8 matches that have defined the 2016/17 Premier League season
The title is heading down the King's Road. Middlesbrough, who have flirted with relegation all season long, were finally put out of their misery on Monday evening as Chelsea all but guaranteed a fifth Premier League title with a comprehensive 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
1. Burnley 2-0 Liverpool - Blueprint for future failure
August 20, 2016
Liverpool have since dropped eight points to sides in the bottom three, and have also lost to Leicester, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth
Liverpool were standout performers on the opening weekend with a high-energy 4-3 victory at the Emirates Stadium. However, Jurgen Klopp's juggernaut was halted in their very next fixture against bottom-half Burnley, who provided the blueprint for success against the Reds: Sean Dyche's men were happy to concede possession and defend narrowly inside their own half, before breaking at speed and exploiting their opponents' high full-backs. With it, the Reds set an unwanted Premier League record for the most possession (80.6%) in defeat.
Liverpool have since dropped eight points to sides in the bottom three, and have also lost to Leicester, Crystal Palace and Bournemouth - each of whom were entertaining thoughts of a relegation dogfight at the time of facing them.
Klopp's men, who have relied heavily on winning the ball in advanced areas and high-octane attacking, have repeatedly struggled to break down teams who surrender possession and rely on counter-attacks and – particularly – set-pieces. It's a problem the German has yet to solve - signified by the drab 0-0 draw with Southampton on Sunday - and perhaps Liverpool may have produced a more competitive title bid had they addressed the issue that Burnley highlighted early on.
2. Hull 0-2 Chelsea - Formation of champions
October 1, 2016
Chelsea's tactical switch proved too much, as goals from Willian and Diego Costa cemented Conte and his team's confidence in their new formation
After a sub-standard first-half display against Arsenal in September, Antonio Conte flipped Chelsea's season on its head. At 3-0 down, the Blues switched to a 3-4-3 formation in the 55th minute in an attempt to contain Arsenal's wave of attacks and prevent further humiliation. The approach worked well, and Conte stuck with it for the trip to Hull the following weekend.
Mike Phelan's charges were enjoying a relatively strong start to the season, which included a surprise opening-day victory over champions Leicester, and had proved a tough test for one of the division's big boys already - Manchester United required a last-minute Marcus Rashford goal to beat them.
But on this occasion Chelsea's tactical switch proved too much, as goals from Willian and Diego Costa boosted Conte and his team's confidence in their new formation - one which complemented the qualities of Chelsea's most influential players in David Luiz, N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Costa. The Hull game began a 13-match winning run, which set the tone for a season of dominance.
3. Tottenham 2-0 Manchester City - Poch exploits Pep's flaws
October 2, 2016
For Spurs, this triumph kick-started their title challenge after a stuttering start to the season which featured too many draws
Before Tottenham stopped Manchester City in their tracks at White Hart Lane, Pep Guardiola's first season in English football looked set to be a successful one. City had won each of their six league matches before their trip to north London in early October, including a fine Manchester derby win away at Old Trafford.
An own goal from Aleksandar Kolarov and a trademark Dele Alli finish weren't enough to knock City off the top of the table, but it did instigate a string of bad results and performances which led to them being eliminated from title contention by the turn of the year. Draws at home to Everton, Southampton and Middlesbrough in their next four fixtures set the tone for a dismal season of results at the Etihad Stadium.
For Spurs, this triumph kick-started their own title challenge after a stuttering start to the season that featured too many draws – six in the first 11 matches.
4. Swansea 5-4 Crystal Palace - Double sacking derby
November 26, 2016
Swansea led 3-1, Palace fought back to lead 4-3, and then the Swans did the unthinkable and snatched it in stoppage time
This topsy-turvy affair at the Liberty Stadium ultimately contributed to the firing of both Bob Bradley and Alan Pardew.
Swansea led 3-1, Palace fought back to lead 4-3, and then the Swans did the unthinkable and snatched it in stoppage time courtesy of a Fernando Llorente tap-in. Although it was one of the most unpredictable and dramatic games of the season, this clash lacked serious top-flight quality: both sides conceded horrendously sloppy goals - featuring deflections, dire defending and a number of goalmouth scrambles - and showed why they were in for a season of struggle.
Bradley was sacked and replaced by Paul Clement a month later, with Pardew having got the boot just a few days earlier (merry Christmas to you both). Both teams now look in good shape to avoid the drop: Sam Allardyce has guided Palace to within a point of safety, while Clement and Swansea also have a good chance of finishing outside the bottom three after securing victory at Everton.