Premier League week 8 round-up: Liverpool foiled by Operation Park The Bus

Premier League Review Liverpool

Almost a year to the day that Jose Mourinho sent his Manchester United team to Anfield to obtain a goalless draw, the trick was repeated in L4 on Saturday as Liverpool were thwarted by their fierce rivals once again. Just as in last season’s fixture, David de Gea produced a world-class save, with Mohamed Salah’s follow-up trickling wide. Emre Can then spurned a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring shortly after half-time and Roberto Firmino’s cross was just too high for Salah to get his head upon as Liverpool’s attack was kept at bay. It could have been even worse for the Merseysiders had Simon Mignolet not produced a top-class save of his own to deny Romelu Lukaku. Indeed, the Reds became the first team this season to stop the in-form Belgian from scoring, and while there can be a sense of satisfaction at stifling his influence on proceedings, this was another game Liverpool dominated but were left having to settle for a point.

United’s draw gave Manchester City the chance to become outright leaders and they took that opportunity in imperious style, hammering Stoke 7-2 to take their Premier League goal count to 29 in just eight matches. The points seemed to be in the bag after three goals in the first half hour, but two goals for the visitors either side of half-time suddenly turned it into a contest again. That didn’t last long, though, as City struck three times in the space of 11 minutes to surge 6-2 ahead, Fernandino’s long-range effort the pick of the goals, and Bernardo Silva added one more late on. Kevin de Bruyne might not have scored, but he was indisputably man of the match, playing passes of truly breathtaking quality as he orchestrated City’s latest romp. Also, this was a win achieved without Sergio Aguero in the line-up, highlighting the frightening strength in depth that Pep Guardiola now has.

City are showing the form of champions, but the same certainly cannot be said for the reigning title holders. Chelsea fell to their third defeat of the season against Crystal Palace on Saturday, the Eagles finally getting off the mark at the eighth time of asking. Their first goal of this year’s Premier League was actually scored by an opponent, Cesar Azpilicueta’s deflection proving fundamental, but Chelsea were soon level through Tiemoue Bakayoko’s well-placed header. Palace got their noses in front just before the interval when the returning Wilfried Zaha showed the class and penetration that they had been so sorely missing of late and Roy Hodgson’s men comfortably dealt with anything the Blues had to throw at them in the second half. This win could be the kick-start that Palace’s season needed, but Chelsea already have nine points to make up on the leaders, a worrying gap just two months into the campaign.

Arsenal also fell to a surprise defeat on Saturday, going down 2-1 away to a Watford team who now find themselves in the top four to continue their excellent start to the campaign. The Hornets hadn’t actually won at home in the league prior to last weekend and that statistic looked like being preserved when Per Mertesacker headed the visitors in front near the end of the first half. Watford were thrown a lifeline, though, when Richarlison won a penalty that Troy Deeney converted and, in stoppage time, Arsenal’s inability to clear their lines gave Tom Cleverley the chance to rifle the ball into the roof of the net for a stunning winner. The Gunners had been going well prior to the international break, but all the familiar question marks have now reappeared after this setback.

Like Watford, Tottenham also recorded a first home league win of the season when they finally broke their Wembley hoodoo, even if they were made to earn it by a resolute if limited Bournemouth side. Surprisingly, Harry Kane had an off-day for Spurs, so it was left to Christian Eriksen to find a route to goal shortly after half-time as Mauricio Pochettino’s men climbed to third, taking advantage of rivals’ slip-ups to strengthen their position. The Cherries didn’t lack for effort on the day but Eddie Howe will know that with his team 19th in the table nearly a quarter of the way through the season, performances need to manifest themselves in the form of results if they are to climb out of the bottom three.

Another team to finally register a home win in 2017/18 last weekend were Swansea, who proved too strong for Huddersfield at the Liberty Stadium. Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl was left in a heap early on by Leroy Fer and still seemed dazed when his slack clearance just before half-time fell straight to an opponent and Tammy Abraham dispatched to the net gleefully. The on-loan striker doubled his tally the other side of the interval, getting the final touch to Jordan Ayew’s shot as Swansea moved up to 13th. The initial bounce of post-promotion euphoria has worn off for Huddersfield, who are without a win in six and coming to realise that the Premier League will be a slog, especially with so little attacking threat.

Southampton’s games tend not to be chock-full of goals, but there were four distributed evenly between them and Newcastle at St Mary’s on Sunday. Isaac Hayden put the visitors ahead in the first half with a thundering drive from outside the box and they remained ahead until just before the hour mark, when Manolo Gabbiadini levelled. Parity lasted less than 90 seconds as Ayoze Perez restored Newcastle’s lead but a Gabbiadini penalty ensured that the spoils would be shared. The Geordies were very fortunate to keep 11 players on the pitch after DeAndre Yedlin, already on a yellow card, thundered into Nathan Redmond, but Kevin Friend somehow deemed it not worthy of a second booking.

The vultures were hovering ominously over Ronald Koeman before Everton used their ‘get out of jail free’ card to rescue a last-gasp draw at Brighton on Sunday. It’s fair to say that the first half at the Amex Stadium will not go down in folklore, but the pace picked up substantially after half-time. It still took until the 82nd minute for a goal to arrive, Anthony Knockaert finishing from inside the penalty are. That looked like securing a third home win on the trot for Chris Hughton’s side before, in stoppage time, Bruno needlessly elbowed Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the face and conceded a penalty which Wayne Rooney converted. It was harsh on Brighton, but they will need to learn to be more disciplined in such tight situations, while the point failed to really paper over the cracks for Everton.

West Ham were on course for a second successive victory on Saturday before being pegged back by a late Burnley equaliser. The Hammers hit the front in the first half through Michail Antonio, but the task of keeping the lead was made harder when Andy Carroll recklessly got himself sent off for two aerial lunges. Slaven Bilic’s men survived a scare when Joe Hart brought down Chris Wood in the penalty area, but no foul was given. The New Zealand striker would have the last laugh, though, as he equalised with five minutes remaining to give Burnley a deserved share of the spoils.

The verdict on the weekend’s events for Liverpool will be viewed differently depending on whether you view a glass filled midway as half-full or half-empty. It’s now just one win in five league games for the Reds, with all three draws in that bracket feeling like missed opportunities for points, while the lack of penetration up top was worrying. However, Jurgen Klopp’s men have still only lost once this season and, with teams tightly bunched behind the pace-setting Manchester duo (one of whom was scared into defensive submission at Anfield), a decent string of victories would lift Liverpool nicely into those Champions League positions. Football rarely does grey areas, but this was a result which seems neither black nor white.

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