Written by: Samuel Hodgkiss
With the penultimate round of Premier League fixtures taking place, as well as the first leg of European competition semi-finals also being played, this was a huge week in the football season.
The week kicked off with Champions League semi-finals as Spurs welcomed a very exciting young Ajax team to London, which would be their first Champions League semi-final in their history. With the atmosphere in the new stadium booming before kick-off, Spurs didn’t come out matching the fans as they were opened up by the fantastic football from Ajax. This ultimately payed of as Donny Van de Beek calmly slotted a finish into the back of the net, finishing off a fantastic piece of build-up play. The game would ultimately finish 1-0, with Ajax continuing their superb European away form which has now seen them beat Spurs, Juventus and Real Madrid.
Wednesday saw the turn of Liverpool to play in their semi-final, which would be an extremely difficult game away to FC Barcelona at the Nou Camp. In a game which was also played in the shroud of noise made by both Catalans and Scousers alike, it would the Catalan fans who would celebrate first as former Liverpool star Luis Suarez finished a cross from Jordi Alba to give Barca the lead. Early in the second-half with the score still at 1-0, Liverpool pushed and pushed for what looked like an inevitable equaliser, but this however would not come to be, instead Messi scored with a lucky bounce from a Suarez effort to give Barca a 2-0 cushion. This would not be the final blow for Liverpool, as Lionel Messi would step up and slot a free kick right into the top bins, leaving Alisson no chance of saving it, and further cementing the case for Messi to be the greatest player ever to play the game. The score would finish 3-0, although it felt like we deserved a lot more than to lose 3-0, further making the result difficult to stomach.
Thursday came around and saw the Europa League take centre stage, with both Arsenal and Chelsea playing. Arsenal welcomed Spanish side Valencia to the Emirates Stadium, where despite an early away goal for Valencia, they would come out 3-1 winners thanks to goals from the dangerous duo of Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The other London side Chelsea travelled to Germany to face a tricky Frankfurt side in a very intense atmosphere created by the Germans. Frankfurt would take the lead thanks to a fantastic header by forward Luka Jovic, only for Pedro to secure an all-important away goal in style to bring back to Stamford Bridge next week. Both ties are set-up for exciting second-legs in London and Valencia, with teams fighting for the chance to play in the final in Baku.
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The Premier League would get back in action on Friday night as Everton beat Burnley 2-0 thanks to goals from Burnley’s Ben Mee and Seamus Coleman in the opening 20 minutes. Saturday’s action began with the early kick-off in Bournemouth, as they managed in the final minute to beat a 9-man Spurs 1-0, with the all-important goal being scored by former Chelsea defender Nathan Ake. This result seemingly shook the Top 4 race, as once again a team fighting for the crucial positions would fail to collect points, all be it with Son and Foyth ending the game in the showers.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Wolves all but clinched 7th spot in the league and a Europa League place thanks to a 1-0 home win to Fulham. This tops off a fantastic season for Nuno and his men, who have been a blast of fresh-air into the league. European football however will only be secured if Watford fail to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup Final. Cardiff City accepted their defeat and relegation from the Premier League after a 3-2 home defeat to Crystal Palace, however scenes after the game show how Neil Warnock and his side are still loved by the supporters, which after events in January, its nice to see smiles still shining bright in and around the club. West Ham played their last game of the season at the London Stadium and finished it in style with a 3-0 win over Southampton, who seemingly played like they were on the beach as they are now safe from relegation and have nothing to play for anymore.
Liverpool would be back in action on Saturday night as they travelled to St. James’ Park to play an in-form and tricky Newcastle side, managed by former Reds boss and beloved man in the city; Rafa Benitez. With Virgil Van Dijk scoring a free header in the opening minutes of the game, it looked like Liverpool would breeze to victory and respond well from there disappointment in Spain from midweek. However, things didn’t run so smoothly as Christian Atsu equalised for Newcastle soon after, with Trent Alexander-Arnold handballing on the line beforehand, where some refs would have sent him off if Atsu didn’t score. This although Newcastle did score would be fortunate for Liverpool, as it would be Trent who assists Mo Salah to make the scores 2-1 going into the break. After the break, Newcastle would again equalise through a smart finish by Solomon Rondon. Liverpool however would have the final say, as substitute Divock Origi would head Liverpool back into the lead from a sumptuous cross from Xherdan Shaqiri in the 86th minute, giving Liverpool all 3 points and more importantly piling the pressure back onto Manchester City, who would now need to win and wait till the final day of the season to see who wins the league.
Sunday’s action saw Chelsea secure a Top 4 place with a 3-0 win at home to Watford, who seemingly have lost all focus on the league and are getting ready to focus on the FA Cup Final. The final 4th spot would still be available for United and Arsenal, however both drew 1-1 to Huddersfield and Brighton respectfully, meaning they will both play in the Europa League next year, unless Arsenal win the Europa League that is, which would guarantee them Champions League football next season.
Monday Night Football hosted arguably the biggest game of the season, as Manchester City hosted an in-form Leicester City side, managed by former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers. In a game that was must win for City to overtake Liverpool going into the final day next Sunday, it was always going to be a tight and nervous affair. With the first-half ending 0-0 and Leicester looking like they are right in this game, it was going to be a huge 45 minutes. It would ultimately be on 70 minutes where the game would take a huge shift, as City captain Vincent Kompany stepped up and smashed the ball from 25-yards into the top corner, leaving Schmeichel with no chance and giving City the all-important goal, one which he could never, ever hit again in his life. With the game drawing to a close, former Citizen Kelechi Iheanacho had a glorious chance to level the scoring for Leicester and send Reds wild, but he spoons his shot awfully, leaving City to draw out the final minutes and clinch the 1-0 win.
This result leaves City 1 point ahead of Liverpool going into the final day this coming Sunday, where they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion as Liverpool host Wolves at Anfield, who thanks to Leicester’s loss secured 7th place for sure.
Written by: Samuel Hodgkiss