Thoughts on the
Saturday's 4-2 victory against West Ham gave first-place Manchester United a seven-point lead and may be the one we look back at as the title-winning performance. Meetings with West Ham have cost United the title in the past (most notably in 1995), and Alex Ferguson's side made as bad a start as possible in the first half, conceding two penalties coolly dispatched by Mark Noble. Defender Nemanja Vidic also ought to have been sent off to leave his team really in the mire.
The comeback was trademark Manchester United: equal parts inevitable and awe-inspiring, somehow. Ferguson brought Javier Hernandez on for Patrice Evra, shifting Ryan Giggs to left back, and replaced Park Ji-Sung with Dimitar Berbatov -- and within 15 minutes Wayne Rooney had scored a hat trick. The tactically jiggery worked but this was primarily another triumph for United's famous mental fortitude, a resource evidently lacking elsewhere. It is hard to see the Premier League trophy not returning to Old Trafford for a record 19th time now.
A word, too, for Everton's Diniyar Bilyaletdinov -- not Mr. Popular at Goodison Park, but since injuries have given him a run in the side, he's been quietly going about his business. In Saturday's enthralling 2-2 draw with Aston Villa, Leon Osman's goal came from "Bily" dispossessing Kyle Walker, and he later supplied Osman with another chance with a raking ball from left to right.
Week 31 brought us a couple of nice individual goals. Rooney's second came after a delightful first touch took him across Matthew Upson. Jonas Gutierrez added Newcastle's fourth versus Wolves, a perfectly curved effort, having trotted half the length of the pitch. But
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini decided Sunderland (without a win since January, without a goal since February) was ripe for the taking and surrendered his habitually cautious formation. He started David Silva, Adam Johnson, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, with only Nigel de Jong charged with his usual defensive duties. An hour and a half later, Sunderland had conceded five goals (to five different scorers) and it could have been double that. The 5-0 shutout was a thoroughly entertaining way for City to pass Chelsea for third place.
"From start to finish, it was brutal," Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said.
Said Mancini: "We hope that we continue to play like today, but it also depends on the opponent sometimes.
Not for the first time this season, Ben Foster was Birmingham's player of the match as it beat Bolton 2-1 to move out of the drop zone. He kept out a hat trick of Daniel Sturridge chances in the first half, and made two incredible saves in the second, first paddling away Kevin Davies' header, then forcing Gretar Steinsson's point-blank header over the bar in the last few seconds.
"If he's had a better game, I'll be surprised," Bolton manager Owen Coyle said. "He made some saves he had no right to make."
"We had a bad performance against a Blackburn team who defended well. You don't get away -- we had no change of pace, no penetration, our rhythm of passing was too slow, exactly how we don't want to play. I'm really concerned."
It's not quite reading the riot act, but this is extraordinarily candid stuff from Arsene Wenger following the 0-0 draw with Blackburn that knocked Arsenal's title challenge off track. Rovers hadn't taken a point away from home in 2011 before holding on at the Emirates on Saturday, though the Gunners' own profligacy had a lot to answer for.
There were several eyebrow-raising defensive performances, from Luiz and John Terry's comical attempts to deal with Stoke City's front line to Sunderland's nightmare to Vidic's managing to stay on the pitch despite numerous poor first-half challenges against West Ham. Pepe Reina's over-the-top protestations after conceding a penalty for a foul on West Brom's Peter Odemwingie were pretty embarrassing. But the title goes to Everton defender Phil Jagielka, for a big-top tumble over Jean Makoun's leg (to get the penalty that enabled Villa to pull even at 2-2) that will have brought a tear to many a professional clown's eye.
If Tottenham was saving all the excitement for Tuesday's Champions League encounter with Real Madrid, then we're in for a treat, because its performance against Wigan Athletic was miserable. But for Heurelho Gomes' fingertips, which prevented what would have been a fine Tom Cleverley goal, Spurs would have slipped even further back in the chase for fourth. Manager Harry Redknapp reckons there are "no easy away games," and his squad is hard hit by injury, but the lack of invention should worry him.