It wasn’t the rip-roaring, free-scoring Liverpool to which we have become accustomed, but Saturday evening’s 2-0 win over Newcastle was no less satisfying. The Reds had to be patient against opponents who have a habit of making it difficult for the league’s top sides, but the breakthrough eventually came four minutes before half-time and again it was Mohamed Salah who provided the finish, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain unselfishly laying the ball on a plate for the Egyptian. At the other end, Newcastle’s one chance of note required an outstanding save on the stroke of half-time from Loris Karius, a much-maligned goalkeeper who is getting better with every game as the Reds’ undisputed first choice. A sumptuous team goal 10 minutes after the interval put the home side in a commanding position, Sadio Mane rounding off one of the finest interchanges of passing you will see anywhere all season. After that, Liverpool took the sting out of the game and, with Newcastle unable to muster any real threat, Jurgen Klopp’s men saw the evening out comfortably, moving to second for 50 hours at least.
Tottenham had briefly gone above Liverpool into third earlier on Saturday after their 2-0 win over Huddersfield at Wembley. Harry Kane might not have been on target this time but he was still influential on a day when Son Heung-min took the glory with both goals. The Korean opened the scoring on 27 minutes, finishing coolly after being played through with a wonderful pass from Dele Alli, and Son doubled his tally early in the second half with a deft header from Kane’s pinpoint cross. Son ought to have won Spurs a penalty shortly before that after being hauled to the ground by Terence Kongolo, while Tom Ince had the Terriers’ best chance of the day a minute before they went two goals down. Tottenham stretch their unbeaten run in all competitions to 17 and are in good nick ahead of their Champions League meeting with Juventus on Wednesday.
While Liverpool and Spurs strengthened their respective places in the top four, Chelsea’s Champions League ambitions took a blow after they became the latest team to fall at the hands of Manchester City, who need to win just four of their nine remaining league matches to be confirmed as champions. There was only one goal at the Etihad on Sunday, Bernardo Silva making the most of hesitant Chelsea defending, but the gulf in class between the teams was wider than the 1-0 scoreline would suggest. The Londoners were desperately negative in their approach, relying on sporadic counterattacks which did give City’s defence food for thought, although their compact shape frustrated the rampant league leaders for large spells. Two Manchester defeats in a week, though, leave the reigning champions with ground to make up just to finish in the top four this season.
If Chelsea’s top four hopes were dented on Sunday, Arsenal’s were seemingly buried once and for all as they crashed to defeat at Brighton, their fourth straight loss in all competitions and eighth in just two months. An early Lewis Dunk strike put the Seagulls in front and a superb cross created the chance for Glenn Murray to double Brighton’s lead shortly before the half-hour, with Petr Cech not covering himself in glory for either goal. Sloppy Brighton defending allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the chance to pull one back for Arsenal on the stroke of half-time and the Seagulls had to be resilient in the second half to keep the Gunners at bay. They were fully deserving of their victory, though, and their excellent form has seen them climb into the top 10 with seven points to spare over the relegation zone. While Chris Hughton’s star continues to ascend, Arsene Wenger’s is on the verge of being extinguished permanently, with Arsenal potentially facing a battle just to qualify for Europe at all, never mind the Champions League.
West Brom’s hopes of a ninth successive Premier League season are fading by the week after they fell to a fifth league defeat in a row on Saturday against Watford. The Baggies performed much better than they had in losing to Huddersfield last week, but paid for their profligacy in front of goal, Salomon Rondon in particular having an off-day. Indeed, the game’s only goal stemmed from an elementary mix-up in midfield between Grzegorz Krychowiak and Chris Brunt, with Troy Deeney taking full advantage by finishing neatly past Ben Foster. A third successive home win for the Hornets means that they’re almost safe, but this may well be Alan Pardew’s last match of a thoroughly miserable reign in charge of faltering West Brom.
Swansea began the weekend in the relegation zone but ended it in 13th after thrashing West Ham 4-1 to maintain their excellent home form in 2018. The opening goal came inside eight minutes, Ki Sung-yeung with a fine effort from 25 yards. The Hammers’ day got worse when Winston Reid went off with a seemingly serious knee injury and then Mike van der Hoorn pounced on poor set piece defending to double Swansea’s lead. Andy King killed the game off early in the second half with his first goal since joining on loan from Leicester and a Jordan Ayew penalty compounded West Ham’s misery. Michail Antonio registered a late consolation for the Hammers, who fell to a second successive 4-1 defeat, and club owner David Gold ran the gauntlet of hate from some travelling supporters after the match.
Saturday’s goalless draw between Southampton and Stoke summed up why both teams are firmly in the relegation mire, with plenty of endeavour but precious little quality, especially in front of goal. The fear of losing was a real impediment for both sides in a dreadful first half, but the game opened up after half-time as both felt that one opportunity might be enough to swing it their way. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had Stoke’s best chance, firing wide when through on goal, while substitute Sofiane Boufal fluffed Southampton’s best opening, missing the target with a header in front of goal. The stellar performance of the returning Josh Sims was the one bright note on another morose day for Saints fans, who have now seen their team fail to win any of their last eight matches at home.
Burnley came from behind to register their first win in any competition in nearly three months, beating Everton 2-1 in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off. The Toffees struck first through Cenk Tosun, the January signing who opened his goalscoring account for his new club, and had Jordan Pickford to thank for a couple of fine saves either side of half-time. Burnley levelled early in the second half through Ashley Barnes, the beneficiary of a fine pass from Matt Lowton, with ex-Claret Michael Keane left leaden-footed by his former team-mate. Sean Dyche’s men notched the winner 10 minutes from time through Chris Wood, his first goal since October, and Everton’s afternoon got worse when Ashley Williams was sent off for swinging an arm at Barnes. Another sorry away day for the Toffees led to Sam Allardyce being harangued by visiting supporters as he made for the tunnel at full-time.
Any fears that Riyad Mahrez would down tools for Leicester in the second half of the season after his proposed January move to Manchester City fell apart were dispelled with one swipe of a glorious free kick in the 96th minute, the Algerian rescuing a point for the Foxes against Bournemouth on Saturday. The visitors were the better side for most of the day at the King Power Stadium and went in at half-time in front through Joshua King’s penalty. They should have had another spot kick when Charlie Daniels was taken down by Wilfred Ndidi in the second half, but Lee Probert was unmoved. Leicester bombarded the Cherries’ goalmouth late on but it looked set to be a frustrating afternoon until, deep into added time, Mahrez popped up with a beauty of a free kick to leave Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe sickened.
Barring an unprecedented catastrophe, Liverpool will get through Tuesday’s Champions League game against Porto and ease into the quarter-finals, the perfect way to go into Saturday’s crunch trip to Old Trafford. The Reds might have been overtaken by Manchester United by then, but the likelihood is that they will head into the eternal grudge match in perfect nick.