With all the trials and tribulations of the January transfer window behind us, Premier League football dialled things back and assumed normality at the weekend. Well, to an extent.
With 18 of the 20 teams in action over Saturday and Sunday, we saw Tottenham keep themselves in with a chance, we saw Ole keep his revolution going, and we saw Gonzalo Higuain doing Gonzalo Higuain things. Oh, and there was a cat on the pitch.
Here are eight things we learned from the weekend’s Premier League happenings.
1. Manchester City Aren’t Going Down Without a Fight
In any normal league campaign, City would be out in front at this stage, but the formidable opposition locked in the title race means they are firm second-favourites to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Of late, they seem to be relishing that challenge however, and if they are about to relinquish their crown to the Reds, then they are going down swinging.
Losing to Newcastle during the week was a shocker, but three touches of class from Serg were enough to slay the Gunners, who will themselves be buoyed by much of their display at the Etihad.
2. …And Neither Are Cardiff
Cardiff remain in the relegation zone at present, but unlike the teams around them, they seem to have an uncanny ability to pick up an important result when they need it – and it might just be their saving grace.
There were jubilant scenes around the Cardiff City Stadium – amplified ten-fold by the emotion added to the occasion by the disappearance of record signing Emiliano Sala – as a double from Bobby Reid against Bournemouth helped them to another important win .
If they keep up that scrappy, never-say-die attitude between now and May, then the two points separating them from safety doesn’t look like anything close to an unbridgeable gap.
3. Tottenham Keep Finding a Way to Win
Despite everything they’re facing at the moment; injuries to virtually every single one of their key players and more delays to the opening of the new stadium than incoming transfers; there is an overwhelming feeling of optimism coming from Tottenham at the moment. And that stems from the fact that they keep winning, no matter what.
They required a howler from Martin Dubravka to earn a 1-0 win at Newcastle on Saturday, just as they needed a late Llorente winner to beat Watford during the week, but it’s no coincidence that they’ve picked up more points from goals in the last ten minutes this season (9) than any other team.
The sign of champions? In a normal season, you’d say yes, but it looks unlikely given who’s in front of them. Although it is far from impossible.
4. A Cat on the Pitch Was the Highlight of Everton’s Afternoon
A random black cat gave Everton the runaround during their 3-1 defeat to Wolves at the weekend, and as stewards and players alike endeavoured unsuccessfully to catch the rogue feline before it eventually just left on its own accord, you can’t help but feel it was something of a metaphor for their struggles of late.
In all seriousness, signs were as clear as ever that there is some unrest among the Goodison faithful. Boos rung around the ground on the final whistle, as yet another bout of inconsistency has left them five points behind Wolves in the race for that seventh European spot.
With Manchester City on the horizon during the week, it doesn’t look like things will be picking up in the immediate future either.
5. Gonzalo Higuain Has Arrived
Chelsea eased their recent Premier League struggles with a handsome 5-0 victory against Huddersfield on Saturday, at central to that was Gonzalo Higuain doing that thing he does quite a lot – score goals.
The 31-year-old opened the scoring on 16 minutes, then added an unbelievable fourth with 20 minutes remaining and cemented his status as the centre-forward Chelsea have lacked all season.
It comes in the nick of time for the Blues, as defeats to Arsenal and Bournemouth had left them out of the top four for the first time this season. As things stand, however, they’re back in pole position for the remaining spot behind the runaway top three.
6. Fulham’s Inconsistency Will Probably Relegate Them
In stark contrast to Cardiff’s fortunes, the more time that passes since Claudio Ranieri’s appointment as Fulham manager, the more you feel they are running out of time and excuses.
They picked up an important win against Brighton during the week, coming back from two goals down, but they once again followed it up with a heavily disappointing defeat, this time away at Crystal Palace.
If they don’t soon get a handle on their inconsistency and pronounced defensive problems, then they could be dilly-ding dilly-down come the end of the season.
7. The Tenth Coming of Peter Crouch is Underway
Out of the ashes of the transfer window, all 9ft 5″ of Peter Crouch returned to the Premier League after a brief six-month absence on deadline day, and it took him all of about three seconds after being subbed on before he was causing all sorts of anarchy in the Southampton penalty area.
He ‘won’ a penalty in stoppage time by heading the ball down onto the hand of Jack Stephens, and at 38, it looks like there is life in the old, gangly dog yet.
8. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the Best Thing to Happen to Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford had managed just two Premier League goals in 12 appearances prior to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s appointment as interim boss in December. He’s managed six in the eight since. If his startling return to form is all that comes of the Norwegian’s time in charge, then that in itself makes it a worthwhile appointment.
It’s not likely to be though, is it? In such a short space of time, he has them back on track for the top four, and with every passing result, the feeling that he might just be the man for the job grows.
If you asked Rashford who he wants in charge for the long run, anyway, I’m guessing Solsk would be his pick.