With just Chelsea to play West Bromwich Albion tonight, it has been another weekend full of Premier League action.
As preparation for a major Champions League tie goes, Liverpool’s win at Southampton on Sunday was as ideal as it gets. Two first half goals put the Reds in a commanding position that they never looked like relinquishing, Jurgen Klopp’s team merrily taking the sting out of the game in the second half against admittedly cosy opposition. The deadly double act of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino combined for both goals, the first seeing the Egyptian tee up his strike partner for a cool finish and the second coming from Salah after the most beautiful of backflicks from his Brazilian team-mate. Liverpool have blown plenty of two-goal leads in Klopp’s time at the club, but they manner in which they controlled the second half meant that a kamikaze act was never on the cards at St Mary’s. Virgil van Dijk was assured on his return to the south coast while other ex-Saints Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana both had chances to inflict further misery on their former employers, who have now slipped back into the relegation zone.
Liverpool’s win put them just two points behind Manchester United after the second-placed side surprisingly lost at Newcastle on Sunday. The winning goal came midway through the second half from Matt Ritchie, who latched onto a loose ball to drill past David de Gea, who had earlier made a fine save from Jonjo Shelvey. It was an afternoon to forget for Chris Smalling, who was lucky not to give away a first half penalty before being booked for the dive, the free-kick from which led to Ritchie’s goal. The visitors spurned several chances to equalise, with heroic Geordies defending enabling them to earn their first league win at St James’ Park in almost four months. It also maintained Jose Mourinho’s record of never having won at the venue, dating all the way back to his first season with Chelsea in 2004/05.
On more than one occasion over the past couple of years, there have been rumours of Sergio Aguero’s time at Manchester City coming to an end, that the Argentine had done his time at the Etihad. He showed on Saturday evening that he remains as indispensable as ever to the City cause, blitzing Leicester with a four-goal display in the second half of his team’s 5-1 win. The leaders were ahead inside three minutes, Raheem Sterling turning the ball home from close range to banish the ghosts of his horror miss at Burnley last week, before Jamie Vardy drew the Foxes level against the run of play. At half-time, with the score at 1-1, it seemed that Manchester City were perhaps rocking a little, but that notion was put to bed in emphatic fashion by Aguero, with a little help from the uncharacteristically sloppy Kasper Schmeichel. With a third of the season still to play, Pep Guardiola’s men are already past the 70-point mark. Leicester won the title with 80 in 2016, and had 10 points to spare over the second-placed team.
That team was Arsenal, who this season look a long shot just to finish fourth after losing to arch-rivals Tottenham at Wembley, the Gunners’ third away league defeat in a row. There was only one goal in the derby, Harry Kane’s header just after half-time, but the gulf between the two teams was sizeable, with Spurs dominant for large spells in the game. Indeed, the league’s top scorer missed a couple of fine opportunities to further shorten his Golden Boot odds and Tottenham were almost paid to pay for that profligacy in the dying minutes when Alexandre Lacazette shot narrowly wide. Spurs were good value for their win, though, and now lie seven points ahead of their inconsistent rivals.
Sam Allardyce would no doubt have been demanding a reaction from Everton after their trouncing at the Emirates last week and he got it, with the Toffees thrashing Crystal Palace 3-1 at Goodison Park. The first half was goalless and uneventful; the second half was barely a minute old when Gylfi Sigurdsson’s deflected shot put the home side in front. Oumar Niasse, who almost joined Palace last year, doubled Everton’s lead and Tom Davies then put the result beyond doubt. Luka Milivojevic scored a late penalty for the visitors but this was certainly Everton’s day, with Allardyce getting one over on the club he led to safety last season.
Having not won in eight league games and fallen to 19th, the rot seemed to have well and truly set in at Huddersfield until Sunday’s unexpected thrashing of a Bournemouth side who had been in fine form. Alex Pritchard scored his first Terriers goal early in the game before Junior Stanislas equalised. Steve Mounie then struck either side of half-time to put the hosts in a very commanding position and the scoring was completed in stoppage time with a Rajiv van la Parra penalty. The win lifts Huddersfield out of the drop zone while halting the substantial momentum that Bournemouth had built up in the first few weeks of 2018.
There was a dramatic finish to an even contest between Stoke and Brighton on Saturday, with the Seagulls managing to cling on for a valuable point. It was the visitors who struck first at the bet365 Stadium, a sublime team goal finished off by Jose Izquierdo, who is beginning to specialise in exceptional goals considering his howitzer against West Ham last week. Stoke’s equaliser wasn’t bad, either, a fine strike by Xherdan Shaqiri drawing them level. The Potters were given a great chance to win it at the death with a very soft penalty, but after Jese Rodriguez threw a tantrum over not being permitted to take it, Charlie Adam blasted it straight at Mat Ryan. From the resulting corner, Anthony Knockaert cleared off the line to preserve a point for Chris Hughton’s men.
Carlos Carvalhal continues to work his magic at Swansea, who climbed to 15th with a 1-0 win over Burnley that extended the Clarets’ winless run to 10 matches. It certainly wasn’t a memorable afternoon at the Liberty Stadium, with most of the fare on offer being of the tepid variety. Not that the home fans were complaining, though, when Ki Sung-Yeung struck late on to give the Swans a third successive win on their own turf. They have now taken more points in Carvalhal’s six weeks in charge than they managed in the first four months of the season, whereas Burnley haven’t won since the Spaniard’s appointment.
If Watford thought their humiliation of Chelsea would spark an upturn in form, they were mistaken after they fell to a 2-0 defeat at West Ham on Saturday. The Hammers were deserved winners and took a first half lead with a trademark poacher’s header from Javier Hernandez. They doubled their lead after the interval through Marko Arnautovic, who made the most of atrocious Watford defending to seal the points for David Moyes’ men. Watford came from two down to win 4-2 on their only other visit to London Stadium but that was never on the cards this time around.
Liverpool can now head to Porto with confidence on Wednesday after the perfect weekend for them on the domestic front. With Manchester United just two points ahead and playing after the Reds in the next round of Premier League fixtures, Klopp’s men could go second in a fortnight’s time. Before then, there’s a chance to take a massive step towards the Champions League quarter-finals, although they won’t have it as easy in midweek as they did at St Mary’s on Sunday.