With Leicester running out of games and facing up to the possibility of relegation to the Championship, there could be no better time for Jamie Vardy to rediscover his form in front of goal.
The 36-year-old netted his first Premier League strike in six months when he salvaged a draw for the Foxes at Leeds last week and his goal against Everton saw him score in back-to-back top-flight games for the first time since last May.
Vardy’s resurgence under Smith has seen him add to his impressive Premier League goals tally, which now stands at 136. The fact that only Harry Kane has scored more since the Leicester striker’s debut in the competition nine years ago shows his longevity at the top level.
With Kelechi Iheanacho likely out for the season and Patson Daka’s form being patchy, much rides on Vardy sustaining his output until the end of the season.
An individual expected goals total of 2.11 against Everton showed Vardy was a little wasteful but both he and his manager will be encouraged by the quality of chances that fell his way.
Even as he approached his late 30s, there were signs of vintage Vardy returning at the King Power – and not a minute too late for Leicester.
Goals have been hard to come by for Everton this season. In fact, they are the Premier League’s most goal-shy team with a paltry return of 27 from 34 games.
No wonder they find themselves in a spot of bother with four games to go. Sean Dyche’s team are second bottom and a point from safety but there’s hope at the end of this tunnel.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s prolonged absence this season with injury has left Everton with one hand tied behind their back. His return to the line-up for a third game in a row at Leicester showed exactly what they have been missing.
Aside from his goal from the penalty spot to open the scoring, Calvert-Lewin’s energy and physicality proved to be a handful for the Leeds defenders and helped contribute to Alex Iwobi’s equaliser.
“Dominic Calvert-Lewin looks sharper, he looks fitter and stronger again,” said Everton boss Sean Dyche. “So he will be a weapon for us over the next four games.”
Calvert-Lewin provides an outlet and helps Everton get further up the pitch. Their 23 shots against Leicester was the most they have managed in the Premier League since November 2019. The 26-year-old is reviving the Everton attack.
Dyche will be hoping his newly rediscovered weapon can now fire Everton to safety.
If an alien came down to Earth and wanted to know everything about Tottenham’s last 15 years, that game at Liverpool would have covered most of it.
All you need to know about the ‘Spursy’ term was laid bare at Anfield. A last chance to keep up the pace with the top four? Three-nil down. Winning the hearts and minds of the neutrals to come back to level in stoppage time. Then just as they are about to walk away with a point, concede again by literally gifting Liverpool a goal.
“That is the most Tottenham thing you will ever see,” said Sky Sports’ Gary Neville on co-comms as Lucas Moura gave the ball away to Diogo Jota to run through and score.
The Brazilian is responsible for Spurs’ finest hour by scoring a hat-trick in a Champions League semi-final. But the fact he is capable of that error shows why Tottenham have not moved forward.
Team-mates such as Eric Dier, Heung-Min Son, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Davinson Sanchez have similar polarising performances in them, while Pedro Porro and Cristian Romero both made errors for Liverpool’s first three goals – then nearly ended up on the scoresheet in the second half.
Ultimately, Tottenham have conceded six goals in the opening 10 minutes in their last three games. Spurs have also conceded in the 90th minute or later in four out of their last seven matches.
For whoever the incoming Tottenham manager is, he has to get that culture out of the club. The problem is that some of the best coaches this country has ever seen have tried – and failed.
It was almost like a traditional two-pronged attack. A Son and Kane. A Rooney and a Robin van Persie. Haaland has made it his business to establish a relationship with De Bruyne from the moment he arrived in England.
But on Sunday, step forward Julian Alvarez as the perfect foil to the great Norwegian.
Like De Bruyne, Alvarez has such a superb appreciation of space, of movement, of where and when to angle their runs.
Not far from King’s Road, Fulham defenders were rag-dolled around and bulldozed through at times by Haaland but City left London without the ominous impression this will now be a title procession before the coronation. There were two bookings for time-wasting in stoppages for Kyle Walker and for Ederson.
They have only just gone top, and the job is not complete. Of course, a single game can change one’s thinking, but there was no huge celebration at the final whistle. Just a confidence and a tunnel vision. The belief must be draining out of those Arsenal players with their feet up in front of the television.
When you have got Haaland’s running power and Alvarez’s ability to pick a pass, the results are devastating. With De Bruyne missing, things were still so deliciously telepathic when City were good in the opening period.
Unfortunately for the rest of the Premier League, but thankfully for lovers of the game, this connection is only in its infancy.
If City now beat West Ham and Leeds in their next two games, even if Arsenal beat Chelsea on Tuesday, the Gunners will kick off their next game at Newcastle four points adrift. All City need is a blip, and now there is no way back.
Roy Keane once spoke of how he would celebrate success at Manchester United for only a day before training his sights on the next prize. The cold celebration that lingered in the minds of those at Craven Cottage was highly reminiscent of Keane and his fellow treble-winners.
The bright start promised plenty for Leeds. They knew how important victory was on the south coast on Sunday and, had Matias Vina’s early handball happened inside the penalty area and referee Chris Kavanagh’s original decision to awarded have stood, the game may have panned out differently. But it didn’t.
Jefferson Lerma’s first, which gave Bournemouth the lead, was brilliant. His second was a gift. Illan Meslier aimlessly leapt to try and punch a corner clear, instead he calamitously flapped at the ball, allowing Lerma to double his tally and the Cherries’ advantage. The frustration from the travelling support was palpable, yet they did not air it; 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline in football, after all.
Patrick Bamford halved the deficit soon after, offering hope, but when Dominic Solanke extended the hosts’ advantage, the boos began to emanate from the packed away section at the Vitality, as did the “sack the board” chant and calls for sporting director Victor Orta to leave. It was perhaps to be expected; Leeds’ attempts to clear the cross that facilitated the third left plenty to be desired.
When Antoine Semenyo embarrassed Meslier again to add a fourth in stoppage time, the fans berated those on the pitch for not being “fit to wear the shirt”.
To their credit, the players headed straight for the away section after the full-time whistle and were met by a wall of fury. If that doesn’t spur them on for the final few games, nothing will.
Javi Gracia’s ideas in his post-match press conference for how to turn his team’s fortunes around amounted to little more than promising to work harder and do things better. One would hope the Spaniard is more vocal behind the scenes, as closing the season with matches against Manchester City, Newcastle, West Ham and Tottenham will no doubt require Leeds to play out of their skin.
Since Fulham all but assured their Premier League status with back-to-back victories in mid-February, they’ve managed just two wins in nine in the league. They’ve lost three out of their last four at home after only being beaten that many times in their first 13 at Craven Cottage this season.
Throw in the FA Cup exit to Man Utd and you can see why some have suggested the Fulham players are thinking ‘job done’ and where they might be going this summer. That’s a claim boss Marco Silva passionately rejected last week and anyone who saw their performance against Man City will know it isn’t the case.
The fact City had to take a couple of bookings for time-wasting and failed to fire off more than one shot on target after the 51st minute demonstrates how hard they found it in the second period. Fulham – undone by a penalty inside two minutes and a wonder-strike from Alvarez – made this a nervy one for Pep Guardiola.
And yet, there was again nothing to show for it in the end. The margins in the Premier League are often small and the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic is being felt. The influential Joao Palhinha is short of his best level in midfield and defensive lapses – Tyrone Mings unmarked on Tuesday, Tim Ream bringing down Julian Alvarez on Sunday – are being punished. Injuries to Ream and Andreas Pereira on Sunday won’t make life any easier.
Silva has made it clear the target for Fulham is eight more points to match their record points tally in a Premier League season. They now have just five games to do it, with a trip to Liverpool on Wednesday next. Games with Leicester, Southampton and Crystal Palace before a final-day visit to Man Utd offer opportunities. Fulham are still fighting – but need to re-find that edge which has made this such a successful season so far for them.
Victor Lindelof started only one Premier League game between early January and the middle of April and the fact that he has been pressed into action, starting each of Manchester United’s last five games, was seen as a cause for concern.
But the Sweden international has stepped up when required. He produced the game’s outstanding performance in the 1-0 win over Aston Villa, a worthy player of the match. The highlight was his goal-saving header on the line to deny Douglas Luiz.
It was more than just that header though. There were a number of them. His slight touch on the ball was enough to prevent Ollie Watkins heading in from close range even before that. In stoppage time, his decisive header cleared one final Villa free-kick. It was a fitting end.
Luke Shaw is a composed presence alongside Lindelof in defence, slotting into the Lisandro Martinez role, but the converted left-back needs someone next to him who can dominate. Lindelof took on that responsibility. In doing so, he has proved a few people wrong.
Both managers discussed Aston Villa’s high line in the press conference afterwards – it was the story of the game. Unai Emery has organised Villa and the rewards of the change of approach have been clear in their 10-game unbeaten run but there is a risk to it too.
When Emery’s side were unable to get pressure on Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, it allowed high-class players time to loft passes over the back line. With Marcus Rashford among those making the runs, catching him was not an option when the trap was sprung.
It will be interesting if the Villa boss adopts a similar strategy in the remaining games. After going to Wolves at the weekend, their final three fixtures will see them face the two teams directly above them in the table and the one directly below them. Europe is on the line.
Emery has already led Villa to away wins over Tottenham and Brighton. Repeat those results at home and a top-seven finish would be all but assured. But give players like Harry Kane and Alexis Mac Allister time to pick out the passes and Villa will be inviting trouble.
A factor of Eddie Howe’s success with Newcastle this season is the way he has managed the expectations of Callum Wilson and Alexander Isak.
Howe has extracted the best out of both despite only starting one. Isak scored twice in their 6-1 win over Tottenham and was then dropped for the next game. Wilson hit two at West Ham and Everton before being benched in each of the following fixtures.
Yet both players have embraced their substitute roles. Wilson has netted four in the last five times he’s been brought on. Isak struck against West Ham and then dazzled with an outstanding assist at Everton as a substitute.
“Both players know they can’t afford a bad game,” said Howe before the Southampton fixture in which Wilson netted twice off the bench and Isak set up one of them. “The other player’s breathing down their neck, and it’s very healthy competition at the moment.”
Howe has managed to avoid the temptation of starting both which could disrupt the system that has powered them into third. Isak can play off the left, drawing comparisons with Thierry Henry, but for now their striker shoot-out will continue.
PL Weekend Wrap: Man City back on top | Liverpool edge Spurs in thriller | Relegation fears deepen for Forest and Leeds
Essential Football is back with a round-up of all the weekend’s Premier League matches, featuring reporter analysis and manager reaction from up and down the top-flight.
Ben Grounds looks back at Manchester City’s win over Fulham, which sees them go top of the Premier League table above Arsenal.There were big results in race for Europe.
There’s reaction from Harry Kane, Jurgen Klopp and Sky Sports‘ Gary Neville to Liverpool’s dramatic 4-3 win over Tottenham at Anfield.
Meanwhile, Erik ten Hag discusses Man Utd’s 1-0 win over in-form Aston Villa before Eddie Howe and Ruben Selles analyse Newcastle’s comeback win over rock-bottom Southampton, while David Richardson discusses Brighton’s big win over Wolves.
There were also big wins down at the bottom of the table as Bournemouth and Crystal Palace moved closer to safety with wins over Leeds and West Ham respectively.
We hear from Dan Long on the Cherries’ big win, while Jack Wilkinson gives his verdict from Selhurst Park. Finally, we hear from Sam Blitz as Nottingham Forest’s troubles deepened as Brentford struck late twice to snatch victory at the Gtech Community stadium.
And that’s your Premier League Weekend Wrap!