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By Leo Linden
1. Chelsea increase lead to seven points
Chelsea held a good-sized lead for much of the first half of the season and were only reeled back in during the winter period, the busiest time of the Premier League year. Their lack of squad depth really hurt them during that stretch, but now that they are back on their regular schedule, Chelsea are rolling again, with 10 points in their past four games. Conversely, Manchester City have only three points during that stretch (three ties and a loss) and are starting to let Chelsea get away. City couldn’t put away 18th
2. Liverpool-Everton doesn’t live up to the billing
When the teams met last January, the tie pitted teams sitting in 4th and 6th place, with both still harboring major hopes of Europe, which ended up being realized at season’s end. The 4-0 demolition was the 4th in a 16-game unbeaten run by Liverpool, and it helped galvanize the squad to a 2nd-place finish. Even though they were easily beaten by their Merseyside rivals, Everton went on to finish the season in a very respectable 5th place to secure Europa League football. But this year has been completely different. Liverpool still have a decent chance at Europe, sitting only four points back of 5th-placed Tottenham. But they have yet to string together consistently good football like they did last season, which makes their true quality something of a mystery still. Everton sit in 12th, with just final positioning and a guarantee of safety to play for, and fans have been disappointed with their play for most of this year. All of this made the game itself crucial for both sides of the rivalry, but it instead was a microcosm of both of these teams’ seasons. Liverpool were clearly the better side, but they couldn’t find a breakthrough, which ultimately led to a pretty boring affair. If neither of these teams can put together a run of good form soon, they’ll both be remembered as exactly that: boring.
3. Southampton’s late winner is QPR’s nightmare
This season, the Saints have been the kings of gritting out tough results. This weekend was no exception, as Southampton were held to a stalemate at Loftus Road for over 90 minutes. But in stoppage time, Sadio Mane received a pass from center back Maya Yoshida in the box, calmly settled the ball, and shifted his body with a defender on his back before unleashing a rocket that flew past QPR’s Robert Green and into the top of the net. Mane’s winner is just the latest chapter in Southampton’s great run this year. Their stunning defense has been a major talking point for most of the season, but if the offense continues to develop with new signing Eljero Elia, the Saints could be a force over the second half. Every year, one or two smaller-name clubs challenge for the top four, but it is rare that these teams continue to compete with the biggest teams for multiple years in a row. This makes it even more important that Southampton press on this year and try to break the door down to the top group. QPR, on the other hand, have very serious issues. The 19th-placed outfit have lost five consecutive in all competitions, and they’ve only earned two points in their last seven EPL games. We say it every week, but QPR still hasn’t earned a point on the road, which doesn’t bode well heading into the final third of the season. To make things worse, Harry Redknapp’s departure has left them without a manager for the time being. Unless who ever they hire brings instant success to the club, Rangers are going to face a tough battle to stay in the top flight.