EPL Wrap-up: Rashford Further Sinks City’s Title Hopes

Chelsea 2-2 West Ham United

Within the last two weeks, Chelsea’s season has essentially lost all competitive incentive. Last Saturday, the Blues were eliminated from the FA Cup by Everton and three days before that they were eliminated from the Champions League by PSG. Going into Saturday’s fixture against West Ham, the Blues sat five spots and nine points behind their visitors in tenth. The Hammers, on the other hand, were one of the most in-form teams in the league and a win at Stamford Bridge had the potential to push them into the top four.

Manuel Lanzini got things started in the 17th minute for the visitors. The Argentine midfielder got the ball on the edge of the box after John Obi Mikel’s tackle on Dimitri Payet and curled an absolute beauty past Thibault Courtois to put West Ham ahead. After Lanzini’s golazo, Chelsea started to establish themselves in the match and began to get closer and closer to finding an equalizer. They finally found it in the final minute of stoppage time courtesy of a marvelous freekick from Cesc Fabregas. Lanzini and Fabregas’ highlight reel goals sent the sides into the intermission deadlocked at 1-1.

Chelsea had a chance to pull ahead five minutes into the second half, but Oscar just couldn’t redirect Branislav Ivanovic’s cross back on target. After a save by Adrián on Loic Remy on the hour mark, Andy Carroll found himself one-on-one with Courtois at the other end of the pitch. A great ball from Payet put the former Liverpool striker through on net, and Carroll made no mistake as he slotted home to give West Ham the lead.

For the remaining 20+ minutes, Guus Hiddink’s men dominated the match and West Ham employed what looked like a bend-but-don’t-break style of defending. Fabregas nearly found a brace twice with a close-range header and acrobatic bicycle kick both failing to find the back of the net. In the 87th minute, Bertrand Traore was forced into a goal line clearance by an Andy Carroll header and in the ensuing counter attack another Chelsea youngster Ruben Loftus-Cheek earned a penalty kick after being dragged down by Michail Antonio.

Cesc Fabregas stepped up for the spot kick and promptly sent Adrián the wrong way to save a draw for the Blues. The shared points see both teams remain where they are with West Ham now just a point behind Manchester City for fourth. However, they are now level on points with Manchester United and only ahead on goal differential.

Southampton 3-2 Liverpool

The highest scoring match of the weekend came at St. Mary’s on Sunday. Southampton and Liverpool went into Sunday’s match level on points with only three points separating them from Manchester United in sixth. Based on form, Liverpool had to be considered the favorites after knocking United out of the Europa League midweek and winning three of their last four matches. Ronald Koeman’s side weren’t in poor form to be fair, but Jürgen Klopp’s side looked like they were finally starting to find their footing. Could either club claw their way back into the European spots?

Just like in the Chelsea-West Ham match, the scoring got started in the 17th minute. Philippe Coutinho, who scored a golazo at Old Trafford midweek, hammered a long distance low drive past Fraser Forster that put Liverpool a goal to the good. Five minutes later, Daniel Sturridge doubled the lead. After receiving a pass from Divock Origi inside the penalty area, Sturridge pulled off a quick scissor to open up a yard of space before placing his shot past Forster into the side netting. 2-0 Liverpool going into the second half.

Despite the Reds’ dominant performance in the opening 45 minutes, Southampton stole the show in the second half. It looked like the comeback had started four minutes into the half after Graziano Pellé was tripped up by Martin Skrtel just outside the six-yard box, but Sadio Mané’s penalty was denied by Simon Mignolet. 15 minutes later, Mané made up for his earlier missed chance as he hammered his close-range effort past Mignolet to put Southampton back within touching distance.

In the 83rd minute, Southampton finally brought themselves level. An absolutely brilliant finessed strike from Pellé left Mignolet helpless between the pipes and gave the Saints hope of snatching all three points. The miraculous comeback was completed three minutes later when Mané slid a shot past an outstretched Mignolet to take all three points for the hosts and give them sole possession of seventh place. After this disastrous result, European competition may be out of reach for Klopp and Liverpool, but if anyone can steer the Reds back into winning waters it’s the German.

Manchester City 0-1 Manchester United

Marcus Rashford beats City

I’m starting to believe that Louis Van Gaal intentionally gets my hopes in matches like this just so he can crush them in the next match. Things hadn’t been too hot for either Manchester club going into the 171st Manchester Derby, but that didn’t stop the fireworks from flying. United needed a win to keep their slim hopes of the top four alive, and City needed a win just to keep themselves somewhat relevant in the Leicester-dominated title race. Thankfully for me, the right Manchester squad took home all three points on Sunday.

After a tentative start to the match from United, it looked as if City were going to run the show for all 90 minutes. Unfortunately for the hosts, Manchester United’s newest hero stole the show in the 16th minute. 18-year-old Marcus Rashford received a pass from Juan Mata and pulled a move reminiscent of Anthony Martial’s debut goal against to fly past Martin Demichelis before passing the ball past Joe Hart to give United a somewhat undeserved lead.

Rashford’s goal appeared to spark United’s passion on the pitch as they began to press the makeshift City backline. In the first minute of stoppage time, it looked as if Rashford had earned United a penalty kick after being brought down by Demichelis in the penalty area, but Michael Oliver decided not to call anything. The pundits weren’t so sure though.

It was nearly a nightmare start for the Cityzens in the second half as a weak backpass from Demichelis forced Joe Hart to make a last ditch sliding clearance. The English keeper would actually end up having to go off injured with Willy Caballero forced to fill his shoes. The Argentine, who earned Man of the Match honors in the League Cup final, was quickly called into two saves after his introduction.

As the second half drew on, City started to assert their dominance. In the 65th minute, Sergio Agüero’s close-range header went past David De Gea at the near post, but smacked off the woodwork. Five minutes later, Wilfried Bony nearly had a wide-open shot from inside the six-yard box, but a vital challenge from Michael Carrick knocked the ball out for a corner.

The Cityzens continued to search for an equalizer, but they just couldn’t get their shots on frame. Rashford’s goal moves United level on points with West Ham in fifth, and means that they are just a point away from City for the final Champions League spot. Manuel Pellegrini’s squad are now 15 points off Leicester for the title and there’s now a chance that Pep Guardiola’s first season at the Etihad will be spent in the Europa League.

 

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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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