Premier League week 12 round-up: Heaven-sent Salah crucifies Saints

Premier League Review Liverpool

In four matches against Southampton last season, Liverpool did not find the net once. Inside 90 minutes of Saturday’s encounter against the Saints, Jurgen Klopp’s side scored three without reply, a crucial victory on a weekend when almost all their main top four rivals won. It was a fifth clean sheet out of six at Anfield in the Premier League this season, a peculiar statistic given the Reds’ much-documented defensive troubles. The inclusion of Sadio Mane after returning home from international duty was most welcome, but it was Liverpool’s other African who stole the show as Mohamed Salah struck twice before half-time. His first was a sumptuous curler into the top corner from outside the penalty area, his second a clinical finish from Philippe Coutinho’s exquisite through ball. The Brazilian rounded off the scoring in the second half, lashing home from a rebound to kill any faint chance of a Southampton comeback. Liverpool bossed the game from start to finish and could have enjoyed an even bigger winning margin, but this was a very good day’s work from the Reds.

The three-goal victory also ensured that Liverpool stayed in fifth ahead of Arsenal on goal difference, the Gunners having won 2-0 in the North London derby earlier that day. The source of the first goal was a sore point for Tottenham, who justifiably felt that Davinson Sanchez had neatly dispossessed his namesake Alexis, except that Mike Dean blew for a nonexistent foul. From the resulting free kick, Shkodran Mustafi got to the delivery and steered the ball home. Five minutes later, Alexis Sanchez found the net from a tight angle to leave Spurs with an insurmountable hurdle to climb. Even though the nature of Arsenal’s first goal was very contentious, they were good value for their two-goal triumph as Tottenham barely laid a glove on their bitterest rivals. Having also lost to Chelsea and Manchester United this season, it is results in these head-to-heads against the top teams which Spurs will rue if they fall short of their objectives come the end of the campaign.

Manchester City remain eight points clear at the summit after a 2-0 victory at Leicester which ultimately was comfortable but didn’t come without its hiccups for the league leaders. Vincent Kompany could easily have been sent off when he brought down Jamie Vardy, who was bearing down on goal, inside three minutes; the presence of two City defenders nearby probably sparing the Belgian. The visitors had to wait until just before the interval to hit the front, Gabriel Jesus tucking the ball home from close range. Leicester almost forced an equaliser from a set piece just after the break but City survived the scare and broke upfield rapidly, a devastating counterattack that ended with Kevin de Bruyne lashing an unstoppable drive past a despairing Kasper Schmeichel. From that point on, the rampant table toppers were never really troubled and they could have added to their tally, but a stiff away challenge was overcome and it’s now 10 league wins on the bounce for Pep Guardiola’s men.

At one point on Saturday evening, it looked like City’s lead could have been even greater, but Manchester United recovered from the concession of an early goal against Newcastle to romp to a 4-1 victory. The visitors opened the scoring on 14 minutes when Dwight Gayle pounced on defensive hesitation from United, but once Anthony Martial equalised with a header in the 39th minute, the course of this match was altered. Chris Smalling headed the home side into the lead on the stroke of half-time and it wasn’t long before the returning Paul Pogba found the net, treating the Old Trafford crowd to some slick dance moves in his goal celebration. The win was rounded off by Romelu Lukaku, who had all the time in the world to register his eighth Premier League goal this season. Gayle’s early effort was the first goal conceded by United on their home patch in domestic action in 2017/18, but it was ultimately a mere footnote in the overall context of this clash.

Chelsea fans also got to enjoy seeing their team score four as they wiped the floor with an abject West Brom team that’s on an alarming slide. Eden Hazard was the star of the show, netting twice and generally tormenting the Baggies all day, whether with his mesmerising play or his occasional run-ins with opposition players. Alvaro Morata added another to his tally with the opening goal at The Hawthorns, while Marcos Alonso netted his third of the season with a free header after some truly horrendous set piece defending from West Brom. This was the type of performance which, as part of a 10-match winless run, gets managers the sack, a worrying scenario which Tony Pulis will surely realise.

West Ham supporters hoping for the ‘new manager bounce’ effect from David Moyes’ first game in charge were left disappointed as they fell to a 2-0 defeat at Watford, who ended a run of three consecutive defeats. The Hornets needed only 11 minutes to break the deadlock, Will Hughes making the most of slack Hammers defending to steer the ball home after Andre Gray’s effort was blocked. The second goal came in the 64th minute when Richarlison capped a lengthy dribble by crashing the ball beyond Joe Hart. West Ham had a few chances but this was another worrying display and the away supporters at Vicarage Road were vocal in airing their disgruntlement towards their team.

Another side in major trouble a third of the way through the season are Swansea, who were well beaten away to Burnley on Saturday. Both goals in a 2-0 home win came in an 11-minute spell near the end of the first half and it was ex-Swansea man Jack Cork who set the wheels in motion by heading to the net from Robbie Brady’s cross. The Clarets’ lead was doubled with a powerful shot from Ashley Barnes which left Lukasz Fabianski helpless. The visitors tried gamely to forge a way back into the contest but lacked the guile to do so and they remain second from bottom. In contrast, Burnley move on to 22 points from 12 games and remain tied with Arsenal and Liverpool on points, a testament to the wonders being performed by Sean Dyche at Turf Moor.

Bournemouth had a slow start to the season but seem to be hitting their stride after making it three wins from four on Saturday with a 4-0 thrashing of Huddersfield, despite playing just over half the match with 10 men after Simon Francis was dismissed. The Terriers actually had the better of things for most of the first half, but found themselves 2-0 down at the break, both goals coming from Callum Wilson. He ended the day with a hat-trick, putting months of injury despair behind him, and Bournemouth’s other goal came from Harry Arter. The Cherries are now up to 13th in the table, while away points remain hard to come by for David Wagner’s men.

Crystal Palace and Everton shared four goals evenly between them in a very entertaining encounter at Selhurst Park. The home side were in front inside 48 seconds, James McArthur applying the finish, but were quickly pegged back when Leighton Baines drilled home a sixth-minute penalty. The Eagles retook the lead through Wilfried Zaha on 35 minutes but could not keep their noses in front to half-time, Oumar Niasse equalising in first half stoppage time. The interval gave players, management and fans alike a chance to draw breath, although the second half was far less eventful and both teams were left to settle for a point. In their current position, Palace probably needed all three.

Liverpool have now won four games on the bounce in all competitions following Saturday’s cruise against Southampton, but without intending to be disrespectful, that quartet of victories came against rather limited opposition. This week’s matches against Sevilla and Chelsea will offer a much truer indication of where Klopp’s team stands at this moment.