EPL Wrap-up: Leicester City, Impossible Champions

Watford 3-2 Aston Villa

I don’t think anyone envies Aston Villa fans this seasons. The Birmingham club have consistently found themselves at the bottom of the table and on the wrong end of embarrassing results. Two weeks ago, the Villans were officially relegated to the second division for next season, and Joleon Lescott even went as far to say the relegation would take some pressure off the players’ shoulders. Saturday, Villa travelled to Vicarage Road to take on Watford, and for a while it looked as if they would steal their first win since February.

In the 24th minute, Watford began to really press a typically porous Villa backline. First, Odion Ighalo forced Mark Bunn into a near-post save. Bunn was unable to clear the danger, as Watford continued to pass the ball around the perimeter of the penalty area. Finally, the ball made its way to Ben Watson who hammered a shot off the crossbar. Was it just a matter of time before the Hornets found the opener?

Despite finding themselves on the back foot for the opening stages of the half, the visitors actually scored the first goal of the match in the 27th minute. A corner from Ashley Westwood was expertly headed in by Ciaran Clark to put Villa a goal to the good.

The travelling supporters would have surely been thrilled to take a lead going into the half, but Watford had other plans. A dangerous tackle from Idrissa Gueye gave the Hornets a dangerous freekick about 25 yards away from goal. Almen Abdi stepped up and delivered an absolutely beautiful free kick into the bottom corner to put Watford back on level terms going into the break.

It didn’t take long for Villa to reclaim the lead as Jordan Ayew scored just three minutes into the second half. Good interplay between the 24-year-old and Rudy Gestede on the edge of the penalty area opened up a yard of space for a shot. Ayew hit a powerful low drive into the side netting that left Heurelho Gomes helpless and put Villa back on top.

In the 72nd minute, things took a turn for the worse for Villa. A quick counter attack from Watford caught the Villans out and left Aly Cissokho defending by himself. Ikechi Anya showed great pace to beat Cissokho, but the Villa defender went to ground and brought Anya with him. The rash challenge earned Cissokho a straight red card and forced Villa to play a man down for the remaining 20 minutes of the match.

The real drama started in stoppage time. First, Steven Berghuis picked out the head of Troy Deeney with an excellent cross from the right wing in the 90th minute, and the captain made no mistake in placing his shot into the back of the net. To cap off a wonderful comeback, Deeney would score his second in the 93rd minute with a first time shot to seal a 3-2 win for Watford. The result sums up Villa’s season as they slump to yet another disappointing defeat.

Manchester United 1-1 Leicester City

Leicester

Sunday at Old Trafford, one team had the opportunity to clinch the Premier League title with a win. Sadly, for me, it wasn’t Manchester United. Leicester City’s dream run this season has seemingly inspired millions and their trip to the Theater of Dreams provided them with their first chance to finally wrap up their unprecedented league title. Even United legend Peter Schmeichel admitted that he wanted Leicester to take the points on Sunday so that he could see his son Kasper claim the title. Would the Jamie Vardy-less Foxes be able to top the Red Devils, or would Louis Van Gaal be able to delay their party?

It was a dream start for United as they took the lead after just eight minutes. Anthony Martial, who scored the stoppage time winner in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend, got on the end of a cross from Antonio Valencia at the far post. The French striker placed his first time effort right through Schmeichel’s legs to give United an early one-goal lead.

Almost ten minutes after Martial gave United the lead, Wes Morgan equalized for Leicester. A lofted free kick from Danny Drinkwater went right into the heart of United’s penalty area and Morgan shook off Marcos Rojo to put a free header into the back of the net.

Riyad Mahrez had a big penalty claim in the 39th minute. The winger easily tapped the ball past Rojo, but the Argentine defender held his ground and possibly caught Mahrez’s foot on his way through. Michael Oliver decided there was nothing wrong with the tackle, and both sides would head into intermission with a goal apiece.

The second half was defined by half chances for both teams. Leicester and United just couldn’t figure out how to get a shot on target and neither keeper was really tested. Chris Smalling came the closest to finding a lead in the 78th minute, but his header glanced off the outside of the post.

In the 86th minute, United had a penalty shout of their own. As Memphis Depay burst into the penalty area, Drinkwater pulled him back. The official did call a foul on the play, but determined it occurred inches outside of the penalty area. Drinkwater did still receive his marching orders, however, and Leicester would be forced to play the final minutes with just ten men.

The Red Devils were unable to capitalize on their numerical advantage and the match would end 1-1. In the end, a point was enough for Leicester thanks to Tottenham’s draw with Chelsea on Monday. The Foxes are now officially the champions of England and have completed one of the most remarkable seasons in sports history. Congratulations to Claudio Ranieri and all of Leicester City!

Southampton 4-2 Manchester City

With United dropping points earlier in the day, Manchester City had a great chance to extend their lead on the Red Devils at St. Mary’s Stadium. The Cityzens were on an eight-game unbeaten run, and had even earned a draw against Real Madrid midweek. Southampton, on the other hand, were coming off of three straight wins as they battled for a spot in the Europa League next season. On paper, City had the better team, but on the field the Saints pulled out one of their best results of the season.

Southampton came out brightly to start the match, as Shane Long came close to catching Joe Hart out at the near post, but his shot would only find the wrong side of the side netting. A minute later, Raheem Sterling’s close-range effort was stonewalled by Fraser Forster at the other end to keep things level.

Shane Long opened the scoring in the 25th minute. Dusan Tadic set up the chance with a clever knock back, and the Irish striker tapped home to give the Saints a one-goal lead. Three minutes later, Tadic would again play provider. This time, the midfielder slid in a wonderful through ball into the path of Sadio Mané. The Senegalese midfielder hit a first-time effort past Joe Hart to double Southampton’s lead and set the stage for a big day on the southern coast.

In the 44th minute, City did manage to pull one goal back before the break. A poor clearance from Southampton gifted a chance to Kelechi Iheanacho, and the young striker easily headed it home to cut the hosts’ lead in half. Could City continue the comeback in the second half?

A little over ten minutes into the second half, Southampton regained their two-goal lead. After Virgil Van Dijk’s initial header from Steven Davis’ corner rattled the woodwork, Mané rushed in to deliver the all important tap to send the ball into the back of the net. It wasn’t the prettiest of goals but they all count the same.

Mané completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute. After yet another assist from Tadic, Mané hit a low shot to beat Hart at his near post and secure a three-goal lead for the Saints. It doesn’t quite match his record setting hat-trick from last season (three goals in 2:56), but it was enough to give his side a commanding lead for the final 20+ minutes of the match.

Iheanacho would pull one back for City in the 78th minute with a lovely curled effort, but it was too little too late. Southampton deserved the three points in this match against a weakened City lineup. After the match, Manuel Pellegrini admitted that he was forced to change his side due to fitness concerns leading up to their midweek clash against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals. Could these dropped points come back to bite them?

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham

Leicester’s dropped points on Sunday meant that Tottenham were still somewhat in the title hunt. Anything less than a win at Stamford Bridge, however, would clinch the title for the Foxes and see Spurs’ title charge abruptly end. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league this season, but would be without one of their midfield catalyst Dele Alli through suspension. Chelsea, on the other hand, have been thoroughly disappointing. Could the Blues conjure up a vintage performance and seal the title for their former manager at Leicester?

In the 35th minute, Leicester’s title dreams took a little bit of a detour courtesy of a goal from Harry Kane. The English striker was slipped in by a crafty through ball by Erik Lamela before rounding Thibault Courtois and firing into an open net. Would Leicester have to wait another week to finish their title charge?

Almost ten minutes later, Tottenham doubled their lead. Another through ball, this time from Christian Eriksen, cut open the Chelsea defense and sprung Heung-Min Son. The former Leverkusen midfielder took a touch and slid his shot near post past Courtois. 2-0 Tottenham.

A disappointing first half from Chelsea probably left little optimism in the hearts of Leicester City fans of clinching the title today, but based on their season, anything is possible. The comeback started in the 58th minute, when Gary Cahill fired home from a corner kick to cut Tottenham’s lead to just one goal. Did Chelsea have enough in the engine for another?

Chelsea’s comeback and Leicester’s title push was finally completed in the 83rd minute. A bit of interplay between Eden Hazard and Diego Costa outside the box saw the Spanish striker slot in his Belgian colleague. Hazard, who has been very lackluster this season, hit a magisterial first time shot into the top corner to seal a 2-2 draw, and clinch the title for the Foxes. The match was defined by its aggression (highlighted by a shoving match between Willian and Danny Rose), but in the end Chelsea did what was needed and capped off a fairytale season for Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City.

 

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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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