MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Talking points from this weekend’s Premier League action as top two Manchester City and Liverpool both won with City remaining a point clear with two games remaining.
While Liverpool and City look set to take the title race down to the final day — those clubs supposedly ‘fighting’ for Champions League spots are stumbling towards the finish line in pretty unimpressive fashion.
The 1-1 draw between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford was a better result for the visitors but the game was a real disappointment with United again running out of steam.
But while the damage to their status will hurt, it might not be the worst thing for United to miss out on the Champions League.
Major changes are expected at United this close season and as well as new signings the club also hope to integrate some younger players into their first team. The Europa League is a much better arena for that sort of ‘bedding in’ than the elite competition.
Better to return to the Champions League in another year when United might be more ready to make a strong impact.
Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk won the PFA Player of the Year award on Sunday, voted on by his fellow professionals while on Monday, Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling was awarded the Footballer of the Year prize, voted on by the media.
Whilst Sterling’s award, according to the FWA chair, also recognised his admirable stance on racism in the game, on a purely football basis it is hard to argue with the players.
Take Sterling out of the City side and with the likes of Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez as alternatives, they would still be a formidable force and likely in a very similar position in the league.
Take Van Dijk out of the Liverpool defence and it is hard to imagine Juergen Klopp’s side suffering just one defeat this season and still being within a point of catching City.
Perhaps it was an over-reaction to the way his team let a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League slip away from them, but Pep Guardiola showed that for all his commitment to attacking and attractive football, he too can do pragmatic.
City ended their 1-0 win at Burnley on Sunday with six defenders on the field after replacing Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
Such is Guardiola’s ideological commitment to his style of football that the extra defenders were a strange sight - but he was quite right to do all he could to make sure that lead was kept intact.
There are, after all, no prizes for tactical purity.
Norwich City and Sheffield United secured promotion to the Premier League with wins at the weekend in the Championship and both will be welcome additions to the top flight.
Norwich have an exciting young side, including some smartly and economically recruited European players and they play an attractive style of football.
United ensure that Yorkshire continues to have a presence in the top flight following the relegation of Huddersfield Town. With local man Chris Wilder in charge and Sheffield-born Billy Sharp in attack, there is a local flavour to the team which their passionate fans relish.
While Cardiff City and Brighton & Hove Albion try to avoid the final relegation spot — the battle to replace them, via the playoffs, promises to be one of the best for years.
The pedigree of the clubs involved is certainly impressive with all four having won top-flight titles and been recent presences in the Premier League — Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and Derby County.
Middlesbrough are also in strong contention for a spot in the two-legged semi-finals which start on May 11. The final at Wembley will be on Monday, May 27.
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge