I really think we were spoiled a bit last season. Leicester’s incredible run at the title had us all buzzing— and maybe wondering if fairy tales do indeed come true. This season Leicester became The Team That Fell To Earth, and 2016-17 has been poorer without a similar spark of magic. But it could be worse— we’ve had a tight and entertaining race at the top of the table to keep us tuning in. Even this late on, there are still six teams in the hunt for a Top 4 spot, and Chelsea, despite what seems to be a commanding lead, are in a much shakier position than they seem at first blush. It’s made for an entertaining season— and what could be a dramatic finish. If you missed anything this weekend, we’ll get you caught up.
1. Target Practice
The worst thing about supporting a club in the lower end of the table is seeing your team being used by other teams as a self-esteem boost. Hull fans are in such an unenviable position this season. Manchester City came into this game winless in their past four Premier League games and needing an easy win to pull themselves together, and Hull (unwittingly, of course) provided such an opportunity to the tune of three goals to one. It can’t be easy seeing a Top 4 team using your beloved squad as target practice, but such is life at the wrong end of the Premier League table.
2. Vital Signs
We were joking as recently as Thursday about Liverpool’s seeming inability to secure wins against teams outside the Top 6. And while it wasn’t exactly a rainy night, their away fixture at Stoke seemed to be another trap they were all too happy to walk into. But the Reds weren’t having it this weekend, and Coutinho and Firmino (both second half substitutes) pull Liverpool up from a 1-0 deficit to win the day 2-1. Liverpool still have a lot of work to do in their last six games, but if they do manage to secure a Top 4 spot, this game may well be seen as the turning point.
Chelsea are in an odd position. They’re seven points clear at the top of the table, a pace they maintained after beating Bournemouth 3-1 on Saturday. It’s a solid enough lead, albeit not quite the coronation they had two seasons ago. But here’s the thing— they went into kickoff knowing Spurs had beat Watford 4-0. If Chelsea drew or lost on Saturday, their lead would be cut to four or five points. All of a sudden, they go from Comfortably Sauntering To The Title to Actual Dogfight That Could Go All The Way To The End. That’s how precarious things are. For as dominant as Chelsea have been this season, getting to this point has been a much bigger battle than many are willing to admit, and it wouldn’t take a whole lot for things to go sideways.
4. Your Wear-Y Widow Marches On
This is probably the end for Sunderland. I realize I’m stating the obvious here, but it’s worth illustrating exactly how desperate things are. Ten points from safety with seven games left. They haven’t scored a goal in over two months. Their relegation could be confirmed as soon as April 26th. Their meek 3-0, 10-men surrender at home to Manchester United won’t be the thing that sinks them. I’m not sure you could point to a specific game or moment that doomed Sunderland. But after watching their feckless outing on Sunday, it’s all too easy to see why they’re going down.
5. The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune
So the bad news is Leicester’s winning run came to a crashing halt. On the other hand, it took a team that has Romelu Lukaku to do it. Lukaku, at 23 goals and counting, is currently outscoring entire Premier League teams. His two for Everton in their 4-2 win over the defending champions illustrated what an incredible season he’s had and how vital he is for the Toffees (and how badly they’ll miss him). There’s no shame in this loss for Leicester. They fought a veritable force of nature and came up short.
BONUS: The Son Also Rises
(That was a terrible pun and I apologize.)