EPL Weekend Wrap-up: United Clinch Europe

Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester United

Mata scores for United

Any Manchester United fan that said they predicted Marouane Fellaini would score a potential Champions League-clinching goal this time last season is lying to you. Another slip-up against Crystal Palace this week after three straight losses would have been borderline disastrous for United’s European dreams and it would’ve added more fuel to Liverpool’s fire in their late push to usurp United for the fourth spot. Despite an underwhelming and disappointing performance from the fourth place Red Devils at Selhurst Park, Louis Van Gaal’s men somehow found a way to eek out this vital victory.

It was almost a dream start for United in the eighth minute when Daley Blind, who was replacing Michael Carrick in the middle of the pitch, struck a long distance shot forcing Julian Speroni in to a diving save to force the effort off the post. The vital breakthrough finally came ten minutes later, however, when Scott Dann used his arm to block an Ashley Young cross. The resulting penalty kick was promptly placed into the side netting by Juan Mata putting an end to United’s streak of two straight missed spot kicks. Injuries to Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw in the first half threw a bit a curveball into Van Gaal’s game plan forcing the Dutch manager to use two of the team’s three subs in the first 45 minutes bringing on Jonny Evans and Radamel Falcao.

The second 45 minutes was almost all Crystal Palace. For the second straight week, it was a freekick that flew into the back of United’s net. Just ten minutes into the second half, James Puncheon curled his set piece up-and-over a lackluster Red Devil wall past David De Gea leveling the score for the hosts. De Gea would later show his class and reassert himself as the best player of United’s season in the 71st minute when he made a point-blank save to deny James McArthur from giving Palace the lead. Fellaini’s magical moment came in the 78th minute when he muscled over his defender and headed in an Ashley Young cross. The victory virtually guaranteed United’s Champions League spot next season ending the famous club’s one-year hiatus from the competition.

Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool

Going into this game, anything less than a victory would essentially end Liverpool’s top four hopes. Despite the fact that Chelsea had already claimed the Premier League title, the Blues still fielded a near full strength lineup Sunday at Stamford Bridge. This game also posed potentially the last matchup between the two Premier League legends of Steven Gerrard and John Terry. Just five minutes into the match, it was Terry who opened the scoring with another typical John Terry goal. His headed effort from a corner not only gave Chelsea the lead but also made him the top-scoring defender in the Premier League era with 38 goals.

Minutes before the end of the first half, it was the other legend that leveled the scores. With just three games left in his Liverpool career, Gerrard nodded in his own goal to cancel out Terry’s early strike. Just three minutes into the second half, Liverpool nearly found themselves ahead when a storming run from Raheem Sterling ended with Phillippe Coutinho firing his shot from Sterling’s cross narrowly wide. Perhaps the most emotional moment of the match came in the 79th minute when Lucas replaced Gerrard in the midfield. The exit of the famous English midfielder received standing ovations from not just the traveling Liverpool fans but from the Chelsea faithful and even José Mourinho, who after the match said he would miss playing against Gerrard in the years to come.

When the final whistle blew, the two teams were still deadlocked at one goal apiece. The disappointing draw for Liverpool essentially eliminated the Reds from next year’s Champions League and cast Brendan Rodgers’ future with the club into even more doubt. The Reds now sit six points behind Manchester United in the league table and although it’s possible for Rodgers’ men to equal their rivals on points, there is a 14-goal gap between the sides’ goal differential. Therefore, barring a massive collapse from United and an unbelievable run of form for Liverpool, the Reds will be playing in the Europe League next year.

Manchester City 6-0 Queens Park Rangers

Even before Sunday’s match at the Etihad, Queens Park Rangers were all but relegated from the English top-flight. QPR would need to win-out their final three games of the season and hope that the clubs above them falter drastically if they had any hope of avoiding the drop into the Championship for next season. Manchester City posed anything but an easy match for the relegation-threatened side and the top-four club made quick work of squashing any lingering hope that QPR fans had of staying up this season.

It took only four minutes for City’s star man Sergio Aguero to put his side ahead. The Argentine midfielder weaved his way through a lackluster backline and chipped his effort past Rob Green to put the first of several daggers into the London club’s hopes. Aleksander Kolarov compounded QPR’s woes just after the half-hour mark when his curling free kick found its way past Green for City’s second goal. Despite Charlie Austin’s best-efforts to salvage a goal for his struggling side, City went into the second half with a commanding two goal lead.

Aguero flashed his class again five minutes into the second half when he precisely placed his breakaway effort past an onrushing Green to add a third goal for City. Aguero finished his hat trick in the 65th minute from the penalty spot after David Silva was brought down in the box. Late goals from James Milner and David Silva ran the score up to 6-0 and finally sent QPR down to the Championship after just one year back in the Premier League. For City, the victory kept them level on points with Arsenal, but the Gunners still have a game in-hand on the Sky Blues from Manchester.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.


 

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