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Premier League Playback: Fifth place finish for Man United? Superstar Shaw, Arsenal’s big chance

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WOULD A FIFTH PLACE FINISH REDEEM UNITED’S SEASON?

In the second half of their 3-0 win against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, as they have done for fits and starts throughout the 2013-14 campaign, the real Manchester United showed up.

Full of clever running, panache, tricks, flicks and attacking intent, David Moyes’s side finally clicked going forward against the Baggies.

“It was more like it. We were more creative and played well,” Moyes said. “It’s never the easiest of places to come and we had lost to them earlier in the season so it was good to get a good result. We earned the right to be in front. When we did, we sort of controlled chunks of the game.”

Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Adnan Januzaj and Juan Mata weaved in and out of one another majestically, especially in the second half, and with Marouane Fellaini breaking things up expertly in midfield United looked a much better outfit at the Hawthorns. If you look at the average position for United’s attackers in the image from Opta on the left, you can see how Rooney and RVP were right on top of each other, while Januzaj is almost like a third striker and Mata isn’t far behind him. Not many PL teams can contain that front four when they’re on form.

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Click to enlarge – Man United’s average positions against West Brom. Source: Opta

Aside from the swaggering style emanating from the Red Devils, there was a sense of belief in the way they played, a solid defensive showing from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling and pure relief that they hadn’t suffered yet another damaging loss. In their previous five games, United had won just once. But after beating the Baggies they now sit in a somewhat respectable sixth spot in the PL, just five points behind Tottenham Hotspur with a game in hand.

So if United finish fifth this season, despite all their struggles, is that okay?

Is this acceptable for Moyes, who inherited and aging squad that many deemed lucky to win the PL title last season, to rebuild the side and just miss out on qualification for the UEFA Champions League?

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

One thing we know for sure, Moyes’ teams have always been slow starters but extremely strong finishers. In four of his last five season in charge of Everton in the PL, his side have been no higher than seventh after 11 games, like United, but then rallied in the last 11 games of each season and lost just four out of 44 games across the closing stages of those seasons.

That gives United hope. Despite everything that has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson left and Moyes took over, they now have nine games left and an outside chance of making the top four.

Although that looks distant, finishing fifth wouldn’t be an embarrassment considering how bad it has been this season.

Premier League Schedule – Week 29

Result Recap & Highlights
Cardiff City 3-1 Fulham Recap and watch here
Chelsea 4-0 Tottenham Recap and watch here
Crystal Palace 0-1 Saints Recap and watch here
Norwich City 1-1 Stoke City Recap and watch here
West Brom 0-3 Man United Recap and watch here

FAREWELL FULHAM

With his club issue glasses, which resemble a mishmash of Harry Potter and John Lennon’s specs, Fulham manger Felix Magath was oddly redundant as his side crumbled to a damaging 3-1 loss away at Cardiff City, in a massive relegation six-pointer over the weekend.

Magath knows, even if he doesn’t want to believe it, that Fulham are destined for the drop.

At least, that’s the way he was acting. Chewing ferociously on gum while sitting in the dugout, even when his team fought back to equalize with over 20 minutes left there wasn’t much emotion shown by the veteran German coach. Following the loss which maroons Fulham five points from safety at the bottom of the PL standings, Magath lambasted his squad for not having enough desire to fight and suggested the players at his disposal aren’t cut out for a relegation scrap.

“If you are at the bottom of the league, you have to fight,” Magath told the BBC after the game. “Maybe we do not have players that are used to it. They have come from situations where they have never had a relegation fight. They are not fighting enough.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like fighting talk from a manager trying to keep Fulham’s sinking ship from dropping into the Championship next season.

LUKE SHAW: NEXT SUPERSTAR FROM SAINTS

It’s been quite a week for Southampton’s 18-year-old left back Luke Shaw. On Wednesday Shaw made his England debut at Wembley against Denmark and earned raved reviews in a typically composed second half display. The youngster from Kingston in South West London has surged onto the scene for Saints in the last year. He made his PL debut in November 2012 and hasn’t looked back since. Shaw has handed England manager Roy Hodgson a massive dilemma with Leighton Baines his first choice left back for the World Cup this summer, but England legend Ashley Cole is now battling it out with Shaw for the other spot.

(MORE: Man United set to bid $50 million for Southampton’s star duo)

Cole has been out of form, favor and fitness at Chelsea and the man who has 107 caps for England could well see himself pushed off the plane to Brazil by a teenager who grew up idolizing Cole at Chelsea as a lifelong fan of the Blues. Shaw is the latest product to roll off the line of Saints’ famous academy. In England’s squad last week Shaw was joined by fellow graduates Adam Lallana, Saints’ current captain, and Arsenal attacker Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Arsenal’s other former Saints youngster Theo Walcott would’ve been on the plane to Brazil had he not had a season ending knee injury. Plus Saints had three players who’ve all featured for their first team represent the England U-19 team in midweek, Sam Gallagher, Harrison Reed and Calum Chambers, while James Ward-Prowse played for England’s U-21 side. There are more where Shaw came from. Check out the photo below, Shaw is second from the left in the front row with those flowing blonde locks… Four of those 10-year-olds are now in Southampton’s first team squad and have played together for almost a decade.

Shaw’s rise has been dramatic, swift and spectacular. Yet through it all he’s played with the poise and control of a seasoned pro. They say that some players are born with talent to become internationals of the highest caliber, and Shaw is certainly one of those. Against Denmark he took everything in his stride and surged forward on many occasions from left back like he does for his club side. On Saturday in Saints’ narrow win over Crystal Palace, predictably Shaw was solid as a rock and hugely impressive going forward.

18 years old, living the dream in the Premier League and possibly on his way to Brazil, Shaw’s one of the hottest properties in England’s top-flight and is a future, if not present, star of the PL.

Now, can Southampton hold onto him as Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United try to out-bid each other?

SHERWOOD’S TIME UP AT THE LANE? ARE SPURS FOR REAL….

It seems ridiculous to be talking about yet another change of manager at White Hart Lane, but that’s looking more and more likely as the current season plays out. Tim Sherwood was handed the Spurs job on a caretaker basis to start with after the sudden sacking of Andre Villas-Boas earlier in the campaign. However after leading Spurs to several wins and swashbuckling performances Sherwood was handed a permanent contract, albeit a very short 18-month deal, to manager Spurs.

After their 4-0 battering against Chelsea on Saturday, Sherwood has admitted he doesn’t know what to expected at the end of the season, as rumors of Louis van Gaal and Michael Laudrup taking charge have not been batted away by Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy.

“The silence is deafening, isn’t it?” Sherwood said. “It’s up to Daniel. I didn’t know if he was at the game or not. Maybe he was traveling. It’s up to the club to make the decision. One thing I can guarantee people is that no one cares more than me. I want the team to do very well and it hurts me when they don’t. I’m afraid I need people in that dressing room to be hurting like I am. I never want to be a number two. I’d be no good, I’m too opinionated. I wouldn’t want to do the job.”

What makes Sherwood coming under intense scrutiny even more ridiculous is that Tottenham have been vastly improved since he took over. His record as a PL manager reads played 13, won seven, lost three, drawn three. Two of the three defeats have been blowout losses to Manchester City and Chelsea, the league’s top two teams after Spurs had a man sent off and penalties were given against them in both matches.

(MORE: Does Tim Sherwood deserve more credit for reviving Spurs?)

Is that really Sherwood’s fault? Tottenham are desperate to finish in the top four, but with defeat to Chelsea that looks increasingly like Spurs’ shot at bringing Champions League soccer to White Hart Lane next season is over. 6-0 and 5-1 defeats to Man City, a 4-0 hammering by Chelsea and a 5-0 loss to Liverpool shows that despite all their spending Spurs are miles away from the current top four in the PL. Sherwood may not be the man to help with that, but it’s harsh to blame the firefighter who arrived midway through the season and has done a pretty remarkable job thus far.

FA CUP 2014: ARSENAL’S TO LOSE

In case you hadn’t noticed, this weekend we have a pretty light schedule in the PL. That was down to four Premier League teams involved in FA Cup quarterfinal matches… and now only two remain as the semifinal field at Wembley is set. Wigan Athletic shocked Manchester City to set up a semifinal clash with Arsenal, who beat Everton 4-1 at the Emirates, while Sheffield United (the first third-tier side to reach the semis since Wycombe in 2001) face Hull City in the other semifinal after they overcame Charlton and Sunderland respectively.

(MORE: Arsenal 4-1 Everton – Gunners book FA Cup semifinal spot)

The FA Cup is often deemed a poisoned chalice by PL managers and players, as a decision is made early in the competitions whether or not to go all out to win it. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has done just that and it’s pay dividends. As other PL big dogs have fallen by the wayside and paid the price for giving their reserves a run out, Arsenal have faced Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton on the road to Wembley… they simply haven’t had a chance to rest their big stars.

If you’d told Gunners fans at the start of the season they would finish in the top four and win an FA Cup title, the vast majority would’ve snap your hands off. Arsenal’s best chance of winning silverware since 2005 has arrived. They’d be fools to blow this.

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekend’s action from the PL, it comes out every week.

Everton 0-1 West Bromwich Albion: One shot on target, one goal, three points win for Baggies

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park on February 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England - Getty Images
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  • WBA’s only shot on target goes in
  • Everton out attempts WBA 34-5
  • Baggies win despite 24 percent possession

Salomon Rondon’s early goal allowed West Brom to sit back and absorb Everton’s attack, and the Toffees couldn’t find a finish despite dominating in a 1-0 loss at Goodison Park on Saturday.

It was a trademark Tony Pulis win, as the Baggies blocked shot after shot in turning away a strong Ross Barkley performance that lacked finish.

West Brom’s 32 points are now eight clear of the drop zone, and just three back of 10th place Everton.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Off a Stephane Sessegnon corner, Jonas Olsson rose above his mark to push a header back post. Everton keeper Joel Robles couldn’t meet the arcing ball before Rondon’s chest pushed the already en route offering over the line.

The Toffees had controlled the early goings leading up to their concession, and picked up where they left off after Rondon’s goal. But the Baggies sank back into their preferred pack of defenders, and Everton had to get creative. Ross Barkley was especially dangerous, but Goodison Park was left waiting for the final ball.

The Baggies barely got to halftime, as the Toffees’ fantastic, desperate work rate had them buzzing inside the box and winning several corners by the time three minutes of stoppage time reached their end.

The second half was more of the same, with Everton finishing the day with nearly 30 more shot attempts, but one less goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Norwich City 2-2 West Ham United: Payet drags Irons out of first half hole

NORWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: John Ruddy (L) of Norwich City catches the ball under pressure of Michail Antonio (C) of West Ham United during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and West Ham United at Carrow Road on February 13, 2016 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images
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  • Payet shines again with goal, assist
  • Norwich blows 2-0 lead
  • Hammers move into fifth place

West Ham United overcame another sleepy first half, with goals from Dimitri Payet and Mark Noble leading the Irons back for a 2-2 draw versus Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan scored to stake Norwich to a lead that looked set to boost them out of the drop zone, but the draw keeps them behind Newcastle on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was Brady who punished West Ham’s lackluster first 45 with a 20-yard laser in the 55th minute.

And after Slaven Bilic made a pair of attacking substitutions, Steven Naismith and Hoolahan made the Irons pay dearly for a partially blocked shot.

Naismith’s shot deflected into the 18, and Hoolahan was within a hair’s length of onside as he buried a low shot past Adrian. 2-0 on two shots on target. Wow.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

A poor touch or bounce, your call, for Michail Antonio stopped West Ham from getting a breakaway goal as John Ruddy had time to parry Antonio’s rip in the 69th minute.

Payet pulled one back with a rebound goal 17 minutes in scheduled time, after Victor Moses caused a turnover and took a quick shot.

And the newly-extended Payet continued his season wizardry with great vision to spot Noble from the end line. It was 2-2 within minutes after Noble blasted his shot home.

Swansea City 0-1 Southampton: Sixth-straight shutout; Long’s header wins it

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 13:  Southampton players celebrate their team's first goal by Shane Long (obscured) during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Southampton at Liberty Stadium on February 13, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • Saints now six games without conceding
  • Up to 6th, 1 point behind United in 5th
  • Swansea 3 points off bottom three

Southampton beat Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday with Saints recording their sixth-straight shutout and Shane Long heading home the winner 20 minutes from time.

A tight game played out in South Wales but the away team had the better chances and Long’s flick proved to be enough to seal a fifth win in their last six games for Ronald Koeman‘s side.

With the victory Saints climb to sixth place on 40 points, while Swansea remain on 28 points.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The first real chance of the game fell to Graziano Pelle but his volley on goal was saved down low by Lukasz Fabianski after the goalkeeper initially missed a punch when he came charging out.

Saints had another chance early when James Ward-Prowse‘s teasing free kick was headed just wide by Jose Fonte at the back post.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The game then calmed down as Gyli Sigurdsson had an effort from distance which flew over and Ryan Bertrand‘s effort looped onto the top of the net. Saints looked dangerous on the break with Long having a shot blocked and Oriol Romeu twice being denied by brave Swansea defending.

Alberto Paloschi’s flick-on found Sigurdsson but he volleyed way over and then Long should’ve done better when unmarked six-yards out but headed straight at Fabianski.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

In the second half Saints continued to push forward as Romeu glanced a header wide and then Pelle had a goal disallowed as Fabianski appeared to drop the ball under the challenge of Fonte but the replay showed it was a poor decision by referee Jon Moss.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Saints did take the lead with 20 minutes to go as Ward-Prowse’s inch-perfect cross from the right found Long and he headed home into the corner as Fabianski failed to clear the ball away. 1-0 to Southampton and that’s how it finished with goalkeeper Fraser Forster keeping his sixth consecutive clean sheet since returning from injury.

A remarkable defensive run continues as Saints also continue to cement their spot in the top six.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford: Deeney adds to Eagles miserable run

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Troy Deeney of Watford celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Watford at Selhurst Park on February 13, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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  • Palace has lost 6 of 7
  • Deeney braces move Watford eighth
  • Adebayor scores for Eagles

Troy Deeney won and converted a PK, then scored a late winner as Watford took all three points from Selhurst Park in a 2-1 win on Saturday

Palace’s 2016 struggles continued, with Emmanuel Adebayor‘s equalizer going for naught. The Eagles now have one point in seven matches and continue their free fall down the PL table.

Papa Souare took a late red for a hard tackle, to add insult to Palace’s injury.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It took just a quarter-hour for Watford to seize the lead, as Mile Jedinak wrapped up Deeney with both arms, and the Hornets captain tumbled in the box to earn a PK he’d finish to make it 1-0.

But Palace equalized just before halftime, working hard to keep a long throw in play before crossing for Adebayor to put a looping header past Heurelho Gomes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Adebayor could’ve made it 2-1 if not for a sweeping single leg save from Gomes after a dangerous Wilfried Zaha sent a low ball through the six.

With Palace looking okay to pick up another needed point, Deeney was Johnny-on-the-spot to trap and belt home an ineffective header from Damien Delaney.