Premier League week 23 round-up: Reds hold on to win game for the ages

Premier League Review Liverpool

Some heavyweight Premier League matches are hyped up to the last by Sky Sports, only to be anti-climactic damp squibs. Liverpool and Manchester City on Sunday did not fall into that category. It was scintillating, unpredictable, agonising and at times unwatchable. It was Liverpool at their coruscating best and self-destructive worst. The Reds were the better team in the first half but went in at the interval on level terms after Leroy Sane cancelled out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener. Liverpool had to withstand City pressure early in the second half before a devastating 10-minute spell where the front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all struck to leave the leaders shell-shocked. As Jurgen Klopp’s side so often do, however, they became complacent with a three-goal lead and when Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan brought it back to 4-3, panic set in. Sergio Aguero almost grabbed a last-gasp equaliser but the Reds held on to end all the talk about Manchester City being this season’s invincibles. A dream match for the neutrals, but one that put Liverpool fans through the now-customary wringer.

Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League now look slim after relinquishing a lead to lose 2-1 at Bournemouth, leaving them eight points off the top four. Alexis Sanchez was conspicuous by his absence from the team sheet. Neither side created any real chances in the first half but it was the Gunners who struck first on 52 minutes, Hector Bellerin’s shot trickling over the line after Asmir Begovic got an arm to the effort. You may have expected Arsenal to push on from there but a goalkeeping howler from Petr Cech allowed Bournemouth to equalise with 20 minutes to go, Callum Wilson beating the onrushing Czech veteran to the ball. The Cherries then went ahead a few minutes later when ex-Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe fired to the net, easing his team’s relegation fears while delivering a hammer blow to Arsenal’s top four aspirations and continuing their miserable start to 2018.

After sticking four goals past Liverpool at Wembley earlier in the season, Tottenham repeated the trick against the Premier League’s other Merseyside opposition on Saturday. Everton’s initial bounce under Sam Allardyce has well and truly halted, with this their fourth consecutive loss in all competitions. Son Heung-min, who was excellent all evening, gave Spurs a fully deserved first half lead and a double from Harry Kane after the interval made him the club’s all-time leading Premier League goalscorer. Tottenham rounded off the win with a sumptuous team goal to which Christian Eriksen applied the finish. Their top four pursuit remains on track, whereas Everton have work to do yet if they’re to avoid being sucked back into the relegation picture.

For the third time in eight days, across three different competitions, Chelsea were held to a goalless draw on Saturday by Leicester, their predecessors as Premier League champions. Indeed, that last sentence is slightly misleading as the Foxes were the better team for much of the game until the second half dismissal of Ben Chilwell. For the reigning title holders, Alvaro Morata’s barren patch continues, with none of his teammates emphatically taking up the scoring slack. In what’s becoming an increasingly competitive scramble for three Champions League positions, Chelsea might need to start finding goals soon or they could find themselves sweating on a top four finish.

The last time West Brom had won a Premier League match prior to Saturday, Liverpool still had to get through the second leg of their Champions League play-off against Hoffenheim. At last, after 20 unsuccessful attempts, the Baggies ended a league match victorious, seeing off a disappointing Brighton side 2-0 at The Hawthorns. Alan Pardew’s men were ahead inside four minutes, Jonny Evans heading to the net from a brilliantly-worked corner, and they doubled their lead early in the second half from another set piece, Craig Dawson the scorer. Chris Hughton’s side have been largely decent in their first Premier League season, but their slide down to 16th and their continuing problems with set piece defending could make for a very tense second half to the campaign.

In the week that video assistant referees (VAR) made their bow in English football, its absence at Vicarage Road on Saturday was being lamented by Southampton and their fans after the Saints were denied a badly-needed win in highly contentious circumstances. They were leading 2-1 in the last minute when Watford’s Abdoulaye Doucoure netted, but replays showed that the finishing touch was very intently applied with his hand. While Mauricio Pellegrino and his players had every right to be furious, they must also look at their part in blowing a two-goal half-time lead given to them by a rare double from the magnificent James Ward-Prowse. Unlucky as they were on Saturday, Southampton cannot afford too many more of these lapses in their current predicament.

West Ham looked a beaten docket when David Moyes came in as manager in November, but after Saturday’s 4-1 away drubbing of Huddersfield, the Londoners find themselves in 11th position. The Terriers have generally defended well in their inaugural Premier League season, but shot themselves in the foot for West Ham’s first goal, Jonas Lossl’s short kickout playing them into trouble and Mark Noble taking full advantage. Joe Lolley equalised in superb fashion shortly before half-time but the Hammers restored their lead just 15 seconds into the second half, Marko Arnautovic applying the damage. Two further goals from Manuel Lanzini consigned Huddersfield to a rotten defeat which saw them drop below their opponents in the table.

Just as Moyes has done in east London, Roy Hodgson has hauled a seemingly doomed Crystal Palace into a mid-table position since taking charge at Selhurst Park. Their 1-0 win over Burnley on Saturday made it just one defeat from 12 matches and gave them five points of breathing space from the relegation places. The only goal came from the in-form Bakary Sako, who cut inside from the left before powering the ball beyond Nick Pope. Indeed, Palace’s winning margin ought to have been much wider, only for Christian Benteke to pass up several opportunities. While the Eagles are rising, Burnley are now winless in six, their unlikely European aspirations falling away badly over the last month.

Swansea remain bottom of the table but their 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Saturday suggests that they are capable of hauling themselves out of the bottom three if they can perform consistently. The first half at St James’ Park was fairly tame from both sides and it took a 59th-minute goal from Jordan Ayew to bring this match to life. Another home defeat would have been disastrous for the Geordies, so Joselu’s equaliser was greeted with relief as much as anything, the Spaniard squirming the ball into the net from an acute angle. Newcastle haven’t won at home in the league for three months and might feel they won’t have too many better opportunities to banish that unwanted record.

While the concession of those two late goals took some of the gloss of Liverpool’s victory, scoring four against Manchester City and inflicting a first domestic defeat in almost nine months on the leaders must go down as a standout moment in the Reds’ season. Legendary PA operator George Sephton recognised the significance of the result and the frenzied nature of the match by playing You’ll Never Walk Alone at the final whistle. It was their 13th Premier League win of the season, but none of the previous dozen felt quite as massive as this one.

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