Leicester and Ranieri confirm heroes status, John Terry tops the villains list
After an eventful Premier League weekend, Iain Macintosh runs the rule over another weekend in the latest edition of Heroes and Villains.
Just for a moment, let's forget that Leicester received the trophy on Saturday. Let's forget the talk of impossible dreams and miracles. Let's just focus on the way that they tore Everton apart at the King Power stadium. From the first whistle, they were magnificent. Aside from everything else they have achieved this season, Leicester are fun to watch. They make things happen, they fight for everything and they look like they're enjoying themselves. And they didn't even need to win. They were only playing for pride! Perhaps Everton should have tried that...
And let's remember it all again! Let's remember how everyone, this column included, tipped Leicester to go down. Let's remember how we all reacted when Claudio Ranieri was appointed in the summer. And let's never forget how that affable Italian galvanised a squad of never-had-beens, took them to the summit of English football and kept them there, grinning away and cracking jokes as the pressure mounted. But the pressure never took its toll. We all thought that the Premier League title was a private party for the super rich. Ranieri begged to differ.
And if Everton's travelling supporters resented having to sit through someone else's party on Saturday, they might want to pass on the midweek trip to Sunderland. Sam Allardyce's side have left it late, even by Black Cats' standards, but a win over Everton this week will guarantee Premier League survival while simultaneously relegating bitter rivals Newcastle. That's the stuff dreams are made of. Once again, Sunderland had Jermain Defoe to thank for a winning goal, his strike securing victory over the now former-champions Chelsea. They're almost safe.
It wasn't a particularly impressive performance, but it's all starting to look a little rosier for Arsenal after their 2-2 draw at the Etihad. Not only can they secure their favoured fourth position slot with a single point at home to Aston Villa, not only can they guarantee third and a place in the Champions League group stages with a win at home to Villa, but the tantalising prospect of finishing above Tottenham in second has suddenly emerged. If there is one thing that might redeem the beleaguered Arsene Wenger in the eyes of his critics, it's a surprise St Totteringham's Day.
It's odd that a goalless draw at home to the team in 18th place can be considered a success, but it's been that sort of season for Aston Villa. Congratulations though to Eric Black, the club's caretaker manager, who avoided a 12th successive defeat with what looked suspiciously like a team putting in a decent day's work. It also spared the fans one last humiliation. Having mercilessly mocked the Newcastle supporters in 2009 when the Magpies were last relegated, karma threatened an appearance. Instead, it seems that Villa have taken Newcastle into a grisly embrace and they've both fallen into the shadows.
The best you can say for John Terry is at least his challenge was evidence of some kind of desire. There hasn't been much of that at Chelsea this season. But what a thing for an experienced defender to do in injury time. And what a price he has had to pay for his mistake. There will be no final farewell for him in a Chelsea shirt, no last opportunity to savour the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. Whatever you think of the man, this is no way to bring down the curtain on his career. Terry is here in the villains section, but the only person he's robbed is himself.
No one is trying to say that Manchester City have had a good season. No one is trying to say that Manuel Pellegrini wouldn't have been sacked already had it not been for Pep Guardiola's remaining Bavarian commitments. But surely he deserved a better send-off than to wander around an emptying stadium as only just enough people lifted a suspiciously corporate-looking banner in his honour. It feels like a long time ago now, but he did win the league with City, you know. And the hair. Surely you'd stick around for one last look at that magnificent hair?
You cannot say that Newcastle haven't had their chances to escape the drop. A trip to Villa Park is as close as you can get to a guaranteed three points these days, but where was the desire? Where was the intensity? It's baffling that this team starts so slowly, as if they need to be reminded of their plight by Rafa Benitez in every half-time break. As if they all slap their foreheads and cry, "Oh yeah! We're in the relegation zone!" There's absolutely no sympathy here if they do go down this week. They deserve it.
When Norwich beat Newcastle, they must have thought that they were going to survive. It was, after all, their second win on the spin. But since that day, they've played four games, they've lost them all and they haven't even scored a goal. Alex Neil was visibly frustrated, and you can certainly understand why. The Canaries keep making the same silly errors. But money was spent in the winter transfer window, serious money, and they still don't have a regular goalscorer. Without one of those, there's very little chance of survival.
In one of the shortest news conferences of the season, Roberto Martinez told reporters that there were no positives whatsoever for Everton after their 3-1 defeat in Leicester. That wasn't strictly true. The fact that they got away without shipping the five or six they should have shipped was a positive of sorts. We like Martinez here, as a man and as a manager, but there's no question that it's all gone horribly and irreparably wrong for him. The kindest thing to do now would be to settle his contract and spare him what would be a toxic Goodison Park on Sunday.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.