The Premier League
The Winner: Everton! Literally, and in the spirit of this little mini round up piece as well. Arsene was right: with glory in football basically having boiled down to qualifying for tournaments that pay big TV money, the race for fourth is a distant but important side show to the incredible three way dogfight up top.
As far as that goes, Everton are now a single point behind Arsenal who are still clinging to fourth, after defeating the North London side 3-0 in a game where Lukaku scored a fairly decent goal and Everton looked fairly comfortable throughout. If you want to boil down the game to a single moment (not possible but let’s pretend), this would be it:
That’s Seamus Coleman forcing Santi Cazorla to question his purpose in life.
As for the future fortunes of both sides, a certain graphic has been making the rounds supposedly hinting at future form. Everton though face the (slightly) tougher opposition in the weeks ahead, though I’m being charitable and including Man United in that group.
The Loser: Chris Hughton, sacked after Norwich lost 0-1 to West Brom. And here too is an unfortunate case of a manager falling victim to the high variability of shot and save percentages—Norwich City are 11th in the league in TSR but dead last in PDO. In short: Norwich aren’t as crap as a miserable squad replete with a dour faced Ricky van Wolfswinkel often appear to be.
Oh sure, there are probably other things Hughton could be doing better, but with the Canaries now five points off the drop, the idea that the now ex-U18 coach Neil Adams will offer a marked improvement between now and the end of the season doesn’t seem to be part of a deeply thought out long-term strategy. Football!
The Takeaway: With Liverpool still top of the table after a badly reffed but solid 1-2 win against West Ham this weekend, and with City with a pair of games in hand, all eyes will be on Anfield when the sides meet next Sunday (on rather poignantly the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough).
Also, that business about Chelsea not being good and needing strikers will get a waiver as they ran through Mark Hughes RED HOT STOKE three nil (you get “red hot” affixed to your team name if you win three times in a row). As for the relegation battle, it could be that the incompetence of the lower mid-tablers will be saved by the consistent awfulness of Sunderland, Cardiff and Fulham (despite the latter’s 1-2 victory over a sorry Aston Villa).
The Winner: Atletico Madrid. Without Diego Costa, who is now apparently being carved up like Solomon with a baby for a transferin’ by the money twins Chelsea and Monaco, Atleti could have stepped into the match against the 7th place Villarreal and slipped up ahead of Barca’s weekend fixture (they defeated Real Betis 3-1).
Instead they overcome a slight shot deficit to beat the Yellow Submarine 1-0 via Raul Garcia and remain top the league with the Champions League still very much in play. Do I write this every week?
The Loser: The Spanish national team. Things are looking ugly as the season progresses between the usual Barca/Madrid suspects, and now Iker Casillas has promised to “slap” Busquets next time they meet over his alleged head stamp on Pepe from the last El Clasico. It’s ridiculous.
The Takeaway: The Mexican standoff continues at the top of the table as the three contenders face fairly mundane competition next weekend after their midweek Champions League deciders. Elsewhere the battle for fourth continues to be interesting, with Sevilla winning 4-1 against Espanyol after having dropped all three points the week before.
The Winner: Bayern. Despite all the empty headlines about the shock 1-0 defeat to Augsburg ending a 53 match unbeaten run, a game in which they outshot their opponents 16 to 11, they are still, somehow, champions. Moreover, Pep’s side have sowed the seeds of doubt after the first leg Champions League quarterfinal tie with Manchester United, only to further give their opponents false hope.
The Loser: Sami Hyypia. The Bayer Leverkusen boss and former Liverpool defender was sacked after a 2-1 defeat to Hamburg on the weekend. As quoted in the Guardian:
“After a lot of thought and because of the ongoing crisis we reached the conclusion that a change at this point could help us turn things around urgently,” the Leverkusen chief executive, Michael Schade, said.
Which is totally how this works. Football again!
The Takeaway: The battle for the final CL spot is intense, and perhaps even more up for grabs by Wolfsburg, Gladbach and Mainz. That, and the relegation battle, is all that is left to care about in this league, essentially.
The Winner: Unknown. I mean, Roma perhaps for staying in it with a 1-3 win over Cagliari (a Destro hattrick!), adding to their midweek spoils against Parma. Then Parma for knocking off Napoli to stay in the hunt for the Europa League. Fiorentina for stopping a short skid by beating Udi 2-1. But I can’t tell you until after the Juventus match against crappy Livorno tomorrow.
The Loser: Managers. Diego Lopez was sacked by Cagliari after the above defeat, and Catania fired Rolando Maran for the second time this season.
The Takeaway The sackings likely aren’t done yet…Walter Mazzari may be ready to go after Inter’s 2-2 draw with Bologna. Other than that, Roma will need a miracle to press Antonio Conte’s Juve as the season winds down.