In the history of Merseyside Derbies, Saturday’s damp squib at Goodison Park will barely even be a footnote. A weakened Liverpool side showed none of the fluidity and energy that has seen them draw so many plaudits under Jurgen Klopp, understandably so with Tuesday’s Champions League date in Manchester to come. Everton didn’t have the quality or conviction to put their rivals to the sword and, for the second weekend in a row, Liverpool were let off the hook by opposition who fluffed their lines in front of goal. Both goalkeepers pulled off impressive saves during the match, while Georginio Wijnaldum’s display was a positive, but it’s now abundantly clear that neither Danny Ings nor Dominic Solanke can be relied upon when goals are needed. This was a game that the Reds just needed to get through and they did, albeit narrowly.
Upon the full-time whistle at the Etihad on Saturday evening, Manchester City fans will have been doing their best Apache impression and asking “How?” after they contrived to lose to a Manchester United side that followed Jesus’ lead in rising from the dead. When Vincent Kompany powered home a header and Ilkay Gundogan dispatched a fine goal on the turn, the coronation seemed inevitable, and it should have been in full progress by half-time only for two woeful misses from Raheem Sterling. Then, 10 minutes into the second half, the brace from nowhere as two quickfire Paul Pogba goals levelled the match before slack set piece defending from City allowed Chris Smalling to complete the turnaround. It was City’s first home defeat in the league in 16 months while United have now emulated their neighbours in beating every other team in the Premier League this season.
Tottenham drew level on points with Liverpool on Saturday after overcoming a stiff test from Stoke, whose battling, positive display was not indicative of a team in 19th place and struggling for form. Spurs failed to find their rhythm in a tame first half but edged in front shortly after the interval, Christian Eriksen pouncing to continue his superb form in front of goal. Hugo Lloris then gifted Stoke an equaliser after a misjudged burst from his line gave Mame Biram Diouf a fortuitous finish, but the visitors retook the lead when Eriksen’s free kick from the left eluded everyone to end up in the net. Xherdan Shaqiri almost levelled it again when his late effort struck the woodwork and the Potters would have been good value for a point, but Spurs found a way to win and further strengthened their prospects of Champions League football next season.
On the other hand, Chelsea look set to miss out on Europe’s elite competition, with 10 points to make up on Spurs and Liverpool after another poor home result, West Ham earning a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge. The Blues bossed the first half and took the lead shortly before the interval when Cesar Azpilicueta finished from close range. The home side continued to dominate after the break and Alvaro Morata should have netted with a penalty box header that went over. It was a miss he could come to regret when Javier Hernandez, who had only just entered the fray, swept home an unlikely equaliser for the Hammers, who are now six points clear of the drop zone after two big results since the international break.
Danny Welbeck has copped his share of flak this season, but the much-maligned England marksman proved to be the match winner for Arsenal as they edged Southampton 3-2 at the Emirates. The Gunners made a slow start and fell behind to a 17th-minute Shane Long goal before drawing level through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. They took the lead shortly before half-time when Welbeck’s deflected strike beat Alex McCarthy but that did not prove the cue for Arsenal to freewheel to victory. Instead, Charlie Austin netted with a classic poacher’s finish to bring the teams level once more, but the home side eventually claimed the points when Welbeck registered his second with just over 10 minutes remaining. A late flashpoint resulted in red cards for Jack Stephens and Mohamed Elneny to cap an eventful game. Arsene Wenger’s side are now just three points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, whereas the Saints remain three points adrift of safety and have some tough fixtures still to play.
Burnley took a step closer to playing in the Europa League next term by coming from behind to beat Watford at Vicarage Road. As with several other games on Saturday, a lacklustre first half gave way to a thrilling second. Shortly after the interval, Roberto Pereyra fired the home side in front but the match swung on a timely substitution from Sean Dyche as he introduced Sam Vokes with 20 minutes to go. The Welshman’s first touch of the ball produced the equaliser and then Jack Cork’s header crossed the goal-line despite Orestis Karnezis’ best efforts at hooking it out. A fourth consecutive win for the Clarets strengthened their hold on seventh, which is likely to be good enough to qualify for Europe, and keep them on the coattails of Arsenal.
They also opened a six-point gap on Leicester after the Foxes lost 1-2 at home to Newcastle, who avenged their defeat in the reverse fixture in December. The Geordies arrived at the King Power Stadium in fine form and took the lead on 18 minutes through Jonjo Shelvey’s effort from just outside the box. Leicester were denied what seemed a clear penalty when Riyad Mahrez was taken down, although Harry Maguire had earlier run the risk of a red card for making contact with the face of Dwight Gayle. The visitors doubled their lead in the second half with a deft finish from Ayoze Perez, who lofted the ball over the advancing Kasper Schmeichel, and a late Jamie Vardy goal was not enough to prevent Newcastle from climbing into the top half of the table, their place in the top flight next season effectively assured now.
Crystal Palace would be similarly free of any relegation threat if it wasn’t for their alarming tendency to concede decisive late goals. The 2-2 draw at Bournemouth on Saturday was the fourth time in six league matches that a goal shipped in the 85th minute or later cost them points. They had gone in front just after half-time through Luka Milivojevic’s free kick, the set piece specialist’s 10th goal of the season, before substitute Lys Mousset equalised. A brilliant solo effort from the influential Wilfried Zaha edged Palace ahead once more but they again blinked with the finish line in sight, Joshua King plundering a point for the Cherries in the 89th minute. Were it not for the recent spate of last-gap concessions, the Eagles would currently be 12th and nine points clear of the drop zone instead of 17th and three points above it.
Brighton missed an ideal opportunity to all but seal their top flight status for next season by drawing 1-1 at home to a Huddersfield side that hadn’t scored in their previous four matches. Both goals came in a four-minute spell in the first half and both were rather fortuitous. The home side struck first when Solly March’s shot came back off the post and bounced off Jonas Lossl before trickling over the line. Then, at the other end, Shane Duffy’s inexplicable back-pass set up an easy finish for Steve Mounie as the normally reliable centre-back messed up badly. Davy Propper was later sent off for a lunge on Jonathan Hogg and, with both teams more fearful of losing than incentivised by the prospect of winning, the matched played itself out to a draw. The Seagulls will still feel that they need another win to breathe easy and the run-in is not kind to them.
Swansea had looked to be freewheeling towards safety a few weeks ago after Carlos Carvalhal made a brilliant start to life in south Wales, but the well has run dry in the last month and they gave perhaps the poorest performance of his reign in drawing 1-1 at West Brom on Saturday. The Baggies ended an eight-game losing streak in caretaker boss Darren Moore’s first game in charge following the dismissal of Alan Pardew and they went ahead through top scorer Jay Rodriguez on 54 minutes. They couldn’t hold on for just their fourth league win of the season, though, as Tammy Abraham levelled in the 78th minute for his first league goal in six months. West Brom are effectively relegated, but Swansea are in danger of joining them if they reproduce performances like this in the coming weeks.
Liverpool just about preserved their 17-match unbeaten streak in Merseyside Derbies and Klopp’s much-changed team selection will have been justified if they can finish the European job against Manchester City on Tuesday. There’s still work to be done to lock down that much sought-after top four finish, but victories in what appear a very winnable next three games will see them achieve their main objective for the season.