It would have been a crying shame if, after such supreme consistency from the top two, the Premier League title race had been decided before the final day. Having witnessed a battle without any of the typical twists and turns, anything but a final shootout would have been anticlimactic.
But Liverpool will not go away. Manchester City have the title know-how, the experience, the squad depth, and the best manager in the world, but still Jurgen Klopp’s side keep pace with them. They laboured and lurched at St James’ Park on Saturday evening, and did not deserve to win. But nobody cares about the hows, whys, and in-what-ways on the home straight. It’s all about getting it done.
For Divock Origi, a crucial role in this title tilt that he could never have dared to imagine has happened. The Belgian played just nine minutes in the Premier League last season and was loaned out to Wolfsburg. If Liverpool had received a decent offer to take him on a permanent deal last summer, it would surely have been accepted.
And yet Origi has answered Klopp’s call. He has become Liverpool’s super-sub, the scorer of late winners against Everton and Newcastle without which the league title would already be out of reach. With Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah both potentially out of the Barcelona game this midweek, Origi may get his chance to play a part in an attempted miracle. He’s already achieved one this season by being this close to centre stage.
The rules are clear: Once advantage is played and suitably taken, you can only retrospectively award a red card in cases of violent conduct. Trent Alexander-Arnold handled the ball on his own goalline, but Christian Atsu’s immediate finish meant that the goal stood and Alexander-Arnold escaped any punishment.
But here’s the thing. Punishments are supposed to penalise the offender (and his team) and favour those who are wronged. In this case, surely it was Newcastle who were penalised and Liverpool who gained from the rules? If Newcastle were to have a choice, they would surely opt for a red card and penalty (with a high-percentage chance of equalising anyway) rather than goal and Liverpool keeping 11 men on the field. That was particularly salient given that Alexander- Arnold stayed on the pitch to assist Liverpool’s second goal.
We are left with the bizarre situation in which Newcastle would have been better served by Atsu missing his chance rather than scoring it, and Liverpool happier to concede a goal than a penalty.
You have to admire Manchester United’s ability to trip themselves up spectacularly. Gentle assignments against Huddersfield and Cardiff City left the possibility of making the top four open, despite their stumbling performances. They were even given a helping hand by a dreadful error from Jonas Lossl. And still United took several steps backwards.
United’s passive football in such important circumstances was embarrassing.
The Terriers had lost eight straight matches and hadn’t taken a point at home having conceded the first goal since August 2017. That Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side somehow managed to surrender a lead and cede the momentum speaks volumes about the mess this club is in.
With Europa League football now guaranteed, Manchester United must attempt a summer rebuild.
More worrying than their limp performances is that Solskjaer is already scaling back expectations. What a farce.
That Cardiff City still had a shot at surviving relegation heading into their final two matches is a testament to Neil Warnock’s ability to make a team tough to beat against higher-class opposition. This is a squad created on a comparatively shoestring budget that will surely struggle to gain immediate promotion back to the Premier League.
But despite that caveat, Cardiff are not immune from criticism. Brighton have taken nine points from their last 15 league games, a run that should have taken them back to the Football League. When Cardiff really needed a bounce, they capitulated. Nine defeats in 11 league games, including home losses to Everton, Watford, and Crystal Palace have done for them.
Silva has addressed his teething problems
There are Everton supporters who will consider 2018/19 a failure. Everton made no significant progress in the domestic cup competitions and failed to finish in the top seven of the Premier League. Given the investment afforded to Marco Silva, that could reasonably be viewed as underperformance.
But in those circumstances, how you finish a season is important to shape the forthcoming summer. If Silva’s job seemed to be in some doubt during his teething problems of autumn and winter, he has taken Everton forward in giant strides during the spring. A haul of 16 points from their final seven games is likely to secure eighth place, but most impressive is the six clean sheets earned over that period. Only the top four have conceded fewer goals.
That defensive improvement offers hope that Everton will join Wolves in making a concerted push for a top-six place in 2019/20, particularly if those directly above them lose key players and fail to reinvest intelligently.