These Premier League matches keep on coming, don’t they? Which is bad news for Tottenham Hotspur as it turns out that it is playing matches which can damage that title bid you were supposed to be mounting.
We’ve had yet another full round of matches and the Premier League picture has changed once again at both the top and the bottom of the table.
And, as ever, it is my job to try and find the funny football news in it all.
Which, when you cast your eye in the direction of Wembley, really is not that hard to do.
But, we start at Anfield where Liverpool took the field knowing that Tottenham had already ballsed it up against Wolves and, with City playing the following day, could open up a nine-point lead overnight.
Arsenal, bless them, tried to be brave and for a brief moment Alex Iwobi looked like a world-beater and we nearly had to add Ainsley Maitland-Niles to the list of incredible English talents coming through at the moment.
It was a very brief moment, wasn’t it?
A bit like when Scotland took an early lead against Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, all Arsenal’s goal seemed to do was annoy Liverpool into playing. And boy, did they play.
When you looked at the Arsenal lineup, it was hard not to point at Stephan Lichtsteiner, Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis and Sead Kolasinac and think, ‘yeah, there are a few goals here for Liverpool’. What many people will not have expected was exactly how the four of them turned out to be as creative for Liverpool as Xherdan Shaqiri et al.
Bobby Firmino was able to put Liverpool on level terms almost immediately thanks to Granit Xhaka’s surprisingly well-timed tackle rebounding into the path of Lichtsteiner, who just had to hit the ball anywhere other than where he actually hit the ball to clear the danger. Instead, the Swiss smacked it into Mustafi’s big, lumbering backside and the ball fell to Firmino who tapped home.
90 seconds later, Firmino robbed Lucas Torreira who surely cannot now be called ‘the signing of the season’ given the absolute schooling he was given by Gini Wijnaldum and Fabinho. Firmino went on a ski-slope slalom, sitting down Sokratis, Mustafi and goalkeeper Bernd Leno before putting Liverpool ahead. It was a magical goal and a goal that suddenly swung the pendulum from ‘Liverpool don’t have the bottle to maintain a title-challenge now they are top’ to ‘Christ, they might actually do it this time you know?’
To give Mustafi a teeny-tiny amount of credit, he did tell Lichtsteiner where he needed to be to stop Sadio Mane scoring Liverpool’s third. The problem was, Stefan chose to ignore him and lost sight of Mo Salah peeling away and having all the time in the world to one-touch his cross for Mane to make it 3-1.
Arsenal fans jumped on the ‘Salah is a diver’ bandwagon being driven by Sokratis before halftime. I have a simple rule for incidents like this. If that clash happened anywhere else on the pitch, would it have been given as a foul against the Arsenal ‘defender’? With the answer being such a resounding yes given that Sokratis had more nibbles at Salah’s heels than he will have had of a Christmas Dinner, it was a penalty. And Salah scored it.
What was even more comical was the nature of the second penalty Arsenal gave away. Even Michael Oliver wore a look of ‘lads, what do you actually expect me to do when you do that?’ On the first replay, I thought it was the first set of arms in someone’s back that was being penalised but it was actually given for Kolasinac’s barge into the back of Dejan Lovren who, in fairness, did make sure it was easy to spot. Either way, it was an either-or for Oliver and any Arsenal fan using the penalties as them ‘being cheated’ probably needs to find the nearest mirror and have a bit of a look.
Liverpool were a different level to Arsenal on the night and what a stage we now have for Thursday night’s showdown against Manchester City.
Especially given that City returned to winning ways by navigating their way past Southampton on the South Coast.
Has anyone watched City recently and mused, ‘you could really do with a new left back?’ City led at St Mary’s after the classic case of Southampton missing a golden opportunity before conceding a mere 65 seconds later. Charlie Austin was guilty at one end before City’s family act of the Silva brothers combined for David, complete with hair, scored the game’s opening goal.
Then Oleksandr Zinchenko, in for equally-hapless-but-suspended Fabian Delph in the City team got caught napping on the ball and Pierre-Emerick Hojbjerg blasted the champions level.
But that key incident at one end leading to a goal for the bigger team at the other end ratio held firm as Zinchenko clearly impeded (again, see the ‘is that a foul anywhere else on the pitch?’ logic) and milliseconds later the ball is in the Southampton net. It was the kind of luck that made you wonder if the ghost of Mark Hughes was in the stadium. And from there, Aguero made it 3-1 before halftime.
The second half fizzled out bar City captain Vincent Kompany getting booked for a bit of a leap into his opponent. He wants to be careful with tackles like that. He might injure someone. Namely, himself.
I’m expecting Tottenham players to be wearing black armbands in their next match. Why? To pay their respects to their title challenge which sadly passed away on 29.11.18 having been born on 26.12.18. RIP title challenge, you were taken too soon and you will be missed.
We all saw it coming though, didn’t we? Young Kyle Walker-Peters in a post-match interview on TV after they shellacked Bournemouth talking about how they believed they could win the title. Where’s the media guy kicking him the shins the moment he starts going down that road?
The minute Spurs start to believe in themselves that little devil in their heads reappears. That little devil called ‘Spursy‘. It is going to take years of rehab to deal with that, I am afraid.
Wolves were a goal down with 20 minutes to go yet ended up winning 3-1. Can we suggest Hugo Lloris might be delighted to see the back of 2018? That in itself is an odd statement seeing as he won the actual World Cup but boy as he been rubbish more often than he has been good this year.
And what’s that? Harry Kane MBE booked for diving? One of the golden boys of English football cheated? Can we take back his Sports Personality of the Year 3rd place trophy? What does Sean Dyche have to say about this, given that Harry isn’t, you know, one of them foreigners?
Paul Pogba really hated Jose Mourinho, didn’t he? Suddenly the French World Cup winner is playing like a man who has won the World Cup (unlike Hugo Lloris) and it’s all down to the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer flashes him that smile at every opportunity.
Pogba has now been directly involved in seven United goals since Jose got the boot which is about six more than he was involved in when Jose was in charge this season. But, the opener was all down to Marcus Rashford. Somehow, I am not convinced that Romelu Lukaku would have been able to do what Rashford did to set that up. I hope those seats ‘on the bench’ are comfortable, Rom. You’ll be sitting on them for the rest of the season, lad. And of course, they are comfortable. Have you seen them? At least, that is what I was thinking before Lukaku came off the bench with 20 minutes remaining and scored with this third touch. Is it just me, or is everything Solskjaer touching turning to gold? All we need now is for Alexis Sanchez to roll back the years to his peak Arsenal days, Phil Jones to become the ‘new Duncan Edwards’ like Sir Alex predicted and Luke Shaw to play like a mix of Stuart Pearce and Roberto Carlos and they may as well give him the job permanently.
Mind you, the way social media has gone pro-United in the last couple of weeks you’d imagine they’d been beating Champions League contenders. Just a polite reminder, they’ve beaten Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth. Can we all calm down a bit?
Oh, and the last time United managed to keep a clean sheet Jose Mourinho was in charge.
Top work by Eric Bailly, though. The United defender saw Fellaini warming up so decided to go in two-footed and pick up a red, meaning Jones came on ahead of the Big Tree. That is a team player for you, right there. Or, maybe, he just didn’t fancy a trip to Newcastle.
Before the trip to Selhurst Park, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri admitted the intensity of the English game has been a bit of a shock to him. With Chelsea stuttering of late, where to play N’Golo Kante has been a topic once again. Yet, they clearly need Kante in attacking positions to show Olivier Giroud how to stay the hell onside. Actually, that might be a little harsh on the Frenchman considering that he was denied two excellent goals by assistant referees unable to spot that he was level with the toenails of the defender on both occasions.
Kepa didn’t exactly have his busiest day at the office as Crystal Palace looked pretty toothless on the rare opportunity they had to venture forward. Where was Andros Townsend cutting in from the right and blazing the ball into the stands? Where was Wilf Zaha? In fairness, it was probably Zaha’s worst performance of the season which could well suit Roy Hodgson as there won’t be too many clubs signing up to sign the cult hero after that.
Putting aside the match at Anfield, a lot of Saturday’s drama happened late in the games. Even later than Spurs throwing away a 1-0 lead with 20 minutes left to lose 3-1. Yes, later than that.
You were starting to get the feeling that Fulham want to go back to the Championship so they can play their pretty football and win football matches again. They got a penalty against Huddersfield which would have certainly won the game considering that Huddersfield score as rarely as Fulham keep a clean sheet.
Surely, that would be enough for Fulham to get three points? You’d think so, especially if Aleksandar Mitrovic hand been allowed to follow team orders and take the damn thing. But no, his ‘teammate’ Aboubakar Kamara had other ideas and demanded he had a pop himself.
We’ve been here before, these things never go well. And yes, Kamara missed. Of course, he did. Claudio Ranieri said after the game that Kamara had, ‘disrespected him, his teammates, the fans and the club’ before going on to say that he had wanted to ‘kill him’.
Luckily for Kamara, and maybe Ranieri, the Italian’s stance may have softened somewhat after Ryan Sessegnon gave Mitrovic something to bound on to and slide home for a very late winner. And how nervous was Kamara going up to him to celebrate with him? Very.
It wasn’t only at Craven Cottage that there was late drama, oh no. Having beaten Chelsea and then Manchester City over the Christmas period, you’d have expected Leicester to make short-thrift of Cardiff City, wouldn’t you?
There was controversy again as Leicester’s James Maddison went down in Cardiff’s penalty area; see my earlier point around whether that would be a free-kick anywhere else (yes it would have been).
Maddison stepped up himself to score the spot-kick but was thwarted by Neil Etheridge saving his third penalty of the season and only playing because blooming Sven-Goran Eriksson had given him time out of the Philippines Asian Cup squad. Yes, that’s where Sven is currently stealing a living.
And then, of course, deep into injury time Victor Camarassa scored a stunner for Cardiff to give Neil Warnock his first away win in the Premier League for rather a long time and increased, yet again, the chances of Cardiff staying up.
Everton have now played 4500 top-flight matches, significantly more than anyone else, yet they are as frustratingly inconsistent as ever. Lose 6-2 to Spurs, beat someone else 5-1. Then, of course, go down to Brighton and get beaten.
Marco Silva brought in Andre Gomes from Barcelona to add some much-needed creativity into the Everton midfield but he probably wasn’t expecting the Portuguese player to set up Brighton’s winner with such cunning poise.
A Brighton out swinging corner hit Gomes on the heel and the ball fell into the path of Jurgen Locadia who, had the ball not hit an Everton player, would have been a mile offside. But, it didn’t and for once an assistant referee earned his match fee and the right decision happened.
Who needs VAR, eh?
Rafa Benitez continues to speak of the miracle needed by Newcastle to stay in the Premier League next season. But, in Solomon Rondon, he has a number nine capable of battering in the goals needed to keep them up. Keep throwing it in the mixer and the big man will score, Rafa. Watford do appear to be a decent team this season after all and nicked a point.
Finally, to Turf Moor where Sean Dyche finally realised what we all realised a few weeks ago; that it is all Jonah Hart’s fault. Dyche drops the former England number one from the team and Burnley win 2-0 against West Ham. Coincidence? I’ll let you decide.