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 By Adam Hurrey

David Silva, Man City reach new heights; chaos envelops West Ham

The Exploding Heads recap an eventful March which included West Ham and Arsenal's struggles, Neymar's social media tribute and more.

Yeah, yeah, we know that March hasn't ended. But ahead of a weekend that could make enough headlines to last a month, we decided to get our review in early!

Who won the month? Manchester City (or, specifically, the mere prospect of playing them)

The quadruple -- and domestic treble -- is now gone, but the response in March was to restore all order. Arsenal were swept aside 3-0 for the second time in the space of four days, while Stoke were disposed of with minimal fuss. In between, there was the formality of a Champions League second leg against Basel (a defeat nobody will ever speak of again) and -- most notably -- the scaring to death of Chelsea.

It was quite possibly the most bizarre Premier League game ever staged. The scoreline was just 1-0, but Chelsea were hounded into submission purely by Man City's reputation. We have become accustomed to park-the-bus, backs-against-the-wall, all-hands-to-the-pump game plans, but Antonio Conte's side visibly didn't bother to try to stop the unstoppable.

With Chelsea frozen by a mixture of fear and awe, City's version of showing mercy was to tap the ball among themselves -- almost comically -- on the halfway line. No team has ever made more passes than their 902 that afternoon, and no team -- let alone defending champions -- has ever been comprehensively thrashed before a ball has even been kicked.

It's one thing to be good; it's quite another to convince everyone else it's not worth competing.

Who lost the month? West Ham

On a purely footballing level alone, West Ham were a leading candidate for this: Their month began with a 4-1 capitulation against Swansea and reached its nadir with a second-half collapse at home to Burnley. Having already been dumped out of the FA Cup by Wigan, a soul-searching warm-weather break in Miami felt like an escape.

It was in that dismal second half against Burnley at the London Stadium that West Ham's off-field issues became their on-field ones. The images of a pitch invader being forcibly removed by captain Mark Noble, another attempting to plant a defiant corner flag in the centre circle, and hundreds of seething fans turning their fury toward the directors' box might all end up defining the club's season.

"Sold a dream, given a nightmare" was the message from the stands of a new stadium that has already become a disastrous emblem of West Ham's high-level ineptitude. The next visitors? Southampton, just one place below in 18th, and with an FA Cup semifinal to boost their morale. Lock up your corner flags.

Angelo Ogbonna is confronted by a West Ham fan.
Discontent boiled over into chaos at West Ham during their recent match against Burnley.

Player of the month: David Silva

At 32, Silva is arguably playing the best football of his career, a purple patch that was perfectly showcased in March. It began at the Emirates, where he glided undetected into the Arsenal penalty area, cushioned a pass from Sergio Aguero like almost nobody else could, and poked the ball beyond Petr Cech. Three days later, his cross created the only goal against Chelsea.

Finally, against Stoke, two minor masterpieces. Again, he arrived in the penalty area by stealth, and again the finish was immaculate. Then, in the second half, he was the middle and end of an untouchable, zig-zagging incursion through the home defence.

"I think, when I play football, I forget everything. It's good for me to play."

David Silva is remarkable enough, but to produce a string of performances such as his in March while his premature baby son continues to receive treatment is something else.

Goal of the month: Nemanja Matic vs. Crystal Palace

If technically pleasant finishing is your bag, March was your month.

Certifiable wonder goals were thin on the unexpectedly snowy ground, but confidence was flowing through the veins of some of the Premier League's most in-form chance converters: Roberto Firmino's split-second, between-the-legs reaction flick against Watford and Marcus Rashford's lightning-quick shift inside and whipped shot against Liverpool among the most deadly.

Jamie Vardy's unwavering formula of running over the top for almost anything resembling a forward pass continues to pay off, although he hasn't finished many more cleanly than his goal against West Brom. Riyad Mahrez barely had to look before backspinning a pass in behind, before Vardy timed a left-foot volley to perfection into the far corner.

The standout goal, though -- for its execution, its context and its celebrations -- has to be Nemanja Matic opening his account for Manchester United, in the 93rd minute, to complete their comeback from 2-0 down against Crystal Palace. It felt strangely inevitable, as the ball sat up nicely for him 30 yards out at Selhurst Park, that something special was about to be unleashed. He sliced his left boot through the ball (size 12s come in handy for that sort of thing) and that huge lever of a left leg did the rest, sending his shot skidding through the air and away from the gloves of Wayne Hennessey.

Good month for re-evaluating our definition of a goalscorer

Mohamed Salah scored four in a blinding performance vs. Watford.
Mohamed Salah has the Premier League single-season goalscoring record of 31 firmly in his sights.

Going into Liverpool's home game against Watford, Mohamed Salah was in the middle of what -- on his current planet, at least -- counts as a barren run. Only once this season had he suffered the agony of going three games without a goal.

90 minutes later, he'd scored four. With Harry Kane sidelined, the race for the Golden Boot had taken a significant twist, but Salah had also put himself in the frame for something rather more historic. Three goals in the seven remaining Premier League games will push him beyond Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez's jointly-held record of 31 goals in a 38-game season. Four more would give him the competition's record outright.

Salah would, surely, be the least striker-like figure to ever finish as top scorer, let alone to post the Premier League's greatest-ever scoring season. Shearer was a classic centre-forward in his prime, Ronaldo has always been built like one, and Suarez was simply a modern take on the role.

What Salah has demonstrated is not just an eye for goal but a nose for finding space. Specifically, his own space, often air locked from any worries over service that other Premier League strikers have. Looking back, 31 goals from 38 games isn't a fearsome figure in the modern context of super-goalscorers. Salah's ability to excavate his own chances is precisely why he stands on the verge of eclipsing English football's traditional hitmen.

Bad month for Hazard's patience

Eden Hazard touches the ball every 73 seconds in an average game. It's not that he demands to be passed to -- Hazard is one of the least theatrical superstars the Premier League has ever had -- it's more that his Chelsea teammates often have no choice but to give it to him.

Having turned 27 at the start of the year, the sort of age where elite players have to put up or shut up when it comes to troubling the Ballon d'Or polls, Hazard was already subject to some intensifying whispering over whether he still had much use for a Chelsea side now scrapping for fourth place and light years away from Champions League contention.

Two chastening non-contests against Manchester City and Barcelona perhaps provided some answers. Instead of every 73 seconds, Hazard was waiting an average of two minutes over these two games to try and conjure something from an ocean of nothing. He has always cut a content figure, on the pitch or off, but the mask slipped briefly at the Etihad as he chased in vain after another aimless hoof upfield.

It was the nearest he's come to a flounce in a Chelsea shirt, but spoke volumes about whether another season at Stamford Bridge might be one wasted.

What April needs to deliver

Since Man City are going to win the title, we might as well be treated to the spectacle of them confirming the mathematics of it in the Manchester derby in front of their own fans. Jose Mourinho, for once, may have to just sit and take it.

Adam Hurrey analyses the language of football. You can follow him on Twitter: @FootballCliches.


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