In the end, it was uncharacteristically straightforward for Liverpool at the John Smith’s Stadium on Tuesday night. Just as at Anfield earlier in the season, the Reds were comfortable 3-0 winners over Huddersfield, who barely laid a glove on the visitors all night. A tame affair came to life shortly before the half-hour with a sweet Emre Can strike from outside the box, even if it took a deflection on its way to the Huddersfield net. Roberto Firmino doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time, squeezing the ball past Jonas Lossl from a very tight angle. Sadio Mane had a couple of good chances to put the game to bed, but his luck in front of goal remains out. It fell to Liverpool’s other African, Mohamed Salah, to end the contest when he converted a late penalty for his 26th goal of the season. While the Terriers certainly didn’t live up to their nickname, Liverpool controlled the game professionally and were clinical when it was needed.
Tottenham remain just two points behind the Reds after they outclassed Manchester United at Wembley, moving to within three points of their opponents despite remaining fifth. United hadn’t conceded a goal since Boxing Day in any competition but found themselves 1-0 down inside 11 seconds, Christian Eriksen pouncing with the third fastest goal in Premier League history. It got worse for the visitors just before the half-hour when Phil Jones unwittingly put the ball into his own net and, for a finish, United were probably grateful to get out of dodge with a 2-0 defeat, such was Spurs’ dominance. There was a bizarre scenario in the second half when Jose Mourinho brought on Marouane Fellaini and then withdrew him again just seven minutes later, even though the Belgian had no discernible injury. His storming down the tunnel upon being substituted summed up a dreadful night for United.
Swansea followed up their surprise win over Liverpool by inflicting similar treatment on Arsenal, for whom Henrikh Mkhitaryan made a losing debut. The Gunners struck first in the Liberty Stadium rain, Nacho Monreal turning the ball home from a deft Mesut Ozil pass, but their lead was extinguished almost immediately by Sam Clucas, who took full advantage of some awful defending. That equaliser was the least that Swansea deserved and they went one better after the interval, even if Jordan Ayew’s goal owed almost entirely to a calamitous miskick from Petr Cech. The Swans were much the better side, though, and made sure of the points when Clucas doubled his tally late on. Arsenal are now eight points off the top four while the win took Swansea out of the relegation zone overnight.
Chelsea dropped down to fourth on goal difference after a sensational 0-3 hammering at home by Bournemouth, who won at Stamford Bridge for the second time in three seasons. The champions failed to truly threaten in the first half and were then subjected to a 15-minute onslaught during which the Cherries cut loose. Callum Wilson fired the visitors ahead before Junior Stanislas and ex-Chelsea man Nathan Ake piled on the woe for Antonio Conte’s side. The Blues remain a model of inconsistency and now face a real battle just to finish in the top four; Bournemouth climb serenely into the top half of the table as their fine form continues.
Manchester City extended their lead at the top to 15 points after strolling past West Brom at the Etihad on Wednesday night. They were ahead inside 19 minutes, Kevin de Bruyne threading a sumptuous pass for Fernandinho to finish, and only a string of fine saves from Ben Foster stopped it from becoming a rout. City struck twice more after half-time to give the final score a more accurate look, de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero with the goals as they march closer to the title. For all their recent improvement, West Brom find themselves three points adrift at the bottom, but can console themselves at not having to face Pep Guardiola’s men in the league for the rest of the season.
Everton ended their recent run of poor form with a 2-1 win at home to Leicester, for whom wantaway star Riyad Mahrez was a notable absentee as his hopes of a move to Manchester City collapsed. One man who did make a move in January ended up grabbing the headlines, with Theo Walcott netting both of the Toffees’ goals in a first half that the hosts dominated. Leicester found a way back into the game after Jamie Vardy converted a penalty and then pinned Everton back in the closing minutes but could not plunder an equaliser. The home side’s night was made even better by the return of Seamus Coleman after 10 months out injured with a broken leg.
Home wins remain an extremely rare commodity for Newcastle after they somehow contrived to draw 1-1 against Burnley at St James’ Park. The Geordies had the better of the first half and should have gone in at half-time with the lead, only for Joselu’s weak penalty to be stopped by Nick Pope. They eventually hit the front after Jamaal Lascelles headed to the net from a corner but further chances went begging and, in the dying minutes, Karl Darlow saved brilliantly from Sam Vokes’ header, only for the ball to rebound off the crossbar and then the Newcastle goalkeeper before nestling in the home side’s net. It was tragi-comic even from a neutral perspective, but the loss of two valuable points is no laughing matter for the struggling Geordies.
West Ham and Crystal Palace would have been content with a point each from their London derby on Tuesday night. The Eagles struck first when fine work by Andros Townsend set up Christian Benteke for a headed finish, a goal that the out-of-sorts Belgian very much needed. Shortly before half-time, the scores were level when Mark Noble slotted home from the penalty spot. There wasn’t much to write home about after the interval, a good Wayne Hennessey near the start of the second half the standout moment. The draw keeps both of these teams in mid-table.
By contrast, Southampton and Brighton remain in the thick of a relegation battle after their 1-1 draw at St Mary’s on Wednesday. The visitors took a first half lead through a highly debatable penalty that Glenn Murray converted, his second goal in the space of five days, and the Saints then squandered a couple of good chances to equalise. They eventually drew level after half-time when a teasing James Ward-Prowse free kick was cheekily finished with a backheel from Jack Stephens. Southampton, not for the first time, had the greater volume of chances but failed to take enough of them for victory.
Even those who attended the goalless draw between Stoke and Watford will have forgotten most of it, such was the dearth of quality on show. Watford’s on-loan debutant Gerard Deulofeu looked lively throughout, though, and ought to have had a penalty awarded when he was held in the box by Kurt Zouma. Both teams had one or two decent chances but none of them were taken and neither really did enough to deserve a victory from a most uninspiring game of football.
For Liverpool, a Jekyll and Hyde January could not have ended any better. After getting back to winning ways on Tuesday night, they saw Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all being beaten, even though the latter drawing with Tottenham would have been the desired result. Still, the Reds profited from the midweek action and at least they go into Sunday’s crunch clash with Spurs with a two-point lead over their London rivals.