It is the time of the season column writers dread. All too often, everything of note has been settled already: that is emphatically not the case this year. The Premier League title race is providing the most obvious drama, but the battle for Champions League qualification also continues to take new twists. Meanwhile, the relegation picture in France is still not settled.
We start, however, with the conclusion of a cup competition.
The KNVB Cup, essentially the Dutch equivalent to The FA Cup, came to an end this weekend: Ajax faced Willem II in the final.
The leaders of the Eredivise knew that a win would secure the first piece of silverware in a season that could potentially still end in league and Champions League glory – they delivered emphatically, dispatching of their opponents by four goals to nil.
It took most of the first half for a breakthrough to come, but after Daley Blind scored in the 38th minute the floodgates opened; veteran forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar doubled the lead just a minute later. He got his second of the game with twenty-five minutes to play, before Rasmus Nissen completed the scoring.
The first taste of success could do wonders for this young side; in the short-term it will undoubtedly provide a boost ahead of their midweek meeting with Tottenham, but going forward it will instil the kind of belief that only breeds more success.
Monaco Gamble Their Future
AS Monaco were once the young side trailblazing in Europe, but the mass exodus that followed their shake-up of the French scene has left a shell of a side.
They have understandably not looked the same since the loss of their biggest stars, but this season the extent of the problem has revealed itself emphatically.
Relegation has threatened from the outset; it looked as though the club had averted the danger by swallowing its pride and re-appointing Jardim following a disastrous managerial stint for Thierry Henry, but the initial upturn in form has not been sustained.
The Principality side are now just three points above the relegation playoff spot with three games still to play, having not won any of their last six matches.
Caen, the team directly below them, have won two of the last five and take on bottom-of-the-table Guingamp in their next fixture.
There is a very real threat that Monaco will have to face off against the third-place finishers in Ligue 2, likely ESTAC Troyes, in order to secure their continued top-flight status.
Liverpool Leave it Late
One of the players plucked from Monaco was on display when Liverpool took on Newcastle – Fabinho did not leave in the initial wave of departures, but Jurgen Klopp snapped him up in the summer.
His impact on his new side’s defensive sturdiness has generally been very strong, but he could not prevent the Magpies from causing serious problems.
Rafa Benitez unleashed a blitz on his former team; an uncharacteristically positive Newcastle side took the fight to Liverpool even after twice falling behind, and with the scores level at 2-2 with five minutes of normal time to play it looked as though this might finally be where Liverpool cracked.
Salah had been stretchered off, and Firmino had been ruled out through injury from the start; it was not immediately obvious where the goal was coming from.
Perhaps it should have been – Divock Origi, the late goal specialist, delivered off the bench once again to secure a precious three points for his team.
The fight in this side is truly unbelievable, and it forces City to deliver once again when they face Leicester. Brendan Rodgers finally delivering a title to Anfield five years behind schedule would be an irresistible twist, but Guardiola seemingly has his side immune to the pressure; even with The Foxes third in the form table, the champions go into the game as very heavy favourites.
Whatever happens, both of the title challengers have had truly remarkable seasons.
The race for the top four could not be in more stark contrast to the title battle.
The past few weeks have seen comically poor form from those in the running for the Champions League spaces – Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester United have all struggled badly.
These struggles mostly continued.
Tottenham eventually lost to Bournemouth after being reduced to 9 men through ill-discipline; Juan Foyth, introduced to protect Aldeweireld after the Belgian had been booked, lasted just three minutes before seeing red.
If they were concerned that their rivals would take advantage of this somewhat comical slip-up, they need not have worried.
Manchester United somehow contrived to draw with Huddersfield Town, who have spent much of the season as the league’s whipping boys.
Arsenal, meanwhile, could only manage a point against 17th-placed Brighton.
This all but confirms Tottenham’s place in the Champions League next season, barring an unlikely 8-goal swing in Arsenal’s favour on the final day.
Chelsea have mathematically taken care of business: it is remarkable what winning can do to a team’s top four chances!
They beat Watford 3-0, confirming their return to Europe’s top table after a year’s absence. Thus the focus for the final set of Premier League fixtures turns firmly to the top of the table.