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Three things we learned from West Ham v. Tottenham

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LONDON — West Ham beat Tottenham 1-0 under the London Stadium lights on Friday night to deal a hammer blow to Spurs’ Premier League title hopes.

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The only goal of the game arrived just after the hour mark as Manuel Lanzini pounced to finish and a sluggish Spurs side never recovered.

Here’s what we learned from the London derby which has put a huge dent in Spurs’ title hopes.


CRUCIAL PK CALL CORRECT

There’s been plenty of talk about the new video assistant referees (VARs) which are being trialed in many leagues around the world but I’m not sure an official watching 50 replays of a first half collision between Manuel Lanzini and Hugo Lloris would have been able to make the correct call.

Andre Ayew clipped the ball through to Lanzini but as he raced through on goal he didn’t get the first touch on the ball before Lloris clattered into him with a tackle. Referee Anthony Taylor waved play on but Cheikhou Kouyate‘s tame effort on goal was shanked wide and everyone stopped. Hammers fans, players and management expected a penalty kick. It never arrived.

If West Ham had not won, they would’ve pointed towards that call as costly. In the end it wasn’t, but it also pointed towards just how tough some of these penalty decisions are for referees and even VARs. Even with the technology in place, it’s hard to get these calls 100 percent correct.


TIRED TOTTENHAM LOSE GROUND

Spurs just didn’t look correct throughout this game. A sluggish start to both halves gave West Ham hope and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men weren’t energetic in attack of pressing high to win the ball back.

Much has been made of Spurs playing before Chelsea this weekend to try and cut their lead atop the PL table to one point, but there wasn’t much chatter about the three days less rest for Tottenham after their North London derby against Arsenal on Sunday.

Look at the stat below just before Lanzini put West Ham ahead. How often are Spurs, or any of Pochettino’s sides outrun?

Spurs were sluggish and even when three glorious chances arrived on the 21-minute mark they couldn’t make the most of it as Adrian denied Harry Kane brilliantly following Dele Alli‘s shot was blocked.

In the second half Heung-Min Son‘s shot was tipped wide by Adrian but it was Spurs who ran out of steam and looked under pressure. West Ham had several glorious chances to extend their lead with Jonathan Calleri forcing a wonderful stop from Lloris and Spurs’ usually watertight defense looked incredibly susceptible on the break.

Spurs lost at West Ham last March under the lights at Upton Park as their title bid took a huge hit. This time around a defeat to their fierce London rivals just about ended their title hopes.


LANZINI STEPS UP ON DERBY DAY, AGAIN

With Dimitri Payet gone in January, this was supposed to be Lanzini’s time to shine.

He’s cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks but he turned up when it mattered on Friday, buzzing around behind the energetic Calleri and reacting first to a loose ball in the box to slot home the winner.

The Argentine playmaker,  like most of West Ham’s current squad, had a fine campaign last season and despite glimpses of his genius in 2016-17, he’s struggled.

Lanzini will grow into this central role after playing second fiddle to Payet last season and the first half of this and often shunted out wide. He’s now scored eight goals in 33 appearances this season, surpassing his seven in 32 appearances last season.

He received a standing ovation and the man of the match award for his performance which led West Ham to safety as they cannot be relegated. This performance may have just saved Slaven Bilic his job, too.

Finally, West Ham’s new home at London Stadium has a marquee win as the Hammers momentarily rose to ninth place in the table.

Three things we learned from Tottenham v. Arsenal

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday in the final North London derby to be played at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Spurs, Arsenal ]

Dele Alli and Harry Kane struck in the second half to ensure that Spurs remain just four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and they will also finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995.

Here’s what we learned as Spurs finally have the bragging rights in their locale.


NORTH LONDON DESERVEDLY BELONGS TO TOTTENHAM

For the first time in over 22 years Tottenham will finish above Arsenal in the Premier League table.

Spurs’ victory on the pitch was about so much more than three points. St. Totteringham’s Day is finally over and the power shift in north London is in full flow.

Last season Tottenham came so close to finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the PL era but blew it on the final day after their late season collapse. Now they’re 17 points ahead of Arsenal with the Gunners having five games to play. Tottenham cannot be caught.

Spurs fans going into work on Monday won’t need to take any more stick from Arsenal supporters. For the next 12 months they can finally bark back to any criticism of their team with “where did you finish in the league again? Oh, that’s right…”

Of course, this is about much more than just bragging rights. With Spurs’ new stadium rising into the sky behind their current 118-year home, the future promises plenty with Pochettino at the helm and a young core locked into long-term contracts.

Tottenham’s success this season isn’t a one-off. They should’ve finished above Arsenal last season but blew it. Now, they’ve soared past their neighbors and left Arsene Wenger and Arsenal in their wake.

Now they’ve ruled north London, Spurs have one final target: to win their remaining four games and put Chelsea under as much pressure as possible.


SPURS STAY HOT ON CHELSEA’S HEELS

Seeing that Chelsea had beat Everton 3-0 just before they kicked off could’ve left Tottenham feeling a) sorry for themselves or b) fired up to stay in the title race for at least another week.

It was clearly the latter. Although Mauricio Pochettino went with a 4-2-3-1 formation which and Spurs started tentatively, they began to carve open Arsenal. Both Alli and Christian Eriksen missed glorious chances as Pochettino turned to his bench with a look of horror. Those misses didn’t prove costly as the second half saw Spurs surge forward and their fluidity cause Arsenal so many issues.

Harry Kane’s hot streak continued in the NLD as he dispatched the PK he won and has now scored six goals in his last five derbies in the PL.

Dele Alli popped up with a fine finish after an incisive run and shot from Christian Eriksen and nothing really changed for a Spurs team which has now won nine games on the spin and are unbeaten at home, their final season at their historic White Hart Lane, going into their final home match against Manchester United in two weeks time.

Spurs will be hoping Chelsea slip up in their final four games and if they do, you fancy Tottenham to take full advantage. Spurs next play on Friday at West Ham and have the chance to cut Chelsea’s lead to one point before they play on Monday against Middlesbrough.


MISERY CONTINUES FOR WENGER, ARSENAL

With Manchester United drawing at home to Swansea and Manchester City drawing at Middlesbrough, this was the perfect chance for Arsenal to gain ground in their top four hunt. It was an opportunity they never really looked like making the most of.

Petr Cech was their man of the match, making three important saves in the second half to keep the scoreline down. This game summed up everything good about Spurs but also everything which is bad about Arsenal.

The current state of affairs at Arsenal is impacting their play on the pitch, no matter if Arsene Wenger denies it.

Until his future, and that of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, is resolved then Arsenal won’t be able to move on. They now sit six points off the top four with a game in hand and the FA Cup final against Chelsea to look forward to it.

“Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!” was the ironic chant of the day from Tottenham’s fans as they reveled in Wenger and Arsenal’s steady decline over the past 12 months.

Surely a shellacking by their bitter rivals will act as the perfect reason for Wenger and Arsenal to reveal their future plans to stop things getting further out of hand.

Three things we learned from Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City and Manchester United fought out a 0-0 draw in the Manchester Derby on Thursday as two teams battling for the top four canceled each other.

[ MORE: Player ratings from City, United

City had the better chances with Sergio Aguero hitting the post and going close on multiple occasions but Pep Guardiola‘s men couldn’t break through and Jose Mourinho’s United — who finished the game with 10-men after Marouane Fellaini was sent off — remain one point and one place behind them in the table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense derby.


RASHFORD RAMPANT

It seems like each and every week Marcus Rashford is improving drastically. The 19-year-old was the standout player on the pitch in the Manchester Derby at the Etihad, once again.

13 months ago Rashford scored a superb game-winner for United at City but as impressive as he was on that day, his game and body have developed drastically since then.

His sheer pace left City’s defenders for dead on mutliple occasions with Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov often given a 10-yard head start but not able to catch Rashford.

An audacious flick over Otamendi with this back of his heel while he was on the move was the pick of his moment. Rashford is maturing rapidly and after he tore Chelsea apart just 10 days ago, he was United’s biggest attacking threat all evening.

Manchester United will miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s penchant for popping up at the right place at the right time — as he’s done on 28 occasions this season before having his season ended through injury — but if Rashford is given enough time on the pitch, his rapidly development will surely see him flourish into one of the finest forwards in the game.


GUARDIOLA, MOURINHO OVERCAUTIOUS

All three games between Man City and Man United this season have been tight, tense encounters. This was no different.

City ripped United apart in the first half of their 2-1 win at Old Trafford back in September and then United edged things in a 1-0 home win in the EFL Cup a month later.

Guardiola’s City once again did all the pressing in this game as Aguero hit the outside of the post from a wonderful ball from the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne and the Argentine ace had an off day in front of goal, blazing off target on multiple occasions as United stayed compact but let him have a glimpse of the goal from distance.

With City just one point ahead of United with five games to go for both teams, Pep will probably still be feeling the more confident of the two managers about finishing in the top four given the respective run-in’s for both clubs. Yes, United have gone 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League but they aren’t exactly impressing.

Mourinho set his team up to counter with Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in attack but United never truly got hold of the ball as City’s high-pressing surprisingly unnerved season campaigners such as Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Fellaini with the latter headbutting Aguero stupidly late on to see red.

Considering all of thier injuries and plenty of games coming up, United will be happy with a point to stay in the top four hunt and so will City. The final encounter between Guardiola and Mourinho this season didn’t live up to the hype and with so much on the line in their debut camapigns in Manchester, just four goals across the three Manchester derbies proves that neither has lost face locally.

Then again, neither have impressed much this season either.


KOMPANY BACK TO HIS BEST

On three occasions in the first half Vincent Kompany stepped in to make superbly timed interceptions.

City’s skipper is well and truly back to his best.

After two injury ravaged campaign the Belgian star, 31, led from the back and was always willing to step high and engage United’s attacks to try and stop them at source.

Question marks will still remain about Kompany’s fitness for the foreseeable future but after playing three games in 12 days he finally seems to have not only regained his fitness but also his form.

It remains to be seen whether Kompany will still be at City next season but you have to think him remaining is essential after the shaky play of both Otamendi and John Stones for much of this season.

Since Kompany returned to fitness in early April, City have conceded just four goals in the four games he’s played with the skipper having two clean sheets and scoring a goal. He’s back to his best.

Three things learned from Man United’s win v. Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — Manchester United and Jose Mourinho have thrown an almighty spanner into the works of the Premier League title race.

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Just when is seemed like Chelsea were gliding towards the title with a halfhearted charge from Tottenham Hotspur lingering in the background, now Antonio Conte‘s men have seen their lead cut to four points after a clinical and professional display from Mourinho’s United as they beat Chelsea for the first time since October 2012.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

An early goal in each half from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera did the damage as United are now unbeaten in 22 games in the PL, the longest unbeaten run in the five major European leagues.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Here’s what we learned from Old Trafford on a pivotal day in the title race and top four battle.


HERRERA POCKETS HAZARD

It was clear from the very start what Ander Herrera’s job was: stop Eden Hazard. He did.

Lining up as a right back for most of the game, the man who was sent off when these teams met in the FA Cup in March at Stamford Bridge.

Herrera then showed his class on the ball (after he appeared to handle the ball to get the move going but got away with it) to thread through an inch-perfect pass to Rashford who raced past David Luiz and finished calmly and scored the killer second goal. From a man who is dubbed the master tactician around the globe, Mourinho got this spot on and his key antagonizer on the pitch was pivotal to this masterplan.

Mourinho, perhaps more than anybody else, realizes the strengths and weaknesses of Hazard. Hailing him as ready to join Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi among the immortal players on the planet in 2014-15 when the Belgian wizard guided Chelsea to the title under Mourinho, the way in which Hazard struggled last season was a huge factor in Mourinho’s downfall at Stamford Bridge.

It seems like that hasn’t been forgotten as Herrera and Co. hacked Hazard to pieces in United’s 1-0 FA Cup defeat at Chelsea last month, prompting Conte to complain about the targeting of Hazard and saying “this is not football” for him. United did it again on Sunday.

Mourinho is demonized as the “king of anti-football” by most but when he pulls out unpredictable lineups and tactics like this, there are few that can do it better. He’s done it everywhere he’s gone and with United now four points off fourth-place Manchester City with a game in hand their top four hopes remain alive.

From Herrera on Hazard to playing two up front to occupy Chelsea’s back three and then bringing on Michael Carrick to deny Cesc Fabregas who came on as a sub, Mourinho got every single move in his chess game correct. The fact that he did it on Sunday to put a huge dent in Chelsea’s title bid, that’s something which will no doubt make him smirk slightly despite his obvious affinity with the west London club.


TITLE RACE BACK ON

With Chelsea’s second defeat in four games, the title race is well and truly back on.

The gap between second-place Tottenham Hotspur and leaders Chelsea is now just four points with six games remaining for each and Antonio Conte’s men can suddenly feel the pressure. Big time.

It seemed that way on Sunday.

For the first time, Chelsea are facing adversity as Thibaut Courtois went down injured in training this week, while Marcos Alonso hurt his knee in the warm up. Conte had to shuffle his pack with Kurt Zouma coming in and Cesar Azpilicueta moved to right-wing back and Chelsea looked cagey, especially in defense, as the team with the least changes in the PL this season.

During the game Chelsea switched things around to try and recover from a slow start with Victor Moses and Azpilicueta swapping flanks but all of a sudden those wings backs began to look like the square pegs in round holes many thought they were. For most of the season Chelsea have dodged adversity like the plague, with players over-performing and reinventing themselves.

The Blues are still in pole position with six games to go but the manner of their defeat at United, a game where they didn’t have a shot on target, suggests the nerves are starting to show.

When Chelsea face Spurs at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup semifinal next week there will be more than a place in the FA Cup final at stake.

The momentum is all with Tottenham (seven-straight PL wins) at this point of the season and psychologically Chelsea must respond. With a home game against Southampton and then a trip to Everton, who have won eight in a row at home, coming up in their next two PL outings, Chelsea fans will be feeling anxious no matter how much they sung “we’re top of the league” at Old Trafford to calm their nerves.


RASHFORD COMES OF AGE

It was just over 13 months ago that Marcus Rashford scored his first two goals in the Premier League in a rousing 3-2 win against Arsenal on a Sunday at Old Trafford.

Sometimes we forget just how quick his ascension has been but he gave one of the biggest indicators yet that he is much more than a flash in the pan.

In the past 13 months he’s signed a new contract, scored plenty of important goals for United’s first team, won an FA Cup and EFL Cup, plus went to EURO 2016 with England. It’s been a whirlwind for the 19-year-old and all the time he’s had to handle rising expectations levels as well as Mourinho cajoling him in the press and on the training ground.

He scuffed an early effort wide and nearly got on the end of Jesse Lingard‘s first half cross as his movement was sharp, his pace in-behind worried Chelsea the entire game and with Lingard up top alongside him he had someone to feed off of and had more space to work in. Rashford, who has been wasteful in front of goal in recent weeks, lashed another effort into the side-netting in the second half, plus surged past David Luiz and shrugged off two challenges before Begovic saved. It was his work rate, pace and directness which troubled Chelsea all game long and he got a standing ovation late on as Zlatan Ibrahimovic replaced him.

Ibrahimovic (on the bench for the visit of Chelsea) has stolen the headlines with his 28 goals for United in all competitions this season but his role in Rashford’s development must not be forgotten. Remember that when Rashford takes over Zlatan’s mantle for the next decade at Old Trafford.

Three things learned from Chelsea’s win at Bournemouth

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BOURNEMOUTH — Chelsea will not be stopped.

The Blues went to Bournemouth and won 3-1 on Saturday, regaining their seven-point lead atop the Premier League table after Tottenham had momentarily cut it to four.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Antonio Conte‘s men dealt with the pressure piled on them by Spurs and breezed past (in the end) a stylish yet leaky Bournemouth side to stay on track for the PL title with seven games to go.

Here’s what we learned from a sun-drenched evening down on the South Coast.


BIG BOYS DELIVER

Eden Hazard scored a sublime goal to put Chelsea 2-0 up at the Vitaliy Stadium. N'Golo Kante snapped into tackles and even had his first-ever Premier League assist. Thibaut Courtois made a stunning save early on to deny David Luiz scoring a horrendous own goal.

All of the stars who needed to step up for Chelsea did.

Bournemouth didn’t play badly, far from it. They created chances with Benik Afobe‘s shot hitting the inside of the post and coming out, plus Jack Wilshere (more on him further down) seeing plenty of the ball and creating problems for Chelsea.

Had Luiz’s nervous clearance just a minute into the game flown in, Chelsea would’ve been in for an uncomfortable encounter.

With the seven-point gap to second-place Tottenham regained for now, throughout the encounter on the south coast of England Chelsea’s fans sung”Tottenham Hotspur, we’re waiting for you!”

Spurs are waiting for a Chelsea slip up but it appears the Blues will keep doing just enough to grind out wins. The magic number of wins now stands at five and it seems like Chelsea cannot be stopped. If Spurs beat West Brom next Saturday in the early game and Chelsea slip up at Manchester United next Sunday then the title race could be back on. For now, it seems over.


COSTA CONUNDRUM

Diego Costa had one of those days against Bournemouth. He’s having them a lot lately.

Chelsea’s Spanish striker has now scored just four goals in his last 13 appearances for the Blues and his slack hold up play, failure to take chances and constant tumbles seem to be infuriating Conte.

It’s true that Costa’s sublime turn set up Chelsea’s opener as he sliced his shot and it deflected off Adam Smith and in. But apart from that, a few decent bits of hold up play were the only noticeable contributions he made. Costa missed a sitter in the 55th minute as Alonso’s perfect cross from the left flank found him at the near post but he completely missed his kick. His manager stood on the sidelines holding his head in disbelief. He’s been doing that a lot lately.

With Hazard having four of Chelsea’s last seven goals in the PL, he’s carrying this team offensively. Costa isn’t contributing much and seems low on confidence following the saga which rumbled on at the end of January amid reports of a back injury, training ground bust up and a big-money move to China.

It sounds slightly harsh to say after Costa has scored 49 goals in 81 PL games for Chelsea over the past three seasons, but perhaps Conte will perhaps be eager to move him on this summer if the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata do become available.


WILSHERE WONDERFUL

Bournemouth always try to play through midfield, no matter the opposition or the obstacles before them. In midfield they have a player capable of controlling the tempo of any game on the planet: Jack Wilshere.

This was perhaps one of Wilshere’s best games in a Bournemouth shirt as he is now back in the starting lineup consistently and is at the hub of the Cherries midfield.

With his future still uncertain about next season — he’ll likely return to his parent club Arsenal but Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe wants him to stay permanently — Wilshere at least seems to be back to his best.

Flashes of brilliance throughout this game reminded us of the quality the England international possesses.

In the first half his sublime ball through to Ryan Fraser was followed up by a flicked ball with the outside of his right boot to play in Josh King for a breakaway. In the second half Wilshere clipped a ball down the line from an impossible body angle which picked out Afobe. He has the deft touches to confuse the most talented defenders and is able to caress the ball with ease, yet he does take chances in dangerous areas sometimes but is ironing out those mistakes.

Now, as has always been the case, he just needs to do it consistently and stay injury free. The next seven games will be huge for Wilshere if he can get back into the England squad this summer and then set himself up for a big season with Arsenal, Bournemouth or whoever in 2017-18.

At the age of 25 we have to stop talking about Wilshere’s potential. His class is undoubted. We just need to see it more.