Could Liverpool cut it on a cold, wet, and windy Sunday afternoon at Turf Moor?
Before a ball had been kicked that was the burning question, as the rain fell in all directions and the corner flags barely withstood the storm-like conditions.
From the Burnley team itself, fresh off the back of holding Manchester United, to the inclement weather, all the ingredients for an upset were there, but Liverpool dodged the banana skin and refused to allow their title challenge to be dampened.
The rain did not relent, and thanks to Fabinho’s first-half strike neither did Liverpool’s Premier League title aspirations. It was the continuation of the purplest of purple patches for the Brazilian.
No Liverpool player has scored more goals since the turn of the year than Fabinho, whose fifth goal in eight matches secured a 1-0 victory which could prove priceless come May.
Indeed, the Reds have gone on to win each of the eight games when Fabinho has scored for the club, including this latest victory – Liverpool’s fourth on the spin in the league and sixth in all competitions.
It means Jurgen Klopp side have cut Manchester City’s lead at the summit to nine points. Win their game in hand, remain flawless, and then beat the champions at the Etihad in April, then we may just have a title race on our hands after all.
Burnley had five shots in the first half against Liverpool and came so close to making the breakthrough. Instead, it is another defeat for the Premier League’s bottom club. Sean Dyche remains optimistic but, seven points from safety, time is running out for their fortunes to change.
„We created some amazing chances against quality opposition with some good play,“ said Dyche. „It is a head scratcher today because I thought we deserved more than we got from the game. That is the story of our season. We have created some really good chances and not taken them.“
James Rodriguez had a shot smothered by Alisson Becker. Wout Weghorst did not even test the Liverpool goalkeeper with two attempts when well placed. He tried to be too cute with his best opportunity, getting his chip all wrong when a firm finish looked the best bet.
Burnley have scored three goals in their nine games since the start of December, the fewest of any Premier League team. The expected-goals value of their chances in those games suggests they should have scored more than twice as many goals in those games. It looks like it will cost them.
Eddie Howe said it himself – it wasn’t pretty. But Newcastle held on for a narrow victory against Aston Villa at St James’ Park on Sunday afternoon and gave their chances of survival, which have looked slim for much of the season so far, a huge boost. A victory that moves them four points clear of 17th-placed Norwich with a game in hand, in fact.
There were not too many clear cut chances for either side, but the game was, ultimately, settled by a moment of quality from Kieran Trippier, whose wonderful curling free-kick – after Newcastle had seen a penalty downgraded to a free-kick by VAR Paul Tierney – sealed a significant win for the hosts in front of a raucous crowd.
While the winner was wildly celebrated, the cheers were perhaps even louder when Ollie Watkins’ headed equaliser was chalked off for a marginal offside with the help of a second VAR review with an hour gone.
The manner of the win was representative of the Magpies’ revival: on nine occasions throughout the campaign they have taken the lead in games and gone on to either draw or lose, while only on three occasions have they scored first and won, with two of those coming in their last three Premier League games..
Of course, the downside was the news that Trippier was carted off to hospital for a x-ray after his second half substitution. He has been integral to the Magpies’ resurgence over the last month, with two goals in the four games since his January move from Atletico Madrid and Howe will be all too aware his presence will be key to the battle to stay up.
Tottenham’s defending in the opening 20 minutes of this defeat to Wolves left Antonio Conte speechless when pressed on the subject in the post-match media duties. He just shook his head in disbelief, almost offering the words ‘no comment’ to the questioning.
Spurs’ criminal start to the game handed a two-goal advantage to a team whose defensive record is only bettered by Manchester City this season. Tottenham threatened in patches but Jose Sa was rarely troubled despite Conte’s claims it was one of Tottenham’s best attacking performances since he joined the club. That is debatable.
But something that was clear as day was how disorganised and ragged Spurs were in the opening stages. Hugo Lloris – a World Cup winner – set the tone on six minutes with two pieces of goalkeeping that would not have been out of place down the road in Hackney Marshes on a Sunday afternoon.
Raul Jimenez’s finish was deadly but it should have never come to that. Wolves sensed the nervousness and went for the kill, scoring the second when Leander Dendoncker gobbled up from close range after yet more kamikaze play from Lloris and his defenders.
It seemed like Tottenham were completely switched off from the job in hand from the first whistle, with their passing out from the back shambolic at times and the lack of reactions to danger in their box equally as bad. Conte needs to take some responsibility for that. Spurs’ task of Champions League qualification is getting tougher by the week.
With the top-four contenders falling over themselves in slapstick fashion, consistency could be key to Champions League qualification. Wolves may lack the individual quality of the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United but they make up for that in terms of team cohesion and a desire for defending. They are just four points off West Ham in fourth and have two games in hand.
Wolves’ standout strength has been their watertight defence. Their 17 goals conceded is bettered only by Manchester City this season and no other side in the division has conceded fewer goals from open play than Wolves’ 10 to date. Spurs managed 17 shots but only produced an expected goals figure of 1.07 pointing to lots of low probability chances due to some excellent defending from Wolves in their box.
All successful teams needs a top goalkeeper and Wolves have one. Sa, backed up in front of him by the excellent Max Kilman, has arguably been one of the bargains of the season. The £6.8m buy from Olympiakos last summer has the best save percentage in the Premier League this season. With him in this kind of form, Wolves fans can dream of toppling the so-called European powerhouses around them in the table.
Leicester City needed to win this to change the mood around the club. Instead, the funk in which the team find themselves goes on after conceding yet another late goal at the King Power Stadium and surrendering two points in their 2-2 draw at home to West Ham United.
Confidence looked to be restored during the second half on Sunday. Gifted an equaliser by Aaron Cresswell’s handball, they appeared set to take advantage. Youri Tielemans took control of the game, while Harvey Barnes gave West Ham right-back Vladimir Coufal a torrid time.
„Second half they were really on top,“ West Ham captain Declan Rice told Sky Sports. „[Kiernan] Dewsbury-Hall really started to pick up the ball in the second half, that little space he operates in. Harvey Barnes was flying up the left, which we nullified in the first half.“
It could have been a turning point. Instead, this was another hammer blow, sapping belief further. Pressure was invited in the closing stages and Leicester have shown consistently that they cannot withstand such pressure. Yet again, their good work was undermined from a set play.
It is not bad luck. Only four teams have conceded more shots from set pieces this season. „Brendan Rodgers has done zonal marking, he has done man marking, he has tried different things,“ Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports. „They have an awful record. For me, it is a mentality.“
What is the mentality at Leicester now? The dropped points mean they remain in the bottom half of the Premier League table without a win in the competition this year. There are European commitments on Thursday before they try to put that right at Wolves next weekend.
There are individual issues at Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo produced another underwhelming performance up front on his return to the starting line-up. Harry Maguire endured a desperate afternoon at the back, looking uncomfortable throughout.
But the real concern in the 1-1 draw against Southampton was that while Ralf Rangnick continues to talk as if the vision is coming together, there was a lack of coherence to their display that was made all the more apparent by the enterprise of the visitors.
Ralph Hasenhuttl is something of a disciple of the United interim boss. The 4-2-2-2 formation that he plays with intense pressing is the Rangnick trademark, a system the German has already felt compelled to abandon since his arrival at Old Trafford.
Is there a lack of belief in their work? This is the fourth time in six games that United have led at half-time only to give up that advantage in the second half. Southampton, who had one day fewer to recover, ran over five kilometres further than the home side.
„It is not a big secret that when they lose the ball the reverse gears are not the best,“ said Hasenhuttl when analysing the game afterwards. That is damning for those Manchester United players who are responsible for that failing.
Fourteen Premier League games remain until the end of the season – and the end of Rangnick’s coaching contract with the club. Hope that his idea will take shape is fading. The only goal now is for them to scramble over the line and secure fourth. It is in jeopardy.
Che Adams was the man responsible for the equaliser, producing another strong performance. Meanwhile, the energy and quality of both Southampton full-backs was also impressive, Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud getting forward well in attack.
But it was the talent of Armando Broja, the on-loan Chelsea striker, that will stay with many after another standout display leading the Saints’ attack. He did not score this time but caused Maguire and Raphael Varane all sorts of problems throughout the match.
There was a warning early on when he slowed Varane down before burning him off near the touchline. Late in the game, he exposed Maguire’s lack of pace after outmuscling him. Two defenders with huge reputations could not handle the 20-year-old Albanian.
It is a team effort under Hasenhuttl and that is as it should be given the coordinated pressing on display. But that is nothing new from this Southampton side. What is striking is that the loss of Danny Ings is not being felt thanks to the impact of the brilliant Broja.
It is easy to forget Raheem Sterling had only scored one Premier League goal this season at the start of December following a stop-start period that perhaps was a bit of a hangover from his dazzling performances for England at the Euros. He even suggested that a move away from the club could be on the horizon when his contract expires at the end of next season.
But the Sterling we are seeing now is the fully-fit and fully-firing version. He was outstanding in the 1-0 win over Chelsea and has maintained that level of form since, ripping Norwich’s Max Aarons apart down the left flank at Carrow Road. His perfect hat-trick takes his tally to eight goals in his last eight appearances against Norwich and he now has 10 goals in total in the Premier League this season. Sterling became the third Manchester City player to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League, after Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero (twice). Meanwhile, no Man City player has scored more away hat-tricks in the competition than Sterling, with each of his last three coming on the road.
There could be more to come judging on his showing. He is a man in red-hot form.
Three goals and a clean sheet. Frank Lampard could not have asked for a better performance against Leeds to get his first Premier League win in charge of Everton.
It was also a performance that was not the sign of a team that had been dragged into an unlikely relegation battle.
Donny van de Beek impressed on his first start for the Toffees and reminded us why Manchester United had forked out £39m for him from Ajax in the summer of 2020.
Meanwhile, Everton youngster Anthony Gordon grabbed a goal – albeit a very lucky one after deflecting in Richarlison’s shot – and an assist to show why the 20-year-old is fast becoming an integral player for this Everton team.
Van de Beek and Gordon’s displays were just a couple of highlights from a fantastic team performance that had Lampard purring.
„I’m absolutely delighted,“ he said. „In terms of our effort, our work-rate, the nature of the team, how we wanted to play, how compact we were, some of the quality play, opportunities created, we created so many good opportunities in the game – I’m really happy.
„I’ve been here two weeks, it’s only a start, that’s for sure and I won’t get overexcited. But I can enjoy it. Seeing my team play like that was everything we wanted.“
And the same can be said for the Everton fans, who had longed for such joy following the miserable reign of Rafael Benitez. They even chanted Lampard’s name towards the end of the game, such is their delight at the former England midfielder’s appointment.
It seems Everton are finally harmonious on and off the pitch, and they will now be hoping it is only upwards from here this season.
Brentford came into their game against Crystal Palace on the back of five successive defeats in the Premier League, so they will no doubt be pleased to have put an end to such a dispiriting run.
Thomas Frank appeared to set up his side with the primary intention of not losing, and they were reluctant to take too many risks when in possession.
The Bees ended the match with a passing accuracy below 70 per cent, and that figure fell to below 60 per cent when they entered the Eagles’ half.
Remarkably, neither Palace nor Brentford had a player flagged offside during the game – a clear sign of both sides’ unwillingness to gamble with the point they ultimately earned.
Brentford’s happiness to settle for a share of the spoils was understandable, though, given their poor form and their pre-season aspirations of remaining in the Premier League.
The Bees remain clear of the relegation zone and, by avoiding defeat, know they are inching towards securing their top-flight future for another year.
The sense that Patrick Vieira is a manager who struggles to set up his team in a positive manner when on the road was strengthened after Crystal Palace’s toothless performance in their 0-0 draw at Brentford.
The Eagles’ only genuine chance of the game came after Brentford gifted them the ball on the halfway line, allowing Odsonne Edouard to play in Jordan Ayew on the right of the Bees’ area.
But – perhaps unsurprisingly for a player who has two Premier League goals since the start of last season – Ayew sliced his effort high and wide.
That was a good as it got for Palace, and they ended the game with an xG (expected goals) total of just 0.49 and only three shots on target.
Vieira had similar problems setting his team up to attack away from home during his time at Nice, where his side averaged just 0.9 goals per 90 minutes in his 37 away matches managing the French club.
Palace’s struggles away from home have led to them winning just once on the road this season, with only Burnley having a worse record.
While it does not appear to be something that will cost the Eagles their Premier League place – they are currently 12th – it is something Vieira will need to address as he continues to put a stamp on his side.
It was another demoralising day for Watford as Roy Hodgson’s wait for a first win – and first goal – since taking charge at Vicarage Road continues.
It was a comfortable 2-0 victory in the end for Brighton in a game the visitors largely dominated. The result means Watford have lost six consecutive home games in England’s top flight for the first time in their history.
And the stats do not get any better. On their longest run without a win since 1999, they have now failed to score in four consecutive league games – but there is hope.
The return of Ismaila Sarr – back after winning the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal – at least gives Hodgson some optimism of escaping the drop.
The 23-year-old scored five goals in 12 league games before a knee injury in November and his introduction at half-time gave the home fans a much-needed boost.
„He’s a player that we are hoping, going forward, will give us something a bit extra,“ Hodgson said after the match.
„But it was a big ask for him today, having come back from Africa and the celebrations from Senegal winning the cup, sort of asked more of him than he was able to give us today.“
Watford’s only shot on target came courtesy of Sarr and although they remain deep in the relegation mire, he could be their best chance of getting out of it.
Neal Maupay may have grabbed the headlines for his stunning strike in Brighton’s 2-0 win at Watford, but it was his team-mate Tariq Lamptey who impressed most at Vicarage Road.
Helping his side to their first league win since January 2, the full-back’s intent was obvious from the first minute. His pace and tenacity down the right-hand side caused Watford problems throughout, with his pin-point cross to find Maupay for the opening goal the highlight of a commanding performance.
There is a reason why Lamptey has been linked with a move away from Brighton. The former Chelsea youngster quickly became a fans’ favourite after signing for the club two years ago, and his admirers already extend far beyond the Amex.
Tottenham were interested in signing the 21-year-old last summer but with his Brighton contract not expiring until 2025, the south coast club have some much-needed leverage if any of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ come calling again.
But despite a yellow card for a reckless tackle late in the second half, Lamptey was instrumental in almost every promising Brighton attack and, if he can consistently perform at this level, Graham Potter will do well to keep hold of him.