Swansea City 1-1 Manchester City
The match with the biggest implications going into the final day of the Premier League campaign was Manchester City’s trip to take on Swansea City. The Sky Blues were only two points ahead of their bitter rivals Manchester United for the final Champions League spot, and thanks to their superior goal differential, a draw was good enough to secure fourth place in the league. The Swans didn’t go out without a fight, and for a little bit it looked like they might put the Cityzens European dreams in peril.
The day took an unexpected turn with Manchester United’s game against Bournemouth getting abandoned due to a “suspicious package” found in the stadium. While this did take away some drama from the final match day of the season, United and the authorities handled it perfectly because at the end of the day fans’ lives are more important than any match. After the cancellation, United could now watch City’s match and see their European fate play out with the rest of us.
It didn’t take long for City to take the lead. Just five minutes into the match, Kelechi Iheanacho found the back of the net. After Sergio Agüero’s initial shot was kicked away by Kristoffer Nordfeldt, the 19-year-old striker was in the right spot at the right time to tap home the rebound. Despite some initial confusion from the official Mike Dean, City were eventually awarded the goal and had one hand on the Champions League for next season.
Five minutes later, it looked as if Jefferson Montero had put the Swans on level terms through a hard fought headed effort, but Mike Dean called it back for a foul on Bacary Sagna. Replays were inconclusive on whether or not Montero got much of a push on the French defender, but the move did show that Swansea were capable of causing problems in the final third of the pitch.
In the 26th minute, Agüero again tested Nordfeldt with a close-range effort, and once again the Swedish keeper was up to the task. Two minutes later, Agüero’s shot from the left wing stung the wrong side of the netting. As the half continued, it looked more and more likely that City would double their lead rather than Swansea finding an equalizer.
As the first half entered injury time, Swansea must’ve been hoping to go into the break just down one. A foul by Nicolás Otamendi on the edge of the area, however, gave them a chance to level the score. Andre Ayew’s deflected free kick left Joe Hart helpless between the pipes and now City’s European dream may have started to fade.
In the second half, chances were few and far between with Iheanacho and Agüero both unable to test Nordfeldt. Luckily for the visitors, all they needed was a draw in the end. Pending a 19-0 victory for Manchester United against Bournemouth (which I still have faith in), Manuel Pellegrini did just enough to secure a Champions League spot in his final match as City’s manager.
Stoke City 2-1 West Ham United
West Ham United has been one of the more exciting teams to watch in the league this season. The introduction of Slaven Bilic at the helm and Dimitri Payet in the midfield has seen the Hammers compete for a spot in the top four, and Sunday they had the chance to rise as high as fifth place with a win and some help from other results. Unfortunately for Bilic’s squad, Payet wasn’t in the lineup and Stoke weren’t in the mood to lose at the Britannia Stadium. How costly would this result be for the London club?
It started out brightly for West Ham with Michail Antonio finding the back of the net in the 23rd minute. After a headed pass back into the box from Winston Reid following a corner, Antonio fought off Stoke’s challenges and hammered home past Shay Given. 1-0 West Ham. The 26-year-old was nearly involved in another goal just four minutes later when his cross found Diafra Sakho in the box, but Sakho’s shot went just wide and the lead stayed at just a goal.
West Ham were by far the better side in the first half and would have been disappointed to only finish one of their many chances. In such an important match, this inability to finish would prove costly. This theme of missed chances continued in the second half with Sakho’s one-on-one chance going straight at Given, keeping Stoke alive in the match.
The Hammers’ inability to put their chances away finally came back to bite them in the 55th minute. A long-range shot from Giannelli Imbula skimmed the turf before finding the side netting and putting Stoke on level terms. Imbula’s effort was Stoke’s first real chance of the match, and they proved to be far more clinical than West Ham on the day.
In the 76th minute, West Ham had yet another chance to find a second goal, but once again they just couldn’t provide a finishing touch. Not once, but twice Given denied the Hammers on the line with Emmanuel Emenike and Antonio both failing to find the back of the net. Two minutes later, it took an acrobatic goal-line clearance from Glenn Whelan on Cheikhou Kouyaté to keep the sides level.
With the match coming to a close, Stoke completed their comeback and put a dagger in West Ham’s European dream. A corner from Charlie Adam found Mame Biram Diouf’s head, and the former Manchester United striker made no mistake in finding the back of the net.
Diouf’s goal would prove to be the winner as Stoke held on for a 2-1 victory. This result, paired with a resounding 4-1 victory for Southampton over Crystal Palace sees the Hammers fall to seventh place below the Saints and United. Now, West Ham must hope for a Manchester United victory in the FA Cup if they want to qualify for the Europa League during their first season at the Olympic Stadium.
Newcastle United 5-1 Tottenham Hotspur
All the way up until the 37th match day, Tottenham were in the title fight. Spurs’ exciting style of play provided Leicester City with their only real challenge to the crown, but as of late, Maurcio Pochettino’s squad have been “Spurrsing” it up (a term coined by Men in Blazers to describe Tottenham’s annual collapse). A poor result against already relegated Newcastle United had the potential to see Tottenham fall behind bitter rivals Arsenal in the table, and what a poor result it was for Spurs.
Newcastle started on the front foot with Aleksander Mitrovic narrowly missing just ten minutes into the match. Nine minutes later, the Serbian striker would play provider with his layoff finding Georginio Wijnaldum in a perfect goal scoring position. The Dutch midfielder passed his shot past Hugo Lloris into the side netting and Newcastle now sat with an unexpected lead.
20 minutes later, Newcastle struck again. This time, it was a cross from Moussa Sissoko that sparked the chance, and Mitrovic was there to deliver a fabulous header into the back of the net. The Magpies were playing unbelievable football, and fans had to wonder if their season could’ve gone differently had Rafa Benítez been given more time at the helm.
Other than a tight-angle shot from Christian Eriksen in the 45th minute, Tottenham’s attack was completely absent during the first half. Despite being much higher than their opponents in the league, Spurs looked overwhelmed and uninspired. Could they change that in the second half?
On the hour mark, Tottenham finally got on the board. Erik Lamela hit a powerful drive at the near post and Karl Darlow didn’t get enough on it to stop the goal. The 25-year-old keeper would have been disappointed not to stop that shot, and even more disappointed to lose his clean sheet.
Five minutes later, Newcastle’s most influential player on the day was given his marching orders. Mitrovic’s nasty challenge on the shins of Kyle Walker earned him a straight red card, and gave Tottenham hope of fighting their way back into the match. Despite the numerical disadvantage, however, Newcastle continued to dominate.
In the 72nd minute, Moussa Sissoko’s darting run into the box was ended by Jan Vertonghen’s sliding challenge. Unfortunately for Tottenham’s captain, he didn’t get the ball and Newcastle were awarded a penalty. Wijnaldum took the ensuing spot kick and sent Lloris the wrong way to double the hosts’ lead.
Six minutes later, Sissoko forced Lloris into a brilliant diving save, and Newcastle nearly found themselves up by three. In the 82nd minute, the 26-year-old found himself one-on-one with Lloris after a quick counter attack, but once again the Tottenham keeper was up to the challenge. Newcastle finally got their deserved goal three minutes later courtesy of Rolando Aarons. After Andros Townsend’s curler hit the woodwork, the ball eventually found Aarons on the edge of the six-yard-box. The 20-year-old’s goal added insult to injury for Tottenham as they now found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-1 score line.
Newcastle would grab one more goal in the 86th minute when Daryl Janmaat finished off another counter attack to make it a 5-1 victory for the hosts at St. James’ Park. While the result doesn’t save Newcastle from relegation, it should give their fans some hope that their stay in the second division will be a short one. Tottenham, on the other hand, have now finished in third place behind Arsenal and must now suffer the taunts of their London rivals for yet another season.