Teams have now played either 35 or 36 games and that extra game is never more important than at this time of the season. The relegation battle is so open that mathematically, although highly unlikely, third from bottom Wigan can finish on more points than 9th placed Swansea. Realistically I think any team on 40 points or more can finally exhale, but that still leaves five teams scrapping desperately to avoid the dreaded drop.
Equally at the top of the table there are still three teams fighting with as much passion and tension for the two remaining Champions League qualification spots. With new financial rewards though, every position is being fought for intently, and this was perhaps reflected in the lack of goals we saw over the bank holiday weekend. Only four games saw more than one goal, showing an understandable fear of venturing forward too carelessly.
Chelsea beat Manchester United in a game that seemed to spark in to life with only minutes left. United showed the lack of drive that could be expected having already been crowned champions and Chelsea seemed jaded from a long and arduous season. The Blues kept themselves in third thanks to a late Juan Mata goal despite their closest rivals Arsenal and Tottenham winning by the same slender margin. Arsenal beat QPR thanks to Theo Walcott’s goal after only 25 seconds and Spurs were once again hauled out of jail by a Bale wonder goal late in their game against Southampton. Chelsea and Spurs meet at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to play the game in hand they currently hold over Arsenal, a game that many feel will decide the fate of at least two of the three teams.
Manchester City travelled to Swansea and played out a goalless draw as did Newcastle at West Ham. While Swansea and West Ham are now safe, their opponents will now be looking over their shoulders after losing two valuable points. City will not want to lose second place to Chelsea and Newcastle are teetering precariously above the drop zone. They currently sit just three points and one place above Wigan after the Latics thrilling victory over West Brom, with Sunderland’s draw over Stoke moving them up to 15th thanks to a superior goal difference.
The other teams in the relegation fight were Aston Villa, Norwich City and Southampton. Villa will now feel safe as they beat Norwich to reach the hallowed 40 point mark and Southampton aren’t looking quite as safe as they did last week with only four points separating them with Wigan, who have played one less game.
Already relegated Reading appeared to play with the freedom that has eluded them all season with a cracking win over Fulham and the Merseyside derby, although closely contested, wasn’t the fiery encounter we have all come to expect. Everton and Liverpool had to make do with a point each leaving the Toffees mathematically out of the hunt for Champions League qualification.
Bank Holiday Weekend Results in full:
Fulham 2 – 4 Reading
Norwich City 1 – 2 Aston Villa
Swansea 0 – 0 Manchester City
West Bromwich Albion 2 – 3 Wigan Athletic
West Ham United 0 – 0 Newcastle United
Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 0 Southampton
Queens Park Rangers 0 – 1 Arsenal
Liverpool 0 – 0 Everton
Manchester United 0 – 1 Chelsea
Sunderland 1 – 1 Stoke City