Liverpool run into an Ismaila Sarr-inspired Watford at Vicarage Road, Spurs fall flat again, and signs of hope for Norwich?
Monday 2 March 2020 12:07, UK
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said he had not seen Saturday's stunning 3-0 loss at Watford coming, but in truth, there have been signs ever since the Premier League leaders returned to action after the mid-season break.
The Reds struggled to break down bottom-of-the-table Norwich, before shipping two goals at home to struggling West Ham on Monday, but Saturday night's capitulation at Vicarage Road was something else.
The visitors were bullied and harried into submission by opponents hungrier than them, having just one shot in the first half and only one on target in the whole match as the second longest unbeaten run (44) in English top-flight history came to an end.
It was a collective bad day at the office for Liverpool, who produced one of the worst displays of the Klopp era as they failed to score in a league game for the first time since March 2019.
Now, though, it is how Klopp's side react to this defeat, with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge next up in the FA Cup fifth round on Tuesday night, before it is back to league business at home to Bournemouth on Saturday lunch time, followed by that huge Champions League last-16 second-leg clash with Atletico at Anfield four days later.
Liverpool had designs on wrapping up their maiden Premier League title at Goodison Park, but then they ran into an Ismaila Sarr-inspired Watford at a rocking Vicarage Road.
Watford were 125/1 with some bookmakers to secure a 3-0 win over Jurgen Klopp's record-chasing Reds, but they were good value for this magnificent victory which belied the 52 points still separating the two sides.
Key to ending Liverpool's 422-day run unconquered was the indefatigable Sarr, who returned from a hamstring injury to be the perfect foil to Troy Deeney, the battering ram who thrived up against Dejan Lovren.
Nigel Pearson had said prior to kick-off that this was no 'free hit', but the task now for Watford is to use this landmark win as a springboard for survival.
"It's just one game," the Watford boss said. "We've got 10 games left and they are all going to be important. We've got to try and emulate what we've done today in terms of performance. But, I'm really proud of the players and they should be proud of how they've coped with a difficult situation."
Jose Mourinho used his programme notes ahead of Tottenham's clash with Wolves to declare just how pivotal the next 10 days would be for Spurs' season. These four matches - two in the Premier League, one apiece in the FA Cup and Champions League - will likely define the overall impact he's had on his new club. Well, he's started this period on the back foot as Spurs slipped to their third straight defeat in all competitions at home to an on-the-march Wolves.
In truth, there was little between the two teams and Mourinho's point about Wolves' being more streetwise than his side did carry weight. "I think we are too good, I think we are too nice," he said, pointing to Wolves' ability to make tactical fouls at key points. Of the two teams, the visitors certainly embodied a traditional Mourinho team more so than Spurs. They were full of power and ruthless in forward areas while the timid north Londoners continue to struggle in the big moments in matches.
Bruno Fernandes is proving to be the best £67.6m Manchester United have ever spent. He has grabbed the headlines in their last three games in all competitions and was once again the shining star at Goodison Park.
Let's start with his goal. He scored in his third successive game and it was his first from open play since arriving at United - that's before we even get onto the finish. He powered the ball home through the area and although Jordan Pickford should have saved it, there's no taking away from Fernandes' quality.
As he did against Club Brugge on Thursday, he continued to have shots and show off his skills. In total, he had six shots - four more than any of his team-mates - and half of those were on target. He made a whopping 11 crosses, five of which came from open play, and made a total of 58 passes. He also had 93 touches and was involved in 16 duels with all of these stats the highest of the United team on Sunday.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Fernandes' move to the Premier League after months of speculation and he is proving to be a shrewd acquisition. It can be no coincidence United's upturn in form has coincided with his arrival either as they pile the pressure on the top four.
You can knock Wolves down - but you can't knock them out. From the start of last season, Nuno Espirito Santo's team have now won 35 points from losing positions in Premier League matches, at least six more than any other side during this period. When they fall behind, they do not panic. When they are under pressure, they stay in the game. When their chance comes, they take it.
This was on full show in north London, where they were far from their best but still found a way to produce big match winning moments to drag themselves to within three points of Chelsea in fourth place. This was epitomised by a quite glorious winning goal, scored by Raul Jimenez but will be remembered for the excellent Diogo Jota's assist down the left wing. It was a winning goal worthy of winning a Champions League final - which is now a competition Wolves may find themselves in next season if they continue to hit these levels.
It has been a pretty good 2020 for Everton. They have lost just twice in the Premier League and their performance against Manchester United showed their upward motion under Carlo Ancelotti is still in full swing.
While United were better in the first half, the second period was very much Everton's. Twelve of their 16 shots came after the break and they took a whopping 12 corners while also have more possession.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was a sensation too and scored in his third successive Premier League game. He made run after run directly at Victor Lindelof and three of his four shots were on target, including his goal inside three minutes. Admittedly, he was given a huge helping hand by David de Gea's poor kick, but being in the right place and having the right reaction took his goal tally to 13 for the season.
He also had a goal ruled out by VAR in the 91st minute, with Gylfi Sigurdsson penalised for obstruction as he sat on the floor in front of De Gea, which became a hugely contentious moment and resulted in Ancelotti being sent off after full time.
A draw was probably the right result in the end, but Everton are starting to look like a real force to be reckoned with and fans should be pleased with Sunday's performance. They are five points away from United in fifth and should count themselves in the European mix.
There was a whopping 32 points separating Norwich and Leicester heading into Friday's game, but actually watching the encounter, you would barely believe there was a point between them.
Norwich were by no means perfect. Their defending - especially from set pieces - left a lot to be desired, but what Daniel Farke's side did show is lots of fight, heart and that there is some real talent in his side despite their league position.
Max Aarons showed off his sensational pace at wing-back - nabbing his first Premier League assist - with Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell equally impressive. Ondrej Duda should have had a hat-trick, but was thwarted by a string of acrobatic saves from Kasper Schmeichel. Let's also not forget the sheet quality of Jamal Lewis' winner - it's a goal of the season contender.
The victory - Norwich's second in the league since November and fifth overall this season - puts them within four points of safety and gives them a glimmer of hope of avoiding the drop. They have been mightily unlucky not to get results in a few games this season, but the Canaries will be hoping the tide is finally turning in their favour.
West Ham have spent millions investing in some of Europe's top talent but it might just be a lad from Hull that gets them out of trouble this season. His performance against Southampton was another example of the talent that is lurking in the Sky Bet Championship. Some may have doubted whether the former Hull star, who had been part of 23 goal involvements this season, had the required skillset to step up a level but this silenced them good and proper.
Playing off the right, the 23-year-old caused Southampton an abundance of problems with his silky and direct dribbling. His clever movement was on show for the opening goal, where he produced a finish dripping with Premier League quality. He looks hungry to succeed.
However, David Moyes was quick to issue caution regarding expectation levels surrounding Bowen. "I don't want him to feel he's the one player that is under pressure to perform for West Ham in a difficult situation," he said.
"I want him to play his game. He's someone who knows how to score. There will be games that suit him and those that not. We'll use him where we can - today was a game where I thought he could start. There's bits on where he can improve but I'm really pleased how he's started."
It has been a less than stellar 2020 for Leicester so far. They have won just twice and are currently four games without a victory, hitting a low point when they were beaten 1-0 by basement club Norwich on Friday Night Football.
Their defence struggled with the talents of Emiliano Buendia, Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons. It's as if they underestimated the pace and skill the three could bring and threw them off. As Brendan Rodgers admitted in his post-match interview, Leicester did not track their runners well enough, especially for Jamal Lewis' stunning winner which flew in front of the scrambling Leicester defensive line.
They had the chances to win it though with 19 shots - but only four of those were on target. They lacked that touch of quality in the final third, which has evaded them over the last three games where the Foxes have failed to find the net. This is inextricably linked to Jamie Vardy's drop in form - having not scored in the last seven Premier League games - with the striker missing out with a calf injury on Friday.
But they remain eight points clear of Manchester United in fifth although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side are hitting their stride at just the right time. They also have the third best goal difference in the Premier League - only behind Liverpool and Man City - which could be their saving grace if their recent slump continues. A top-four finish is still there for the taking, although it is starting to look more precarious.
Marcos Alonso was once again the star of the show for Chelsea at Bournemouth, with his two goals helping to earn a 2-2 draw. In the space of a week, he has quadrupled his Premier League goals tally for the season, having only scored once against Newcastle before last weekend's win against Tottenham.
His two goals were extremely well taken and had all the hallmarks of a very confident player. He had a total of seven shots - the most of any Chelsea player - and also led the way with four key passes which were unfortunately were not turned into goals.
In the absence of Tammy Abraham, Chelsea are lining up with a traditional striker in Olivier Giroud, but it seems to be Alonso who is filling the Abraham-shaped hole. He is excelling in the left wing-back position and with Reece James proving cross after cross on the other side, it seems strange that none of Chelsea's designated attacking players can put them away.
Indeed, after the game, Frank Lampard said: "I'm delighted for Marcos. He's had a big week, he scored a great goal at Tottenham and two here, but I don't necessarily want my left-back being top of the scoring charts. We need to score goals in attacking areas and over the last period of games, we haven't."
But for now, Chelsea will be hoping that Alonso can continue to find the net as they begin a month of five games across three competitions as his attacking team-mates try to find their form.
With Chelsea and Liverpool in successive Premier League games, Bournemouth's battle for survival could have taken a real hit as the season enters the last ten games. But a point against the Blues, coupled with Liverpool's shock 3-0 loss to Watford, will give Bournemouth a glimpse of hope.
For the opening 15 minutes of both halves, Bournemouth were the better side. At the start of the first period, they had three sensational chances but were met by some equally as impressive saves from Willy Caballero. And in three second half minutes not long after the break, they sucker punched Chelsea to take the lead and even had a VAR decision go in their favour.
After the game, manager Eddie Howe said: "The glass is half full. To be down 1-0 at half-time against these types of teams, it's very difficult to come back but we did… We got a big point today and hopefully at the end of the season, it will prove pivotal."
With West Ham and Watford both winning on Saturday, Bournemouth have been dragged into the bottom three on goal difference, but their performance and result against Chelsea should be a jumping off point for more important results in the coming weeks.
"Newcastle just cannot score a goal. They didn't really have many clear opportunities but when they did, they just made the wrong decisions, picked the wrong pass."
That was the verdict of Neil Warnock, who watched Newcastle's 0-0 draw with Burnley for Soccer Saturday, and it's hard to disagree.
Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce changed both personnel and system as he attempted to bring greater creativity to his team after they were unable to score against Norwich, Arsenal and Crystal Palace.
He introduced a second striker in Dwight Gayle, as £40m man Joelinton moved to the left. He even dropped Allan Saint-Maximin, who has been considered one of the bright spots of Newcastle's season so far, but the gamble failed to pay off as his side drew another Premier League blank.
Newcastle, who are now winless in their last five Premier League games (D3 L2), have failed to score in their last four games. The last time they went four games in a row without a goal in September 2015.
It's back to the drawing board for Bruce as he attempts to end his side's goal drought, and he needs to find a solution quickly. Otherwise, Newcastle, who are seven points above the relegation places with 10 games remaining, could be dragged back into the scrap to avoid the drop.
The point at Newcastle means Burnley are now unbeaten in six Premier League games (W4 D2), their longest unbeaten run in the competition since February 2019 (8 games).
It wasn't a pretty performance at St James' Park but Sean Dyche's side showed plenty of grit as the strong performances from James Tarkowski and Ben Mee helped them to an 11th clean sheet - one more than Manchester City and one behind Liverpool - of the season.
Another key component of Burnley's rock-solid defence is goalkeeper Nick Pope, who also put in an assured display in front of England boss Gareth Southgate.
Southgate, who was in the stands at St James' Park would have been impressed with what he saw from Pope, who has now conceded just one goal in his last five Premier League games. The Burnley No 1 did not have too much to do but he dealt with everything that was asked of him with confidence.
With Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford not at his best at the moment, Pope, who made his first England start in their last fixture - a 4-0 win in Kosovo - will surely come under consideration for a starting spot at Euro 2020 if he continues his impressive form.
When it's not your day, it's not your day - and, on Saturday, it certainly wasn't Brighton's day. The Seagulls registered their highest-ever shots total in a Premier League game (24) but failed to find the back of against Crystal Palace. It's an experience each and every club will have to contend with at some point during a season, but it's an awful lot harder to stomach when it falls on the day your arch-rivals are visiting, and even tougher when you are embroiled in a relegation battle like Graham Potter's side find themselves in.
And, if Palace's smash-and-grab victory didn't hurt enough, it extended Brighton's wait for a victory in 2020, with the Seagulls now the only club in the four tiers of English football yet to win a game in any competition this calendar year. If 2020 is to be year to remember for everyone associated with Brighton, they need to get back on the winning path fast before the relegation trap door opens beneath them.