Plus: Aston Villa stumble on the road at Bournemouth, Brighton miss Lewis Dunk at Chelsea, Mohammed Kudus produces another stunning display for West Ham against Crystal Palace, while Man City and Tottenham play out an Etihad Stadium thriller
Monday 4 December 2023 16:38, UK
With Liverpool chasing a late winner, Jurgen Klopp raised eyebrows with his decision to bring Wataru Endo on for Ryan Gravenberch.
But the idea behind replacing a No 8 with a holding midfielder was clear. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had already been moved into that holding role, was now free to play as an advanced midfielder.
That Klopp sought to free Alexander-Arnold from his defensive responsibilities when Liverpool needed a goal was telling. It’s now clear that, along with Mohamed Salah, the right-back is the one that makes their attack tick.
Dean Ashton, speaking on Sky Sports News, said: “It's unfair to compare him to Steven Gerrard but Gerrard did start deep and got further up the pitch as his career went on. I don't see why Trent can't have a similar influence.”
Alexander-Arnold was unlucky to see his free-kick recorded as a Bernd Leno own goal but he ensured his name appeared on the scoresheet with a Gerrard-esque finish that secured the points as the seconds ticked down.
Klopp’s substitutions paid off. It may not be long before Alexander-Arnold’s midfield forays become a full-time assignment.
Jamie Carragher had been pitch side beforehand, almost as part of the Tottenham back four as they were put through their final rigorous instructions, bobbing up and down the pitch as a line.
It was clear Ange Postecoglou would be true to his word and not compromise on his playing style - but after 45 minutes of "madness" according to Roy Keane - even the Australian accepted something had to change.
Manchester City might have scored five or six. Somehow, they only led 2-1 and the door was left ajar for Spurs to recover.
Bryan Gil was replaced by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg but Spurs still dared to do. They always looked dangerous as City drifted. This was impressive in light of all their injuries.
"The coach was angry with us at half-time - he told us to just play," Dejan Kulusevski told Sky Sports after his flying header salvaged a late point.
It a rare glimpse into this new Tottenham, who are coming to places such as the Etihad Stadium and now acting like a big club. It may only have been a point, but they will head into the hectic festive calendar equipped with the necessary team spirit to absorb the loss of the walking wounded.
Going into the game against Liverpool, Manchester City had won all 23 of their home matches in 2023. After that draw and another dramatic late leveller in this 3-3 against Tottenham, they have now failed to win back-to-back Premier League games.
In between, there was a strange night at home to RB Leipzig in which City went two goals down. Before that, there was that extraordinary 4-4 draw at Chelsea. It is not so long ago that they contrived to concede twice to a Wolves team that had one shot on target.
Pep Guardiola is struggling to explain what is happening at both ends. Erling Haaland missed the target when it seemed easier to score and then blazed over the bar from a similar position. Jeremy Doku hit the crossbar. Julian Alvarez struck the post.
Tottenham were close to being blown away. Instead, they salvaged a point because City's wastefulness coincided with some remarkable ruthlessness of their own. Spurs somehow scored three goals despite their expected-goals tally for the game being just 0.49.
Guardiola refused to blame bad luck. In the press conference after the game, he made the point that his mentor Johan Cruyff insisted that there is no such thing. And there is a feeling that City are allowing lulls in games, drifting a little rather than seizing the moment.
Signs of Giovani Lo Celso's equaliser to make it 2-2 midway through the second half might not have been there in the data but they could be felt inside the stadium. Guardiola was agitated. Spurs were playing through City easier than they had been all game.
The City boss insists that he sees the same intensity from his players this season as last but the control is not quite the same without Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan in midfield. They remain formidable but points are being leaked away, nevertheless.
Maintain the right attitude and Guardiola will be confident it will turn. The clean sheets will come. There will be a game in which they score every chance and the mood turns, he insists. In the meantime, their rivals sense an opening. The Premier League title race is on.
Conor Gallagher, like Reece James last week, will owe his team-mates an apology for his sending off. For the second week in a row a player wearing the Chelsea captain's armband was dismissed but Gallagher should have stemmed his over-enthusiastic tackling after his first yellow. He left his side with a big task on their hands.
But the way this sending off galvanised Chelsea was encouraging. Too often last season, this was a team accused of playing like individuals. It's been far from plain sailing this term but there was a clear togetherness as they battled to the morale-boosting win over Brighton. It would have been easy to fold against a side with the quality the visitors brought to Stamford Bridge.
Mauricio Pochettino noticed the opportunity. "I told the players at half-time, this is a massive opportunity and challenge to show we are a real team," he said. They did just that. They were still able to trouble Brighton, with Mykhailo Mudryk's burst through to win the penalty for Chelsea's third goal an illustration of that. But it was their backs-to-the-wall defending which really united them in the final stages.
Attack after attack was repelled. Joao Pedro eventually broke through but this Chelsea side came together to see out a win which will give them real satisfaction and confidence they can achieve significant results when they play like this. "It was an important victory for us," Pochettino said afterwards. It felt like it.
It's been said before, but it needs to be mentioned again. There's no doubt Unai Emery is doing a brilliant job as Aston Villa continue to exceed expectations this season, but their away form must improve if they are to achieve a top-four finish.
Back in October, Paul Merson said Villa needed to change their "inconsistent" results on the road, but since those comments the Sky Sports pundit's former club have demonstrated exactly what he meant with a 2-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, a 2-1 win over Tottenham, and a 2-2 draw with Bournemouth.
Although Ollie Watkins' late equaliser ensured they were not beaten by the Cherries on the south coast, Villa's previous five losses in the Premier League have all been away from home and they were extremely close to suffering another one on Sunday.
Villa's 13-game winning home run is nothing short of sensational and they could even find themselves in a title race if they beat Manchester City and Arsenal - live on Sky Sports - at Villa Park in their next two fixtures.
But they still need to deliver on their travels. Emery's side have won just three of their last 12 away matches now in the league. They can't rely on home comforts forever.
Brighton have a long injury list but qualification to the Europa League knockout stages, plus a seven-game unbeaten run showed the Seagulls could cope.
But the absence of Lewis Dunk at Chelsea due to suspension looked like one very important injury too many.
Brighton conceded two goals from set-pieces in quick succession in scenarios where Dunk's influence could have prevented at least one of them. Then when Brighton were presented with a route back in with a goal and a Chelsea red card - they needed a cool head to avoid getting countered for a third.
Dunk showed how crucial he was in keeping a clean sheet away at AEK Athens in midweek. With the centre-back missing for Wednesday's visit of Brentford, Brighton need their captain back.
There would have been some concern among West Ham supporters that Mohammed Kudus may have been missing for the visit of Crystal Palace, having been left out of Thursday's trip to Serbia through illness.
He has proven to be a fine summer signing, making a quick impact and catching the eye with his performances. A standout goal against Brentford is an example of his class.
But luckily for West Ham, Kudus was back in the team on Sunday and among the goals, with his fine strike all-too-easily beating Crystal Palace goalkeeper Sam Johnstone.
The 23-year-old showed little signs of after-effects from his illness, and was involved in all of West Ham's good attacking work. He ranked top for shots, take-ons attempted and completely, with his series of high quality crosses just not quite reaching that final man.
His work rate in defence too did not go unnoticed, making the fourth highest number of tackles and also ranked high for possessions won in the middle and defensive third.
Kudus earned praise from his manager David Moyes too, who said: "Kudus was fantastic, the best player on the pitch, especially on the attacking side. He was excellent today and we needed to get the ball to him quicker and have more opportunities to do so, but we didn't quite do that."
The Ghana international has settled seamlessly into life at West Ham, influencing games in both attacking and defensive spaces. He will be key as they enter one of their busiest periods of the season.