We are now just 2 and a half rounds away from the end of the season and for some teams there is still plenty to play for. West Brom’s late revival has probably come too late to save them from the drop, but their 0-1 win at Newcastle leaves them currently just 3 points behind Swansea in 17th, though the Swans do have a game in hand. Burnley’s point against Brighton has secured them a place in the top 7 barring a 15-goal swing in goal difference, while Crystal Palace’s 5-0 victory at Leicester (their largest win in the Premier League) sees them jump up to 11th and be all-but certain of safety. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s hold on 3rd place is under threat as their goalless draw with Stoke means Spurs will leapfrog them if they win their game in hand.
Right guy, wrong time?
Looking at their results in recent weeks, I can’t help but wonder what might have been for West Brom. Following Alan Pardew’s introduction, the Baggies won just 1 league game out of 18 and took just 8 out of a possible 54. Yet under caretaker boss Darren Moore they are unbeaten in the league and have picked up 8 points from a possible 12, including wins against Manchester United and Newcastle. West Brom have earned 28.6% of their points under Moore despite him having only been in charge for 11.1% of their matches this season! It’s not even just the results, but the quality of teams played as he has taken 7 points off of Mourinho, Klopp and Benitez – 3 of the best managers in the league!
Moore has got these players working for him in a way they never did under Pardew. The Barcelona incident was a clear indication that he did not have the support of the dressing room that he need to keep the club up, but Moore appears to have their support and also got results by – as suggested by Chris Brunt – going back to the West Brom way. Whatever he is doing, it is working! A couple of weeks back, the Baggies looked certain to be down. I still find survival unlikely, but under Moore there is at least a belief that the great escape could be possible.
At the moment, he is merely the caretaker manager, but I hope he has shown enough over the last couple of weeks to convince the board to make him permanent. Dropping down to the Championship could see them lose a number of top players, but a manager like Moore may convince some of them to stay and also give them the confidence to push for an immediate return to the top flight.
Burnley just can’t buy a penalty in the league this season! They had 2 appeals turned down in their draw against Brighton, the first when the ball ricocheted off the post and onto Shane Duffy during a goalmouth scramble, the second when a knock-down at a set piece struck Bruno’s outstretched arm from close range. Away from Turf Moor, Erik Pieters survived a late handball shout at Anfield as Georginio Wijnaldum’s cross hit him on the arm in the 87th minute.
So what actually constitutes a handball? The FA website’s rules and regulations section states:
HANDLING THE BALL
Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm. The following must be considered:
The movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
The distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
The position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an offence
Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) is an offence
The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. Inside their penalty area, the goalkeeper cannot be guilty of a handling offence incurring a direct free kick or any related sanction but can be guilty of handling offences that incur an indirect free kick.
That leaves a lot of discretion for referees, and anytime there is too much discretion involved, mistakes can be made far too easily. We the viewing public get the benefit of multiple replays whereas the officials get one chance and will not necessarily have the best angle. This may be a controversial suggestion, but I wonder if it would benefit the FA to trial a zero-tolerance approach to handling the ball in a similar way to touching the ball with the foot in hockey. It may lead to a number of penalties initially as defenders get used to the new rules, but in the long run the clear stance on what constitutes a handball could be a real benefit.
Sliding down and out?
Things are not looking good for Huddersfield right now. They started the season so well but in recent months they have been sliding down the table and now find themselves just 3 points above the drop zone. They have just 3 matches left in the league this season but they are away to Manchester City, away to Chelsea and at home to Arsenal… not really the way you want to end the season when fighting for survival. It gets even worse when you realise that they are yet to win a match where they have gone behind!
Southampton looked much improved in their 2-1 win over Bournemouth and have a slightly easier set of remaining games (away at Everton, away at Swansea and at home to Manchester City). None of these are easy matches, but I still see more potential for Southampton to build some momentum off this week’s win and pick up the points to leapfrog Huddersfield by virtue of their better goal difference.
Right now I can see Huddersfield joining Stoke and West Brom in the Championship next season.
Round 37 predictions and the missing matches:
I’m going to be away this weekend so Round 37’s write-up will join with my thoughts on the games in hand. At that point we will have just one round left in the Premier League this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Manchester United – United win
Stoke City v Crystal Palace – Palace win
AFC Bournemouth v Swansea City – Swansea win
Leicester City v West Ham – Leicester win
Watford v Newcastle United – Newcastle win
West Bromwich Albion v Tottenham Hotspur – Spurs win
Everton v Southampton – Draw
Manchester City v Huddersfield Town – City win
Arsenal v Burnley – Draw
Chelsea v Liverpool – Draw
Swansea City v Southampton – Southampton win
Chelsea v Huddersfield Town – Chelsea win
Leicester City v Arsenal – Arsenal win
Manchester City v Brighton & Hove Albion – City win
Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – Spurs win
West Ham v Manchester United – United win