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Lloris and Welbeck are heroic; bad weekend for Van Gaal and Man City

Iain Macintosh casts his eye over the best and worst of the weekend Premier League action.

Heroes

Manchester City were piling on the pressure and Tottenham were creaking. The ball was tossed into the six-yard box and it seemed that Nicolas Otamendi was certain to score. And then from nowhere came an outstretched hand the size of a pizza box to palm the ball away and seal Spurs' 2-1 win. Tottenham have improved in so many ways over the past two seasons but Hugo Lloris' presence between the sticks remains one of their biggest assets. How important will that act prove when the season draws to a close?

Take a bow, Danny Welbeck. You may remember Danny; he used to play football for Arsenal and, after a long, long layoff, he did so again on Sunday when he made up for lost time with a dramatic late winner against Leicester. To only draw at home with a Foxes' side reduced to 10 men would have been an absolute disaster for Arsenal and invited headlines, features, think pieces and takes so hot you'd burn your fingers reading them. Welbeck has spared us all of that and, for that, we thank him.

Sunderland beat Manchester United at home for the first time since 1997 to boost their Premier League survival hopes.

Finally, a Sunderland team that cares as much as its supporters: A team with a bit of fight and a bit of pride. Four of Sam Allardyce's January signings played against Manchester United and they all impressed. Jan Kirchhoff looked classy until his injury, Dame N'Doye was a threat from the flank, Lamine Kone is a at both ends colossus and Wahbi Khazri was tireless. Four points from recent games against Liverpool and United is a fine haul for a club in the relegation zone. If they keep playing like this, Sunderland will be absolutely fine.

It's hard to tell how much of Saturday's thrashing was Chelsea being good and how much was Newcastle being awful, but the locals at Stamford Bridge are unlikely to care. They've had a long season of disappointment and it must have been nice to see someone else suffer from once. There was a bit of zip about Chelsea, a confidence they haven't shown for many months. For those fans, it must have brought about blissful nostalgia and yearning. Oh, the past. The glorious past.

Hello, hello, hello. Who's that coming up on the rail? Southampton, the team we figured were enduring a transitional season, are banging on the door for European football. After a 1-0 win at Swansea, the Saints have picked up 16 points from a possible 18 and are now just a single point behind Manchester United. Ronald Koeman's bold move to a back three has been vindicated. Not only have they not been beaten in six games, but they haven't conceded a goal in that time either.

Villains

OK, so in hindsight perhaps the Manchester City players won't be intensifying their efforts now that Pep Guardiola's arrival has been confirmed. What worked out nicely for Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich in 2012-13 has, thus far, not been mirrored for Manuel Pellegrini. City were a little unfortunate against Tottenham and undoubtedly victims of a contentious penalty decision, but that's two home defeats to two title rivals in two games. It's not even nearly over yet, but Pellegrini will need more from his players if he's to avoid an ignominious departure from the Etihad.

Louis van Gaal didn't seek to make excuses and, as has been discussed elsewhere, not all of Manchester United's problems are his fault, but this is his team. It's been his team for over a season and a half. And it's not a very good team. He has complained bitterly about the criticism he has received in the media, but what else could the media say? It's Manchester United. They're slow, they're dull and they just lost to Sunderland. Of course they're going to be critical. Van Gaal is running out of time to turn this around.

Newcastle have lost their last five Premier League away games.

Erm... Newcastle? What on earth was that? Seriously. We're asking as friends. You can talk to us. Because what you did at Chelsea wasn't a performance; that was a cry for help. All that money, all those new players and you still look like you only took up football a few weeks ago and you're still trying to get your head around the rules. You really need to snap out of this. We're all expecting you to pull away and beat relegation but, when you do things like this, it feels like you're not trying.

Something has gone horribly wrong at Selhurst Park. On Dec. 19, Crystal Palace beat Stoke and looked well placed for a Europa League spot. Manager Alan Pardew was linked with the England job. But Palace haven't won since, they've taken just three points from a possible 27 and they're sliding swiftly down the table. A relegation battle seems unlikely, but it's hard to see where the next win is coming from. Pardew needs to turns this around quickly before it gets out of hand.

This is nothing to do with Aston Villa. After all, they have been banned from the Villains section. This is just about Joleon Lescott. When your team loses heavily, you're supposed to put your head down and think about what you've done. You're not supposed to accidentally pocket-find an image of an expensive sports car, accidentally pocket-attach it to a tweet and accidentally pocket-tweet it to your followers, making it look like you're gloating about your wealth to the very people who have so grudgingly contributed to it.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

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