FOXES GET OUT OF JAIL
“I always believe. I believe we showed this season that everything is possible with the Foxes. Never quit, no?”
That was Claudio Ranieri‘s answer to my question about how he felt on Sunday when Leicester’s title challenge looked to have derailed with West Ham 2-1 up and less then five minutes to play, plus the Foxes down to 10-men.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
When Leonardo Ulloa‘s stoppage time penalty kick hit the back of the net at the King Power Stadium, relief was the main emotion from the home fans. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, the Foxes had got out of jail. Big time.
A scrambling, intoxicating second half saw Jamie Vardy, who had put the Foxes in front, shown a second yellow card for simulation as Leicester went down to 10-men for the final 30 minutes. West Ham then battered them and in two minutes seemed to have won the game.
[ VIDEO: Analyzing the big calls ]
First referee Jon Moss, who became a pivotal figure in this game, called a foul on Wes Morgan in the box and Andy Carroll slammed home the spot kick. 1-1. The home fans were incensed with the decision but can have little complaints. Two minutes later Aaron Cresswell rifled a volley into the far corner and as West Ham’s players celebrated in front of the Leicester fans, with paper clappers being thrown at them and cries of “2-1 to the referee!” from the home fans, everything seemed to be unraveling for Ranieri’s men.
Then, the game-deciding moment arrived.
Substitute Jeffrey Schlupp slalomed into the box with second left. Carroll came across to close him down but Schlupp took a tumble. Moss pointed to the spot to hand Leicester a lifeline and ensure he would safely get out of the King Power Stadium alive. Ulloa’s spot kick ensured Leicester will remain five points ahead of Tottenham Hotspur with four games to go should Spurs win at Stoke City on Monday. But Leicester should have lost and even though Moss was booed off the pitch, he’d helped the home team out and gained them a point.
[ MORE: Vardy to get extra ban? ]
Moss is a human. He evened things up. He got Vardy’s red card correct — the England striker may face further action after appearing to swear at Moss and gesture in his face when walking off the pitch — and Morgan’s grappling on Winston Reid was correct, but the challenge on Schlupp was nothing more than a shoulder barge and he was already going down.
Leicester have won 11 penalties this season, more than any other team and 15.3 percent of their goals have come from the spot this season. The trickery and speed of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez has led to that but perhaps subconsciously referees are more willing to believe that Leicester’s players are going down under contact and, maybe, the media frenzy about their achievements this season is playing its part.
I wrote it from my “three things we learned” column at the King Power Stadium yesterday, and it does seem like divine intervention is somehow at play here, pushing Leicester towards a fairytale title and unlike anything we’ve ever seen in PL history or even sporting history. Call it luck, the rub of the green, whatever you will, but in pivotal moments in recent weeks decisions have gone in Leicester’s favor and it seems scripted for them to lift the title.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Tottenham will not give up hope but seeing Ulloa’s late penalty kick go in must have hit Mauricio Pochettino‘s men hard. Even though Leicester is stumbling, Spurs still have to overcome an eight-point gap with 15 points remaining on the table.
“It is more important than one point,” Ranieri said of Leicester’s draw. “Physiologically, we are there.”
When Cheikhou Kouyate‘s header hits both of Leicester’s post rolls across the line and the stays out with the first act of the game, then a penalty kick like that was awarded with basically the last act, it seems like higher powers are at work.
As Ranieri said: “this season everything is possible with the Foxes.” But it always helps when lady luck is shining down on you along the way…
BRILLIANT DE BRUYNE BATTERS CHELSEA
Kevin De Bruyne never got the chance to flourish at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player. On Saturday he did. But for Manchester City.
[ MORE: De Bruyne rips Chelsea apart ]
During City’s 3-0 win which boosts their top four hopes and condemned Chelsea to an 11th defeat of the season, De Bruyne, 24, looked worth every penny of the $75 million City paid Wolfsburg for the Belgian winger last summer. In January 2014, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho let De Bruyne leave for $25 million.
He came back to haunt them and since he returned from injury last month, City is unbeaten in five and look a completely different team. He knits it all together and comes up with the goods in the big games, just like he did in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal vs. PSG.
Mourinho had complained of De Bruyne’s attitude, something the Belgian wholeheartedly refutes, and said him being behind Eden Hazard was the main reason he was sold. On his return to Stamford Bridge, it seemed like KDB had a point to prove as he led City’s counter attacks with devastating efficiency and scythed through Chelsea’s hapless midfield and defense at will. Coasting off the right flank and into the center, De Bruyne went clean through in the first half but was thwarted by Thibaut Courtois. He then set up Sergio Aguero to score the first of his three goals with a rapid break and pinpoint pass.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
In the second half it got better. De Bruyne flicked the ball past both Cesc Fabregas and Cesar Azpilcieuta in one movement and sped away, releasing Sami Nasri who set up Aguero for his second.
De Bruyne was applauded by some of Chelsea’s fans and one even shouted out: “De Bruyne, we want you to come back!”
Chelsea’s interim boss Guus Hiddink saw his midtable team humbled by City’s swaggering ginger machine. I asked him after the game what he thought of De Bruyne’s display.
“He is very keen playing in-between the lines and all of the players are and they know to find him,” Hiddink told ProSoccerTalk. “He is a beautiful player to see.”
Chelsea’s fans will, begrudgingly, agree with Guus. Ah, the one that got away…
NORTH EAST CLUBS ALIVE
A huge weekend played out for both Newcastle United and Sunderland as the two North East giants reignited life into their relegation battle. But, adding further fuel to the fire, it seems inevitable that only one club will save themselves.
[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]
Both won 3-0 with Sunderland’s shellacking of Norwich City in the early game on Saturday opening up the relegation picture and Newcastle duly responded with their victory over Swansea City.
Sam Allardyce‘s side have always looked the more likely to get out of the mire as he’s built a solid defensive unit but scoring goals has been the problem of late. A game-changing moment arrived at Carrow Road with Fabio Borini taken down by Andre Wisdom and the Italian slammed home the spot kick to set the Black Cats on their way. Borini crossed for Jermain Defoe to double the lead and Duncan Watmore put some gloss on the scoreline as Big Sam, reminiscent of Elvis, swung his arms in celebration gleefully on the sidelines.
That early win piled the pressure on Sunderland’s bitter North East rivals, Newcastle. And, surprisingly, Rafael Benitez’s side dealt with it. Recording their first clean sheet since Feb. 6, Benitez’s men rode their luck against Swansea City but two late goals brought relief around St James’ Park and Benitez his first win as Newcastle boss.
[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]
With Aston Villa relegated on Saturday following their 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, it’s now two from Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich to join them. The relegation picture couldn’t not be tighter thanks to big wins for the big North East clubs.
Norwich sit one place out of the relegation zone on 31 points. Sunderland have 30 points and Newcastle now have 28. Both, crucially, have a game in hand on Norwich and if they win those, Sunderland will move out of the bottom three and Newcastle will be right behind them.
[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]
They’ve given themselves a big chance of escaping and looking at the remaining games, Sunderland have the easier schedule on paper of the three relegation battlers. With five games to go for Newcastle and Sunderland, the race to 40 points is on. Only one, if any, of the North East giants will be in the PL next season. Which team will dig themselves out of the bottom three?
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.