London (AFP) – Manchester United confirmed their place in the Champions League next season with a 2-1 victory over Arsenal, but the race for a top-four finish below them headed up as Chelsea pounced on a slip-up by Liverpool at home to Stoke.
At the other end of the table, the battle to avoid the drop also intensified as victories for West Brom and Southampton mean no side has yet been relegated with just two weekends of the season to go.
Here, AFP Sports looks at five things we learned from the Premier League weekend:
Fellaini ball bears fruit for Mourinho
With attention focused for much of the day on Arsene Wenger in the opposing dugout on his final visit to Old Trafford as Arsenal manager, Jose Mourinho didn’t miss the chance to steal the limelight when the chance came.
Mourinho, arms outstretched, turned around to face the Manchester United fans and media and held his pose for several seconds in celebration after Marouane Fellaini’s stoppage-time winner.
The Portuguese’s football has often been criticised for lacking invention or exictement this season, but his deployment of the big Belgian as a battering ram in the closing stages proved highly effective.
Moments earlier, Fellaini had also hit the post as Arsenal’s inability to cope with the physical approach underlined why they have struggled to compete at the top end of the league in Wenger’s last decade in charge.
Chelsea’s chase is on
A few weeks ago even Chelsea’s own players seemed to have given up hope of Champions League football at Stamford Bridge next season.
But a late-season stumble by Liverpool in the league, with their minds very much focused on reaching the Champions League final this week, has rekindled hopes for the Blues.
A 1-0 win at Swansea took Chelsea to within six points of Liverpool with a game in hand and with Jurgen Klopp’s men to visit Stamford Bridge next weekend.
Liverpool do, though, enjoy the insurance of a much superior goal difference so victory at home to Brighton on the final day of the season will seal a top-four finish.
Roy’s revival complete at Palace
Roy Hodgson has rarely been mentioned as a candidate for manager of the year awards, but the former England manager can claim to have done as good a job as anyone outside Pep Guardiola at relentless champions Manchester City this season.
No side had ever gotten off to a worse start in the Premier League than Palace’s run of seven straight defeats without even scoring a goal.
Keen to restore some credit to his reputation after England’s embarrassing Euro 2016 exit to Iceland, Hodgson, 70, took on the challenge and a 5-0 thrashing of Leicester on Saturday took the south Londoners up to 11th in the table, six points clear of the relegation zone.
West Brom run filled with regret
West Brom staved off relegation for a second straight weekend with a 1-0 win at Newcastle to claw to within five points of safety with just two games remaining.
The Baggies have now won as many points in four games under caretaker manager Darren Moore than in 18 matches during Alan Pardew’s ill-fated four-month reign – a run that still looks set to condemn them to relegation.
Moore’s short spell has yielded a famous win at Old Trafford and coming back from 2-0 down to hold Liverpool last weekend.
But a fine run also raises the regret of what if he had been given the chance a few weeks earlier as the club stuck by Pardew until it was too late.
No let up from record-chasing City
With the Premier League title wrapped up two weeks ago and the World Cup looming for most of Manchester City’s stars, it would have been easy for Pep Guardiola’s men to down tools in the final weeks of a memorable campaign.
But on the evidence of Sunday’s 4-1 demolition of West Ham, the champions are determined to finish in style as they bid to rewrite the record books.
City’s stroll in east London, featuring strikes from Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho and an own goal from their former defender Pablo Zabaleta, gave them a Premier League record-equalling 30th win this season, while also taking them to 102 league goals this term.
City aren’t finished yet, needing two goals and three points from their three remaining games to break the Premier League single-season goal and points records, which are currently held by Chelsea.