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Leicester's player of the season, negative Spurs and more Premier League talking points

Plus, Man City still in the title race and Norwich look doomed.

Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez (right) celebrates scoring his side's goal against Watford.
Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez (right) celebrates scoring his side's goal against Watford.

1. Is Mahrez Leicester’s player of the season so far?

PICKING LEICESTER’S PLAYER of the Year at the end of the season will not be easy.

Robert Huth and Wes Morgan have been solid, consummate leaders at the back, N’Golo Kante has been a bundle of energy in midfield and Jamie Vardy leads the scoring charts with 19 goals.

Yet tonight’s matchwinner, Riyad Mahrez, could well claim to be the Premier League’s most influential player. His superb curling finish from the edge of the area tonight was his 15th goal of the season. He has scored or assisted exactly half of Leicester’s 52 league goals in total this season (26 in 28 appearances).

Therefore, without their ridiculously talented 25-year-old Algerian winger, there is no chance Leicester would be sitting five points clear at the top of the table right now. Not since Luis Suarez in 2013-14 has an individual player made such an impact over the course of a single season.

And worryingly for Leicester, their star man appeared to take a knock towards the end of the game and was subsequently substituted with five minutes remaining, though manager Claudio Ranieri played down concerns in his post-match interview, saying: “No injury, he was tired and had a little cramp so I changed him in the late minutes.”

2. Tottenham’s negativity fails to pay off

There is no doubt that of the two teams in today’s North London Derby, Tottenham will have come away from the game more frustrated.

Having struggled to break Arsenal down despite looking the sharper of the two sides for large periods of the game, Spurs were handed a lifeline when trailing 1-0 10 minutes into the second half, as Francis Coquelin foolishly got himself sent off for a rash challenge that led to a second booking (the 24-year-old midfielder later apologised to fans for his indiscretion).

Tottenham duly capitalised on their man advantage, as goals from Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane turned the game on its head.

Playing against 10 men, once they gained the lead, Spurs seemed set to see out the game comfortably, but manager Mauricio Pochettino made an interesting call — he replaced attacker Erik Lamela with defensive midfielder Ryan Mason.

This move would have handed Arsenal a psychological boost — it indicated that, even with a numerical advantage, Tottenham were prepared to shut up shop and let Arsenal dictate the game for the final 20 minutes, which was perhaps a sign of their continuing unease at being considered title challengers as well as their slight inferiority complex when it comes to facing the Gunners.

Pochettino has not gotten much wrong this season, but his negative approach to playing against 10 men ultimately was not vindicated in Saturday’s early kick-off.

3. Norwich look doomed

Swansea City v Norwich City - Barclays Premier League - Liberty Stadium Norwich City manager Alex Neil during the Barclays Premier League match at the Liberty Stadium. Source: David Davies

In front of newly elected Fifa president Gianni Infantino, Swansea and Norwich played out a largely uninspiring 90 minutes of football today.

Infantino was attending after receiving an invite from the Welsh FA, but the 45-year-old administrator can’t have been too impressed with what he saw.

The 1-0 win brings Swansea closer to safety, and they now need just seven points from their last nine games to reach the 40-point mark generally deemed good enough to avoid relegation.

Norwich, on the other hand, look in big trouble, as they currently sit third from bottom, a point away from safety. At times this season, the Canaries have impressed, taking points off sides of the calibre of Arsenal and Man United.

However, this game felt very much like watching two sides battling relegation, and Norwich in particular have been sapped of their confidence of late, having now gone 10 games without a win in all competitions.

4. Man City still in the title race

Though certain critics have written them off following their mid-week capitulation against Liverpool, Man City certainly cannot yet be definitively ruled out of the title race.

Granted, today’s match against Championship-bound Aston Villa seemed like the ideal game for them to end a run of three straight league defeats and bounce back following Wednesday’s significant setback against Jurgen Klopp’s men.

Even though Villa did hold City to a 0-0 draw in the reverse fixture back in November, the Etihad outfit were never likely to make the same mistake twice against Remi Garde’s side, who have won just one of their last eight league matches.

City still sit 10 points off leaders Leicester, of course, but crucially have a game in hand on their rivals.

Moreover, as Pellegrini emphasised after the match, his team’s title-winning experience could certainly come in handy amid an inevitably tense run-in.

5. Payet leading West Ham’s improbable Champions League challenge

West Ham’s phenomenal season took another incredible turn earlier, as they came back from two goals down to beat Everton 3-2 at Goodison Park.

Consequently, the Hammers leapfrog Man United into fifth for now, and remain in with a realistic chance of a Champions League spot.

In any other season, Slaven Bilic’s side’s unlikely success would be the big story of the campaign, though Leicester and Tottenham’s similarly miraculous feats have somewhat overshadowed West Ham’s exploits.

Meanwhile, once again, Dimitri Payet was integral to the win, as he scored the 90th-minute winner and generally proved to be a big influence on proceedings. With eight assists and eight goals, the French midfielder is to West Ham what Mahrez is to Leicester, and had the 29-year-old playmaker not been injured for a spell earlier in the season, the Hammers would surely be even higher up in the table currently.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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