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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Premier League 2023-24 review: matches of the season

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Chelsea 4-4 Man City, 12 NovemberThis was the season of goals, goals and more goals – a total of 1,246 were scored, a Premier League record with a goals-per-game ratio of 3.28. There were, incredibly, 84 games with five goals or more. So, where to start? This is as good a place as any: a rain-lashed November stramash that set up the relentless winter of scoring to come. Both sides led in a pulsating contest which featured thudding headers from centre-backs Thiago Silva and Manuel Akanji, defensive scrambles and what looked to be a dramatic deflected winner from Rodri – only for Cole Palmer to coolly convert a last-gasp penalty, joining Raheem Sterling in scoring against his old club and trying his best not to celebrate. Oh, and Erling Haaland scored with his balls. This game really had everything.Luton 3-4 Arsenal, 5 DecemberLuton Town’s return to the top flight ended in relegation, but unlike their fellow promoted sides, they certainly shook things up. The Hatters led Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal at home; the problem was getting over the line. Luton went ahead in 14 games this season but only won six, and lost five matches they had led at half-time – a Premier League record. This was the most memorable of their tussles with the elite – even the highlighter shades of the teams’ kits added a touch of pizazz. Mikel Arteta’s title-chasers were pushed to their limit, Ross Barkley leading Luton’s surge before Kai Havertz’s leveller stemmed the tide. After trading punches for an hour, the teams clung to each other until Arsenal found the knockout blow – Martin Ødegaard’s clinical cross, flicked into the corner by Declan Rice and celebrated wildly in front of the away end, as all late winners should be.Declan Rice celebrates after his late winner at Kenilworth Road. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The GuardianTottenham 1-4 Chelsea, 6 NovemberThe shock of the new collided with vintage Barclays in a bizarre game, where nine-man Tottenham saw their unlikely title tilt rattle off the rails, but were applauded off while Chelsea meekly celebrated a deeply unimpressive 4-1 win. Spurs started like a train and scored quickly through Dejan Kulusevski, before the first half unravelled into an hour-long, VAR-fuelled fever dream. Son Heung-min’s goal was chalked off while Chelsea saw three goals ruled out – only for one replay to unearth a horrendous lunge by Cristian Romero on Enzo Fernández. Cole Palmer converted the penalty before Micky van de Ven and James Maddison limped off, leaving Ange Postecoglou in a half-time hole, which deepened when Destiny Udogie was also dismissed. But Spurs stuck to their guns as Chelsea missed chance after chance. After Nicolas Jackson finally found the net, Spurs had Eric Dier’s volley ruled out for offside before both Rodrigo Bentancur and Son went agonisingly close to an equaliser. In stoppage time, Jackson twice broke through the stratospheric Spurs back line to add some entirely undeserved gloss to the scoreline as Chelsea escaped with a victory.Wolves 3-4 Man Utd, 1 FebruaryHas Manchester United’s season been a rollercoaster? Like that leaky corner of the Stretford End, it’s looked more like a log flume – some tepid thrills, but generally heading in one direction. Erik ten Hag’s side were often dragged into drama by their own flaws, and this match at Molineux was no different. Leading 2-0 after 22 minutes and 3-1 after 75 minutes, United were pulled back by their hosts’ never-say-die spirit, Pedro Neto equalising in the 95th minute. This was already a thriller, but what happened next was truly extraordinary. Kobbie Mainoo, one of the brightest spots in a season of darkness, danced into the Wolves area and finished clinically. In front of Sir Alex Ferguson, the ghost of Old United was briefly but spectacularly summoned, hinting at a brighter future that is yet to materialise.Kobbie Mainoo strikes for Manchester United at Molineux. Photograph: Jason Cairnduff/Action Images/ReutersLiverpool 4-3 Fulham, 3 DecemberThis Sunday afternoon fixture was immediately followed by Manchester City’s 3-3 draw with Tottenham, another absurd game which extended the champions’ winless run to three matches. Liverpool took the chance to climb above City but were made to work by Marco Silva’s Fulham, who were a persistent thorn in the side of the league’s heavyweights this season. The hosts led through Trent Alexander-Arnold’s pinpoint free-kick and a swerving missile from Alexis Mac Allister, but Fulham pegged them back twice, then led through Bobby Decordova-Reid’s far-post header. Further long-range stunners from Wataru Endo and Alexander-Arnold delivered another dose of that Klopp-era staple – the last-gasp victory. The visitors fell short but the day’s only real losers were Sky, who opted to televise West Ham 1-1 Crystal Palace instead.Newcastle 2-3 Man City, 13 JanuaryNo team offered more entertainment this season than Newcastle, whose matches produced the league’s highest goals-per-game ratio (3.87). Two of the season’s three eight-goal games featured Eddie Howe’s entertainers – a wild 4-4 draw with Luton, and the 8-0 beasting of Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. This January scoreline was less startling but this was a game packed with quality. Three of the goals made the Premier League’s goal of the month shortlist – and both Alexander Isak and Kevin De Bruyne were unlucky to miss out. City led through Bernardo Silva’s brilliant backheel, Newcastle got ahead through Isak and Anthony Gordon’s clinical finish on the break, before De Bruyne announced his comeback with his own precise strike and a spectacular assist for Oscar Bobb, who finished a tricky chance with an outrageous three-touch finish. The youngster’s moment of street-football magic signalled City’s switch into title gear, but may have been even more significant. Had they drawn this game, Arsenal would have been champions.

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