Premier League Notebook: VAR comes to Manchester City's rescue in the race for the title

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February 28th, 2022

There are plenty more twists and turns to come in this title race, as every week there seems to be yet another surprise in the race for the Premier League. This weekend, it was the turn of VAR to come to Manchester City’s aid as they re-established a six-point lead at the top of the table. Elsewhere, Man United continue to struggle, Newcastle are one of the form teams in the top-flight (!), and Leeds don’t have a coach anymore.

Here are the five top takeaways from all the league’s action.

VAR-y good news for Manchester City

It looked for a long time on Saturday like Everton were going to do their Merseyside rivals a huge favor and hand Liverpool the advantage in the race for the title. Jordan Pickford had a heroic game in goal, saving numerous times, including a fantastic double-stop from Kevin De Bruyne, and then Bernardo Silva on the rebound.

But with 82 minutes on the clock, Phil Foden pounced on a slip from Toffees defender Michael Keane to slam the ball home from close range and put Pep Guardiola’s team up 1-0. Three minutes later and they were thanking VAR that the game would stay that way.

It looked as clear as day that Rodri controlled a spinning, bouncing ball with his hand inside the area, and unsurprisingly players and fans immediately appealed to the referee. Somehow, though, VAR decided that after a check it was not a penalty, causing uproar in the stadium and online.

Everton coach Frank Lampard said after the game that his three-year-old daughter could see it as a penalty and that the VAR official was "incompetent at best."

The result means City stay six points clear at the top of the table while Everton are now just one point clear of the relegation zone.

Manchester United stumble again

While one half of Manchester was celebrating, the other half was in compete dismay yet again. Man United had 67% possession and 22 shots at home against relegation-threatened Watford on Saturday but failed to break down Roy Hodgson’s team.

Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post, Bruno Fernandes saw his shot well saved by Ben Foster, and Champions League hero Anthony Elanga missed a couple of second-half chances. It means that Ralf Rangnick’s side have now gone eight games unbeaten. However, that run includes dropped points against Aston Villa, Burnley, Southampton, and Watford.

The Red Devils remain in that all important fourth place for now, but Arsenal are just two points behind them, and the Gunners have a huge three games in hand. United saw their odds of a top-four spot drift from +150 to +225, and their next three games are Manchester City (away), Tottenham (home), and Liverpool (away).

Newcastle’s resurgence

On Christmas Day, Newcastle were right at the heart of the relegation zone with a league record of 1-10-7. That’s a total of 10 points from a possible 54, and despite being one of the world’s richest clubs following the big-money takeover, it looked like the Magpies would be destined to drop out of the Premier League.

However, coach Eddie Howe has not only steadied the ship but on six-game form, Liverpool are the only team to have a better record than Newcastle. The Magpies have climbed up to 14th and are four points clear of the drop zone.

They’ve now gone seven games unbeaten and look full of confidence as they attempt to maintain their Premier League status.

New coach needs to fix Leeds’ leaky defense

Leeds United sacked coach Marcelo Bielsa over the weekend, despite the manager becoming a club legend during his time in charge. The sacking came after yet another heavy defeat for Leeds — this time a 4-0 loss at home to Tottenham.

The sacking comes as Bielsa was under increasing pressure, as he stubbornly refused to change his tactics, and continued setting Leeds up to attack, despite the holes it left in defense. What that has led to this season is that Leeds have conceded a huge 60 goals in 26 games — an average of 2.3 goals a game — and are now just two points clear of the relegation zone.

They’ve lost seven games this season by three goals or more, so the first job for the new coach will be trying to tighten up that defense to keep Leeds in the top-flight.

The importance of goals

The latest loss for Leeds brings on an important point around goals in the league and how important they are. OK, OK, Captain Obvious. But goal difference is set to be huge in the run-in this season.

Last week Liverpool hit Leeds for six, which means their goal difference is now +3 versus Manchester City. If Liverpool beat City and win their game in hand, the teams will be level on points, but now Liverpool have the edge in goal difference.

Similarly, Burnley’s resolute defense means they have conceded just 30 goals this year, the lowest tally in the bottom half of the table. They may currently be in the relegation zone, but their goal difference is +5 vs. Everton and +23 vs. Leeds. With just three points separating those three teams, if it does come down to goal difference, the Clarets have a serious advantage.