Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool remain imperious
Liverpool inch closer to the title, Alexandre Lacazette pushes for a recall, Roy Hodgson proves age is just a number, and Fernandes has Utd flying again.
Last Updated: 09/03/20 12:54pm
Liverpool were nowhere near their fluid best against relegation-threatened Bournemouth. The Cherries - granted, with a helping hand from VAR - left Anfield stunned inside nine minutes and the runaway league leaders fearing the continuation of the downward turn that had seen them suffer three defeats in their last four games.
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But Liverpool produced a response, the kind we've come to associate with would-be champions over the years and one which will have provided some welcome relief to Jurgen Klopp's side ahead of the sterner midweek test of Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
What Saturday's victory over Bournemouth proved, though, is that Liverpool, regardless of their recent wobble, remain an imperious force at Anfield that no Premier League side has been able to quell in 22 attempts.
Over to you, Atletico.
Bruno Fernandes had already changed the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Three goals and two assists in his first seven appearances for Manchester United took care of that. All that remained was the need for one of those really special moments that would underline everything that he has brought to this team since his arrival from Sporting in January.
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That moment came in the Manchester derby on Sunday. There was very little margin for error when he dinked his free-kick into the path of Anthony Martial for United's opening goal. The execution was perfection. But it was not just that Fernandes had the talent to produce the skill. It was that he had the chutzpah to even attempt it.
This is the United swagger that they expect at Old Trafford. Fernandes' presence has not just improved the self-esteem of his team-mates but everyone in the stadium as well. Belief is restored. United have not lost a game since he was signed. There is impetus again. Who says that clubs should not simply look to the transfer market to solve their problems?
"I saw straight away he was alert, he was focused and I could see in his face, that he was really determined to come out there and score the goal like he did."
Mikel Arteta talked up the attitude of sub Alexandre Lacazette after his winner against West Ham. He also highlighted the strength he gives Arsenal from the bench - "If we needed a goal in the final moments he was ready to do that". But that begs the question, if Lacazette is such an asset, why not start him? He's had to wait for his moment in the last three matches now.
The answer in Arteta's mind appears to be that, in Eddie Nketiah, he has a hungry young striker able to duel with his more experienced team-mate to lead the line.
That parity, between a 28-year-old former club-record signing and a 20-year-old who couldn't get into Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds team during a loan move to the Championship earlier this season, feels an odd one. Especially when their performances against West Ham are compared.
Without being overly harsh on the hard-working Nketiah - who had a good penalty shout waved away in first-half stoppage time - Lacazette added far more impetus to Arsenal's attack when he came on just before the hour mark. He should have had a penalty of his own when he was hauled down by Issa Diop and was perfectly placed to tuck in the winner.
But perhaps this is part of the plan from Arteta to get more from Lacazette. Since Nketiah's introduction to the Arsenal fold against Bournemouth in the FA Cup at the end of January, Lacazette has responded to the challenge with three goals and an assist in 206 minutes of football.
In that kind of form, Lacazette seems key to Arsenal's hopes of a win away at Manchester City on Wednesday to further boost their unlikely Champions League qualifying hopes - but playing him from the start would surely give Lacazette the best chance of doing that.
Sunday's display against Everton was probably the best Chelsea have played this season. Everton are much improved under Carlo Ancelotti but Chelsea dismissed them with a flick of the wrist - and four well taken goals.
Frank Lampard has been a bit of a broken record when it comes to goals from his team this season. Game after game, he's complained about Chelsea creating enough and playing great football, but when the big moment comes, there are too few goals being stuck away.
Well Frank, you can start to look on the bright side, with six goals in two games against strong Liverpool and Everton sides and keeping a clean sheet in both games too. Let's not forget that Sunday's win saw them without a number of influential first team players and they ended the game with three 18-year-old Premier League debutants on the field, including the impressive Billy Gilmour, who is making a real name for himself.
There is a sense of 'what could have been' after this Chelsea performance. In his post-match press conference, Frank Lampard said: "In terms of performance, I think we've close to that a lot here and then I've mulled over a 1-0 defeat because we've had the energy but we haven't had the hard, unpredictable bit which is the goals that make a performance more and more comfortable. Today, we had that."
With that being said, the next task for Chelsea is playing like that on a consistent basis. Lampard spoke about the 'template' from wins against Liverpool and Everton and using that going forward. Now, it's time for him and his team to make that a permanent game plan rather than just a template.
The post-match chat after Spurs' draw with Burnley quickly turned to Tanguy Ndombele's public dressing down from Jose Mourinho in his interviews following the 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.
Perhaps that's what he wanted, because it wasn't just the underperforming midfielder's fault that Spurs dropped what is now seven points off fourth spot. They were laborious across the pitch before half-time, when a change of shape and a change in attitude turned things around.
Already out of the FA Cup, looking a long shot for the Champions League - pending Manchester City's ongoing case - and with a 1-0 deficit to overturn in the competition in Leipzig on Tuesday, a big week for Mourinho has just got bigger.
The build-up to Everton's game against Chelsea focused a lot of Carlo Ancelotti's first return to Stamford Bridge since his departure from the club in 2011, almost billed as a homecoming. The Italian has greatly improved the Everton since his arrival, but could he break their horrendous run of form at the west London ground, where Everton haven't scored in the Premier League since January 2016?
Unfortunately, the answer to that was no.
As Ancelotti admitted to Sky Sports after the game, absolutely nothing went right for Everton. They couldn't handle the extra man in Chelsea's midfield and were too easily beaten at the back, often standing off their opponents and allowing them too much room.
Even up front, the in-form strike partnership of Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were out of sync. The latter - who had scored in the last three Premier League games - had their best chance of the game in the first half, but his shot flew well wide of the far post. That was Calvert-Lewin's sole shot of the game and Richarlison mustered just two - the only shots Everton had in the entire game.
There was a respectful reception for Ancelotti from the Chelsea fans, but that is where the pleasantries ended. The 4-0 loss was the Italian's joint-highest league defeat of his managerial career - matching a 4-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid while he was Real Madrid boss in February 2015 - and there is a looming Merseyside derby on the horizon on Monday Night Football.
Ancelotti says the game will fire his side up to rediscover their fight that was sorely lacking at Stamford Bridge. Let's hope he is right or there could be more difficult times on the horizon.
Nuno Espirito Santo's Wolves side have received plenty of plaudits this season and there is more than enough goodwill at Molineux to guarantee some applause even after a turgid goalless draw at home to struggling Brighton. But this felt like an opportunity missed.
Wolves could have moved up to fourth but appeared reluctant to commit bodies into the box. Nuno stuck to the counter-attacking football that has served him so well but it brought only one shot on target - and that coming after Adama Traore's belated introduction.
Keeping games tight could yet take Wolves even deeper into the Europa League because it is so rare that they lose heavily - vital in two-legged ties. But there are also games in which it is worth risking defeat in order to taste victory. Brighton at home was surely one of them.
"Europe is not something we're thinking about," Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder said last month.
He has been very keen to play down his side's bid to secure European football for the first time in Sheffield United's 130-year history, but, as the wins continue to roll in, the Blades' challenge is becoming harder and harder to ignore.
Wilder's side are up to sixth, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand, after Billy Sharp's header secured victory against Norwich, but with games against Tottenham, Burnley, Wolves, Chelsea, Leicester, Everton and Manchester United still to come, they are right in the hunt.
Yes, it's a difficult finish to the season but write Sheffield United, who have an excellent record against the sides in and around them so far this season, off at your peril.
They have proved the doubters wrong this season all season and if they continue to do so, the dream of a European tour could become a reality.
Graham Potter's decision to stick with the same team that were beaten in the M23 derby against Crystal Palace last time out was somewhat vindicated as Brighton picked up a valuable point against Wolves at Molineux. But it was only a qualified success.
Potter's side dominated possession in a tactical encounter short on goalmouth action. This was Brighton's sixth draw in nine games since the turn of the year but they are still waiting for their first win of 2020 and remain only two points clear of the relegation zone.
With five of the next six games coming against top-half teams, Brighton are going to need a big result or two if they are to stay up. Alexis MacAllister, the Argentina international who made his debut off the bench at Wolves, looks to have the quality to make that happen.
Roy Hodgson said in the aftermath of Crystal Palace's third straight Premier League win that he's never felt "healthier or happier" when he was asked about a potential ban on over 70s from attending Premier League football matches.
The 72-year-old is getting the absolute maximum out of this Palace squad who are so well-drilled and have a striker in Jordan Ayew that is currently playing the best football of his career.
Palace notoriously don't create many chances so his ability to find the net out of nothing against Watford was a nice bonus for the south Londoners, who have moved into the European qualification picture. This latest win means they are now unbeaten in their last 20 matches when scoring first, winning 16 of those.
Hodgson continues to prove that age is just a number.
Defeat at Sheffield United leaves Norwich staring ominously at the trap door. They remain six points adrift of safety with just nine matches remaining to save their top-flight status, and if they are to have any chance of pulling off a great escape, they will need Teemu Pukki firing again.
Norwich's top scorer is now without a goal since January 22, but he had a glorious chance early on at Bramall Lane to end that run, lashing an effort against the post with the scores level. It proved an extremely costly miss as Billy Sharp's strike secured all three points for Sheffield United, pushing Norwich a step closer to relegation, but Norwich boss Daniel Farke still has confidence in the Finland international.
"We give him lots of trust and he knows he has a head coach who backs him and trusts him," said Farke. "He had a good situation today and it is one where he normally scores but even such an experienced player has dry spells and suffers a bit with confidence.
"Sometimes there are times where you just have to watch the ball and it goes in, other times from four or five yards out you can't even get it over the line. Teemu needs a goal from open play and sometimes what you need in this situation is a dirty goal, maybe a ball deflects in off him or the centre-back hits the ball against his back and it flies in. I hope he finds a finish pretty soon."
Farke will be hoping Pukki can find that "dirty goal" to get him up and running again sooner rather than later as time starts to run out on Norwich's Premier League stay.
Newcastle headed to the south coast for Saturday afternoon's clash with Southampton on a miserable run in front of goal, with Steve Bruce's side having not scored a Premier League goal since a 2-2 draw at Everton on January 21, a drought that had also seen the Magpies go on a five-match winless run.
And when Matt Ritchie saw his penalty saved by Alex McCarthy just before the break at St Mary's - the fourth spot-kick out of five Newcastle have missed since returning to the top flight in 2017 - the travelling fans must have wondered when and where their next league goal was coming.
That was reckoning without their inspirational winger Allan Saint-Maximin, though, with the French flyer on hand to net the Magpies' winner late on as they finally found the back of the net after more than seven hours without a goal.