Pitchside

Facts: 7 truths – Palace pluck, Terry’s luck, and Tottenham suck

Pitchside

1) John Terry is English football’s finest Schadenfreude

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Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace hurt more than just Blues supporters: all those fans aligned with other teams in the Premier League relegation dogfight and anyone else who doesn’t want to see Liverpool win the league title (primarily the newly-embittered glory hunting United fans from Surrey, Dorset and Leicestershire) would have been a little disappointed with the result, for one reason or another.

And yet, a quick scan of a very diverse social media audience suggests that absolutely everyone - barring of course the Chelsea community themselves - enjoyed watching John Terry put into his own net and hand his own team’s title hopes a damaging blow. It’s also fair to assume none of the hordes of footie fanatics celebrating Terry’s gaffe quickly changed into full kit to do so.

2) Cornered animals are dangerous – and so are Manchester United

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Yes, the 4-1 win over Aston Villa wasn’t enough to convince anyone that United can either sneak into the Premier League top four or dump holders Bayern Munich out of the Champions League. And no, you’re not likely to see them get that kind of result against one of the big-hitting sides anytime soon. Nonetheless, the performances against Villa and Olympiacos at Old Trafford, while swimming in a sea of miserable home defeats, show that against the right opponent, there is still a fair degree of character in the Manchester United changing room when the pressure is really on. In this case, the pressure came in the form of the nonsensical ‘Moyes Out’ banner flown over the stadium soon after kick-off.

The majority of United fans helped kick off this positive reaction in desperate times by booing the plane and applauding downtrodden gaffer David Moyes. And after Villa took an early lead, skipper-to-be Wayne Rooney led the charge on the pitch to show that, every once in a while, this relatively-weak Red Devils squad can respond well to adversity. It’s not going to save their season, but it’s the first real sight of a foundation that Moyes can build upon going forward. If he remains in the hot seat.

3) If performances actually mattered, Southampton would be well represented in Brazil

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Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez were centre stage as Southampton tore Newcastle to ribbons. It was such a collection of performances so close to the England squad for the World Cup being finalised that, if you didn’t know any better, you’d brand them as ‘huge, plane seat-securing’ showings.

Unfortunately, we do know better. The position of England manager has a rich heritage of picking ‘safe’ and ‘established’ names for major tournaments, regardless of how badly those safe and established names are playing compared to those who are trying to unseat them. All three Saints players being on board is unlikely, even if they out-perform and out-score everyone else in contention. Sadly, it feels as if nothing shy of fast-track summer deals with Chelsea or Manchester City will get Rodriguez and Lambert in particular to Brazil.

4) Arsenal had the chance to re-enter title race – and they bottled it

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Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side face a tough run of fixtures

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side face a tough run of fixtures

Judging by their performance in the 1-1 home draw with Manchester City, you get the distinct impression Arsene Wenger has already settled for holding on to a top four league finish and finally ending the club’s near-decade long trophy drought via the FA Cup. If they accomplish exactly that, most Gooners will be satisfied enough. But they could and should have kept their vague Premier League title hopes alive.

Chelsea’s defeat at Palace, together with the as-yet-untapped possibility of nerves striking Liverpool as crunch time looms, meant that Arsenal hosted City with every chance of blowing the race wide open and finally regaining some sort of foothold in the title race. If they had, and if they had found that winner, Arsenal would be sat very comfortably in the top three’s slipstream right now, waiting for further cracks to exploit.

5) Finally, relegation candidates who don't want to get relegated

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Fans living through relegation battles tend not to notice the wood for the trees: the trauma of constantly losing all those six-pointers gets to you. But as a neutral observer, Pitchside has sat on the sidelines for some years marveling at relegation-threatened teams' atrocious inability to dig deep to preserve their top flight status. Just a few seasons ago, for example, every single team that needed a final day victory to be ward off relegation managed to lose on the final day of the Premier League; all were playing mid-table sides who had nothing at stake.

In Tony Pulis's Crystal Palace, however, the relegation battle seems to have a genuine fighter in its midst. They were 20 seconds away from pinching a point at Newcastle last week, but rather than get dismayed by that result they bounced back in style to outplay and outfight Chelsea to earn their memorable, season-defining victory. Palace are still in the dogfight, but are six clear of the bottom three and have a game in hand on the three teams above them - all of whom are within two points. They were 20-1 shots to survive the top flight season after losing their first nine games, but now seem a great bet to survive a top flight season for the first time in almost a quarter of a century.

6) Culprit behind Tottenham's disappointing season revealed (spoiler alert: it's everyone)

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Sports media and fans alike love playing the age-old game of singling out people most responsible for team failures. Chairmen love it, too: they predictably always pick - and sack - the first-team coach (despite surely being top of the accountability rankings themselves). So, who shall we blame for the £100 million letdown that is Tottenham Hotspur? Villas-Boas? Sherwood? Levy? One of their more expensive summer signings?

Actually, judging by the latest pasting courtesy of Liverpool, they are all to blame. The lack of communication between coaching staff and money men on such a huge summer spend has been astounding; AVB did far too much to damage his own chances, regardless of the situation, before being sacked; Sherwood has been so wooden as boss it's almost impossible to feel sorry for the impossible situation he was chucked headlong into; and their defence was terrible at Anfield, yet the attackers' futile attempts to find a way back into the match were even more frustrating.

Needless to say, there aren't many - if any - at White Hart Lane who can look back at 2013/14, shrug their shoulders and grunt "well, I did my part at least" with a straight face.

7) Luis Suarez should dedicate his inevitable POTY award to Brendan Rodgers

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While most Liverpool fans were always going to swear blind that the Uruguayan should be considered for every award going for as long as he remained one of their players, his amazing talents have been obvious to those who watched him play outside the Anfield bubble, prior to 2011. A series of incidents, in particular the Ivanovic farce a year ago, meant Suarez ran the risk of forever being blighted by his own lack of self-discipline, however.

Enter Brendan Rodgers.

Rodgers spent his first season in charge dealing with things such as Suarez-Ivanovic on top of doubts over whether he was fit for the LFC post. After helping to talk an impatient Suarez into staying at Anfield, he has quietly overseen the striker's evolution into a less reprehensible team player. Ironically, that team work ethic has launched his individual contributions into supernova. Now Suarez has shattered club records and is likely to break even more Premier League records by May, his acceptance speech for the inevitable Player of the Year accolades must surely include "I want to thank Brendan so much" in the very first sentence.

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