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Eden Hazard Reappears and Rafa is Reincarnated: The Premier League Review

Leicester survive without Jamie Vardy, Eden Hazard finds form at the most convenient time, and Rafa Benitez is reincarnated as a beautiful magpie.
April 25, 2016, 2:15pm
PA Images

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

With flowers blooming and the sun shining, the pastoral idyll of spring is upon us. Many cultures understand this time of year to represent renewal and rebirth, the re-emergence of organic life after the long desolation of winter.

It's quite the opposite for English football culture, however. For those who enjoy watching Premier League football, spring represents the last few league games of the season; the impending death of our entertainment and joy. While everyone else is busy picking berries, jigging through hedgerows and performing complex fertility rituals to herald the changing of the seasons, football fans are sitting indoors with the curtains drawn, trying to savour the last few Super Sundays before the invariable boredom of the summer.

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Let's savour the weekend's Premier League action, then. Here are five talking points from the last few days.

EAST OF EDEN

This season was meant to be a paradise for Eden Hazard; a lush expanse of goals, silverware and individual success. Instead, it has become a barren wasteland; a dusty, infertile furrow which he's been forced to plough as punishment for his mortal sins.

Having started the season as incumbent Premier League champion and reigning Player of the Year, Hazard's performances have gone from the heavenly to the profoundly mundane over the course of the campaign. With Chelsea hugely underperforming as a team, he's been cast out of footballing utopia and into the windswept desert of intense criticism, rubbish results and poor form – failing to score a single Premier League goal prior to this weekend.

Hazard runs off excitedly, presumably searching for a representative of PSG or Real Madrid // PA Images

Much like Adam in the Book of Genesis, it seems that temptation may have got the better of him. While his personal decline has probably put paid to a mooted move to Real Madrid, a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain this summer is – by his own admission – quite possible. A return to form ahead of the end of the campaign would make him a more attractive option for one of Europe's big spenders.

As such, his two goals against Bournemouth on Saturday seem to have come at the most convenient possible time.

RAFA'S REINCARNATION

Having received a hero's welcome on his return to Anfield as Newcastle boss, Rafa Benitez must have allowed himself a moment of wistful reminiscence on Saturday afternoon. Champions League victory in Istanbul, Steven Gerrard's last-minute equaliser in the 2006 FA Cup final, the Premier League heroics of the 2008/09 season – his time as Liverpool manager has left him with many a fond memory.

Sadly, he's never quite recreated those halcyon days. The virile young Rafa who coached Liverpool to their fifth European Cup is now old and jaded, misused and abused at Inter Milan and Chelsea before being hounded out of his dream job at Real Madrid at the turn of the year.

Rafa reaches out to touch the love emanating from the Anfield crowd // Peter Powell/EPA

Nonetheless, his management is yielding results at Newcastle. Trailing 2-0 to Jurgen Klopp's men at half time, the Magpies fought back to earn a 2-2 draw and haul themselves a mere two points from safety. Against all odds, Rafa could still save a seemingly hopeless team from relegation. Likewise, that seemingly hopeless team could save his flagging career.

Rafa arrived at Newcastle a weather-beaten old bird, wings clipped and feathers falling out in great clumps. If he preserves their Premier League status, he will be reincarnated as a silky black magpie with magnificent plumage. Then, once again, he'll be able to fly free.

PARTY ON, LEICESTER

With Jamie Vardy suspended this weekend, it was unclear whether Leicester would be able to continue the Premier League party without him. That was until Riyad Mahrez slotted home 10 minutes into their match with Swansea, and Leicester proceeded to batter their opponents with almost sociopathic enthusiasm for the rest of the game.

Ulloa celebrates not only scoring, but also leaving teammate Robert Huth on his back // Tim Keeton/EPA

Though Mahrez has picked up the Player of the Year Award in the aftermath of the Foxes' emphatic 4-0 win, it was Leonardo Ulloa who really epitomised Leicester on the day. An unheralded talent in the Championship only a few seasons ago, he slotted selflessly into the team in Vardy's absence and nabbed two crucial goals.

He's one of many unlikely heroes in this Leicester side. They now need five points from their final three games to be named champions.

IHEANACHO, YOUNG PADAWAN

If Sergio Aguero is a Jedi Knight amongst Premier League strikers, Kelechi Iheanacho is his promising young padawan. With a goal every 81 minutes on average this season – and 11 strikes in all competitions – Iheanacho seems to have learnt a lot from the lethal finishing technique of his mentor. In fact, we'd go as far as to say his two goals against Stoke this weekend were Aguero-esque.

Iheanacho offers up prayers to Pep Guardiola for a starting spot next season // PA Images

If he can continue to mimic Aguero's precise play in front of goal, Kelechi could become one of the most exciting young prospects in the Premier League. The sight of him lightsabering his way through central defenders might well become a familiar one over the next few years.

The force is strong with this one.

WE ARE ALL CRYSTAL PALACE, NOW

As we've already established, there's more to life than the Premier League. Two of the best FA Cup semi finals we've seen for years were played out at Wembley this weekend; both were end-to-to end affairs, both ended 2-1, and both Manchester United and Crystal Palace will now feature in the grand finale on 21 May.

This can only mean one thing. We are all Crystal Palace, now.

Let's adjust to a world in which Alan Pardew is the overwhelming people's choice to clinch the FA Cup // Peter Powell/EPA

Though Manchester United fans might think that their recent trials and tribulations have changed the nation's collective feelings towards them, they are wrong. Having watched them win every trophy under the sun for decades – having witnessed their unbearable success – everyone else is desperate for their misery to continue indefinitely. They are the conceptual opposite of the neutral's favourite, both in and status. They are, to put it bluntly, the absolute worst.

Whether or not we like the idea of Alan Pardew banging on about his FA Cup win until the end of time, we're not going to back United. We will tolerate an aeon of Alan Pardew's after-dinner speaking, we will listen to his smug anecdotes about the 1990 FA Cup semi-final, we will even ride a steam train to Southampton while letting him snarfle our dinner. If it spites Manchester United for even a second, it will have been worth it.

@W_F_Magee