Seven games took place in the Premier League on Saturday, as the games returned after the two-week international break.
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With seven games to go for most teams, the business end of the campaign has now arrived and the spring sunshine in England saw both Manchester clubs win, Huddersfield go down and plenty of teams jostling for Europe.
Here’s a look at what we learned from another intriguing day of action as we enter the home stretch of the season.
Problems for Ole to sort out
Manchester United are in the top four and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrated getting the job on a permanent basis with a win. But he is far from happy. The Norwegian coach has seen his United side labor in recent weeks, and that was the case once again in their 2-1 win against Watford at Old Trafford. United were outplayed for large periods and the Hornets didn’t take their chances.
“Watford started off really well and we struggled to get to grips with their tempo,” Solskjaer told Sky Sports afterwards. “We defended great, and after about 20 minutes, I felt we were more comfortable. It was more a draw, performance wise. We’ll take the three points. Some of the players who went away maybe played too much.”
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial scored in either half to paper over the cracks, but there are issues for Solskjaer to sort out. A lot of his players were coming off injuries and a long international break, but there is certainly a growing trend of teams sitting deeper against them and nullifying the threat of their devastating counter attacks. So United have to develop a Plan B under Solskjaer. Also, if you can get at United’s midfield trio of Herrera, Matic and Pogba, like Watford did very well, then you can stop their counter attacks at the source. Solskjaer has already said United will do business and spend money well this summer. His top priority should be shoring up his defense and bringing in a new holding midfielder to help not only plug the gaps in front of the back four, but dictate the tempo of games. At the same time Solskjaer knows he has to sort a few things out, he also knows he has that classic Sir Alex Ferguson knack of winning games when his team doesn’t play at its best. That is priceless.
City put the pressure on Liverpool
The way Manchester City played in the first 30 minutes at Craven Cottage, you just felt like you were watching the best team in Europe, if not the world. Sure, they were playing 19th-placed Fulham, but the Cottagers were petrified of giving the ball away and did so twice early on. Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero (his minor injury was the only negative for City) punished them on both occasions and that was that. City should have won by four or five, but it was a case of job done ahead of a busy few months which could see them win an unprecedented quadruple. They have now go back to the top of the table and all eyes will be on Liverpool who play against Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday, then travel to in-form Southampton on Friday. Over to you, Jurgen Klopp and Co.
Leicester in fine fettle under Rodgers
With four wins from five games since Claude Puel was fired, Leicester have certainly got that ‘new manager bump’ those in charge crave when making the switch. But aside from a sudden jolt up the table this Leicester team are showing real progress in less than two months of working with Brendan Rodgers. This is exactly why he left Celtic. Leicester demolished Bournemouth on Saturday to make it three wins in four under Rodgers, with Jamie Vardy scoring his fifth goal in five games and Wes Morgan popping up to score in back-to-back PL games. The old guard is still there, but Rodgers’ young talents are the reason why Leicester’s fans can be so optimistic about the future. Maddison, Chilwell, Gray and Tielemans all impressed, and all are 22 years of age or younger. It will be intriguing to watch Rodgers nurture this young side into one that can become ‘the best of the rest’ in the PL. With Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea to play in their final three games of the season, Leicester may struggle to finish seventh and qualify for the Europa League this season. But the future is looking very bright as Rodgers has found a nice mixture of counter-attacking play coupled with composed possession.
Relegation picture getting clearer
Huddersfield’s fairytale is over, as the Terriers were relegated from the Premier League on Saturday. It was the second earliest relegation in PL history, and it has been expected since January when David Wagner left. Huddersfield staying up last season, after their unexpected promotion to the top-flight, defied the odds but they simply ran out of steam. Their decision to not spend beyond their means on their playing squad was what ultimately cost them. Huddersfield are a well-run club with loyal fans and a clear playing philosophy. They will be pushing hard in the second-tier next season. With one team gone and Fulham about to go, all eyes are now on Cardiff City. Neil Warnock‘s men are now five points from safety and although they have two games in hand on Burnley who sit one place above them in the table, they have to play Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Liverpool in their final eight games. With wins for Southampton, Crystal Palace and Burnley on Saturday, it appears that the relegation picture has just become a lot clearer. Unless, of course, Cardiff can upset Chelsea on Sunday…