With only seven games left to play until the end of the season, there is still much to play for, especially if you are near the bottom of the table.
While the Premier League title has been sewn up since Christmas, clubs fighting for a top four spot and European qualification still have plenty to strive for.
Here are five things to take away from the weekend…
Paul Pogba Shows why he can be a Game Changer
There was plenty of criticism and talk surrounding the Frenchman before the game had even started, with many noticing the midfielder’s timely change of hair colour to a light blue and white on the eve that could be noted for Manchester City’s title triumph.
It had also been stipulated that Mino Raiola, Pogba’s agent, had offered his client to Pep Guardiola in January amid the French midfielder’s unrest over his role in the United team.
However, that clearly didn’t affect Pogba’s mindset, as he produced one of the best performances in a Red Devils shirt since arriving from Juventus in 2016. Two goals scored in two minutes got Manchester United back into the game and changed the momentum of the affair.
It was a scrappy game at times in the second half, but Pogba took it to City and reaped the rewards of doing so. The French international’s performance showed a ruggedness that hasn’t been noted in his arsenal. Pogba played a huge part in United securing the three points in a famous victory at the Etihad.
Manchester United and Liverpool expose Man City’s Weakness
Jürgen Klopp has found a blueprint to overriding Manchester City’s excellence this season, and it’s the simple task of attacking. At Anfield on both occasions this season, the Reds have rocked Guardiola’s men by the sheer ferocity they have played the game at.
It helps having the Premier League’s top goalscorer in the side, but Liverpool’s attack is so fluid and functional, it makes it very hard for any team to oppose that and successfully nullify the dangers of it.
As shown in the Champions League quarter final first leg, Klopp’s team bamboozled City in the opening half and took the game to them. Once the confidence grew, so did the momentum, and City’s weakness of crumbling when the pressure is firmly on became apparent.
In a similar situation at the Etihad, once the Red Devils scored their first goal through Pogba, City’s confidence began to shrink and they started to doubt themselves on the ball. Awry passes are uncommon in a Guardiola side, but they were ever present when put under considerable amount of pressure.
City have been largely wonderful to watch this season, but teams going to face them must understand their best chance is not to sit back and try to play on the counter attack – it is to go and attack, attack and attack some more. Eventually their defence will subside.
Burnley Deserve European Football Next Season
Sean Dyche has done a miraculous job at Burnley this season, especially when you consider he was tipped to be one of the first few managers to be sacked due to poor results and the Clarets to be relegated.
Instead, they find themselves seventh, five points off Arsenal, and on the verge of European football for next season. While they will have to play in a qualifying round, to even get to that stage should be met with an unbelievable amount of credit.
Dyche will be linked with a whole host of clubs in the summer, but the Englishman should stay at the Clarets for one more season due to their involvement in Europe. Burnley have a good thing going at the moment, and will be able to attract a higher level of player, which could go a long way when playing continental football.
Burnley’s approach might not be the most attractive for everyone, but it is effective. The club have done a sensational job this season and deserve their top seven finish.
Everton Need to part Ways with Big Sam
After some deliberation when looking for a replacement when Everton sacked Ronald Koeman, the club reverted back to Sam Allardyce – a manager they first ruled out.
While the English manager changed Everton’s fortunes somewhat and took them to safety, the Toffees’ fans are growing displeased with the style of their football. The former Crystal Palace manager has always been a defensively-minded coach, which has been emphasised by his short stint in Merseyside.
Some of the blame has to lie with the management, too, after some incredibly poor recruitment that has left the club without a competent strike force. While Cenk Tosun might settle in England next season and hit the ground running, they simply failed to replace Romelu Lukaku adequately and have been left in a sorry state going forward.
The Toffees should be looking closely at Paulo Fonseca of Shakhtar Donetsk. An innovative and attacking coach, the Portuguese boss would implement his own philosophy into the club and offer up something different and exciting.
Allardyce has done what he was brought in to do, but in no way should Everton be looking at the bigger picture with the Englishman at the helm.
Rafa Benitez has to be in contention for Manager of the Year
No matter where you have come from, any team being promoted into the Premier League is always going to be tipped to go straight back down. Such is the difference in economic wealth, the newly-promoted clubs struggle to get anywhere close to those who have been in the division for several years.
However, even on a shoestring budget and barely any backing from the Board, Rafa Benitez has performed a miracle in the North East and has practically secured Newcastle United’s safety for another year in England’s top flight.
With Mike Ashley, the club’s owner, messing the Spaniard around during last summer with how much he had to spend, Benitez was growing frustrated with the lack of clarity and funds. In truth, the Magpies started the season with a Championship squad – there was a conferrable shortage of quality.
But with Benitez’s outstanding quality and determination, Newcastle have distanced themselves from the trouble at the bottom of the league and have all but confirmed their participation in the Premier League next season.
Sean Dyche and Pep Guardiola will be two of the other managers in contention for the Manager of the Year award, but Benitez shouldn’t be ruled out for the immense job he has done with this below par Newcastle team.
Also published on Medium.