with a dominating 2-0 win at Crystal Palace. The Citizens are now the team who will claim the Premier League title with wins in their final three contests. City will not be cruising to a title, but if they can win a tricky road match against a desperate Everton team next week, a closing slate of Aston Villa and West Ham at the Etihad looks appetizing.
Which team wins?
Chelsea also kept their title hopes alive, though they appear the faintest of the three teams. The Blues need both City and Liverpool to drop another match to realistically have a chance at the title, given the goal differential gap. Nevertheless, Jose Mourinho's short-handed side put together a stunning performance that has thrown a seemingly clear title race through a loop.
The relegation battle also became significantly clearer with Sunderland's 4-0 thumping of hapless Cardiff City. The win propelled the Black Cats to 17th, as they earn the precious slot due to superior goal differential over Norwich. Cardiff now must almost certainly win their next match against Newcastle, as a final match against Chelsea looks doubtful to produce points.
In the final match of the weekend, Arsenal took care of business with a 3-0 victory over Newcastle. Mesut Ozil was the star of the competition, contributing both a goal and an assist in the win.
This performance had fans wondering what might have been if not for injuries, as noted by Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph:
Arsenal still only 7 points off top of PL. Hard not to wonder what might have been with Ramsey/Ozil/Walcott/Wilshere for more of season— Jeremy Wilson (@JWTelegraph) April 28, 2014
While a league title is out of the question, the latest win gives the club a four-point lead over Everton for the final spot in Champions League next season, which is exactly where they want to be.
The Premier League has always provided tremendous end-of-season drama, and 2014 looks like another classic chapter.