LONDON – Manchester United were the big winners of the Premier League weekend as Marcus Rashford made the most of his first league start of the year by scoring twice to see off Liverpool 2-1.
Tottenham and Chelsea took advantage of Liverpool’s loss in the battle for the top four with comfortable wins, but Spurs’ 4-1 success at Bournemouth was marred by a nasty-looking ankle injury suffered by Harry Kane.
Arsenal also bounced back from a woeful few weeks to offer beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger some hope, but there was no such joy for West Brom’s Alan Pardew, who seems resigned to his fate after losing once more to Leicester.
Here, AFP Sport looks at five things we learned from the Premier League weekend.
On-form Son shines in Kane’s absence
Tottenham bounced back from their bitterly disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of Juventus by coming from behind to thrash Bournemouth and leapfrog Liverpool into third.
Even more impressively, Mauricio Pochettino’s men defied any suggestion of over-dependence on Kane, as Son Heung-Min struck after the England striker had limped off with an ankle injury.
Son was entrusted to move into the centre-forward role once Kane departed, and showed he can deputise for Spurs’ talisman with his sixth and seventh goals in his last four games to take his tally for the season to 18.
New boys give Wenger stay of execution
Assailed by stinging criticism, frustrated fans and vocal former players, Wenger is fighting to avoid his 22-year reign coming to a bitter end.
Fortunately for Wenger, two of his newest recruits seem keen to extend their relationship with the under-fire Frenchman, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shone in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Watford.
The former Dortmund duo combined to tee each other up for Arsenal’s second and third goals after Shkodran Mustafi had opened the scoring.
Wenger must hope for more of the same as the tension over his future mounts.
Rashford puts spotlight on Sanchez
Rashford grabbed his rare chance to start for Manchester United in the Premier League with both hands by scoring twice inside 25 minutes as United saw off Liverpool 2-1 to open up a four-point lead in second place.
Rashford’s opportunities have diminished since Alexis Sanchez joined from Arsenal in January, despite the Chilean scoring just once in nine United appearances.
Indeed, Rashford may have been sidelined once more but for a late injury suffered by Paul Pogba.
In the Frenchman’s absence, Sanchez was moved inside to create space for Rashford to tear Liverpool apart down United’s left.
Jose Mourinho has still to find a balance that can get the best from both Sanchez and Pogba and the Portuguese will be under big pressure to drop one of his stars for Sevilla’s crucial Champions League trip to Old Trafford in favour of rewarding Rashford.
Giroud proves point to Conte
Olivier Giroud provided a welcome focal point for Chelsea in their 2-1 win over Crystal Palace – giving Blues boss Antonio Conte a difficult decision to make as he plans his team for Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Barcelona.
Both Giroud and the out-of-form Alvaro Morata were left out of Chelsea’s line-up for the 1-1 draw against Barca in the last-16 first leg, as Conte preferred to use Eden Hazard as a ‘false nine’.
Conte had used Belgium playmaker Hazard in the same role for Chelsea’s tame 1-0 loss at Manchester City recently, but his decision to bring in former Arsenal star Giroud sparked a more dynamic display as Chelsea downed Palace to keep their top-four hopes alive.
Pardew on the brink
West Brom boss Pardew admitted his days in charge are numbered after a seventh successive defeat, 4-1 at home to Leicester on Saturday, left the Midlands club eight points adrift of safety at the bottom of the standings.
Pardew was brought in to replace Tony Pulis in November, but has won just one of 16 league games during his time at The Hawthorns.
“Before you even ask me the question, will I speak to those upstairs? Yes I will, of course I will, because it’s getting difficult,” said Pardew.
“I will still talk to them (the board) and get a feeling of what they think, because they might think a change is a better thing for the club.”