Pitchside

Facts: 7 truths – Liverpool, Hazard and the joy of Pardew

Pitchside

1. Liverpool did Manchester United a big favour… in the race for seventh

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Okay, obviously we are being a little flippant, but the fact that Manchester United are a lot closer to Southampton than Liverpool this season just goes to show you the remarkable transformation in both teams' fortunes. United won the title last season with Liverpool seventh and a truly remarkable flip is now looking like a very real proposition.

The two sides meet at Old Trafford in two weeks and if Liverpool can pick up all three points in their fierce rivals' own backyard, then it could leave David Moyes' position untenable.

2. Everybody secretly loves incidents like the Alan Pardew headbutt

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The official line from players, media, officials and managers has to be 'this is a disgrace'. But let's be honest with ourselves: we all secretly love moments like Alan Pardew's headbutt on David Meyler. It is easy to get our knickers in a twist about matters like this, but Pardew has already been slapped with one huge fine (of £100,000) from his club and will surely get another from the FA as well as a heavy ban from the touchline; and let's face it, nobody died - he didn't even make decent contact.

On top of that, it has provided the Premier League with a water cooler moment that will pique the interest of people all over the world. As the old saying goes: 'No publicity is bad publicity,' and surely the attitude of the vast majority of football fans when they heard about the incident was 'Brilliant - where can I see it?' rather than 'That's terrible.' (The answer to that question is "here", in case you missed it.)

3. Eden Hazard is the Premier League's 'MVP'

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Eden Hazard is still probably a little behind Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero in terms of pure ability, but no player is as valuable to his team right now than Hazard is for Chelsea. Andre Schuerrle may have scored the hat-trick against Fulham but it was Hazard's undoubted brilliance that turned what was looking to be a potentially tricky afternoon for Chelsea into a relatively easy one.

It seems like a simple case of "if Hazard plays well, Chelsea play well" at the moment; they always look rather flat when he is not quite on it. None of the top teams seem to be quite as reliant on one player as Chelsea are with Hazard, but when he plays like he did against Fulham in the second half, this isn't necessarily a problem.

4. Arsenal are fighting for a top-four place as much as the title

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Arsenal's 1-0 defeat against Stoke could not have come at a worse time for the Gunners. They really needed three points in the Britannia because things are not about to get any easier for them. Arsenal's next four Premier League games? Tottenham away, Chelsea away, Manchester City home, Everton away. Throw in cup ties with Everton and Bayern Munich and you have a truly brutal run of fixtures.

Their form has been shaky for about a month now and after that run of games they could be fighting to hang on to a top-four place. They may be on the same amount of points as Liverpool but on current form only one of those teams looks like potential title contenders at the moment - and it is not Arsene Wenger's men.

5. Everton need some 'forward' planning

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Everton looked to be heading for their third scoreless Premier League outing in a row against West Ham until Romelu Lukaku returned from injury and came off the bench to score the winner. They have been playing well in his absence, just not scoring, and this again reinforced their reliance on the Belgian striker.

The big problem of course is that they do not own Lukaku, and it is unlikely that they will be able to afford a permanent move for the Chelsea man in the summer. This means they are going to have to unearth an affordable option elsewhere, but finding a player who can score regularly in the Premier League is the hardest thing to do, even if you are willing to spend some cash (just ask Norwich).

Roberto Martinez has built a solid foundation at Goodison, with plenty of creative options in midfield, but if he can't find somebody to finish the chances they create, they risk taking a step backwards next season.

6. Palace look genuine survival candidates

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2014Swansea City's Leon Britton (C, front) is challenged by Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie during their English Premier League soccer match at the L...

2014Swansea City's Leon Britton (C, front) is challenged by Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie during their English …

They've never survived a season in the English top flight since the pressures of TV money and a ton of clever marketing re-branded the pinnacle of the English game as the Premier League. But after 22 years of trying, Crystal Palace finally look like they might be Premier class at last.

Teams who get relegated tend to share similar traits: they fall apart when the going gets tough, and they fail to press home their advantage when they get on the front foot. Tony Pulis has turned the Eagles from a team that constantly fell into both traps to one that never seems to fall in to either. They might yet get outplayed and sent down fair-and-square, but their resilience in coming back from a goal down away at Swansea - and very nearly riding their luck to nick all three points despite just 31% possession - is just not the sort of day's work you see from teams that go down.

7. Oh my god! They killed Roberto!

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LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Roberto Soldado of Spurs reacts after a missed chance on goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenha...

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Roberto Soldado of Spurs reacts after a missed chance on goal during the Barclays …

Tottenham's Roberto Soldado was a Spanish superstar before he moved to London last summer. He was such a shoo-in for the 2014 World Cup squad that he'd probably already started taking Portuguese lessons, and his arrival was hailed as the last piece of the puzzle to turn Spurs into Champions League regulars; and from league pretenders to league contenders. He scored on Sunday, but sometimes, it's only in a rare moment of success that you realise just how bad things have become. Just seven days ago, for example, Manchester United fans were ready to declare a new dawn after a comfortable win over Crystal Palace (Olympiacos put paid to any such nonsense a few days later, of course).

Now, fans might be tempted to declare that Soldado is "back" after his first goal from open play in nearly half a year. Back? As if he ever arrived! Somehow we don't think that Vicente Del Bosque will be particularly moved by a shinned-in goal against the second-worst team in the league.

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