Premier League Review

The hex of Paul Lambert continues. In six managerial visits to Anfield with four different clubs, the Scot is increasingly proving to be Liverpool’s kryptonite after Stoke earned a point which, while impressive on its own merits, does little to boost their survival prospects. To their credit, they played with much more intensity than their illustrious opponents during the first half, even if Mohamed Salah did them the turn of missing a one-on-one in the opening five minutes. Stoke’s luck was in again just before the interval as Danny Ings had a goal disallowed when he appeared marginally onside. Liverpool were feeble in the first half but battered the visitors after the interval, only to be thwarted by diligent defending and the inexcusable failure of Andre Marriner to award two penalties, one when Salah was dragged to the ground and another when Erik Pieters pushed the boundaries of ball-to-hand as far as he could get away it. Those officiating oversights notwithstanding, the Reds simply didn’t do enough to win on Saturday.

Chelsea moved to within six points of Liverpool later that day with a 1-0 win away to 17th-placed Swansea. The Blues needed just four minutes to get their noses in front through a neat Cesc Fabregas finish and they were well on top during the first half. Having been unable to add to their lead, though, they came under more pressure from the Swans after half-time and Carlos Carvalhal’s men had a couple of good opportunities to score. They couldn’t force a priceless equaliser, though, and Chelsea held firm for a third consecutive one-goal victory in the league. They are coming good at the perfect time and Antonio Conte could yet depart Stamford Bridge with the team salvaging a Champions League berth for his successor.

Swansea are now just a point above the relegation zone after Southampton produced only their second win in 22 league games, defeating Bournemouth in a gripping south coast derby at St Mary’s. It’s fair to say that Dusan Tadic has been a luxury player for the Saints this season, but when the stakes were at their highest, the enigmatic Serbian rose to the challenge, scoring both goals for the home side in their 2-1 victory. The final few minutes were tension personified, with Bournemouth laying siege to the Saints’ goal and Alex McCarthy producing one of the saves of the season. Southampton still have three games left to clamber out of the drop zone – and one of those is against Swansea.

The Saints’ timely victory was very bad news for Huddersfield, who look in a precarious position after Saturday’s 0-2 home defeat by Everton. With trips to Manchester City and Chelsea to come in their next two games, this was the one match that the Terriers really needed to win, but were again made to regret their lack of ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch. The Toffees struck late in the first half through Cenk Tosun, whose well-placed but not vicious shot could definitely have been saved by Jonas Lossl. The visitors doubled their lead after Idrissa Gueye was given all the time he could want to drill a sweetly-struck shot into the Huddersfield net. Everton are finishing the season strongly, but the Terriers have lost their bite at the worst possible time.

West Ham could also be in for a very uncomfortable fortnight as they now lie just three points above the relegation places following yet another London Stadium thrashing by Manchester City. The champions were 2-0 up inside 27 minutes courtesy of a Leroy Sane strike and Pablo Zabaleta own goal, which saw Pep Guardiola’s men reach 100 goals in the league this season. A superb Aaron Cresswell free kick in the closing minutes of the first half brought West Ham back into the game, but City hit the turbo after the interval with further goals from Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho to hit four goals at this stadium for the third time in succession. One more win from their three remaining fixtures will see them set a new points record for the Premier League, while they remain on course to clock up 100 points by the season’s end. West Ham would gladly settle for 38 to see them to safety.

Arsenal remain without an away point in 2018 after Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage time header consigned them to defeat at Manchester United, who mathematically secured a top four finish and completed a league double over the Gunners for the first time in six seasons. The home side went ahead on 16 minutes through Paul Pogba’s close-range finish before Henrikh Mkhitaryan, in his first game back at Old Trafford since leaving United in January, equalised six minutes after half-time. Marcus Rashford had a goal correctly disallowed for offside but there was time enough for Jose Mourinho to record one last win over Arsene Wenger thanks to Fellaini’s late intervention. The Gunners now turn their attention to their crunch trip to Atletico Madrid on Thursday, their last lingering hope of rescuing a dreadfully disappointing season.

West Brom have surely left it too late to pull off an incomprehensible last-gasp escape from relegation, but even if they do go down, at least they’re falling on their sword after another fine result under the caretaker stewardship of Darren Moore. On Saturday they picked up their second away win in succession by defeating Newcastle 1-0 at St James’ Park, a 28th-minute Matt Phillips goal proving the difference. That made it four games unbeaten since Alan Pardew’s departure and, while the drop still seems inevitable, they could at least go into next season with a bounce from their late flourish. Moore is certainly doing his chances of getting the job full-time no harm, whereas Newcastle now seem satisfied with their lot judging by this flat performance and Islam Slimani’s impetuous kick at Craig Dawson, an act which will probably earn him a ban that ends his season.

Roy Hodgson has absorbed his share of ridicule over his experiences in charge of Liverpool and England, but in taking Crystal Palace from zero points at the seven-game mark to survival all but secured with two matches to spare, he deserves enormous credit. The Eagles effectively put their relegation fears to bed in some style, whacking five goals past Leicester at a raucous Selhurst Park on Saturday. Wilfried Zaha was again on top form and his goal set the party in motion, with James McArthur doubling the lead before half-time. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, another who boosted his World Cup squad prospects, notched Palace’s third and further goals from Patrick van Aanholt and Christian Benteke (yep, you read that right) rounded off a fantastic day for the Eagles, even though Leicester turned in the type of performance that would have merited the cancellation of a day off.

Burnley and Brighton are two of the Premier League’s biggest overachievers this season and they both seemed content with a point apiece in a goalless draw at Turf Moor on Saturday. The home side dominated the first half and Brighton survived a prolonged goalmouth scramble (and a legitimate penalty claim for handball) to keep the score at 0-0. The Seagulls had a bit more of the play after half-time but never truly tested Nick Pope, although it would take an utter collapse for them to be relegated now. Burnley missed the chance to guarantee seventh place and European football, but they have two more goes at making sure of it and it seems almost certain they will be hitting the continent in late July.

Liverpool still have their top four fate in their own hands after this weekend, but two poor results against the league’s bottom two clubs mean that they won’t have the luxury of travelling to Stamford Bridge next weekend with a Champions League berth secured. A draw at Chelsea would effectively seal it because of the enormous goal difference advantage, but with the Blues on form and the Merseysiders flagging domestically, it’s looking increasingly possible that the race for a top four finish could yet go to the final day of the season.