Eden Hazard was already the favourite to be named player of the year before scoring twice in a game which has all but decided the destination of this season’s Premier League title. After Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City, he is surely now assured of picking up one of the two gongs. He may even win both for the second time in his career.
It has not, however, been a vintage season for individual performances. N'Golo Kanté is very good but his influence on games is not explicit. Hazard himself can be brilliant but he often only turns it on at Stamford Bridge, and even then plays in fits and starts. Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane are explosive rather than consistent scorers, Diego Costa is consistent but unremarkable. Alexis Sanchez, probably on balance the league’s best player, has been hampered by a struggling team.
There is no stand-out candidate. The only regular outstanding performances have come from Chelsea as a team, as a devastating and dominant unit made up of 11 functional players. Perhaps it is fair then that Hazard, their one ‘flair’ asset, will win the individual awards, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the team around him is the real story.
Arsenal’s late season resurgence on the cards
It has become a standing joke that Arsenal have the same season year in and year out. Yet after a horrific March, it seemed as if Arsène Wenger's side were going to break with their time-honoured tradition of just about doing enough and fail to qualify for a 21st consecutive season in the Champions League.
The predictable late season resurgence now seems back on the cards, however, after Wednesday’s 3-0 win over a sorry West Ham United. A scan over their next few fixtures, with trips to relegation-threatened Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough on the horizon, suggests they could still embark on something of a mini-run.
Could they finish even higher, given the propensity of the teams around them to drop points? When asked that question, Wenger insisted he would remain “cautious” for now, but his smirk suggested he’s considering it.
Hammers dragged into the mire
There was no smirking from Slaven Bilic, however. After a fifth straight league defeat, he was worried that his Hammers are being dragged into a deceptively tight relegation battle, one in which everyone but them has momentum.
Crystal Palace, Hull and Swansea have all drastically improved in the last three months and each of them will be confident that they can keep their heads above water. The opposite is true of West Ham, who have lost seven of their 12 games since the turn of the year.
It is hard to see when and where a change will come. Bilic, for one, will hope it is not made in the dugout.
Sakho cull promoted Klavan above his level
Jurgen Klopp’s decision to ostracise Mamadou Sakho at Liverpool has been questioned in recent weeks, but if his inclusion was likely to upset the team dynamic, then it was surely the right call. Sakho’s exile is not the problem. The problem is that he was not adequately replaced, and a man who was initially Liverpool’s fourth-choice centre-back, Ragnar Klavan, moved up the pecking order.
The Estonian is simply not up to standard, as his performance in Wednesday’s draw against Bournemouth proved. Yet his effort cannot be faulted and a defender in the autumn of an unremarkable career costing just £4million was always unlikely to be an unqualified Premier League success.
The blame lies with Liverpool’s recruitment team. Sakho’s difficulties were well-documented at the tail end of last season but no plan for like-for-like replacement was made. It has cost Klopp’s side several points.
United could be left behind
Every indication seems to suggest that from here on out the Europa League is the focus at Old Trafford. Given the Premier League landscape, it is probably a sensible decision. It is the easiest route to next season’s Champions League.
Yet Arsenal’s win on Wednesday pushed Manchester United back down into sixth place, where they spent so long during the mid-part of the season, and brought a reminder that they could yet fall further. Everton lie only three points behind United and though Jose Mourinho’s side have two games in hand over the Toffees, the advantage is negligible if they treat them as second-class fixtures.
It is not inconceivable that United could finish seventh. The last time they did that, a certain David Moyes had overseen the majority of their season.