Premier League week 18 round-up: Cherries picked off by clinical Liverpool

Premier League Review Liverpool

Four at West Ham, three at Stoke, five at Brighton and now four at Bournemouth. Liverpool might have been left lamenting their inability to score just once in their previous two home matches but they certainly don’t suffer from travel sickness. At the ground where they blew a 3-1 lead just over a year ago, the Reds made no mistake this time after surging into a three-goal half-time advantage. Philippe Coutinho got the wheels in motion with a deft solo effort before Roberto Firmino’s refusal to give up on a seemingly lost cause provided Dejan Lovren with the chance to convert with a diving header. Mohamed Salah then produced an outstanding solo goal of his own just before the interval and the visitors held firm in the face of Bournemouth pressure early in the second half to deliver one more blow, Coutinho’s pinpoint cross headed to the net by Firmino. There was welcome game time off the bench for Adam Lallana, Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke on a day when every Liverpool player can be pleased with their performance. Sky Sports gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain man of the match and it was an accolade he deserved, his tireless and energetic display indicating that he is settling in nicely to life on Merseyside. Away days don’t come much better than this.

The Manchester City juggernaut shows absolutely no sign of slowing down any time soon. They made it 16 league wins in a row on Saturday, comprehensively defeating Tottenham 4-1 with a quality of football that has rarely been seen in the Premier League. They were ahead midway through the first half when Ilkay Gundogan headed past Hugo Lloris and, while Spurs had a spell of pressure at the beginning of the second half, the gap between the teams was apparent. A powerful finish from the majestic Kevin de Bruyne on 68 minutes put City in a commanding position and two late goals from Raheem Sterling, who had earlier blazed over from a rebound after Gabriel Jesus’ penalty was saved, put Spurs well and truly to the sword. Christian Eriksen scored an impressive consolation goal deep into stoppage time but the damage was long since done. A bad day at the office for Tottenham could have been so much worse if Harry Kane and Dele Alli were penalised more stringently for nasty challenges which would have merited red cards. If Spurs have ambitions of becoming Premier League champions, they were shown at the Etihad the lofty standard that they would need to reach.

Just as they had done against Bournemouth in midweek, Manchester United stumbled across the line away to West Brom to cling into all three points. They seemed to be cruising at half-time after Romelu Lukaku’s header and Jesse Lingard’s deflected effort saw them go from level to 2-0 up in a short space of time. West Brom had a go in the second half, though, and should have had a penalty when Ashley Young barged into James McClean in the box, the Irishman given a raw deal from the officials. The Baggies worked their way back into the contest when Gareth Barry scrambled the ball home from a corner and United were forced to survive a late onslaught to emerge victorious. That’s two unconvincing wins in a row for Jose Mourinho’s men, while Alan Pardew is kept waiting for his first win at West Brom manager and saw his team drop to 19th in the table, far from an ideal position to occupy in the week before Christmas.

Chelsea solidified their place in the top three after a deserved yet not entirely comfortable 1-0 win at home to Southampton on Saturday. The only goal at Stamford Bridge came on the stroke of half-time via a sweetly-struck Marcos Alonso free kick, although questions must be asked of Fraser Forster’s peculiar positioning. The England goalkeeper otherwise had quite a good game, but was caught napping at the crucial moment. Chelsea had the ball in the Saints net during the second half, but the goal was disallowed as Cesc Fabregas occupied an offside position. The visitors had chances of their own through substitute Charlie Austin but found Thibaut Courtois too difficult to beat. It was a much-improved display by Southampton compared to the midweek thrashing by Leicester, but with only three points between them and the drop zone, Christmas cheer isn’t in abundant supply from Mauricio Pellegrino.

Arsenal ended a spell of three league games without a win by beating Newcastle at the Emirates on Saturday, the Gunners’ dominance not entirely reflected in the final score of 1-0. The goal was a moment of class from Mesut Ozil, whose sumptuous volley gave Rob Elliot no chance, a timely reminder of how influential the German playmaker can be when he’s in the mood. Despite not being able to add to their lead, Arsenal were streets ahead of the Geordies and their fans will have been pleased to witness another impressive display from Jack Wilshere, who is finally enjoying a sustained spell in the first team after years of injury torment. The Gunners go back into the top four while Newcastle’s winter malaise has seen them slide into the relegation places.

Crystal Palace looked a beaten docket after failing to pick up a single point from their first eight games, but an astounding 3-0 win at in-form Leicester on Saturday saw them climb to 14th, by a distance the highest position they have occupied all season. After his penalty shocker last week, Christian Benteke went someway to redeeming himself by giving the Eagles a 19th-minute lead and that was doubled on 40 minutes when Wilfried Zaha, who was again magnificent, rifled the ball past Kasper Schmeichel. It got even worse for Leicester after half-time when Wilfred Ndidi was correctly adjudged to have dived in the penalty area, picking up a second yellow card in the process, and their woes were compounded in stoppage time as Bakary Sako curled a fine effort into the Leicester net. The Foxes’ winning run has come to a shuddering halt, whereas Palace are taking full advantage of the struggles of those teams in or around the relegation zone.

West Ham had also been mired in the drop zone not too long ago but, just as Roy Hodgson is doing elsewhere in London, David Moyes is instigating a remarkable recovery at his new post. On Saturday the Hammers moved up to 15th after annihilating Stoke 3-0 at the bet365 Stadium. The match was delayed by an hour due to an electrical fault at the ground, but the Potters must have wished it never went ahead at all as they gave perhaps their worst performance in almost 10 years of Premier League football. Mark Hughes had reason to be aggrieved with West Ham’s first goal, a Mark Noble penalty which was incorrectly awarded as Manuel Lanzini had dived, but otherwise the ex-Wales boss could have had no complaints. Marko Arnautovic lapped up the gauntlet of hate from the stands, running his former club ragged all day and revelling in scoring the Hammers’ second goal, and the ground was rapidly emptying by the time Diafra Sakho completed the rout. That’s now three clean sheets in a row for West Ham, but Hughes’ position at Stoke looks increasingly precarious, especially with large elements of the home support calling for his dismissal.

It’s either famine or feast when it comes to Huddersfield scoring away from home. After hitting three at Crystal Palace on the opening day, the Terriers didn’t score on their travels for four months until making up for lost time by smashing four past Watford on Saturday. Elias Kachunga set the ball rolling after just six minutes, although he soon departed with what looked a nasty injury. Aaron Mooy made it 2-0 midway through the first half and the third goal came shortly after half-time, Laurent Depoitre pouncing on slack Watford defending. Abdoulaye Doucoure’s latest wonder strike gave the Hornets faint hope of a comeback but those disappeared in the closing minutes when Mooy converted from the penalty spot. It was a shocking day for the Hornets, whose excellent start to the campaign has well and truly receded, and it was an unusually error-ridden afternoon for referee Michael Oliver too. He gave two red cards, Troy Deeney and Jonathan Hogg the recipients, but both players could justifiably feel that their dismissals were harsh, especially in the context of more serious fouls elsewhere on Saturday that were less severely punished.

Following a poor run of results which dragged them into the relegation picture, Brighton will have been content to have taken a point against high-flying Burnley on Saturday, although Chris Hughton may feel that it should have been more. The form book indicated a clear away win at the Amex Stadium but it was Brighton who were the better side for most of the game and they were given the perfect chance to score towards the end of the first half after Glenn Murray was felled in the box, only for the striker to blaze his spot kick well over the bar. He should have had a chance at redemption shortly afterwards, a sneaky elbow into the ribs from James Tarkowski going unpunished, while Sean Dyche was none too impressed with Jose Izquierdo for one of the clearest ‘please give me a penalty’ dives of the season later in the match. Despite the missed penalty, this was Brighton’s best display in a while; more like this and the tide should soon change in their favour.

Liverpool edged their way back into the top four after Sunday’s stroll on the south coast and they are in the enviable position of looking down on Arsenal ahead of Friday night’s festive cracker. Even a draw at the Emirates will keep Jurgen Klopp’s men ahead of one of their main top four rivals, while a repeat of last season’s victory in North London would be a real boon for the Reds in their pursuit of another season in the Champions League.