Watching the Premier League this weekend was like watching a Saturday at Augusta. Moving day was in full swing.
When we look back and wrap a bow on the 2017-18 Premier League season, it seems like Week 27 will have been particularly pivotal in deciding the fate of several teams.
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Manchester United and Arsenal lost in the top six, while Liverpool and Tottenham won to solidify their top four hopes and Manchester City all but sealed the title as they extended their lead atop the table to 16 points.
But arguably the biggest results came in the bottom half of the table with massive victories for Swansea City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United and West Ham to all significantly boost their survival chances.
There were seismic shifts in optimism over the past few days in the PL as clubs who previously thought they were destined for a relegation battle are targeting the top 10 and teams who believed their top four chances were in jeopardy have steadied the ship.
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Momentum is everything at this point of the season and the fact that Swansea and West Ham won again suggests they’re heading in the right direction and have hit form. In fact, West Ham, Swansea, Newcastle and Bournemouth are all in the top eight of the form league in the PL.
But for all of those clubs, a word of warning: respect the schedule.
It’s easy to get giddy and see the finish line on the horizon with just 11 games to go, but several strugglers have incredibly tough fixtures lists in the new few weeks which could see them sink back into the mire.
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For example, Stoke’s schedule looks particularly nightmarish in March and early April: Man City (H), Everton (A), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H). Plus, West Ham’s schedule includes Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal in their next six games.
With City running away with the title, the top four battle and the scrap against relegation will take center stage in the final months of the season.
SEASON OF INDIVIDUAL BRILLIANCE CONTINUES
As a member of the Football Writers’ Association, I’m honored to get a vote for the FWA Player of the Year each season in the Premier League.
The vote this year is going to be very tough.
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We know that soccer is a team game, but it’s those glittering individuals who are making a huge difference this season in the Premier League.
KDB grabbed three assists in Man City’s 5-1 win against Leicester. Kane scored the winner against Spurs’ bitter North London rivals Arsenal and tormented the Gunners defense. Salah scored one and set up the other as Liverpool eased by Southampton.
As things stand De Bruyne will probably be crowned the top player in the PL and he deserves it. He has 14 assists to his name this season and has reinvented himself in a deeper central midfield role this season under Pep Guardiola.
The way he sees a pass that nobody else can sets him apart and the Belgian wizard has it all. He digs deep to defend, controls the tempo of games and makes key passes at key moments.
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Kane and Salah continue to drive their teams towards top four finishes with their impressive goalscoring records, and arguably both men will be disappointed with chances they’ve squandered in recent weeks with their goal totals set to rise towards 30 by the end of the campaign. The fact that Sergio Aguero’s four-goal performance against Leicester is a sidenote says it all.
Given KDB’s brilliance for a team 16 points clear atop the table, he will likely win the Player of the Year vote by a landslide.
He’s the shining light in a glittering galaxy of stars in the Premier League as the outstanding individuals continue to shine brightest.
POCHETTINO’S PRECARIOUS GAME
Mauricio Pochettino‘s Tottenham are one of the form teams in the Premier League.
Over the last six games no PL team has gained more points than Spurs, with the North Londoners beating Manchester United and Arsenal at home comfortably (even if the scorelines suggest otherwise) and drawing at Liverpool.
You’d think he’d be a happy man. Far from it.
Pochettino has seemed slightly abrupt and ornery in his recent press conferences. He first responded in spiky fashion to questions about his team not being clinical enough against United, his record against the top six and new signing Lucas Moura, while he then barked back at reporters following the derby win against Arsenal on Saturday when asked why Toby Alderweireld didn’t feature despite declaring himself fit to play.
Since then Alderweireld hasn’t traveled to Turin for Spurs’ UCL clash at Juventus despite making his long-awaited comeback last week against Newport County in the FA Cup, with reports stating his future at Spurs could be in doubt as his contract has a release clause of $34.6 million next summer.
Still, it was all a bit bizarre as Pochettino grumbled under his breath as he walked out of the press conference room at Wembley on Saturday shaking his head. In general, the Argentine manager has started to become increasingly upset with suggestions that Spurs aren’t fulfilling their potential and it’s easy to understand why.
Over the past three seasons Spurs have finished third and second in the PL with legitimate title challenges in each campaign, reached the League Cup final, FA Cup semifinal, were the best team in the UEFA Champions League group stage this season and Poch has nurtured the talents of Harry Kane and Dele Alli expertly while managing to keep his playing philosophy crystal clear despite moving from White Hart Lane to Wembley. Not bad.
Yet the question mark hanging over his head remains a big one: why haven’t Spurs won anything?
Spurs look set to finish in the top four and challenge United for second place in the PL this season, while the FA Cup is now looking like their most likely chance of silverware. Getting past Juventus in the Champions League will be tough but doable, but can Spurs really win the Champions League?
Until Pochettino leads Spurs to that type of glory and ends a 10-year drought for silverware, he will continue to get questions which seem to upset and annoy him. At the moment questions which aren’t suppose to do either are pushing his buttons, and all of the wrong ones.
There’s a fine line between Pochettino being praised incessantly for his overachieving and then slated for his complaining. His nowhere near the levels of annoyance the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho cause among their detractors, but Poch is starting to get on a bit of a slippery slope with his public demeanor.
Is their something bigger annoying him behind-the-scenes at Tottenham?
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.