| || |
Banner day for the bottom three
In yet another reminder that parity still exists in some form in the English Premier League, the bottom three teams all won games Saturday, with two of them leaping out of the relegation zone. While they remain mired in 20th, Leicester City earned three vital points with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa. After the Foxes failed to finish several early opportunities, left back Paul Konchesky hit an excellent volley that beat Brad Guzan low to his near post in first-half stoppage time for what would end up being the winner. Their road to safety got a bit easier with the three points, but Leicester would be a bit happier if their relegation rivals lost with a bit more consistency.
Previously 19th-placed Burnley followed suit with the rest of the league by beating now-19th-placed QPR 2-1 at home to keep Harry Redknapp’s side pointless away from Loftus Road this season. It’s an important win for Burnley, three points they needed and deserved after a good performance against a weak QPR team that suddenly finds itself in trouble just two points off the bottom.
Lastly, Alan Pardew managed Crystal Palace to a 2-1 win over Tottenham in his first game in charge. The former Newcastle manager and Palace player returned to Selhurst Park to a nice ovation, and his team rose to the occasion, taking three points from a losing position against a top-half team. With all three bottom-feeders winning, familiar faces are back in the drop zone this week in the forms of QPR and Hull City. It’s obvious that this is a battle that could go down to the last day of the season and will depend on which of these teams can get wins, not ties, down the stretch.
Liverpool impress on the road
Liverpool’s win at Sunderland is a big one for a club striving to fight back into the top four. Getting any points while Daniel Sturridge is sidelined remains a difficult task for the Reds, and winning a tough game away that grinds teams down and ties a lot of matches is crucial.
The Reds were rewarded for a quick start, with Lazar Markovic scoring nine minutes after a long run that featured a bit of luck. The Serbian was everywhere, hitting the crossbar with a brilliant volley and generally being a nuisance. He certainly is beginning to show the quality that caused Brendan Rodgers and co. to splash 20 million pounds on the 20-year old in the offseason. What was impressive, though, was that Liverpool seemed to actually have more than one player working hard in the attack. Philippe Coutinho was dangerous, as was Steven Gerrard before he was subbed off at halftime. After a Sunderland red card early in the second half, Liverpool were everywhere, and they were extremely unlucky not to get a second.
Sunderland are a club with a myriad of problems, and beating them at home should be absolutely no problem for a team of Liverpool’s talent. While the Reds only scored one goal, they played with fluidity and did an excellent job of holding onto an away lead against a team that struggles to score. Thanks to a bit of schedule luck, they get a chance to back it up this weekend against on the road against a similar team in Aston Villa. If they can make it two in a row, this could go down as a key stretch for Liverpool if they find themselves in a better position in the table in May than they do now.
The wonder of an indirect free kick in the box and how it affects the relegation race
It’s an extremely rare play in soccer, but an indirect free kick in the box decided a game in the English Premier League this weekend. And it was awesome.
Seriously, how epic is that? I count an unbelievable 18 players in the box: seven from West Brom and, yes, all 11 Hull City Tigers. Wow. Contributing to the general coolness of Saido Berahino’s goal was the fact that it came in the 78th minute and won Tony Pulis and West Brom all three points in a bottom-half six-pointer and the new manager’s first league game in charge.
These are the games the Baggies need to stay up. Pulis is a master at keeping teams in the Premier League even if it doesn’t always look pretty. His teams work hard, win the ball back, play it forward, and take their opportunities. They did that against Hull, taking advantage of an error and getting a huge win.
Berahino stepped up to take the opportunity on Saturday, but the big question around the Hawthorns surrounds whether he will be around to take those chances next month. The 21-year old striker is rumored to be off to a bigger club in the Premier League, with Spurs and Liverpool both apparently interested. If he leaves, Pulis’ perfect record of not being relegated will be put to the test over the final months of the season. Berahino is a phenomenal young talent, and his finishing touch will be important for somebody down the stretch. And West Brom can’t rely on one of the most uncommon plays in soccer.