By Neil Leverett
- League leaders maintain eight-point Premier League lead after 3-0 win away to AFC Bournemouth in Gameweek 16
- Manchester City lose derby at the Etihad, whilst Leicester City pick up ninth win on bounce
- Arsenal fight back against beleaguered West Ham, Spurs thump Burnley, as Norwich suffer latest home setback
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – As Liverpool maintain an eight-point lead at the top of the table over Leicester City, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 16?
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Long road starts for Reds
Gameweek 16 will read as another off the list for Liverpool in the 2019/20 season, as the Reds maintain their lusty Premier League advantage of eight points, however from this point on, Jurgen Klopp‘s squad will tested to its’ limit over the coming weeks of the festive period.
Having negotiated an away day at AFC Bournemouth with minimal fuss by way of a three-nil win, the Merseysiders now enter a period of playing potentially eight games in 19 days.
Whilst next week’s Carabao Cup quarter-final is likely to see an extremely experimental Liverpool side be tested – with the first team in Qatar for the Club World Cup – a midweek clash with Red Bull Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League could push the Reds all the way, with a clash versus Watford this coming weekend also.
Leicester City and Wolves then await on their return from the Middle East and despite many having already handed the title to the Reds, this particular Christmas period is set to perhaps the most pivotal yet in deciphering whether there are twists to come this term.
Are Leicester main rivals…?
Said twists could come from a rather unlikely source – at least pre-season – in the shape of Leicester who sit in second spot by a comfortable margin and who play both the Reds and Citizens on Christmas week.
In what was their ninth win in all competitions since defeat at Anfield over two months ago, the Foxes look at their strongest since their run that led to their historic Premier League crown in 2015/16, indeed if anything from an attacking point of view, Brendan Rodgers‘ men look an even greater menace than Claudio Ranieri’s incarnation.
Like during that season, Jamie Vardy is again at the centre of Leicester’s dominant run, indeed the former England striker has now netted in eight consecutive league games, just three shy of the record he broke four years ago having scored in 11 games on the bounce.
With Norwich City to entertain in Gameweek 17, Vardy will be odds-on to make in to nine, before the as documented season-defining games against City and Liverpool could see his record come into full view once more. Regardless, Leicester appear to hold the greatest threat to the Reds’ crowning in May.
…As City lose again
Manchester City are now an astonishing 14 points off the league summit and six points from the Foxes, as an improving Manchester United rolled up to the Etihad and stole the bragging rights in the derby – against expectation.
Pep Guardiola‘s two-time champions have now lost two of five league outings, with hopes of a third successive league crown rapidly fading away and having been overtaken by Leicester in the eyes of many, as the most realistic challengers to the champions elect in Liverpool.
Opting to deploy Angelino at left-back in favour of Benjamin Mendy, the Citizens were again caught out on the break as Marcus Rashford‘s return to form shows no sign of abating.
For City though, the on-going absence of Aymeric Laporte has left a cavernous hole in the champion’s set-up, and even with the opening of the January transfer window to come, that will surely come too late to resurrect their flagging title aspirations as Guardiola looks for solutions.
Pellegrini on thin ice
A few weeks ago we built up the managerial sack race in the English top flight to feature three prime candidates for dismissal, and with both Unai Emery and Marco Silva having departed, only Manuel Pellegrini remains of the trio. However, after another defeat for West Ham, the Chilean now looks inevitable to be the next to go.
Ironically, it was the interim Arsenal boss Freddie Ljungberg who subjected the Irons’ steward to his fifth defeat in six league games, and despite the hosts holding a slender lead on the hour-mark, three goals in nine minutes plunged West Ham toward another loss.
The concerning issue for Pellegrini was the sheer lack of tempo his side played with, and after controlling proceedings against a rather arrogant Gunners’ showing, the manner in which the East Londoners fell apart was alarming.
West Ham face a massive trip to Southampton this weekend, which could be the final chance for Pellegrini to show his wares. A further defeat for the Chilean could see his second tenure in the Premier League brought to an abrupt end – with the Hammers then mired in a relegation battle.
The Ferguson effect
‘Interim’ is quickly becoming a by-word for this season – with differing levels of impact or success. However, as Duncan Ferguson took charge of his first game as Everton manager, the forward who netted 35 goals in four seasons for the Toffees between 1994 and 1998, further cemented his position as something of a cult hero in his playing days, masterminding a 3-1 win over Chelsea.
Finding themselves in the bottom three and with genuine concerns of a first relegation in just under 70 years, the Ferguson bounce was in full effect, as Everton played with fire showed the sort of work rate the Toffees had fallen far short of during Silva’s final games in charge.
As Dominic Calvert-Lewin grabbed his first league brace, the striker – much-maligned by certain corners of the fan-base – rewarded his manager’s loyalty with a match-winning contribution to fire Everton up to 14th place in the standings.
Ferguson’s installation into the dugout looks to be a vital fillip for Everton ahead of games against Arsenal, and both halves of Manchester to come in the next three weeks.
In the short-term however, the big Scot has re-instilled belief amongst the fans, and as his charges looked to have responded to his arrival in the dugout, the next few games could see a very different feel for the Everton faithful.
Premier League Gameweek 17 begins on Saturday as Liverpool host Watford, kick-off time 12:30 UK time.
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