At this point in the season every victory feels above and beyond and every defeat feels fatal.
For most, there are five games left of a season that is still to finalise its title winner, the make-up of the top four, and the unfortunate trio that will pack their bags for the Championship.
There are storylines emerging all the time, redemptions like the ones being enjoyed by Gabriel Jesus and Joelinton and interspersed with a barely recognisable Manchester United sleep-walking into the abyss.
Granit Xhaka (middle) capped off Arsenal’s memorable win against Manchester United
Christian Pulisic (right) struck in the final minute as Chelsea dug in to defeat West Ham
There was a late show at Chelsea, courtesy of Christian Pulisic, and a Merseyside derby which never looked like swinging in Everton’s favour.
Brentford ruined Tottenham’s afternoon in west London and has anyone noticed that Aston Villa are slumped down in 15th?
A lot happened and there’s plenty to unpack as Sportsmail picks out 10 things we learned from the latest round of Premier League action…
United are better off OUT of Europe
While executives would argue otherwise, a season without Europe is exactly what Manchester United need.
Sure, they could play the kids in the Europa Conference League if it came to it but the Thursday-Sunday schedule is jarring and always seems to put teams on the backfoot.
Arsenal, who beat United at the weekend, are showing the benefit of one game a week and no European football.
United need a hard reset. They need Erik ten Hag to come in and coach, really coach these players. Work on set-pieces. Work on their pressing. Work on their organisation. No Europe would mean more training ground work and, in turn, more improvement.
The top seven in the Premier League this season will secure European football and United are currently sixth, two points ahead of West Ham and five ahead of Wolves, who have played a game fewer.
United were brushed aside in their 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on Saturday afternoon at the Emirates
For what was served up at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal, while not in their top three most anemic displays this season, was another sign of how disillusioned United are right now.
No European football would mean fewer fixtures, fewer chances of injury and with a squad that is set to be streamlined with a number of departures, fewer matches would allow Ten Hag to rotate less frequently as he drills his style into the group.
The aim will be to get United back into the Champions League but right now they look a world away from that. Problems are piling up and Arsenal exposed the defensive deficiencies that rear their ugly head by the game.
While no team should ever chuck matches to fall as low as possible, United are going in the wrong direction anyway and if missing out on Europe comes as a result, there should be cause for optimism inside the walls of Old Trafford.
One step back to take two steps forward. That would be the plan, anyway.
North London derby will determine top four
And just like that, the top four pendulum takes another swing in north London.
Arsenal, toasting a 3-1 win over Manchester United, got a second celebration when Brentford held Tottenham to a stalemate, leaving the Gunners in fourth, two points above Antonio Conte’s Spurs.
More points will be dropped between the two of them before the season is out and there is a growing sense that this will be settled once and for all in the rearranged North London derby on May 12.
‘To only get one point from those two games [Brighton and Brentford] is disappointing,’ Spurs striker Harry Kane told the Evening Standard.
‘We’re running out of games in terms of dropping points.
‘There are five games left and we feel like we are pretty much going to have to win all of them to get that spot.
‘We are more than capable of doing that, we believe in that and that is what we’ll try and do.’
Arsenal had to survive some difficult moments but came through to beat Manchester United
The way Tottenham – who face Leicester, Liverpool, Arsenal, Burnley and Norwich – must look at it is that one more slip-up could prove vital.
Win all five games and they’ll be in. Lose or draw a couple and Arsenal will be getting the banners and balloons ready for St Totteringham’s Day.
Conte’s side were surprisingly blunt against Brentford, failing to muster a single shot on target.
In total they managed nine shots, second to Brentford’s 15, and while they dominated possession they did little with it.
For Arsenal there was an element of fortune in the win over Manchester United, one missed penalty and another that should have gone against Cedric Soares, but they are elevating at the perfect moment with two huge wins over Chelsea and United in the space of a week.
All roads lead to *that* North London derby under the lights in a couple of weeks. Few derbies in those parts have had so much on the line.
Tottenham failed to have a single shot on target in their worrying stalemate away at Brentford
Jesus proves doubters wrong
Yes, it’s Watford. Yes, they aren’t very good defensively. But Gabriel Jesus deserves his flowers for a four-goal virtuoso on Saturday.
How irritated must the Brazilian have been to have heard all the chatter about City lacking a No 9, a striker who can consistently score goals?
Add in too that Erling Haaland, as Sportsmail exclusively revealed, has agreed a £500,000-a-week deal with City to join this summer, and it is more than fair if Jesus felt slanted.
There is a growing sense that Jesus, in a World Cup year, will head elsewhere, potentially Arsenal, and even if he won’t acknowledge that right now as City chase domestic and European glory, this was a timely reminder that he knows exactly where the goal is.
Gabriel Jesus may be heading for pastures new but this was a reminder of his scoring talents
‘It’s not time to think about this,’ he said. ‘You expect me to say this, but it’s true.
‘This is no time to think about this. Now is the best moment of the season. I want to enjoy, to keep focused on my team, with my team-mates, to fight for the Premier League.
‘I won it with my team-mates three times. And I know how that feels and I want to have that feeling again. And then of course we also have the tough game on Tuesday against Real Madrid [in the Champions League] and that is my focus.’
Sooner or later Jesus will have a decision to make and his four-goal blitz of Watford will no doubt have added some more suitors to the list.
There’s life in Burnley yet
When news filtered through that Sean Dyche had been sacked, when anger from fans and former pros subsided, the overwhelming feeling was Burnley had sealed their fate. Onto the Championship they go.
Only, they may not go, not if things continue as they are.
Matej Vydra’s precious goal to seal a 1-0 home win over Wolves was the jolt in the arm they needed to really ramp up the pressure on Everton, who unsurprisingly lost to Liverpool.
Unbeaten in three games since Dyche was disposed and those at Turf Moor have quickly shed themselves of any resignation for a relegation fight that could well go to the wire.
Burnley have been unbeaten in three games since the surprise decision to dismiss Sean Dyche
‘We’ve had a great week as a team,’ winger Dwight McNeil said.
‘We know it’s been difficult for the club, but the fans have stuck with us and it’s paid off.
‘I thought we have been terrific in the last three games and delighted to get the seven points.’
It’s Watford and Aston Villa next, two clubs shy of any form, and all of a sudden Burnley can see 37 points as a realistic target, not a hazy mirage that was a figure of their imagination.
Newcastle CAN push for Europe next season
For those in the north east, dare to dream.
What a turnaround it has been under Eddie Howe – and the expectation is that things will continue to get better.
A 3-0 win away at Norwich has Newcastle up into ninth and just six adrift of a Wolves side that are beginning to look out of steam.
While it is a tall order, with the means Newcastle have, Howe should be challenging his players to have a crack at the top six next season.
Manchester United remain in a state of flux, Arsenal are ascending but continue to be unpredictable while Newcastle can look to West Ham for a blueprint to success.
Newcastle are 9th in the league and should be, with some additions, eyeing top six next year
There is growing expectation that more high-quality new faces will arrive in the summer, joining the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, and Newcastle’s side is likely to be unrecognisable to the one managed by Steve Bruce.
‘We want to score more goals,’ Howe said recently. ‘I think our style evolves that way rather than us trying to find it.
‘We want to win and entertain and play in the style everyone wants. We are not there yet.
‘We are in the early stages of building. We want the same intensity and desire to win, plus more control and to express ourselves with the ball.’
Gerrard needs summer clear-out
Since the turn of the year, Aston Villa have just won four of 15 games across all competitions.
They have picked up one point from a possible 15 in their last five league games and are slumped in 15th, eight points above the relegation zone.
Villa aren’t going down, that’s for certain, but they do need major changes in the summer – and Gerrard will know that.
He has spoken at length in recent months about assessing shortcomings and addressing them in the off-season. For all the success he enjoyed with Rangers, football is a business where you are only as good as your last job and he will be desperate to get Villa fighting in the top half next season.
Much like a lot of us, Gerrard needs a clear-out in the summer. But rather than tatty clothes and shoes we may be chucking out, the former Liverpool captain needs to move some players on to allow him to mold a side in his vision.
Steven Gerrard won’t need telling that major improvements need to be made at Aston Villa
Villa’s owners have already spent close to £400million on signings since taking over in 2018 but more is required.
‘From the top of the club they are super ambitious, they are super ambitious,’ Gerrard told Gary Neville on the Overlap recently. ‘My CEO Christian Purslow is very ambitious, my sporting director is very ambitious, I am and my staff are.
‘And the group are, but the reality is that we still need support, I’m hoping that with that we can keep getting better, keep evolving, keep training, keep believing, keep getting better and hopefully we can go and do that.’
What the stalemate at Leicester showed – apart from stopping a four-game losing streak – is that Gerrard currently has a side who cannot dominate the possession in the midfield and is lacking goals across the park.
As a manager there is a lot to like for Gerrard and his impact was felt immediately as he won his first game in charge. But 2022 has been a sharp reminder that a big summer awaits…
Centre back crisis
West Ham will go to Arsenal without a fit first team centre back to call on.
They only have four to begin with so were always running a risk. Now it’s exploded in their face.
Kurt Zouma and Issa Diop are sidelined with ankle issues while Craig Dawson’s red card against Chelsea will rule him out through suspension.
Angelo Ogbonna remains a long-term absentee with a serious knee problem and so, now what? Declan Rice feels the most obvious solution to slot in, such is his comfort in that role.
But then Rice’s dynamism in midfield is lost as a result and the trickle down effect goes on from there.
Craig Dawson’s red card against Chelsea has left West Ham without a fit senior centre back
This has been a season that still promises so much for West Ham. They are into the semi-finals of the Europa League and will fancy their chances against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Winning the tournament will give them a golden ticket to the Champions League next season and would cap off a phenomenal job by David Moyes and his staff.
But West Ham have won just one of their last five games in all competitions and are stumbling at the worst possible time. Their lightness defensively caught up with them late on in a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea and now Ballon D’Awson – as he’s been nicknamed at the training ground – has to sit out.
Return his centre backs to fitness and this will be a mere footnote in a brilliant campaign but go without for much longer and this could be a punishing end to the campaign for Moyes.
Ward-Prowse is making a case for Qatar
Realistically, how many midfielders is Gareth Southgate going to take to the World Cup? Five? Six? Seven?
If his 26-man squad for Euro 2020 is anything to go by, expect five or six.
Jude Bellingham will be a near certainty, as will Declan Rice and Mason Mount. Jordan Henderson’s experience should see him selected. Conor Gallagher is ascending at the right time, too, with the tournament in November.
But keep an eye on the performances of James Ward-Prowse.
Selected for the March friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast, the Southampton captain won his 10th cap and is determined to add to that.
He’s been something of a nearly man with England, narrowly missing the cut in 2019 for the Nations League Finals and then missing the cut for the 26-man Euros squad, edged out by Kalvin Phillips.
James Ward-Prowse is continuing to further his case to make England’s World Cup squad
‘Having had the disappointment from the summer of not quite making the Euros squad, there’s definitely that incentive for me to make sure that I don’t miss out on another major tournament,’ Ward-Prowse said last month.
‘There’s such huge competition for places within the squad, which is a great thing. But, equally, it’s frustrating, because there are so many players and so many more hurdles to get through.’
All he can do is stay fit and play well and his brace against Brighton – which has pulled him within four of David Beckham’s free-kick record – has done no harm to his case.
His first, a trademark free-kick, will give Southgate room for thought. Ward-Prowse is among the finest set-piece takers in the Premier League and they can go on to decide major tournaments.
Southampton may find themselves out of the limelight on many an occasion but Ward-Prowse is knocking harder and harder on the door.
The Anthony Gordon penalty that never was and the commentary which tipped Alan Stubbs over the edge to one side for a moment, the big takeaway from Sunday’s Merseyside derby is that these two clubs have never felt further apart.
However the run-in is diced up, Everton are in trouble, real trouble, of falling through the relegation trap door.
They hold a game in-hand on Burnley – away to Watford – and that could swing the momentum back in their favour. But all this scrapping at the wrong end comes amid the backdrop of their bitter rivals closing in on a quadruple.
Liverpool and Everton have never felt further apart than the two teams do at this moment
Everton is a massive club that are in the process of building their state-of-the-art Bramley-Moore Dock stadium and yet on the field years of mismanagement has caught up with them.
Liverpool, meanwhile, cannot seem to do wrong right now. An FA Cup final and the semi-finals of the Champions League await. They are a point adrift of Man City in the title race and have already won the Carabao Cup.
Everton have won just one of the last 26 derbies and are in desperate need of a complete rebuild. Some fans may point to the 90s and early 2000s but these two sides right now feel like they are operating in different worlds.
Goodbye Norwich and Watford
Thanks for playing but the journey is over.
The relegation battle is now a two-way fight to avoid the last remaining place. Norwich, turned over 3-0 by Newcastle on their own patch, and Watford, smacked in the mouth in a 5-1 loss to Man City, are condemned.
Let’s start with Norwich, a team constantly in footballing purgatory. Too good for the Championship and yet not good enough to cut it in the Premier League.
Burnley’s win over Wolves opened up a 10-point gap on the Canaries and should the Clarets beat Watford next week and Norwich lose to Aston Villa, the inevitable will be confirmed. Norwich are heading back to the Championship.
‘The league table doesn’t lie,’ Norwich boss Dean Smith said.
Norwich and Watford are all but resigned to being relegated back to the Championship
‘We have been punished too many times for our mistakes and unfortunately we keep making similar mistakes that have cost us in the end.’
And as for Watford, it beggars belief what Roy Hodgson saw to convince him he could turn it around. They are nine adrift of safety with five games to go – which include facing Chelsea. Again, condemned.
The Championship to Premier League gap feels like it is growing at a rate of knots but let’s park the excuses. These two are up and down the leagues like a fiddler’s elbow.
See you both back here in 2023-24 (probably),