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Unexpected results help Chelsea extend table lead

By: Ryan Callinan

David Luis’ masterful take on a free kick helped Chelsea tie Liverpool and extend their lead at the top of the EPL table.

Match day 23 once again showed why the English Premier League is one of the most widely unpredictable and competitive soccer leagues in the world. The title race and fight against relegation were shaken up once again with surprise results.

Arsenal entered the day second in the table but shockingly failed to earn any points at home against a struggling Watford side, which have won only one game in their past nine games. Arsenal fell behind 1-0 early when Younes Kaboul found the next from a 30-yard free tick that took a fortuitous deflection and left Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech stumbling as the shot skipped past his outstretched arm. Watford struck again three minutes later with a brave run from Etienne Capoue, who weaved past multiple defenders to earn a one-on-one chance. His shot was saved by Cech but the ball fell to the foot of a lurking Troy Deeney, who calmly slotted home the second goal.

The Gunners fought their way back in the 58th minutes when Alex Iwobi reached the other end of an Alexis Sanchez cross, side-footed his shot against the flow of traffic and bounced it just inside the right post. Arsenal seemed destined to level the match late as substitute Lucas Perez received a well-weighted throw-in. The Gunner forward was able to drive a rocket of a shot from the right side of the box, but it rattled the crossbar.

The game ended 2-1 in favor of Watford and seriously dampened the Gunners’ title hopes with 15 games remaining in the campaign, including the table-leading Chelsea coming up next. Watford is safe from relegation with 27 points ranking 13th in the league standings.

Arsenal would have had to imagine they would have gained three points against a struggling Watford side but got upset and lost ground in the EPL title race.

Tottenham also would have thought they could make up some ground on the league leaders, but they stumbled too. Traveling to face the league’s last-place team Sunderland, the Spurs had only three points in their sights. However, Sunderland stubbornly refused to play their part in the storyline and put up a fierce defensive effort that held the surging Spurs goalless for the first time 10 games since falling 1-0 to Manchester United on Dec. 11.

Sunderland created the best scoring chance of the first half when forward Fabio Borini found himself all along from 15 yards out. He was unable to score, however, with his shot going straight at the Spurs keeper. Only a minute later Tottenham’s Victor Wanyama took a chance from 30 yards out that had Sunderland netminder Vito Mannone diving to his right to usher the strike clear.

Tottenham started dominating possession in the second half as Sunderland tired and retreated into a shell to preserve the much-needed point, but the creativity of the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli that have sparked the Spurs’ title chance were absent for most of the game. The Spurs had to settle for only a point and will need to hope the table leaders stumble at Anfield. Sunderland is still in last place in the EPL with only 16 points but are only six points away from the tied group of Middlebrough, Leicester City and Swansea City that are barely ahead of relegation. Crystal Palace and Hull City are 18th and 19th and both in the relegation zone with Sunderland.

Chelsea entered Tuesday atop the standings with 53 points and did nothing to help either Tottenham or Arsenal make up any ground. Facing a desperate Liverpool squad that is in fourth place and only barely behind either the Hotspurs or the Gunners, it could have been the loss that teams needed Chelsea to have. But they didn’t fall.

Chelsea took a 1-0 lead in the first half when David Luis masterfully struck a 25-yard free kick that just nicked the left post and found its way past a planted Simon Mignolet. Liverpool had their chances to equalize early in the second half but a wild miss from Brazilian striker Roberto Firmino from an adventitious deflection seeded doubt amongst the raucous Anfield crowd that three points were obtainable.

However, Liverpool’s Georgino Wijnaldum’s equalizer in the 58th minute – a header drive down past Chelsea’s sprawling Thibaut Courtois – inspired new life to the home team’s chances. That chance was seemingly dashed nearly 20 minutes later when Diego Costa was brought down in the box and awarded a penalty kick. But, as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte anticipated his traditional ‘leap into the air, first-pump’ goal celebration, it was not to be. Costa’s low-driven penalty to the left corner was beautifully saved b Mignolet’s right palm and pushed to safety. Firmino missed another golden opportunity late in the game when he guided a header straight at Courtois, effectively ending the game in a deserving 1-1 draw.

Still, the point secured Chelsea’s nine-point lead over both Tottenham and Arsenal heading into match day 24.

Arsenal has a chance to give themselves some life back in their next game against Chelsea, but anything other than a victory for the Gunners could take them out of the running for the league title with the season winding down. Tottenham will have a great chance to get closer with a game against a struggling Middlesbrough. Even Liverpool can jump into the top three as they host Hull City on Saturday.

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Ryan Callinan

Staff Writer
Ryan Callinan was born with a passion for sports. He grew up playing soccer, basketball, and baseball; all sports he enjoyed, but it was soccer that he excelled at the most. HIs talent in soccer earned him a scholarship to Calvert Hall College High School in Baltimore, Maryland, where he made varsity all four years and won two MIAA Championship. Then he earned a scholarship to play at UMBC for coach Peter Caringi. Two unfortunate knee injuries cut his soccer career short, but that’s when he found a love for writing. He ended up transferring to Towson University, graduated with a degree in English and worked his way to becoming a sports writer. After joining So Much Sports he was inspired to further pursue his graduate degree in journalism at Towson University. So while maybe his dream of becoming a pro soccer player won’t be realized, his might still be able to cover pro soccer teams. The sport it still his true love.

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