Premier League hits and misses: Liverpool find a way as Arsenal lose theirs
Frustrated Raheem Sterling in need of a rest, Arsenal lose that winning feeling, Spurs continue to miss Harry Kane...
Last Updated: 20/01/20 11:18am
Liverpool had a quality and robustness about them, typified by the exemplary delivery for the opening goal and the power and timing of Virgil van Dijk to get on the end of it.
The tone was again set in midfield where Jordan Henderson's work-rate in particular, anchoring Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, stood out.
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For the vast majority of the first half it appeared to be a case of when, not if, United would give the ball away when Liverpool pressed - and the complete opposite looked to be true of Liverpool when the roles were reversed.
However, the second goal proved elusive. VAR twice playing a part in that, correctly ruling Wijnaldum offside, while the debate was still raging as to whether or not Van Dijk had fouled David de Gea before Roberto Firmino sublimely curled home.
And, after Andreas Pereira's missed opportunity with half-time approaching served as a warning that United were still alive in the game, Liverpool started the second half as if they'd heeded the warning. Penning United in their own half for a time, only a Salah miskick and De Gea's superb finger-tip save from Henderson earned them a reprieve.
From here United grew into the game once more and arguably should have been level when Anthony Martial found space in the box only to finish wildly.
It looked as though an edginess began to creep in to Liverpool's play as Mason Greenwood so nearly got on the end of Martial's cross sneaking in between Van Dijk and Andrew Robertson.
That said, in those last 15 minutes - in fact throughout the game - Alisson didn't really have a meaningful save to make.
And whatever nerves Liverpool may have been feeling, they were allayed when Alisson's quick thinking sent Mohamed Salah clear to wrap things up.
Three weeks ago in the 2-0 win over Sheffield United, Raheem Sterling looked like a player in desperate need of a rest. A second or two off his usual speed, both in his legs and pass, Sterling's impact wasn't being felt.
So a break is what he got - his start against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup victory came sandwiched between two rests against Everton and Aston Villa - but on the evidence of Saturday's draw with Palace, it hasn't had the desired effect.
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Sterling looked frustrated and shut out, struggling to get into the game despite having the freedom to roam across the final third. He had as many touches on the right flank as he did on the left.
With City miles behind Liverpool in the title race, Guardiola's task is to get Sterling firing again with big knockout games to come. He has options if he wants to rest him again: Bernardo Silva has improved, Gabriel Jesus has proven he can play with Sergio Aguero, and Riyad Mahrez has done enough for a regular start, but confidence also comes with minutes.
Sterling, so often City's star man, has brought about an unwanted headache for Guardiola.
Gabriel Martinelli's ninth goal in 10 starts put Arsenal on course for a much-needed win against Sheffield United but, yet again, there was a sting in the tail for the Gunners.
That's been the story of Arsenal's season so far as Mikel Arteta's side have drawn more games than any other in the Premier League this season - 11.
They have also dropped 13 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, as many as they had in the whole of the 2018-19 campaign, and after conceding late against Chelsea and in the second half at Crystal Palace in recent weeks, Arteta's men fell away once again in the second half against the Blades.
It's something that needs addressing, and quickly, if the Gunners are to start climbing the table again soon. Is it a case of improving the fitness? Arsenal's level definitely dropped off in the closing stages against Sheffield United, but Arteta felt he could not fault the effort of his players.
"I am very disappointed," Arteta said after the 1-1 draw. "We gave away two points. There is a history of giving away goals. In the Premier League when you're 1-0 up anything can happen. I think the players all went full gas and tried really hard. Maybe in the first five minutes we tried to figure out the game but later they changed system and it was harder to control."
Whether it's a case of improving fitness levels or something else, Arteta needs to find the answers to his side's second-half woes - starting at Chelsea in midweek - if they are to have any chance of getting themselves back into the race for the top four.
Sheffield United's story continues as Chris Wilder's side battled back to earn a point at Arsenal.
The draw, a result they fully deserved, meant the Blades stayed four points above the Gunners in the Premier League table, something they could have only dreamed of at the start of the season.
It's a reality now though, after United picked up their 16th point away from home in the Premier League this season (W3 D7), but Wilder is not about to let standards drop as we approach the business end of the season.
"The result is better than our performance," he said after the draw at the Emirates Stadium. "We played really well for the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes, but we didn't deserve to win. It was one of our poorer performances."
Many managers would have been delighted with a point at Arsenal, but Wilder's attitude is the reason Sheffield United are where they are in the table. That attitude is key to the Sheffield United story, which Wilder wants to continue.
"We had a lot of apprehension coming into the division, but we have a group that challenges each other," the Blades boss added. "I think it's a really good story with where our players have come from and the key is to turn that into a fantastic story."
And on the evidence of the season so far, only a fool would back against them doing just that.
No team has seen less of the ball than Newcastle this season but that is the way they are happy for it to be. This is not a pressing team. In fact, they allow more opposition passes per defensive action than any other Premier League team.
The result is that while their own attacks have to start from closer to their own goal than any other side, the opposition progress the ball more against Newcastle than they do against any other side too. The numbers are stacked against them.
But they make it work. The defenders know that the job is to head the ball away from deep and to block the shots. Jamaal Lascelles came up with 11 clearances against Chelsea. Ciaran Clark made three blocks. Ahead of them, the midfield work and work and work.
Miguel Almiron, a player of some skill, also topped the stats for distance covered - running 11.52 kilometres - and high-intensity sprints. It might not have been too pretty to watch for the Newcastle supporters but everyone on the pitch is buying into it.
Frank Lampard could only pay tribute afterwards. "You won't always create clear-cut chances against Newcastle because they have so many bodies back behind the ball and fair play to them because they defend with everything," he told Sky Sports.
Newcastle are a club that can aspire to more than this, of course. But on days when they score a late winner against Chelsea - their first stoppage-time winner in the Premier League in over four years - Steve Bruce's side deserve only praise. They are back up to twelfth.
Everton's recovery under Carlo Ancelotti continued as they battled to a 1-1 draw against West Ham with Dominic Calvert-Lewin again impressing for the visitors.
Calvert-Lewin is thriving under the Italian, notching his 11th goal of the season at the London Stadium to extend his most successful campaign and Premier League tally.
He ranks as the seventh-highest English scorer in this season's top-flight, but in the absence of Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson, it was imperative for the Merseysiders that Calvert-Lewin ended his mini-goal drought.
Having been denied three times during the 1-0 win over Brighton last weekend, the 22-year-old ensured his wait for a ninth league strike didn't extend to a fourth game as he flicked home Lucas Digne's corner, four minutes after Issa Diop's opener.
With Harry Kane out until at least April with a hamstring injury, Marcus Rashford sidelined for six weeks with a double stress fracture in his back and Jamie Vardy retired from international football, Calvert-Lewin, who has represented the U21s, could still force his way into Gareth Southgate's squad for Euro 2020.
"Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been really fantastic," said Ancelotti. "He scores goals, which is important for him and for the squad. He is having good performances and was important."
When asked about his growing claims for an England call-up, the Italian added: "It's not my job." But those calls are getting louder.
"I am very aware of how we are doing things."
It didn't take too much ingenuity to read between the lines of Nuno Espirito Santo's post-match comments after Wolves' dramatic 3-2 win over Southampton.
It was the same message as last weekend when Nuno only made one substitution as Wolves pushed for a win against Newcastle - and that was to bring on a left-back for a winger.
The message is: We are continuing to do a lot with a little, at least in terms of numbers.
The workload of Wolves' regular starters has been high this season - 33-year-old Joao Moutinho has played 43 games for club and country - and it looked to be showing in the first half against Southampton as they fell 2-0 behind.
But they found a new lease of life after half-time, with Raul Jimenez in particular coming alive to underline his importance to the team.
The striker hadn't netted in the last five games, all of which Wolves had failed to win. He also missed a presentable chance on the stretch in the first half and struggled to get involved.
But he was at the heart of Wolves' brilliant comeback, converting a coolly-taken penalty to level the scores and then netting the winner with a good first-time finish. Not only did he get the goals, he linked up play well, especially with the lively Adama Traore, and proved a handful for Southampton's defence.
Jimenez has now been directly involved in 27 goals for Wolves in all competitions this season (18 goals, nine assists), which is more than any other player for a Premier League club. With 23 Premier League goals he is also Wolves' all-time leading scorer in the division.
While Wolves will hope to strengthen this month, Jimenez is surely the player they could least afford to lose.
Tottenham had 63 per cent of possession before half-time at Watford on Saturday, and 17 touches in the Hornets' box, but managed just one effort of note. Harry Kane's absence looms over their frontline and unless they can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the last two weeks of the transfer window, that could be the case until at least April.
Heung-Min Son will chip in with goals but even he didn't have his shooting boots on at Vicarage Road, with a couple of efforts you could only watch and think: "Kane would have buried that."
Jose Mourinho made no secret after the game of his desire to add to his attacking options but even he sounded doubtful of their ability to recruit in January - and with their Champions League hopes already fading fast after a fourth winless game in a row, that may prove very costly.
A month ago, Watford would have run over hot coals for a draw at home to Tottenham. A tally of nine points in the league, heading straight back to the Championship after five years in the big time, things were going south fast.
But under Nigel Pearson, anything less than perfection feels like a disappointment. Sure, Troy Deeney's saved penalty plays its own part in their frustration at drawing with Spurs, but so too does their new-found level of expectation.
Pearson's Watford are a different animal and had the chances to see off Jose Mourinho at Vicarage Road for the second time in four seasons, with an excellent performance throughout yet again.
It's difficult to see past Pearson performing another great escape and keeping Watford in the top flight at this stage; Tuesday's showdown at relegation rivals Aston Villa will go a long way to determining how true that is.
"England's number one," was chanted around Turf Moor at full time of Burnley's gritty 2-1 win over Leicester. And in this kind of form, Nick Pope, who has only made two England appearances, will certainly give Gareth Southgate something to think about considering Jordan Pickford's form this season for Everton.
The Burnley stopper made eight saves during the match, including stopping a penalty from Jamie Vardy.
Sky Sports co-commentator, Andy Hinchcliffe, thinks Pickford's place is seriously under threat.
He said: "Goalscorers always get the glory but goalkeepers keep the game alive - he made three crucial saves, none more so than the penalty save from Vardy. If you're looking for a starting goalkeeper at the Euros in the summer, I wouldn't look any further than Pope."
Anyone remember Pepe Reina's last Premier League appearance before his debut for Aston Villa this weekend? Jamie Carragher probably does. As it was his final game as a Liverpool player in the 1-0 win over QPR in May, 2013.
The 37-year-old former Reds goalkeeper has an abundance of experience but the question on my mind ahead of Villa's trip to Brighton was: 'is Reina game ready?'
He'd only made only one Serie A appearance this season, in AC Milan's 2-1 win over Genoa but he hit the ground running for his new club with a classy performance in between the sticks. His save in the dying minutes to deny Neal Maupay was a genuine top-class effort.
"He is calmness personified," Dean Smith said.
"You wouldn't know he was making his debut - he's a World Cup winner and very experienced. He showed calmness. The players know they've got a calmness behind them. His charisma is rubbing off on everyone. He made a telling contribution."