Written by Contributor: Sean Gallagher
EPL Roundup Matchday 27: Liverpool Outlast Chelsea in Penalty Shootout; Arsenal Win in Crucial Match against Wolves; Leeds Fire Marcelo Bielsa
The Premier League rolled on this weekend and saw its relegation race continue to heat up as well as some last minute midweek drama at The Emirates. Let’s recap what happened!
Chelsea-Liverpool (0-0, 10-11 on Penalties)
You couldn’t write that one. Seriously. The biggest game of the weekend in England took place outside of the Premier League. Chelsea and Liverpool met for the EFL Cup final on Sunday which is the second-largest cup competition in England after the FA Cup. This tournament isn’t as prestigious as others as it’s common practice for most other countries in Europe to only have one cup to play for every year outside of their domestic league. But who cares-it’s always a big deal for any manager to get their hands on a piece of silverware. And boy did this game deliver as one of the best we’ve seen in 2022.
Both teams were doing everything but putting it in the back of the net; Sadio Mane had a massive chance a half hour in when all he had to do was rebound a shot into the goal. Chelsea keeper and recent AFCON-winner Edouard Mendy was able to get across just in time and make a stunning save on his Senegalese teammate that he had no business making. Chelsea’s Mason Mount had an equally-close chance near the end of the half, but couldn’t quite direct the pass from Kai Havertz on target. This is everything you want in a cup final. Far too often teams will sit back and play scared when there’s a trophy on the line in fear that any sort of attacking is too risky and may leave themselves exposed. Maybe it was that this was a lower-stakes cup, but Chelsea and Liverpool just decided to throw everything at the wall and it made for a dream-watch for any soccer lover. The only person who probably wasn’t having a good time was the linesman who had to rule out 4 goals for offside and plenty of other chances as well. Lukaku’s goal being ruled offside by VAR in extra time was extremely questionable, but most other decisions on the day weren’t too harsh.
When the game miraculously remained scoreless and it became clear the penalty kicks were on the horizon, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel made a decision that had paid off in the past: he took out Mendy for Spanish goalkeeper Kepa who is known to be a penalty shootout specialist. With penalty after penalty though, it became clear that it was not Kepa’s day. The spot-kicks were sensational with both goalkeepers having very little chance at stopping any. Amazingly, all 20 out-field players converted and left the two goalkeepers to step up to the spot. Liverpool’s Kelleher went first and bashed it into the top left corner leaving the man who subbed in to save penalties as Chelsea’s last hope to SCORE one and keep the Blues’ hopes at a trophy alive. Again, you can’t even write it. Kepa stepped up and well… absolutely skied it into the crowd of Liverpool fans at Wembley Stadium.
I think Thomas Tuchel should definitely be cut some slack for the substitution of Mendy for Kepa considering back in August when the exact same decision worked out and Kepa’s penalty save won Chelsea the UEFA Super Cup. It will be very frustrating for Mendy because of how stellar he was on the day.
What an atmosphere it was in London! Thursday’s pivotal match between Arsenal and Wolves was a true “6-pointer”. Both clubs have been eyeing up the coveted 4th spot, and with so little separating the two teams a draw wasn’t going to be good enough for either side. Arsenal didn’t play over the weekend since their scheduled opponents, Chelsea, were on EFL Cup duty. They were able to go all-out for this one and pull no punches with 10 days rest on the horizon.
It was Wolves who started this game on the front foot. After a goal by Romain Saiss was disallowed within the first 5 minutes disaster struck for Arsenal. Gabriel misfired on a backpass to his own keeper and Wolves’ Hee-chan Hwang was on the receiving end to give the West Midlands club a quick lead. It was a dream start for Bruno Lage’s men and it almost got better a few minutes later. Raul Jimenez scuffed a chance that really should’ve been put away that would’ve given Wolves a 2-goal advantage. It’s been a rough season for the Mexican striker who unfortunately has not looked the same player since the brutal head injury he suffered last season.
Wolves slowly took their foot off the gas and ceded control of the game to the Gunners. In this league it is so tough to sit back and defend for 80 minutes and expect to hold a lead for that long especially against a team with the attacking caliber of Arsenal. Wolves almost did it! They held out and stubbornly defended until substitute Nicolas Pepe put them out of their misery and delivered Arsenal a huge tying-goal. You could feel the crowd willing the London club to victory and those final minutes were like a relentless up-and-down AAU basketball game. The Emirates Stadium was sent into pandemonium when Alexandre Lacazette’s last-minute shot bounced off the hands of Jose Sá and in giving Arsenal all 3 points and one of their biggest wins this season. For Mikel Arteta’s side it means top-4 is becoming a reality with each game. For the Wolves who would go on to lose over the weekend to West Ham, their sights will shift to going for a Europa League spot in the top-7.
- For a club that has been performing so poorly you have to hand it to Everton for giving league-leaders Man City a run for their money. It took City 82 minutes to grab a decisive goal courtesy of Phil Foden, but Everton felt as though they deserved more. VAR checked a potential penalty against City for a handball on Rodri that ultimately was not ruled as foul play. This was a big error and continues to show VAR’s massive inconsistency within the game. As Frank Lampard said, “I have a three-year-old daughter at home who could tell you that was a penalty.”
- Is Sean Dyche really going to keep Burnley in this league?! The Clarets got another point over the Weekend against Crystal Palace and are now just a point from safety. It would be truly amazing to see Burnley in the Premier League next season
- Speaking of relegation, Watford recently hired the well-traveled Roy Hodgson to keep their hopes of staying up alive and they stayed organized to get a point at Old Trafford. I’m not even surprised at Manchester United’s poor play anymore. They look disjointed, unorganized, and all-over-the-place every time you watch them. It’s amazing that they still sit in 4th at the moment; but that should quickly change with Arsenal having played 3 less games than the Red Devils and being only 2 points behind
- Leeds United must’ve taken my distaste for Marcelo Bielsa in the last blog to heart because they’ve officially sacked the Argentine manager! His style of play was incredibly entertaining to watch, but it wasn’t producing results for Leeds who find themselves in danger of playing in the 2nd division next season. The Yorkshire club now turn to American Jesse Marsch to lead them to safety. Marsch most recently had a tumultuous coaching-tenure with German club Leipzig, and will want to right the ship off the bat with Leeds. He’s definitely got his work cut out for him!