Having not won at Anfield in the Premier League since mid-November, Liverpool made up for lost time by sticking five goals past an abject Swansea side without reply on Boxing Day. The first half was largely forgettable save for Philippe Coutinho’s sublime early goal and Roberto Firmino’s glaring miss on the stroke of half-time. The Reds could afford to coast in the first 45 minutes and then go through the gears, as the opposition was so feeble. From the moment that the Brazilian duo combined early in the second half, Firmino applying the finishing touch with a neatly-placed header, Swansea threw in the towel and any lingering doubts about the result were soon put to bed, Trent Alexander-Arnold capping a fine performance with a brilliantly-taken goal. Firmino helped himself to another before the rout was completed in wonderful style by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was the perfect game for Liverpool and for Simon Mignolet, who had a splendidly peaceful evening apart from one impressive save made in stoppage time. Business as usual for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
After conceding decisive stoppage time goals in their previous two games, Manchester United landed a significant last-gasp blow against Burnley to draw 2-2, an ideal result from a Liverpool perspective. The home side were well off the pace at Old Trafford and fell behind inside three minutes, Ashley Barnes pouncing from a dismally-defended corner. Burnley doubled their lead on 36 minutes when Steven Defour curled an outstanding free kick into the United net and the Clarets were good value for their two-goal advantage. It was one-way traffic towards Nick Pope’s goal in the second half, though, and shortly after contriving to miss from two yards, Jesse Lingard made amends to claw United back into the contest. The siege continued for the rest of the game, but just as it seemed that Burnley would record a famous win, Lingard struck in stoppage time to rescue a draw for the home side. It was still a wretched performance from United, though, while Sean Dyche’s men let two valuable points slip in their pursuit of a European finish.
You could argue that Harry Kane should have been suspended for Tottenham’s festive fixtures after his shocking challenge against Manchester City two weeks ago, but his prowess as an elite goalscorer is beyond question. The striker set a new record for the most Premier League goals in a calendar year in some style at Wembley, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-2 victory over Southampton to end 2017 with 39 in the league. Two of Kane’s treble came in the first half, with Dele Alli and Son Heung-min stretching the lead soon after half-time. Kane’s hat-trick goal was sandwiched between consolation strikes from Sofiane Boufal and Dusan Tadic, both of which Hugo Lloris could only parry into his own net. The Saints had other chances and weren’t as abysmal as the final score might suggest, the clinical nature of Spurs making the real difference. Southampton need to start being more ruthless at both ends of the pitch, though, or else they’ll spend the first few months of 2018 scrambling for their top flight lives.
Message to whoever is responsible for assigning referees to Premier League matches: do not give Bobby Madley another West Ham game anytime soon. The official was the headline act of the Hammer’s madcap 3-3 draw at Bournemouth, bottling two crucial decisions that both went against the visitors. It was David Moyes’ side who drew first blood, James Collins with a firm header from a corner, before Dan Gosling levelled for the Cherries. Madley’s first shocker was to show a yellow rather than a red card for Simon Francis’ aerial assault on Cheikhou Kouyate, a disgusting challenge which has no place on a football pitch. After the interval, Nathan Ake put Bournemouth ahead before Asmir Begovic gifted two late goals to the in-form Marko Arnautovic. West Ham seemed to have won it at that point, but then came another extraordinary incident deep into stoppage time. Callum Wilson had the ball in the Hammers’ net before the goal was flagged offside. Madley entered into lengthy discussions with his assistant, ultimately overturning the initial decision and awarding the goal. Replays showed that the right call had been made first time around and Wilson was offside. It was a day of utter bedlam at the Vitality Stadium.
Chelsea’s 2-0 win at home to Brighton was typical of their season so far – efficient and relatively comfortable without being hugely impressive. The first half was quite poor from the champions, with Brighton easily coping with anything that was thrown at them. Within a minute of the restart, the course of the game changed and it was the Blues’ most productive Spanish double act which combined again, Cesar Azpilicueta’s neat pass met by the head of Alvaro Morata and dispatched to the net. The lead was doubled just before the hour when Marcos Alonso got his head to a Cesc Fabregas corner, the defender’s 10th goal of 2017. Chelsea cruised through the rest of the game while Brighton again had to settle for a gallant defeat against one of the league’s top sides.
Watford had been drifting horribly in recent weeks but got their ship back on course with their first win in seven, a 2-1 home victory against a Leicester side who are now winless in three games. The Foxes looked sharper in the first half and after Jamie Vardy missed a straightforward chance, Riyad Mahrez gave them the lead with a 37th-minute header. On the stroke of half-time, the home side levelled through Molla Wague, whose Leicester career had been brief and forgettable. Watford controlled proceeding in the second half and got their noses in front when Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot was diverted into his own net by Kasper Schmeichel, the Dane being credited with the own goal. This overdue win keeps the Hornets in the top half and provided plentiful relief for Marco Silva after a tough period.
The points were shared at the John Smith’s Stadium between Huddersfield and Stoke, both of whom will be content with the 1-1 draw. The home side were ahead on 10 minutes, with Tom Ince registering his first goal for the club with a simple close-range finish. Stoke thought they had levelled after an epic goalmouth scramble ended with about 98% of the ball over the line, but Huddersfield then took charge again and the Potters were thankful to Jack Butland for keeping them in the contest. They equalised on the hour mark through Ramadan Sobhi, his second goal in as many games, and Anthony Taylor waved away strong penalty claims from both teams as the match ended all square.
West Brom and Everton had both frustrated the life out of Liverpool at Anfield earlier this month and did the same to one another in a dreary goalless draw at The Hawthorns. Given the respective form of the two teams, Alan Pardew may well have been happier with the point than Sam Allardyce, but most of the precious few chances which were created fell to the home side. It was a day to forget for Salomon Rondon, whose miserable form in front of goal continued, and West Brom might not get many better opportunities to end a winless sequence that is one match away from lasting half a season. They stay second from bottom while Everton retain ninth position.
Liverpool could afford to play within themselves for large spells of their 5-0 win over Swansea, although Klopp will know full well that a far stiffer test will come on Saturday when Leicester pitch up at Anfield. It’s the fifth meeting between the clubs in 2017, but the first on Merseyside. Liverpool won the last clash at the King Power Stadium three months ago; a repeat result on home turf will round off a satisfying year on a high.