Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United

With all of the top four teams facing off against each other on Sunday, Saturday’s fixture against Sunderland gave Manchester United a great chance to reignite their Champions League hopes. Unfortunately for United fans, it just wasn’t meant to be. Even though Sunderland were in the heart of the relegation battle, the Black Cats were coming off of a thrilling 2-2 draw against Liverpool and came out fighting from the start against the Red Devils.

Louis Van Gaal’s disastrous day started in just the third minute of the match. A seemingly innocuous freekick from Wahbi Khazri was sent into the box, and a dummy from Jermaine Defoe was enough to baffle David De Gea as the Spaniard reacted too late to stop the ball from finding the back of the net. Sunderland were easily the better side for the opening 30 minutes and were unlucky not to be more than one goal ahead. To make matters worse for United, Matteo Darmian was forced to leave the match with what ended up being a dislocated shoulder to add to the Red Devils’ lengthy injury list. The pain of Darmian’s injury was temporarily relieved in the 39th minute when Anthony Martial dinked in Juan Mata’s rebound to put United level going into the second half.

The second half saw Sunderland again come out with more energy than their visitors. Daley Blind was forced to come up with a massive sliding block in the 54th minute to deny a close-range shot from Defoe. Dame N’Doye had a great one-on-one chance to give his side the lead on the hour mark, but De Gea was able to deliver a vital kick save to keep his side level. The dagger came in the 82nd minute when Lamine Kone’s got his head to Fabio Borini’s corner. Despite De Gea saving the initial drive, his landing forced the ball into the net and was given as an own-goal. This 2-1 shocker pushes United six points off the top four and throws Louis Van Gaal’s future into even more doubt. For Sunderland, the victory puts them within one point of safety and could be seen as a life-saving result come May.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City

The match of the weekend had to be Leicester City’s trip to take on Arsenal at the Etihad. The Foxes went into Sunday’s fixture with a five-point gap separating them from the rest of the pack, and a magnificent display at Manchester City last weekend gave some serious credentials to their title push. Arsenal, on the other hand, were coming off of a much-needed win Bournemouth, but had been far from convincing in their last several fixtures. A win for Leicester would give them a stranglehold on the top, but Arsenal had the opportunity to blow the title race wide open.

This massive clash definitely lived up to the billing with both sides showing good attacking play to open the match. Kasper Schmeichel was forced to execute a Manuel Neuer-esque slide tackle in the 15th minute to stop an Arsenal breakthrough and just seconds later Petr Cech brilliantly denied Jamie Vardy’s close-range header. The decisive moment of the half came just before the intermission. After Nacho Monreal brought down Vardy just inside the area, the league’s leading scorer made no mistake in slotting home. Vardy’s late penalty sent the Foxes into the second half with a one-goal lead.

The joy of Vardy’s opener was quickly replaced with anguish in the second half, when Danny Simpson earned a sending off for a second yellow card. The man advantage put the Gunners in the driver’s seat, and they quickly became the aggressors. Substitute Theo Walcott fired home the equalizer in the 70th minute from close range, and it looked like Leicester would be lucky to hold on to their point for the last 20 minutes. As the match dragged on, Arsenal just couldn’t figure out a way to put the ball in the net. Countless efforts went wide and Schmeichel’s big save in the 87th minute made it seem like it just wasn’t Arsenal’s day.

As the hopes of the Arsenal faithful began to fade, the Gunners got a freekick in the 95th minute. Mesut Özil stepped up and sent in a looped ball into the penalty area and an injury-plagued Danny Welbeck rose up and got just enough on the ball to find the corner of the net. Welbeck’s goal secured all three points for the Gunners, and pushed them within just two points of the league leaders.

Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

Eriksen scores winner for Spurs

Image: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

After Arsenal’s victory over Leicester to start off Sunday’s fixtures, the third and fourth best teams in the league squared off at the Etihad. As I mentioned before, the Cityzens weren’t going into this match on the best of form. Manuel Pellegrini’s men were thoroughly humbled at home last weekend against the Foxes and a second consecutive loss would be disastrous for their title hopes. Tottenham, on the other hand, were one of the hottest teams in Europe having won their last seven matches in all competitions. Could Mauricio Pochettino guide his men to an eighth straight victory and the second spot in the table?

In the opening stages of the match, it was City that looked the more dangerous of the sides as they pressed Tottenham’s backline, but no goals were to be had. Their best chance of the first half came in the 23rd minute, but Danny Rose courageously blocked Raheem Sterling’s powerful volley before it could test Hugo Lloris. After their slow start to the match, Spurs started to come alive after the half hour mark. Both teams failed to make any real headway through the first 45 minutes, and went into the intermission deservedly deadlocked at 0-0.

A slow first half was followed by a thrilling second act. The first moment of drama 52nd minute when Sterling’s block on Danny Rose’s cross was adjudged to be a handball. Harry Kane stepped up for the ensuing penalty and hammered straight down the middle of the net to put Spurs up a goal to the good. After Kane’s goal, City looked desperately for an equalizer and nearly found one in the 56th minute only for Yaya Toure’s freekick to cannon back off the woodwork. The Sky Blues finally found an equalizer in the 74th minute when 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho hit a lovely first-time effort into the roof of the net.

The euphoria of Iheanacho’s equalizer was short-lived. Less than ten minutes later, Spurs were back on top for good. Eric Lamela weaved his way through the heart of the pitch, and then played a lovely through ball into the feet of Christian Eriksen. The Danish midfielder hesitated for just a second and then slid his shot past Joe Hart to seal a 2-1 victory for his side. Tottenham now sit level with Arsenal for the second spot in the table, but lead on goal differential. City, on the other hand, drops down two places to fourth and now must put together a magical run to re-enter the title race.


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