10 things we learned from the Premier League as season end nears

‘Ugly’ Arsenal have new weapons in their armoury, set-pieces could help City trump Liverpool and no-one’s laughing at Jordan Pickford now: 10 THINGS WE LEARNED from the Premier League weekend

  • The battle for survival and the Premier League title race intensified this weekend
  • Everton and Burnley claimed vital victories in their bid to avoid relegation
  • Norwich’s return to the Championship was confirmed after defeat by Aston Villa
  • Watford will almost certainly join them following their home loss to Burnley
  • Manchester City and Liverpool won again to continue their pursuit of the title 

There were plenty of twists and turns as the fight to avoid relegation, the battle for the Premier League title and the race for Champions League football continued this weekend.

At the bottom of the table, Everton and Burnley picked up crucial wins in their bid to retain their Premier League status, while Norwich’s immediate return to the Championship was confirmed after defeat by Aston Villa. 

Watford also look destined for relegation after letting a lead slip in their defeat by Michael Jackson’s Burnley.

Everton beat Chelsea on Sunday in a major boost to their hopes of Premier League survival

Flawless Manchester City and Liverpool are still not putting a foot wrong in their pursuit of Premier League glory, with the two sides both recording away victories to leave Pep Guardiola’s side a point clear with just four games to go.

Arsenal and Spurs are involved in a straight shootout for fourth place and both won on Sunday to lend credence to the view that the coveted position will go down to the wire. 

Here, Sportsmail dissects another fascinating round of Premier League action.

Pickford is standing up when it matters… plus canine intervention!

Jordan Pickford is the subject of regular ridicule, from some Everton fans and other supporters alike, but he had the last laugh in their vital victory over Chelsea on Sunday.

Pickford made one of the saves of the season to deny Cesar Azpilicueta what seemed an inevitable equaliser in the 59th minute of the clash at Goodison Park.

Jordan Pickford made an incredible save from Cesar Azpilicueta to preserve Everton’s lead

Pickford was the hero as he later saved from Antonio Rudiger in a vital win for Everton

The England international leapt across his line after Mason Mount’s controlled drive struck the post and somehow kept out Azpilicueta’s strike, earning him a standing ovation from the Everton fans behind his goal. 

He then puffed out his chest as he took the plaudits of his team-mates – and deservedly so. The save could yet turn out to be a pivotal moment as Everton battle to preserve their proud record in the top division of English football.

Pickford was at it again shortly after as he saved – with his face – from Antonio Rudiger. ‘Pickford’s saves have kept Everton’s dreams alive,’ former Everton midfielder Leon Osman said on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Yet Pickford was not the only hero for the Everton fans on Sunday. Social media footage emerged of a dog being carried through the crowd as supporters gathered outside Goodison before the match.

It was later revealed that it was a fan’s pet German Shepherd called Myra who was hoisted in the air, providing an iconic image that few Everton fans will forget.

According to one Twitter user, Everton have never lost a match when a dog is in attendance, so we might not have seen the last of Myra just yet as the club continue in their relegation dogfight.

Dallas injury deals Leeds huge blow in relegation scrap

Jesse Marsch’s Leeds are being dragged into a scrap for survival in the Premier League by the likes of Everton and Burnley.

The last thing Marsch would have needed as his team battle to avoid the drop is a serious injury to a key player. 

Stuart Dallas has been an integral part of the Leeds team this season – he has played in all 34 Premier League matches in the current campaign – but has been ruled out for ‘a lengthy period’ after suffering a broken leg in their 4-0 defeat by title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday.

Stuart Dallas was taken off on a stretcher during Leeds’ 4-0 defeat by Manchester City

Dallas is set to miss a ‘lengthy period’ of action after suffering a broken leg at Elland Road

Dallas was injured in a challenge with Jack Grealish late in the first half and left the pitch on a stretcher, much to the concern of Marsch, his team-mates and the Leeds faithful.

The 31-year-old Northern Irishman’s absence will be felt in more ways than one at Elland Road, a point alluded to by Marsch in his post-match press conference.

‘It is impossible to put into words just how important Stuart is to Leeds United on and off the field,’ the club said in an update on Dallas’ injury,

It is the latest dose of cruel luck that has been experienced by Leeds this season. Their campaign has been blighted by injuries to key players, and their misfortune could end up contributing to a slide back into the Championship. 

Magic Milner still a key figure for Liverpool at 36

James Milner first graced the Premier League stage 20 years ago, when he made his debut for Leeds at the age of 16.

Fast forward two decades and Milner is proving age is just a number after putting in another instrumental performance in Liverpool’s win at Newcastle on Saturday lunchtime.

James Milner put in a superb performance in Liverpool’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle United

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was full of praise for ‘role model’ Milner after the match

The evergreen 36-year-old, making his first league start since January 2, was as energetic as he was when he burst onto the scene all those years ago in the narrow victory at St James’ Park.

Much is made of City’s strength-in-depth but Jurgen Klopp has an equally enviable squad to choose from as they chase an unprecedented quadruple.

‘Role model’ Milner’s inclusion was part of Klopp’s rotation for the Newcastle clash and, like so many of the German’s moves at Anfield, it paid off. 

Naby Keita scored the only goal as Liverpool briefly went top of the Premier League table

‘Milly is Milly and is incredibly important for us and that is very important,’ Klopp said. ‘We talk about the dressing room, he is very helpful there, especially with a manager who is not a native speaker.

‘But on the pitch as well, he played a super game. I loved this game from the boys and James was a massive part of that. ‘I told him, nothing that we have achieved in the last few years would have happened without James Milner. Easy as that. Whether he’s on the pitch or not.

‘He stands out in a way not a lot of people can stand out. He’s educated all of us.’

Milner has a parody Twitter account dedicated to him – Boring James Milner – and it is an image he is more than happy to play up to. On the pitch for Liverpool, he is anything but.

City are the Premier League’s set-piece specialists

Pep Guardiola’s City are known for their high-energy, free-flowing football but they have often relied on one of the most basic elements of the game in recent weeks – set-pieces.

City’s 18 goals from dead balls — excluding penalties — is the most of any top-flight team this season and the club’s highest since 2013-14. They have conceded from set-pieces just once this season — again, better than all the rest.

Nicolas Jover, a specialist set-piece coach, left City for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal last summer and has been hailed as a genius. But his replacement, Carlos Vicens, has overseen an improvement in both boxes.

Rodri scored Manchester City’s opening goal in the 4-0 thrashing of Leeds on Saturday

Nathan Ake also scored from a set-piece as City maintained their one-point lead at the top

Rodri and Nathan Ake both scored from such situations in the win over Leeds on Saturday tea-time. The Spanish midfielder headed home a perfectly-flighted Phil Foden free-kick, before Ake turned home a corner in the second half.

Even Guardiola seems surprised at how proficient they have been from dead-balls this season. ‘We are not a team to score a lot of goals from set-pieces but sometimes that can unblock these kind of games,’ the City boss said.

The victory against Leeds was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggested as the home side, backed by a raucous crowd, put up a significant fight throughout.

But City, and title rivals Liverpool have the ability to take it up a notch in these tough matches and Leeds simply could not live with them in the second half. 

It is a pattern likely to continue as the battle for the Premier League title veers towards an intriguing and exciting climax. 

Spurs showing Conte has the tools to do better than the ‘top four’

In the lead-up to Tottenham’s encounter with Leicester, Spurs boss Antonio Conte gave an implicit warning to his players that he will not spend too much of his career at a club that is not consistently challenging for major honours.

‘I repeat, don’t forget I like to have ambition, not only to fight for a place in Champions League or a place in UEFA (Europa) League,’ Conte said after dismissing rumours he may leave Spurs for Paris Saint-Germain.

Antonio Conte had said before the win over Leicester that he ‘deserves’ to be fighting for titles

Son Heung-min scored twice as Tottenham kept up the pressure on rivals Arsenal

‘I think that, honestly, I want to fight for much more, you understand? For much more. I think also I deserve to do this.’

On the evidence presented in Spurs’ comfortable 3-1 win over Leicester, Conte has the players to match his ambitions.

Son Heung-min and Harry Kane were well in their groove and, flanked by the superb Dejan Kulusevski – who came on as a substitute – Tottenham have an attacking trio that would be the envy of most teams in the Premier League.

Kane broke the deadlock before Son scored twice as Tottenham ended their barren run in front of goal in style. 

Harry Kane was also on target for Spurs, who ran out convincing winners against Leicester

Spurs had failed to register a shot on target for the previous two games prior to the Leicester match, which is hard to believe given the talent they have in their ranks.

Next up for Conte’s side is a dauting trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, before the blockbuster do-or-die North London derby at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on May 12.

If Conte can continue to get a tune out of their top players – and is backed in the transfer market by an often frugal Daniel Levy – securing Champions League football will be the minimum target for the Italian’s team going forward.

Arsenal know how to win ugly

In the race for any achievement – be it the top four or the title – it is all about results.

How you win is secondary to the outcome of the match, a trait aptly demonstrated by Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in their narrow 2-1 victory over West Ham on Sunday.

The ability to ‘win ugly’, as Arteta put it, had not been in Arsenal’s armoury since the heady days of the Gunners regularly challenging for the Premier League crown.

But it is something the Spaniard has instilled in his squad as they aim for their first top-four finish since 2016.

They demonstrated their battling qualities in the win at West Ham, sealed thanks to Gabriel Magalhaes’ second-half header. 

Mikel Arteta praised his side for ‘winning ugly’ in a crucial 2-1 victory over West Ham United

Gabriel Magalhaes secured the three points for Arsenal with his header in the second half

The match at the London Stadium was a feisty encounter as the two sides battled for victory

Arteta’s side in recent weeks have shown they are willing to grind out results. The victory at the London Stadium came after they beat Manchester United last Saturday, where they were outplayed for large parts of the game before securing all three points. 

‘In England you say you ‘win ugly’? From my point of view, we won ugly,’ Arteta said.

‘But I’m extremely happy to see a team that has this capacity to find a way to win and show the character they showed.’ 

It was not pretty. But for Arsenal, who are in the driving seat in the race for Champions League qualification, it doesn’t have to be. 

Greater freedom is working a charm for Burnley

Burnley dispensing with Sean Dyche sent shockwaves through football but it is a decision that is paying dividends for the Clarets in their fight for Premier League survival.

Caretaker manager Michael Jackson has seemingly ditched the rigidity favoured by Dyche for more freedom and expression, and the team are reaping the rewards of this more proactive approach.

Burnley have found the net in all four of Jackson’s matches in charge so far, having failed to do so in five of their previous six.

Michael Jackson has proven to be an inspired choice for Burnley after they sacked Sean Dyche

Scoring goals has been a problem for the Turf Moor outfit all season. Their tally of 31 – including the two in victory at Watford – is the third lowest in the league. Only relegated Norwich and their opponents on Saturday have scored fewer. 

They started poorly in the six-pointer against Watford and could have easily fallen further behind but they rallied and scored twice in three minutes late on – through Jack Cork and Josh Brownhill – to claim a huge victory.

Jackson has now presided over three wins and a draw in his four matches in charge. The Great Escape is now a distinct possibility with the Clarets two points ahead of 18th-place Everton albeit having played a game more.

Josh Brownhill steered home the deciding goal in Burnley’s 2-1 comeback win at Watford

The manner in which they inflicted an 11th consecutive home defeat in a row on Watford spoke volumes for their new spirit – but Jackson said there had been ‘no magic wand’ waved over the players since Dyche’s sacking.

Whatever he is doing at Burnley, it is working for Jackson, who is making a strong case to the club’s owners to be considered for the job on a full-time basis.

Brighton love an away day

If the league was decided solely on away results, Brighton would be heading for the Champions League.

The Seagulls’ latest win on their travels, the comfortable 3-0 victory at Wolves on Saturday, was their seventh of the season on the road in the Premier League.

Their successes away from the Amex Stadium have included triumphs at Arsenal and Spurs, while they also drew at second-placed Liverpool and Chelsea.

Brighton’s superb away record continued as they beat Wolves 3-0 at Molineux on Saturday

Few opponents this season were as obliging as Wolves, who were soundly beaten by Potter’s resurgent side at Molineux thanks to goals from Alexis Mac Allister, Leandro Trossard and Yves Bissouma.

Season at a glance

‘If you look at the data behind it, we’re not too different to how we perform at home to away,’ Potter said before Brighton’s trip to Wolves.

‘It’s just that we’ve scored away and not conceded. Maybe the small margins have gone our way or we’ve scored a late goal to nick the game.

‘You have to be brave away from home, bring your own identity to the game and respect the opponent.’

If Brighton can bring their away form back home next season, they will fancy their chances of mounting a sustained push for a place in Europe. 

What is going on at Wolves?

Judging by his side’s hapless display against Brighton, it was no wonder manager Bruno Lage was so angry.

‘I need to understand who wants to go to war and continue to put the club at a different level because it’s not enough for anyone to relax,’ said Lage after Wolves’ heaviest loss of the season.

‘I need to smell it if the guys want to continue to put the club at a different level. We’re in eighth position and we try to do better. 

‘To improve we need to have a plan and we need to convince the right players with the right personality to increase the level of the team.

‘We didn’t come to play. We came to watch Brighton play. It was the worst performance since the first day.’

Bruno Lage was frustrated with his team as they suffered their heaviest loss of the season

Having threatened to challenge the likes of Manchester United and West Ham for a European spot, Wolves’ season is meandering towards an uninspiring conclusion. Defeat to away-day experts Brighton was their third in a row.

Chief among Wolves’ issues is their lack of goals. They have the fourth-lowest in the Premier League, not helped by Fabio Silva – who signed for a club record fee of more than £35million – having failed to score in the league all season.

Changes are afoot at Molineux, with repairing an ailing frontline set to top Lage’s agenda in the transfer market.

Palace end their long wait

It has taken until the end of April, and 34 matches into the Premier League campaign, but finally Crystal Palace have won a game from behind.

Their 2-1 comeback success against Southampton, whose malaise has seen them slip perilously close to the relegation zone, was the first time this season that they have conceded first and gone on to claim all three points.

Wilfried Zaha netted the winner late on to give Palace a 2-1 victory away at Southampton

Eberechi Eze had restored parity for Palace before they came from behind to win for the first time this season

Eberechi Eze and Wilfried Zaha, who started on the bench after being subjected to some rather physical treatment by Leeds on Monday night, turned the match in Palace’s favour following Oriel Romeu’s opener for the home side.

Zaha came off the bench to score the winner, ending a week where he had been accused of going to ground too easily by Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips after their stalemate at Selhurst Park.

It was a fitting way for Palace to secure a victory which moves them into 12th with four games left.

‘I really enjoyed it because going in 1-0 down at half-time, we didn’t deserve that,’ said Vieira, ‘and we came back in the second half a bit quicker in our passing and we managed to score those two goals.’

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