By Neil Leverett
- Manchester City beat Leicester City 3-1 to again announce intentions to fight for the Premier League crown in Gameweek 18
- Everton and Arsenal play out goalless draw, whilst Chelsea come out on top 2-0 away to Spurs
- Watford win first league game of season against Manchester United, Southampton beat Aston Villa, whilst AFC Bournemouth again suffer defeat
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – As Manchester City come out on top against prospective title rivals Leicester City, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 18?
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City remain Reds’ biggest threat
As Liverpool basked in picking up the Club World Cup in Qatar as their latest wares received of 2019, back home in the Premier League, the main challengers to their throne of league champions elect went head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium.
Despite the efforts of Jamie Vardy to throw another spanner in the works, Manchester City romped home in relative comfort 3-1 against Leicester City and despite still remaining a point ahead of the Cityzens even in defeat, was Saturday evening a watershed both winner and losers?
Though a gap of ten points remain for the Reds – now with a game in hand to boot – the Foxes entertain the returning Liverpool on Boxing Day, which could yet prove pivotal in the title race, however for the time being Brendan Rodgers‘ men look as though they may now slip off the pace having dropped four points in their last two outings.
Indeed, City themselves will see the win versus Leicester as a something of springboard to enter 2020 into, although face top six opponents in both Sheffield United and Wolves over the festive period. Should they overcome said tests, Pep Guardiola can be confident of a run of victories, with the pressure then flipping firmly onto Liverpool’s shoulders into the New Year.
Pupil becomes teacher
Moving back down the capital, Spurs and Chelsea met in a pre-Christmas blockbuster at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and former teacher and pupil met in North London.
For Frank Lampard, the chance to lock horns on the touchline with his former manager Jose Mourinho was a momentous occasion – and and an emotional one – for the Blues’ boss with whom he won five domestic titles with including two league crowns.
As the two men shared a warm embrace before kick-off, that in truth was the closest Portuguese got to Englishman, as Lampard again showed the superior nouse this term to overcome ten-man Spurs buy a two-goal margin, courtesy of Willian‘s first-half double.
With Son Heung-min putting the hosts a man down after a petulant lash out on Antonio Rudiger, Chelsea largely cruised home in North London, as pupil became teacher of his former steward.
If Lampard’s stock was already reaching lofty values, Sunday’s win was the latest opportunity for Chelsea’s young and hungry leader to showcase his talents. Indeed, in many ways and after such a defensively sound showing, Lampard had shown glimpses of Mourinho at his best in Gameweek 18.
No-loss enforced at Goodison
With media scrutiny centred on Merseyside and Goodison Park this past weekend, it was to the utter dismay of all watching on as Everton and Arsenal played out a goalless draw – perhaps the worst top flight offering this season so far.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised upon the final whistle however, as two sides on the dawn on new respective eras met, but also as clubs still showing the scars of a damaging past few months.
With both teams having won just three single league games between them since Gameweek 9 – all three in the favour of the Toffees – both Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta watched over their respective new charges from the stands, with the fear of defeat hovering above all at Goodison.
Arsenal could probably be the more satisfied with their efforts – particularly in the second period – large parts of the games remaining nothing more than an act of the academic, with neither side prepared to break out the festive spirit. When messrs Ancelotti and Arteta take charge of their first games on Boxing Day however, the feeling and stakes will likely be very different.
Watford have hope..?
Gameweek 18’s narrative was very much dominated by a new managerial flavour and at the other end of the table, Gameweek 18 witnessed the seeds of hope sewn were in Hertfordshire, as Watford picked up their first Premier League win of the season at home to Manchester United.
Under the guidance of Nigel Pearson, the Hornets are now one their third boss of the season already after the dismissal of Javi Gracia and the failed return of Quique Sanchez Flores to Vicarage Road, but after eighteen game finally have a win to their name.
After a cagey first-half, the hosts then took advantage of the Red Devils’ remaining issues on the road, as Watford scored twice in four minutes after the break, set in motion by the latest error from David De Gea.
As the United stopper failed to keep out Ismaila Sarr‘s tame goal-bound effort, Troy Deeney then converted from the spot shortly after, following Aaron Wan-Bissaka‘s clumsy challenge in the the area.
The visitors failed to bounce back from four minutes of faux, and found themselves fighting against the away tide once more, just weeks after having rolled into the Etihad and taking the scalp of their city rivals in the derby.
Whilst problems returned with a vengeance for United, Watford and Pearson celebrated at the final whistle with great gusto. Six points still remain at the foot of the table between themselves and safety, however as those around continue to stutter, the former Leicester boss may yet inspire another remarkable New Year offensive.
…as Villa plunge into trouble
On the subject of those sides above the Hornets, prospective relegation candidates met at Villa Park and whilst the Southampton-inspired Danny Ings continue to show signs of increasing optimism for the fans to chew on, the defeated Aston Villa meanwhile begin to sink into ever-muddying waters.
Suffering their fourth defeat in succession, the same pluck witnessed in recent weeks was this weekend bereft of Dean Smith‘s men, however the potential long-term loss of midfielder John McGinn would have been of greater concern.
Despite the Scot having lost his early-season bounce of the opening weeks of the campaign, to see McGinn hobbling off with what now has been diagnosed as a fractured ankle is nonetheless a huge blow to the Villans.
Injury is beginning to bite hard for Villa on their return to the top flight, and having already lost Tyrone Mings in the past fortnight, the problems facing Smith’s side from an offensive point of view are mounting, with front man Wesley failing to find anything close to a consistent run of goal-scoring form.
Unable to the boast the lustiest of squads to choose from in the first place, the sheer work-rate of Villa has been enough up until now to muddy through. Now however, without the inclusion of key men, reality is beginning to firmly set in at Villa Park having slid in to the bottom three once more.
The philosophy of the Villa set-up and indeed their able manager could still dig the second-city club out from out of their hole they find themselves in – not least with the opening of the transfer window in just over a week’s time. Notwithstanding however, a winter of discontent is fast approaching in Birmingham.
Watch all nine Premier League Boxing Day games on Amazon Prime, beginning at 12:30 UK time, as Tottenham Hotspur host Brighton & Hove Albion.
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