There are only five games left in the Premier League season after this weekend. Which means we’re now officially in the part of the league campaign where things start getting cray. In the next few weeks, the two big questions left this season- who gets to play in Europe and who has to play in the second division- will be answered. This is when people step up or step off. If you were out doing other stuff this weekend- which, why? how could you?- you missed some great games. The Manchester Derby melted our faces, there were great team goals, ridiculous individual efforts, and Crystal Palace did something they haven’t done before. We’ll get you caught up.
It’s hard to pick out one moment from this game to focus on, as the full 90 minutes resembled one of those early-to-mid-90s action flicks- you know, the kind with trailers that started off with “In A World…”- with a ball thrown in there because sure why not. But the one that comes closest to capturing the raw thrills of this fixture is United’s third goal, courtesy of Juan Mata. This was the goal that basically sealed the win for the home side. It was made possible entirely by United’s game plan, which was to burn City on the counter. And the fact that it came from Mata, an exceptionally talented player who nonetheless was seen as a superfluous pickup a year ago and has struggled for a place in the team for long stretches of his time at Old Trafford, makes the goal something of a redeemer for him and will (hopefully) win over some of his doubters in the Stretford End. United did walk away with all three points, finally breaking their losing streak in the Derby and giving them a major boost for the home stretch.
On the technical side, there’s a lot to like about this goal. The cute little one-two between Hazard and Oscar as the Belgian sidles up to the penalty area. The layoff into space for Fabregas. The shot through traffic. It was immaculate and well-executed, the kind of team goal that Chelsea at their best are known for. On the narrative side, the presumptive champions were pretty close to dropping points at Loftus Road (which isn’t a good look for anyone), and Fabregas has had a pretty bad run of form in recent weeks. So the goal was desperately needed, for several reasons.
I’m going to be honest. I love goals like this. They’re fast, they’re messy, they’re unpredictable, and they’re more likely to end up in the stands than in the net. When a sequence that ridiculous results in a goal, it serves as a reminder of the true nature of the game. Managers and pundits like to pretend that the game can be explained with feeble man-made contrivances like statistics and formations and systems, but the game at its core is chaos. It’s staring into the gaping howling void of Creation, plus a ball and a prize if you do it better than the others. Aaron Ramsey is a prophet. A prophet with well-coiffed hair and a cultured right foot, but a prophet nonetheless.
One of the more pressing directives handed to Tim Sherwood when he took over at Villa Park was to get people like Christian Benteke scoring again. And, yeah, wow, well done Mr. Sherwood. This goal wouldn’t pass an MFA critique session but literally nobody cared about the aesthetics. It was a goal, a desperately needed goal, and it made all the difference. Villa held on to the lead and took all three points, giving a major bump in their efforts to stay in the top flight. Benteke has now scored five goals in three games and eight in the last six. If he can stay healthy and motivated, he’s going to tear it up next season.
Bolasie scored a hat-trick- the first time a Crystal Palace player has done so while the team was in the Premier League- and all three goals were pretty great for their own reasons. But I really like this one. He had to run in on goal, controlling the ball with one outstretched foot, while a defender tried to body-check him out of possession. He then got into a short game of chicken with Costel Pantilimon before chipping the ball over his head and into the net. And really, who doesn’t like a good chipped goal? People who’ve lost their zest for life, that’s who. Palace went on to win 4-1, keeping a Top Ten finish within sight.
Coincidence? I THINK NOT.