Any Everton fans in denial about the prospect of relegation can no longer just shut the curtains and pretend it’s not happening. This is very real.
The scenes at full-time in the stands at Goodison Park mirrored that fear and anger towards their team. The famous old ground was supposed to be a place where the club can haul themselves away from danger. A fortress.
But when the atmosphere is like it was at full-time, playing away from home all of sudden might be a thing to relish from a set of players who have continually let their down their supporters. It is now a hinderance.
It is now just goal difference separating them from the drop zone. Yes, they have three games in hand on Watford and one on Burnley but games in hand are absolutely worthless if you can’t win football matches. And Everton are the Premier League kings at that. A run of just nine points from the last 60 available and only two league wins since September has left a squad drained of confidence in danger of dropping out of the top flight for only the third time in their history and first since 1951.
Frank Lampard has had little impact in changing their fortunes around either. It is now five defeats in his six games as manager in the Premier League. He has an almighty fight on his hands to get this Everton team believing that they are truly too good to go down.
It had been seven weeks since Chelsea’s last Premier League home game. For many fans at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, it could be some time before they see another.
The clash with Newcastle was sold out before Thursday’s sanctions on Roman Abramovich but a ‘no tickets available’ notice on the sign advertising Chelsea’s next home game with Brentford was a stark reminder this was not any ordinary matchday in west London.
Speaking to supporters around the ground before kick-off there was frustration at the way they had been affected by the restrictions. There was also understanding of the situation but real concern for what happens next. Universally, there was also admiration for Abramovich, even if his name was not sung as audibly as at recent away games.
That increased emotion was felt inside the ground, particularly in the early stages, when the supporters seemed intent on maximising the experience. When Kai Havertz scored the last-gasp winner, the celebrations were ecstatic – and continued on beyond the final whistle, as if these fans were trying to savour the moment.
Havertz, with that wonderful touch and finish, certainly gave them something to treasure while they are away.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel says he and his players are dealing with the uncertainty by focusing on one day at a time and recommended the approach. By the next time Chelsea play here, on April 2, the picture is likely to have shifted significantly again.
These are strange times for all connected with Chelsea. On the pitch, they are still winning, but the bigger picture is in the balance – and many of the Chelsea fans will now have to watch events unfold from afar.
As Jamie Carragher put it in Super Sunday commentary: “Newcastle don’t deserve it, but that’s football.”
Eddie Howe’s side conceded a late winner at Chelsea, while two VAR calls did not go their way – the phrase “not their day at the office” has never been more appropriate.
On paper, the game was decided one minute from stoppage-time when Kai Havertz ran off the back of Dan Burn to take down a superb Jorginho pass to prod home. But the momentum and result actually hinged on one decision by the officials made five minutes before half-time, with both Havertz and Burn involved in that incident too.
The widespread condemnation of the referees’ call not to send off Havertz for an alleged elbow on the Newcastle defender speaks volumes.
Had Havertz been sent off, Chelsea would have been left without a key player who has scored six goals in his last five Premier League games – and Howe’s men could have escaped Stamford Bridge with a well-deserved point.
Throw in VAR’s decision not to punish Trevoh Chalobah for a clear tug on the shirt of Jacob Murphy inside the area – and Newcastle could have run away with all three points on another day.
The Magpies’ eight-match unbeaten run came to a disappointing halt on Sunday but their performance did not merit such a heartbreaking result. Before the goal, they had limited Chelsea to just one shot on target in west London, in arguably one of their best defensive displays since Howe arrived at St James’ Park.
When Steve Bruce was sacked as Newcastle boss in October, no team had conceded more goals than Newcastle in England’s top flight, while no team had conceded more shots on their goal than the Magpies.
As fingers will be pointed at the PGMOL for another questionable refereeing display, Sunday’s performance shows exactly how far Newcastle have come under Howe. While they have tasted top-flight defeat for the first time in 2022, there is plenty for the Newcastle boss to be pleased with ahead of their crucial relegation clash with Everton in midweek.
“He has got the ball on a piece of string sometimes,” said former Arsenal striker Alan Smith, on co-commentary for Sky Sports at the Emirates Stadium. Back in the studio, Jamie Redknapp agreed. “He looks incredible at the moment, his confidence is sky high”.
Some of Odegaard’s football in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Leicester had the crowd gasping with delight, one reverse pass to Bukayo Saka had not been spotted by half of the supporters in the stadium but he saw it and executed it even at pitch level. His vision adds a new dimension to this Arsenal team.
Odegaard created five chances for his team-mates in the first half alone and it is not just that creativity – he works too. Nobody in the Arsenal team won back possession more times in the final third. He was the clear man of the match. “Smooth as silk,” added Smith.
The Norwegian himself credits his team-mates and it is noticeable that Arsenal have a base now. The partnership between Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka looks solid. That is giving their playmaker the platform to perform – and he is seizing that opportunity.
“I am in good shape but I think it is all about the team,” Odegaard told Sky Sports. “The team is performing so well and that makes it easier for us as players. You see Thomas and Granit, the job they do, they make it so much more easy for me in the middle.” And Martin Odegaard is certainly making it look easy.
Even going into the game, Leicester had conceded the most goals from corners of any Premier League team this season and it did not take long for that weakness to undermine them once again at Arsenal. That inability to keep the ball out keeps costing them.
Luke Thomas was the man who was marking Thomas Partey but he found himself underneath the ball while Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira could not get close enough to the Arsenal midfielder either. Partey, incredibly, was completely unmarked to score.
Brendan Rodgers’ side had their moments and came close to finding an equaliser but the game is about the details. When cheap goals are given away again and again, the rest does not matter. It has long been a problem and it seems extraordinary that it remains so.
Ruben Neves winning the man-of-the-match award is becoming as common as Wolves keeping a clean sheet. After a season of stagnation in Nuno Espirito Santo’s regimented system, the Portuguese midfielder seems at ease playing a more all-action style alongside Joao Moutinho in the Wolves midfield. Against Everton, he showed Donny van de Beek and Abdoulaye Doucoure the array of his skillset, dominating in that area of the field.
There was the usual crisp passing and snappy tackles, but what marks him out as a midfielder with the ability to go right to the top is his vision and ability to make a difference in the final third. He provided the match-winning moment of quality, on an afternoon where it was lacking in most areas of the pitch, when finding Coady with a stunning cross on the run down the right flank. The header was a beauty but it was made by an equally-important assist.
At full-time, the away end, packed to the rafters with Wolves fans, sang his name. It must be an absolute pleasure to watch him week-in, week-out.
After a timid performance at Elland Road on Thursday night saw them beaten 3-0 by Aston Villa, fears were starting to grow that Leeds might be in some serious trouble in the final stages of the Premier League season under new boss Jesse Marsch.
But following Sunday’s performance against Norwich many of those concerns will have been put to rest as the Whites were back to their high-octane, scintillating best for the visit of the Premier League’s basement side.
Had it not been for their wastefulness, the hosts would have been 3-0 up at half-time, and it looked like they had been made to pay when Norwich’s Kenny McLean equalised in stoppage-time.
However, Leeds showed resilience as they somehow clawed their way back in front through 19-year-old Joe Gelhardt, who had hardly been on the pitch two minutes before his winner saw the Elland Road crowd erupt.
Leeds truly are the Premier League’s entertainers, and they reminded us of that on Sunday after a record-equalling run of six successive defeats.
“It wouldn’t be us if we didn’t make things hard for ourselves,” Stuart Dallas said after the match.
If they can keep this level of performance up for the remainder of the season, they should stay up comfortably, but must be more clinical to avoid any more late scares.
A special mention must also go to Raphinha, who was at the heart of everything for Leeds. He set up the winning goal after rounding Norwich goalkeeper Tim Krul and created more chances than anybody else on the pitch (4).
It is no coincidence that Leeds’ drop off in form coincided with a quiet patch for the Brazil international, and he will be vital for them in the run-in.
Dean Smith insists Norwich have not raised the white flag on their season after a painful stoppage-time defeat at Leeds.
But with just nine games left to play, and the Canaries six points adrift of safety, it feels like a big blow to their chances of survival.
The failure to take points off a rival at the bottom was only made worse by 18th-placed Watford’s 2-1 win at Southampton, which moves them five clear of Norwich.
It was a brutal ending at Elland Road for Norwich, and one they will have to stew on for three weeks before their next game – a trip to Brighton on April 2.
With matches against Manchester United, Aston Villa, West Ham, Wolves and Tottenham still to come, it feels like this could be the end of the road for Norwich in the Premier League for another year.
It was too little, too late for Norwich at Elland Road – and you could say the same about the rest of their season.
Roy Hodgson was praised by Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl in his matchday programme notes for making Watford “more organised” since his arrival at Vicarage Road in January.
After Thursday’s 4-0 thumping at Wolves, though, nobody could be blamed for thinking the Hornets had no chance of avoiding relegation.
The signs did not look great either as they made their way to the south coast to face Southampton on Sunday afternoon, having failed to win any of the previous six Premier League meetings between the sides.
But Watford were resilient throughout the game at St Mary’s and deservedly earned their 2-1 win, defending resolutely as a unit and limiting the hosts to very few clear-cut chances. When their backline was breached, they were able to rely on the self-assured Ben Foster to keep them in front. The performance was the complete opposite of the mauling at Molineux.
Also boosted by the return of striker Joao Pedro, who played centrally with the lively Cucho Hernandez and Emmanuel Dennis either side, Watford’s attack could well be the catalyst to getting them out of trouble.
Despite having played three games more, they are now level on points with 17th-placed Everton and have given themselves hope of producing an unlikely escape. With Hodgson at the helm, it would be foolish to write them off.
The games have been coming thick and fast for West Ham as they continue their bid to secure a top-four Premier League finish alongside their impressive run in the Europa League.
Next week offers the Hammers no respite, with Sevilla bringing their 1-0 first-leg lead to the London Stadium on Thursday, before Moyes’ side travel to London rivals Tottenham next Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
But David Moyes may have to cope without two of his key players for a key part of the season after Michail Antonio and Aaron Cresswell were forced off during an incident-packed second half against Aston Villa.
Both players were unable to continue despite receiving treatment on the field, while Declan Rice was also seen hobbling around in midfield during the latter stages of his side’s win.
Antonio’s start against Villa was his eighth in succession across three different competitions and, even though he scored just once in that period, his injury may leave Moyes regretting his reliance on the Jamaica international, as well as his inability to secure a striker in the January transfer window.
Cresswell had also started all but one of those eight games, and West Ham will surely be hoping that their lack of rotation across competitions does not come back to compromise their efforts at home and in Europe.
Moyes said he was unsure how bad the issues were for Antonio and Cresswell, adding that he wouldn’t reveal their diagnosis even if he did know in a bid to keep Sevilla guessing.
Moyes will be hoping that he is able to spring a surprise on their Spanish opponents and unleash a fit Antonio and Cresswell at the London Stadium on Thursday, but Hammers fans face an anxious wait until then.