EPL winners and losers as Sterling emerges as Man City hero but Lukaku costs United

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Raheem Sterling is being linked with a move to Real Madrid.

Manchester City’s comfortable 3-1 victory over Watford and Liverpool’s 4-2 win over Burnley keeps Pep Guardiola’s side one point ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s men at the top of the Premier League table.

Third placed Tottenham’s dreadful recent league form continued as they fell to a surprising defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened Southampton.

Arsenal have moved into fourth place after overcoming top-four rivals Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates, whilst Chelsea’s draw with Wolves sees them sit one point behind the fifth placed Red Devils.

Leicester City’s victory over Fulham in Brendan Rodgers’ first home game in charge sees them move into tenth place, whilst Bournemouth’s easy win over Huddersfield takes them to within three points of the magic 40-point mark.

Newcastle United’s incredible 3-2 comeback victory over Everton eases their relegation fears, whilst Brighton’s crucial win over rivals Crystal Palace sees both sides sit on 33 points.

Cardiff’s spirited win over West Ham means they are only two points away from safety as the race to avoid relegation intensifies.

But who stepped up when needed and who crumbled under the pressure? Here are our winners and losers.

WINNERS

James Ward-Prowse – Southampton

Ward-Prowse has rejuvenated his career under the guidance of Ralph Hasenhuttl and he proved to be the difference maker against Spurs.

With the score at 1-1, the Englishman curled in a delightful free-kick to send the home fans wild and secure a massive three points for the Saints.

The midfielder has now scored direct free-kicks in consecutive league matches as he netted a superb set-piece last week against Manchester United.

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Raheem Sterling – Manchester City

After a frustrating first-half, City needed someone to inspire them to victory. Sterling was the man to do exactly that.

The winger found the net three times in 13-minutes to put the game beyond Watford, who felt hard done by after controversy surrounding Sterling’s first goal.

The Englishman now has 18 league goals this season and will certainly be in the running for the Player of the Season award.

Sadio Mane – Liverpool

Mane has single-handedly been inspiring Liverpool to victories in recent weeks and he was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

The former Southampton winger scored a brace, meaning he has scored in six consecutive home Premier League matches.

If Liverpool want to win the title, then they’ll need Mane to stay in this sort of prolific form.

LOSERS

Jordan Pickford – Everton

The Everton goalkeeper had a nightmare at St James’ Park as his individual errors helped the Magpies come from 2-0 down to win 3-2.

Pickford did save a penalty from Matt Ritchie, but it was his poor handling that saw him concede the penalty as he rugby tackled Salomon Rondon, which surprisingly, didn’t see him sent off.

He later parried a shot straight to Ayoze Perez, who gleefully tucked in to spur a remarkable comeback. Definitely a weekend to forget for Pickford.

James Tomkins – Crystal Palace

This is the business end of the season and players simply can’t afford to make mistakes. Unfortunately for Tomkins, he made a crucial error.

The defender misjudged the flight of the ball and it bounced through to Glenn Murray, who finished expertly to give Brighton the lead at Selhurst Park.

This was a game that the Eagles could not afford to lose and now they’re back in the relegation battle.

Romelu Lukaku – Manchester United

Lukaku has been in sparkling goalscoring form, scoring four goals in his last two league appearances.

But he seemed to have forgot his shooting boots against Arsenal on Sunday. He missed three glorious opportunities for United, with the first cannoning back off the crossbar.

Not a vintage finishing display from the Belgian, but he’ll be looking to make up for his misses when United face Wolves in the FA Cup.

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Top four race between Spurs, Arsenal, Man United and Chelsea likely to go to the wire

Matt Jones 12/03/2019
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Forget the Premier League title, the race for the top four is where it’s really at this season in England.

Written only slightly tongue in cheek, the pursuit of Champions League football next term is being fought among a collection of the usual subjects, but the very unusual nature of the 2018/19 campaign means the identity of the teams who will get the last two spots behind title-chasing duo Manchester City and Liverpool is genuinely anyone’s guess.

A few weeks ago, Tottenham were in a three-horse race for the title. Now, Saturday’s defeat at Southampton has seen them sink into the mire of the top four scrap with Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The two other London clubs started the season so well – embarking on impressive unbeaten runs before the honeymoon period for Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri was well and truly torpedoed.

Bookending it all is United’s total transformation from Jose Mourinho to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, which means the chase for those final two coveted elite European spots should go down to the wire.

Here, we assess each of the foursome’s remaining league games and predict where they will finish in the table and why they will or won’t claim a top four place:

TOTTENHAM

The return of Kane and Alli mean Spurs are back to full-strength.

The return of Kane and Alli mean Spurs are back to full-strength.

Run-in: Crystal Palace H (date TBC), Liverpool A (31/3), Brighton H (7/4), Huddersfield H (13/4), Man City A (20/4), West Ham H (27/4), Bournemouth A (4/5), Everton H (12/5)

Why they will: They’ve been in the driving seat for a top four finish throughout the season – despite persistent predictions of inevitable failure, having not made any significant investment in the squad in the last two seasons.

They have arguably the league’s finest marksman – Harry Kane – back after serious injury, and the Englishman has scored in each of his three games since returning. Compatriot Dele Alli is also back in the fold and the duo form part of a fearsome front line – including Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen – that is the most potent among this quartet of challengers. They also possess in Mauricio Pochettino one of the finest young managers in the game – equally adept in terms of tactical and man-management skills.

Why they won’t: As good as they’ve been all season, they are on the slide. The chase for the Premier League title was a three-horse race six weeks ago – yet three defeats and a draw in their last four have seen Spurs stutter.

Not only have they fallen out of title contention, they have been reeled in by the chasing pack – a win at rivals Arsenal on Sunday would have seen United go level with them in third.

There have been signs of the unflappable Pochettino imploding in recent weeks – evidenced by his referee rant after the final whistle following their 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Burnley – while they also have daunting trips down the stretch to Liverpool and City.

On top of this, a threadbare squad must juggle the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Predicted points: WLDWLWWW (16) = 77

Predicted finish: 4th

ARSENAL

Arsenal will be buoyed after inflicting a first league defeat on United under Solskjaer.

Arsenal will be buoyed after inflicting a first league defeat on United under Solskjaer.

Run-in: Wolves A (date TBC), Newcastle H (1/4), Everton A (7/4), Watford A (15/4), Crystal Palace H (20/4), Leicester A (29/4), Brighton H (4/5), Burnley A (12/5)

Why they will: Out of their opponents they surely have the easier run-in, which is devoid of any meetings against the other sides in the top six. Their confidence will also be sky-high after Sunday’s result against United at home, with the Emirates also something of a secret fortress, having not tasted defeat there in the league in their last 15 games, since a 2-0 defeat on opening day to Manchester City. All of which will stand them in good test heading down the home straight.

Why they won’t: Bad news for the Gunners is five of their remaining eight games are away from the Emirates and, of the top six sides in the league, Arsenal’s mental fortitude can be questioned more than any other – having dealt mostly in repeated failure for the best part of the last decade.

Arsene Wenger’s empire crumbled around him in his latter years and Unai Emery has quite the rebuilding job ahead of him in his formative years – early optimism forged via a 22-game unbeaten run has given way to familiar fears during recent, troubling times.

After 19 straight years of qualifying for the Champions League under Wenger, meanwhile, they also have failed to finish in the top four the last two seasons.

Predicted points: LWWDWLWW (16) = 76

Predicted finish: 5th

MAN UNITED

Solskjaer has transformed United's season.

Solskjaer has transformed United’s season.

Run-in: Watford H (30/3), Wolves A (2/4), West Ham H (13/4), Everton A (21/4), Man City H (24/4), Chelsea H (28/4), Huddersfield A (4/5), Cardiff H (12/5)

Why they will: Having been a car crash under Mourinho, United have steered themselves into top four contention with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the wheel.

The Norwegian has not only lifted the players’ spirits and restored confidence, he has proved himself tactically adept and, in doing so, disproved the theory that United’s squad was a shambles under the Portuguese.

Pound for pound it is the best of the four teams gunning for the remaining two Champions League spots, and they’re in fine form.

Forget the Arsenal result – a first domestic defeat under Solskjaer – United dominated at the Emirates and, had one of a plethora of chances been taken, it could have been a very different story.

Why they won’t: Defeat was tasted at home to Paris Saint-Germain but having rectified that with a logic-defying second-leg win in France, how will a maiden loss on the home front affect momentum?

United are once again entertaining their supporters under Solskjaer, but they’re also far from watertight in defence – where makeshift right-back Ashley Young and a lack of elite stars remain a crutch.

They welcome Manchester rivals City and Chelsea to Old Trafford in the space of five days at the end of April. Add in the two-legged Champions League quarter-final in the same month as well as managing a squad ravaged with injuries of late, Solskjaer’s most stressful time could lie ahead.

Predicted points: WDWWDWWW (20) = 78

Predicted finish: 3rd

CHELSEA

Eden Hazard aside, Chelsea never seem far away from disaster.

Eden Hazard aside, Chelsea never seem far away from disaster.

Run-in: Brighton H (date TBC), Everton A (17/3), Cardiff A (31/3), West Ham H (8/4), Liverpool A (14/4), Burnley H (22/4), Man Utd A (28/4), Watford H (4/5), Leicester A (12/5)

Why they will: They have failed to qualify for the Champions League in two of the previous three years following periods of unrest at the end of Mourinho’s second spell and Antonio Conte’s reign.

But in terms of business end of the season pedigree there have been few better in recent campaigns – having graced Europe’s elite stage in 14 of the last 16 seasons. Chelsea were also champions of England in two of the last four campaigns.

They also have the meanest defence in England after City and Liverpool and while Arsenal and United, in-particular, have several question marks at the back, the Blues are pretty solid.

Why they won’t: Maurizio Sarri has turned a sinking, mutinous ship around in recent weeks, with the Blues unbeaten in three league games. But the supporters are certainly no fans of ‘Sarriball’ and you feel disaster or embarrassment could rear its head at the next sign of strife.

Chelsea are also a team whose form is so intrinsically linked to that of their talisman Eden Hazard and, even though he is one of the league’s finest talents, if he has an off-day, Chelsea lack inspiration.

Alvaro Morata failed alarmingly, Olivier Giroud is struggling more for minutes at Stamford Bridge than he ever did at Arsenal, and Gonzalo Higuain’s three goals in 12 games since arriving on loan from AC Milan have come in the form of a brace and a solitary strike against doomed Huddersfield and Fulham respectively. They must also travel to Liverpool and United.

Predicted points: WWWWLWLWD (19) = 76

Predicted finish: 6th

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Eden Hazard anticipating exciting four-way fight for two Champions League places

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Hazard's gorgeous strike rescued a point for Chelsea.

Eden Hazard anticipates the four-way fight for two Champions League qualifying places to continue until the final day of the Premier League season.

Hazard rescued a point for Chelsea in a 1-1 draw with Wolves on Sunday, when Arsenal beat fellow top-four hopefuls Manchester United 2-0.

With Manchester City and Liverpool in a two-way title duel, there are four teams battling for the two remaining top-four spots.

Tottenham, who lost at Southampton on Saturday, have 61 points and Arsenal 60. United are on 58 and Chelsea 57, but with a game in hand.

Hazard told Chelsea TV: “It’s a good battle. Man City and Liverpool are far away, then there are four teams who want to be in the top four.

“It’s going to be a good race to the end. We have nine games to play now. We have to give everything.”

Chelsea next play Everton on Sunday, after Thursday’s Europa League last-16 second leg at Dynamo Kiev. They hold a 3-0 first-leg advantage.

The Blues lost at Wolves in December and Hazard had mixed feelings following his late intervention which salvaged a draw.

He added: “We lost away three months ago. The game was exactly the same. We created a couple of chances, but not enough.

“The good point is we gave everything until the end and we scored a goal. A bit of happiness, even if we are a bit sad.

“I like to score and then we win the game. I scored, we drew. It’s a bit disappointing.

“We need to keep going. We have a tough game on Thursday and then on Sunday. Let’s move forward, back in training, work together and try to win games.”

Wolves remained seventh and defender Romain Saiss rued the dropped points.

“It was very, very hard to concede this goal at the end,” Saiss told Wolves TV.

“Our plan was good. We tried to frustrate them and tried to do something when they made a mistake.

“We did it well, but unfortunately we didn’t keep the result till the end. We deserved more. We gave everything on the pitch.”

Wolves next face United – conquerors of Chelsea, last season’s winners – in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Saiss added: “We have to switch on for this game now. It’s an important game for us to get to the semi-final at Wembley.

“We play at home. We have to be ready for this game. We’ll try to do something great next Saturday.”

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