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5 things we learned from this weekend's Premier League action

We determine whether the league title race is over, and other talking points from the past 48 hours.

Everton's Victor Anichebe (left) and Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic (right) battle for the ball.
Everton's Victor Anichebe (left) and Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic (right) battle for the ball.

1. Title race far from over, despite claims to the contrary

Manchester United’s comfortable victory over Everton today, coupled with Man City’s surprise loss to Southampton yesterday evening, had pundits practically queuing up to write off the latter contender’s title chances.

United are rightly now odds-on favourites to lift the trophy, given that the relative ease with which they won today was in stark contrast to the shockingly sluggish display of their nearest rivals, as well as the suspicion that they hold an insurmountable lead at the top of the table.

Nonetheless, to suggest they have the league essentially wrapped up seems a little premature and naive.

It’s been one of the most unpredictable Premier Leagues ever this season, and United were eight points clear much later on in the campaign last year before a dramatic collapse prevented them from ultimately triumphing.

Moreover, they have already dropped points against the likes of Norwich and Swansea already, so they are appear far from infallible.

Therefore, the recent hype needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Anything – for instance, a bad injury to Robin van Persie – could happen between now and the end of the season.

2. The manner of Manchester City’s defeat was more demoralising than the loss itself

Manchester City’s defeat to Southampton yesterday could turn out to be a pivotal blow for the reigning champions come the end of the season.

However, the manner of their performance will undoubtedly be even more worrying to Roberto Mancini than the fact that they are now 12 points off the league leaders.

They came up against a Southampton side that are battling relegation, and played with the air of a team who believed they had a divine right to win, by virtue of their supposed superiority.

Not only was City’s performance littered with errors – the most embarrassing aspect of the game from their perspective was the way in which they were at times outpassed and even outclassed by their lowly opponents.

3. Gareth Bale seems to have benefited from Luka Modric’s departure

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A few years ago, Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Manchester United caused Wayne Rooney to come out of his shell and take on more responsibility, as he adequately filled the void left by the star winger’s move to Real Madrid.

A similar situation seems to have occurred at Spurs.

Just as some people wondered whether United’s form would dip drastically in light of the Portuguese player’s absence, many commentators questioned if Spurs would be as strong this year on account of the departure of Modric and, to a lesser extent, Rafael van der Vaart.

But, in a similar manner to Rooney back then, Bale has subsequently enjoyed his best season yet, arguably owing to being given this extra level of responsibility, and he emphasised his talent again with another superb performance yesterday.

4. Rafa’s penchant for rotation likely to prove damaging in the long run

Not for the first time this season, Rafael Benitez decided to rest some of his star players against Wigan on Saturday, such as Juan Mata and Demba Ba, despite the fact that they don’t have another Premier League game for two weeks.

Football fans with a memory of Benitez’s Liverpool days will know his eccentric selection policies are nothing new.

And yesterday, his willingness to indulge in questionable squad rotation had no ill effects, as the London club claimed a comfortable victory.

Yet this persistent tendency of refraining from picking his best team against ostensibly weaker opponents has hurt Chelsea already this season – their loss to QPR being a prime example.

And it’s no surprise that they’re suffering from a lack of consistency as a result of this approach, which could ultimately hinder rather than help the team.

5. Arsenal show some resilience at last

Too often this season, the ‘soft touch’ stereotype that Arsenal are invariably associated with has rang true.

In recent matches against both Liverpool and Man City, they have conspicuously failed to perform for either all or a substantial portion of the match.

Yesterday, there were some foreboding signs as they faced a tough trip to Sunderland.

Consequently, it must have been a particular pleasure for their fans to see them grind out a 1-0 victory for once, especially as they were forced to play the final half an hour with 10 men.

Of course, it remains to be seen if this win reflects a new and improved Gunners outfit, or whether they’ll revert to their flimsy persona for the umpteenth occasion in the near future.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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