After Manchester City’s shock defeat to Newcastle just over a week ago, the Premier League title seemed to be on route to Anfield. But after Liverpool’s consecutive draws to Leicester and West Ham, the door was well and truly opened for both City and even Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham to march through.
All three won their respective games at the weekend, with Pep Guardiola’s City no doubt delivering the most emphatic statement of them all with a 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea.
At the other end of the table, Cardiff produced an exceptional display in the midst of Emiliano Sala’s tragic passing, to earn a hard-fought win and escape the relegation zone. If the title race was hotting up, then the battle to beat the drop has equally got interesting too. After the weekend’s results, just three points separate 18th placed Southampton with 13th placed Crystal Palace.
So in a season of dramatic twists and turns, the Premier League delivered once more at the weekend, and below is a look at seven of the things we learned from it.
7. Maurizio Sarri’s Sacking Now Looks Inevitable
Just where does Maurizio Sarri go from here? Out of the Stamford Bridge door presumably. Chelsea were outfought, outthought and perhaps worst of all, out-Sarriballed too. The Blues’ game plan of pressing from the front at the home of the league’s runaway champions last year seemed like an unbelievable risk to take, and backfired in some fashion.
Chelsea’s performance was so meek, it led Jamie Carragher on punditry duty to remark that the Blues reminded him of the old Arsenal who got thrashed in big away games. Sarri’s stubbornness in continuing to use N’Golo Kante as almost an advanced midfielder just seems to appear increasingly foolish by the game, and after losing by a six goal margin, found his side drop to sixth in the Premier League.
It has become part of Roman Abramovich’s M.O. to act ruthlessly fast on failing managers, and after the side’s latest shambolic showing, Sarri’s departure may be sooner rather than later.
6. Tom Heaton Confirms His Status as Burnley’s Number One
When Burnley signed former Manchester City star Joe Hart, there were certainly a few raised eyebrows. Sean Dyche’s side already had Nick Pope and Tom Heaton vying for the number one spot, and Hart’s arrival seemed to only add competition to a position that didn’t really need strengthening.
On Saturday, Heaton rewarded his manager’s faith by producing an impressive display that essentially single-handedly kept the Clarets in the game. The England international made a number of one-handed reflex stops, and looked an imposing presence in between the sticks.
There’s a real argument to be made that Burnley’s goalkeeping options are amongst the strongest in the league, but after a remarkable performance against Brighton, Heaton will fancy his chances of keeping his spot for the foreseeable future.
5. Manchester United’s Young Players Continue to Prove Jose Mourinho Wrong
Back in November of last year, Jose Mourinho questioned the mentality of some of the club’s brightest young prospects. Speaking to Univision (as quoted by The Guardian), he said: “They’re lacking maturity. For example, Luke Shaw. When I got here two years ago, the boy didn’t even know how to compete. Great potential, yes, but he doesn’t know how to compete.
“And when we talk about Luke Shaw, about Martial, about Lingard, about Marcus Rashford, we’re talking about boys with great potential but who still are lacking – a word I can’t say but you like to say a lot – having that [courage]. They’re lacking a bit of this.”
With the in-form Rashford left on the bench against Fulham with Solskjaer keeping one eye on the Champions League clash with PSG in midweek, up stepped Martial to deliver arguably his most eye-catching performance of the season. The Frenchman was dazzling, and scored a sensational solo goal in another excellent team performance. Both Martial and Rashford, in particular, are proving their former manager wrong. And how.
4. Cardiff Showed Heart in Emotional Win
On an emotional day at St. Mary’s, Cardiff produced a performance and result that would have made Emiliano Sala proud. After the heartbreaking confirmation that the former Nantes striker’s body was found following a fatal crash, Neil Warnock’s side could have been forgiven for having their minds understandably elsewhere.
But in a display of real heart and determination, Kenneth Zohore’s late, late winner was great reward for their perseverance over the 90 minutes, with the three points moving the Bluebirds out of the relegation zone.
Speaking after the game, Warnock said (as quoted by BBC Sport): “We wanted to do it for Emiliano and I’m really proud the lads have done him justice.” And they did just that.
3. Mike Dean Continues to Be a Box Office Attraction
Whether you love his flamboyant style of refereeing or hate it, veteran Mike Dean continues to be an amusing source of entertainment during games. On Sunday, City vs. Chelsea was the dress rehearsal to the real show of seeing Dean potentially handing out the 100th red card of his Premier League career. To put that into perspective, the man in second Phil Dowd, has just 67.
Despite not getting Dean’s classic ‘off you pop’ sending off, it was another vintage display from the 50-year-old. His David Brent style point towards the penalty spot following Cesar Azpilicueta’s challenge on Raheem Sterling was a thing of dramatic beauty, and if you thought Dean was done there, you’d be wrong.
With hat-trick hero Sergio Aguero looking for the match ball, Dean sneakily hid the ball underneath the back of his shirt before handing it to the smiling Argentine. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly adds to the drama. Whether it’s truly necessary or not however, is up for debate.
2. Alex Iwobi’s Contribution Continues to be Underappreciated
To Arsenal fans, Alex Iwobi remains a divisive figure. A Hale End academy product with 130 appearances to his name at just 22 years old, the Nigerian often comes under fire from certain sections of the Gunners fanbase for his inconsistent final product. Against bottom of the table Huddersfield, Iwobi netted a fine volley (aided by a deflection) and was a constant threat throughout.
The winger’s goal was his third in the league – the same as Mesut Ozil, and with far less game-time. Despite failing to convince some of the Arsenal fanbase, his manager Unai Emery was publicly effusive in his praise of Iwobi’s contribution, and spoke highly of his scope for improvement.
Emery said (as quoted by The Guardian): “He’s young, he has big commitment and very good condition physically. He needs to improve tactically maybe and, above all, he needs to be more calm with the ball in the attacking third, to find better assists and the possibility to score with calmness, [to know when] the best option is to shoot or dribble. He missed other chances but this match, starting with his attitude, was a very big performance.”
1. Manchester City Look Ominous Ahead of Title Run-in
If many Liverpool fans were hoping before the start of last weekend that City would drop points in a run of three difficult games, then their prayers went unanswered. Having swept aside both Arsenal and then the Reds’ Merseyside rivals Everton, Pep Guardiola’s side produced arguably their best performance of the season to humiliate Chelsea 6-0 on Sunday.
City were firing on all cylinders, and were led by another vintage Sergio Aguero display. The Argentine struck his second hat-trick in the space of a week to become City’s all-time record goal-scorer and just as importantly threw the gauntlet down to their title rivals.
With Jurgen Klopp’s men now facing their own testing run when they take on Manchester United, Watford and Everton in their next three league games, City rather ominously seemed to have kicked into an extra gear. Over to you now Liverpool.