With four Premier League matches still to play, Mohamed Salah’s goal tally in the competition stands at 30, leaving him just two away from setting a new record for a 38-match season and four off the all-time record. Amid all the hysteria over Harry Kane claiming phantom goals, the Egyptian King just gets on with it as always, adding yet another strike to his burgeoning tally with a sumptuous header from an equally exquisite delivery from Trent Alexander-Arnold as Liverpool defeated Bournemouth at Anfield on Saturday. The scoring began as early as six minutes when Sadio Mane was quickest to the rebound after his initial effort was parried by Asmir Begovic and, although the Cherries briefly threatened later in the match, it was a largely comfortable day for the Reds capped off by Roberto Firmino’s 90th-minute goal. All three strikers on target and a 3-0 victory strengthening their grip on third – good things definitely came in threes for Liverpool over the weekend.
Manchester City came into this weekend facing a barrage of questions about their mentality following their emphatic Champions League exit and the squandering of a two-goal lead in the derby. By 6pm on Sunday, they were Premier League champions. Their 3-1 win against Tottenham delivered a riposte to their critics (me included) after the rough fortnight they endured. City were on it from the start and were good value for the lead given to them by Gabriel Jesus midway through the first half. A wrongly-given penalty allowed Ilkay Gundogan to soon make it 2-0, although Spurs struck back just before the interval through Christian Eriksen, who this time can have a goal to himself. Would that spark another City collapse? Not this time, as Raheem Sterling made sure of the points with 20 minutes to go after earlier fluffing a couple of glorious chances to score. Pep Guardiola’s men produced a big performance when it was needed and did Liverpool a favour by giving Spurs a three-point gap to make up on the Reds, even if the Londoners have a game in hand.
City were confirmed as champions after one of the shock results of the season on Sunday, with Manchester United losing at home to bottom side West Brom just eight days after toppling their neighbours at the Etihad. In sharp contrast to that rip-roaring performance, United were abject against the Baggies, who claimed their first away win in the league since August and showed a far greater desire to win the game, which they did courtesy of Jay Rodriguez’s goal after the home side failed to deal with a corner. The win probably comes too late to save West Brom from the drop, but it gave their fans a long-overdue day to remember, and while United can have legitimate grievances over not getting a penalty when Ander Herrera was fouled in the first half, their stale, pedestrian display deserved nothing.
Chelsea are still clinging to some hope of finishing fourth after rescuing a bleak situation to beat Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday. The first half had not gone well for the Blues, who trailed to a Dusan Tadic goal and should have had Marcos Alonso sent off for a nasty challenge on Shane Long. Their plight worsened early in the second half when debutante Jan Bednarek doubled Saints’ lead, but the introduction of Olivier Giroud proved pivotal. On 70 minutes, Chelsea were 2-0 down. By the 78th minute, they led 3-2, with the French target man scoring twice either side of Eden Hazard’s equaliser. Disaster averted for the champions, but blowing a two-goal lead to end up with nothing is a psychological hammer blow from which Southampton might not recover.
It got even worse for the Saints later on Saturday as Crystal Palace, the side immediately above them at the start of the day, secured a precious 3-2 win against sworn enemies Brighton at Selhurst Park. The Eagles were two goals to the good inside 15 minutes, Wilfried Zaha and James Tomkins doing the needful, before Glenn Murray pulled one back in the 17th minute. The frantic opening half-hour continued with Zaha claiming his second and the game threatened to swing once more on 32 minutes when Jose Izquierdo scored. There were no further goals after that breathless spell, but Brighton had more than their fair share of chances to salvage something in the second half. The Seagulls remain seven points clear of the drop, but they need to kick a four-game losing habit if they’re to truly feel safe.
Huddersfield are level with Brighton on 35 points, but the Terriers have real momentum on their side after Saturday’s last-gasp win over Watford. It wasn’t a particularly memorable or quality-packed afternoon at the John Smith’s Stadium, with even the home side’s mascot looking like they’d rather be somewhere else, but that won’t matter a jot to David Wagner or his team after they bagged victory in stoppage time through Tom Ince. Having begun April seemingly sliding towards the bottom three, two massive results in the last fortnight have Huddersfield on the verge of securing another season in the Premier League, which without being patronising would be a tremendous showing for the Yorkshire club.
Another team surpassing pre-season expectations are Burnley, who all but clinched a top seven finish with a 2-1 win at home to Leicester on Saturday. The Clarets wasted little time in maintaining their superb form, scoring twice in the first nine minutes through Chris Wood and Kevin Long. At the other end, Nick Pope strengthened his claim for a place in England’s World Cup squad with a couple of tremendous saves, even if he was eventually beaten in the 72nd minute through Jamie Vardy’s fierce strike. Leicester’s season is pretty much done after this defeat, but Burnley are very close to securing European football and might still fancy a crack at beating Arsenal to sixth place.
Indeed, the Clarets are now just two points behind Arsenal after the Gunners lost for a fifth away league game in succession on Sunday, going down 2-1 to Newcastle despite taking an early lead through Alexandre Lacazette. The Geordies levelled on the half-hour with a close-range finish from Ayoze Perez and a superb second half performance got its just reward when Matt Ritchie crashed home the decisive goal to add to the winner he got against Manchester United two months ago. Newcastle passed the 40-point mark as their excellent form continued and they have a very good chance of finishing as high as eighth after the weekend’s results. Arsenal, meanwhile, could drop to seventh by the time they play next week, should Burnley defeat Chelsea on Thursday.
Swansea dropped to 17th after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to Everton and it would have been worse had it not been for Jordan Ayew’s second half equaliser, the Ghanaian continuing his hot streak in front of goal. The Swans had fallen behind in an unfortunate manner shortly before half-time, Lukasz Fabianki’s parrying the ball off the head of Kyle Naughton and watching it drift over the line despite his team-mates’ best efforts at keeping it out. Swansea pushed hard for an equaliser and deserved at least a point out of the match, even though Everton could have snatched it with two late opportunities. The Swans are still five points clear of the drop and in no imminent danger given the struggles of the three teams beneath them, although they’ll want one more win to keep the wolf from the door.
It’s a sign of how professional and mature Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have become that they can come out the right side of a seven-day spell that included a Champions League quarter-final and a Merseyside derby and still have the required focus and performance to put Bournemouth to the sword. Should Burnley defeat Chelsea at Turf Moor in midweek and the Reds beat West Brom on Saturday, the pre season target of a top four finish will have been achieved and the attention can then turn fully to the European dream. The Baggies’ win at Old Trafford ought to be sufficient warning for Liverpool that they should not expect a Saturday lunchtime stroll.