Heroes and Villains: Manchester United wind back the years, City do too
Matchday 29 of the Premier League is in the bag, so it's time to run the rule over the Heroes and Villains of the weekend ...
Hold the phone! Was that an exciting, aggressive and cohesive Manchester United? It most certainly was. Louis van Gaal and the press corps have clashed repeatedly since his arrival in England last summer, but here, finally, was a performance that we could all agree was at the level expected of this club. Led by an effervescent Wayne Rooney, criticised in some quarters for recently having had fun with friends like a normal human being, United were outstanding. And it has been a long, long time since we've been able to say that.
Just when you thought they were out, they pulled themselves back in. Burnley, with a wage bill thought to be the lowest in the league by some distance, somehow overturned Manchester City, whose wage bill could finance revolutions, and there is renewed hope at Turf Moor. This is a squad without stardust and yet it has a group mentality on which you cannot put a price. They might have been a little fortunate not to concede a late penalty, but given their ill fortune elsewhere this season, perhaps they deserved a bit of luck. Sunderland should beware.
He has been mocked and maligned, but Tim Sherwood has transformed Aston Villa beyond recognition in just a matter of weeks. No wonder the fans were singing, "We've Got Our Villa Back!" at the Stadium of Light this weekend. Four first half strikes turned what had looked like a difficult encounter into a joyous carnival of goals. Villa had only scored four times away from home all season before this cakewalk. All that and there's still the small matter of a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semifinal. It's fair to say that Sherwood's appointment has been vindicated.
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What's that in the rear view mirror? Is that ... Arsenal? But they ran themselves off the road months ago! Remember back in November when they lost to Swansea and Manchester United? And over the winter when they lost to Stoke and to Southampton? What do you mean they've won 12 of their last 14 games in all competitions? My God, man! How is this happening? They're still accelerating! Surely they can't ... No. Let's not be foolish. I mean ... Chelsea are too far in front now. Aren't they?
Within touching distance of the Champions League last year, it's been most disconcerting to see Everton sinking so close to relegation this year. Performances have been riddled with individual errors and confidence has been sinking fast. Roberto Martinez could not afford to lose this game. Fortunately, there was something of their old verve visible in his team's dismantling of Newcastle. They are not safe yet, but this felt like a turning point in the season, something to build on in the run-in.
You can't blame the Sunderland fans for walking out so early. The players didn't turn up, so why should the supporters have felt obliged to stay? This was a disgraceful performance, an absolute capitulation and it means the end for Gus Poyet. Late on Sunday night, well connected local journalists reported that the Uruguayan's tenure was effectively over and that a short term replacement would be entrusted with keeping Sunderland safe. He can have no argument. This might have been one of the worst first half performances in the history of the Premier League. Few on Wearside will mourn his departure.
The 2014-15 title defence has been every bit as miserable as the 2012-13 title defence. Manchester City are far less than the sum of their parts this season. With just three wins in their last 11 matches, their campaign is collapsing around their ears. Mission Impossible awaits in Barcelona, but you wonder if the machinations behind the scenes have already begun. Roberto Mancini didn't survive a season like this and it's hard to see Manuel Pellegrini hanging on for too much longer. Arsenal are only a point behind, Manchester United only two. There's no way this ends well.
Farewell, Leicester City. The Foxes are not as bad as the league table suggests and no-one has beaten them by more than two goals all season, but they are doomed now. If you can't beat a 10-man Hull City at home, you don't get to stay and play in this division next season. That was as good a chance as Nigel Pearson's side could have expected and they failed to take it. With just two points from their last seven games, hope is fading now. They are not bad, but they are not good either. And they are going down now.
It's looking almost as bleak for Queens Park Rangers. With just one win since Christmas, it seems that owner Tony Fernandes will experience the sting of relegation for the second time in as many years. It's hard to feel any sympathy. The Hoops have made the same stupid mistakes they made last time, spending far too much money on players who were either past their best, couldn't be bothered to offer their best, or whose best was never going to be good enough. This time, they might not return so swiftly. Will they ever learn?
We're not going to take anything away from Manchester United, but this was a very, very poor performance from Tottenham Hotspur. A win would have put Mauricio Pochettino's side in contention for a place in the Champions League, but on the evidence of this, another year in the Europa League might spare them a humiliation. You can't single out any of the Spurs players for blame because they were all so bad. Pochettino has much to consider over the summer. He needs reinforcements.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.