Plus, Bukayo Saka's bright future, Leicester's odd home record, and how Declan Rice is becoming the complete midfielder...
Thursday 17 December 2020 12:12, UK
There has been plenty of drama in the Premier League this season but in its own way this still felt like the biggest moment of the title race so far - Roberto Firmino eluding Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld to win the match for Liverpool against Tottenham at Anfield.
It was Spurs who began the evening top of the Premier League table and it was Spurs who had the better chances on the night. Steven Bergwijn missed two, Kane squandered another. But when it was all over it was the champions three points clear of the rest.
Firmino has scored some big goals for Liverpool. Almost a year ago, he netted the only goal of the game against Flamengo as Jurgen Klopp's men became champions of the world. But there have not been many since. This was only his third of the season so far. Timing.
It felt huge. Liverpool had plenty of possession but they never had control. Tottenham were good, but they were not good enough, and that could be psychologically significant now.
For all the talk of injuries and upheaval this season, for all the incessant chatter about the possibility of an unexpected Premier League winner, it is Liverpool with the advantage. The title race is not over, of course it isn't. But the rest are now playing catch-up yet again.
When Firmino's late bullet of a header nestled in the top corner, and Tottenham heads fell into Tottenham hands, you would have been quick to jump to the conclusion of 'same old Spurs', but that assessment would have been harsh.
By hook, by crook, or maybe by the resilience recently installed by Jose Mourinho, Spurs were still in a game you could argue that had no right to be in as we reached the interval at Anfield.
Heung-Min Son did what he does best to haul his side level against the run of play after Mohamed Salah's opener, and the stage was set for Mourinho's newly-assembled set of stars to lay down a marker in the title race. They very nearly did just that.
Who knows which the way the game would have gone had Spurs capitalised during a spell when they actually had Liverpool on the back foot? What might have been had Steven Bergwijn not been denied by the post, and Harry Kane not sent a free header over from six yards?
Liverpool may well have been starring a first home league defeat in over two and a half years in the face, but, in a game of the finest of margins, Spurs' wastefulness sealed their fate.
There were plenty of positives for Spurs to take from another fruitless trip to Anfield, but none more so than the valuable lesson which may just help them turn from title hopefuls into genuine challengers for Liverpool's crown.
That ruthless edge Mourinho demanded the moment he stepped through the door clearly still needs some finetuning, fortunately for Spurs, time is on their side to reach those title-winning heights before the season is up.
Arsenal avoided a fifth consecutive home defeat as they clung on for a 1-1 draw with Southampton on Wednesday night, but this was another unconvincing performance from Mikel Arteta's side, complete with a fresh show of ill-discipline and a meagre 35 per cent share of possession.
They will need to show considerable improvement if they are to use the draw as a turning point and start climbing up the table, especially with Everton and Chelsea their next opponents, but they do at least have one player they can bank on in Bukayo Saka.
The 19-year-old academy graduate has been a ray of light in a dismal season, starting all but two of Arsenal's Premier League games, his eye-catching performances in testing circumstances putting his senior team-mates to shame.
He stood out again against Southampton, most notably for his role in Arsenal's goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored it, finishing coolly past Alex McCarthy to end a six-game barren run, but the chance only came about because of Saka's brilliance.
Gabriel picked him out on Arsenal's left flank, and from there he danced past Theo Walcott, Kyle Walker-Peters and Oriol Romeu to feed Eddie Nketiah, who had the simple task of tapping the ball into Aubameyang's path. It was exactly the kind of skill and spontaneity this Arsenal side so often lacks.
It takes bravery to try to make things happen when those around you don't, and Saka then showed his team-mates the way off the pitch as well as on it. "You deserve more, Arsenal fans," he posted on social media. That may be true, but they are lucky to have him.
Everton have been streakier than a piece of bacon under Carlo Ancelotti, generally either in scintillating form or scratching around for points with very little in between.
After three wins and 10 points from five games, we're very much in the former camp. The sort of form which saw the Toffees leap to the top of the Premier League in the early weeks of the season. 12 games in, and back in European contention, are they here to stay?
Some consistency would help. And Ancelotti knows better than anyone how that will be built under defensive solidity; his side have conceded only two goals in their last four games, keeping clean sheets against free-scoring Leicester and Chelsea, which in itself is no mean feat.
A makeshift back four did an impressive job at the King Power Stadium on Wednesday night but it looks like his side has hit on something deeper; the Toffees pressed from the front, Abdoulaye Doucoure did the job of three men in midfield and Yerry Mina and Michael Keane stood tall when required.
Arsenal and Manchester City make up two of the Toffees' next three games - some good results from them and maybe this is more than just another streak.
It is odd to think that a side who could have ended the day top of the Premier League table could have picked up only nine points from six home games this season - but Leicester's home and away form compounds traditional logic.
Five wins on the road compared to three at home shows exactly where the problems lie for Brendan Rodgers, and they're nothing new for Leicester in recent years.
His predecessor Claude Puel struggled against teams who came to the King Power and sat deep, and though Rodgers appeared to have solved that conundrum at first with the playmaking skill of James Maddison, Everton proved the latest defensively resolute side to frustrate them while making the most of their own opportunities on Wednesday.
"We need to be better, there's no getting away from it," Rodgers admitted. There was certainly plenty of attacking talent in Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Cengiz Under and Youri Tielemans on display on Wednesday.
Perhaps it is more in the mind. When Leicester moved the ball with tempo they looked dangerous. They just never did it enough.
Whatever the issue, if the Foxes are to avoid another false dawn and return to the Champions League next season, it needs fixing fast.
Jack Harrison was hooked at half-time during Leeds' defeat to West Ham last Friday - but he bounced back in emphatic fashion against Newcastle with a superb performance and stunning strike late on.
The 24-year-old has been below his best in recent weeks but looked back to his most threatening on Wednesday evening, linking up superbly with left-back Ezgjan Alioski to give Newcastle all sorts of problems down that flank.
Harrison created four chances in the game - more than any other player - and whipped in nine crosses from the left. But the stats don't show the brilliant skill he produced to bring down Rodrigo's firm pass when he was on the stretch in the build-up to Leeds' second goal, or the fizz he put on the cross back to his team-mate to convert.
They also don't paint the picture of his sublime goal two minutes from time, where he capped a counter-attack by crashing the ball into the top corner with his left foot from outside the box. An excellent, thrilling display - and impressive response to his half-time exit last time out at Elland Road.
It's easy to forget that Declan Rice is still only 21-years-old. He plays like a man who has been around the block at the top level for many years and carries the West Ham armband with such confidence. Yet again he was the outstanding performer for the Hammers in their rather tepid overall performance in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace.
No player on the pitch made more passes than him (74) with everything positive West Ham did coming via his ability to move the ball quickly into his more attack-minded teammates, all achieved with a passing accuracy of 93.2 per cent. He also has an ability to turn 50-50 challenges into 75-25 ones in his favour such is his timing and aggression in the tackle but does it without conceding fouls.
It was a performance that would have merited a winning goal but his curling effort from 25 yards clipped the bar in the closing stages.
He really is a frightening prospect for club and country. And, someone who is progressing at a rapid rate.
On Sunday, Scott Parker's Fulham played with an energy and fight barely seen down the bottom of the Premier League this season. Three days and just one change to their XI later, they looked tame in a game that would have put daylight between themselves and the drop zone for the first time since promotion.
In the end, they did move out of the drop zone, for 24 hours at least, but the fear is Fulham's style requires an energy that is difficult to rely on this season.
They missed their fans, who were truly the 12th man in the 1-1 draw with champions Liverpool, and struggled to find that vigour to win the ball back in midfield to counter.
They outran Liverpool on Sunday, both in mileage and sprints - but on Wednesday, they were outran by a Brighton side who made six changes, and would have come away with the points but for VAR and the crossbar.
If vitality is the key for Fulham, the schedule isn't conducive. The rest of the Premier League will soon get a taste of what the European teams have dealt with, and for Fulham in particular it's 10 games in 42 days from Boxing Day onwards, or 11 games if they get past QPR in the FA Cup.
There are huge away fixtures in that run - Burnley, West Brom and Brighton in January - and Parker may have to use more of his squad.