So, uh, I hope you like goals! While the marquee clash of Matchweek 21 ended in a low-scoring draw, plenty of teams padded out their goal differences over the weekend. The round also featured some potentially-decisive results for the title and Top 4 races, the darkness around relegation favorites deepening, and Andy Carroll doing something ridiculous.
1. Target Practice
Everyone says a team that wants to win the Premier League has to be able to grind out 1-0 wins— otherwise they’re just not serious contenders. I argue that games like Tottenham’s 4-0 dismantling are more important. Not only do they build confidence in a squad and instill the sense of self-belief necessary to do such a blatantly hard thing as become Champions of England, but it also sends a strong message to the rest of the league— come at us at your own peril. Harry Kane’s hat trick against West Brom kept Spurs in the Top 4, but more importantly, it was a demonstration of power for Spurs’ fully-armed and operational battlestation.
2. Hoisted By Their Own Petard
The thing about a team trying to avoid relegation is that they are often their own worst enemy. Paul Clement’s first game in charge as Swansea’s third permanent manager of the season was a complete disaster, and it really didn’t have to be. Arsenal can be pushed back if a team is clever and resolute— qualities that any side must have if they’re fighting against the drop. But two of Arsenal’s four goals were own goals, and too many simple mistakes turned a tough situation into an impossible one. Swansea need a lot of help, and the first step is correctly diagnosing their problems. There’s no evidence at present that the club’s braintrust is capable of doing that.
3. Costa/Benefit Analysis
It was inescapable that the big story heading into the game would be Diego Costa’s dispute with Antonio Conte and Chelsea staff over a proposed move to China. A training ground blow-up and a refusal to travel led Conte to sort out the side to face the (struggling) defending champions without the best player in the league. It’s a credit to Conte’s refurb of this squad that Chelsea made it work and dismantled Leicester to the tune of three goals to nil. Chelsea can probably have a successful season without Diego Costa, if it really comes to that. But can they be champions without him? We might have to find out very soon.
4. Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down
It’s difficult to make out what to think about Everton’s astonishing 4-0 win over Manchester City. These kind of games happen— Everton were due for a good day and this one isolated scoreline shouldn’t necessarily indict Pep Guardiola’s project at City. But the optics are unmistakably bad, and Pep seems to think his side are out of the title race already. Meanwhile, City fans are casting longing glances in Torino’s direction and wondering if it was all worth it. Modern football is what it is, but it’s still remarkable that not even Pep Guardiola is safe from the shifting sands of the English top flight.
5. The Post-Truth Derby
United vs Liverpool is one of the fiercest rivalries in world football, and with good reason. The fixture is a bit like pizza— even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. The 1-1 draw at Old Trafford on Sunday won’t be passed down through legend across generations, but it was perfectly entertaining. But this is also a major derby involving José Mourinho, and that undeniably changes the complexion of the proceedings. To wit: Mr. Park-The-Bus himself accusing Liverpool of playing too defensively. Apparently this is just how we live now— there’s no history or memory, words don’t matter, and truth belongs to whomever can lie convincingly without blinking. What a time to be alive.
BONUS: TFW Andy Carroll Moves In Ways You Didn’t Think Possible