By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool hold 14-point Premier League over Manchester City after 1-0 win over Spurs in Gameweek 22
- Citizens leapfrog into second after 6-1 thrashing of Aston Villa, as Leicester City lose to in-form Saints
- Watford plunge AFC Bournemouth into peril, Chelsea win at home, as ten-man Arsenal forced to settle for Selhurst point
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – After Liverpool further extended their points advantage with a narrow win over Spurs, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 22?
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Spurs need target man
If there were any lingering doubts Liverpool will be crowned Premier League champions for the first time this season, Gameweek 22 all but confirmed it, with the Reds edging a narrow 1-0 win over Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday evening, further extending their league advantage.
What it also underlined was how much the Lilywhites are set to miss Harry Kane, with the England striker not expected to return until April. Whilst both Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura performed admirably against the champions elect as a makeshift front two, it was evidently clear the North Londoners missed a target man up top, with Son in particular forced to play through a minimum of three players to get a sight of goal, due to the South Korean’s isolation in a front-forward – but deep lying – role.
It would be true to say that Spurs have in the past been able to rely on pace instead of guile to win games, but having now replaced Mauricio Pochettino‘s fluidity in midfield, Spurs were unable to get the most from Mourinho’s system.
And it may not be a one-off either. With rather more palatable opposition but in many ways just as awkward, an away trip to Vicarage Road to face a buoyant Watford next up could present similar problems this weekend.
Without the service of their talisman for three months, a six-month loan deal for a striker would make all the sense in the world and with a return for former player in Fernando Llorente mooted from Napoli, the Spaniard could ride to the rescue.
Of course, Mourinho may look instead to stick to the arsenal at his disposal, but if the Lilywhites draw a blank once more in Gameweek 23, we may then see the Portuguese look to the transfer market – out of necessity.
Ingland call for Danny?
It’s now a remarkable 14 league goals for the prolific Danny Ings this season after leading Southampton to sweet revenge against Leicester City in Gameweek 22, and his form has now surely earned a re-call to the England set-up, with just five months until Euro 2020.
Having already smashed his best tally of five seasons ago with Burnley by three, the 27-year-old is now being mentioned as a candidate for the Premier League Golden Boot – a quite remarkable notion had one suggested it back in August.
The weekend’s deserved victory over a faltering Foxes has continued a sensational turnaround in the fortunes for Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s Saints, with Ings having failed to scored in just three league games since their unceremonious drubbing back in October.
With Kane’s absence as documented, the only shame for Ings is the fact England aren’t in action until March, however, with one cap to his name already from back in his Clarets days, Ings is primed for a recall into the Three Lions’ pride.
The only other issues for the former Liverpool striker to negotiate is to simply continuing to the find the net and to stay fit of course, but on that subject after a frustrating few seasons of injury problems, Ings’ clean bill of health and his rise to form is fantastic for all involved and should be rewarded.
Arteta must win ugly
For large periods of a rather turgid London derby at Selhurst Park on Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta were on course to record back-to-back wins for the first time, before a cruel turn of fortune forced the Gunners to settle for a point against Crystal Palace.
Compounded by the dismissal of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a reckless tackle on Max Meyer in the second period, Arsenal’s point will have in the final outcome been welcomed overall, but despite a massive improvement in work-rate, team ethic and sheer performance levels, the North Londoners still need to learn once more how to win ugly.
When in the past a trip to South London would have presented problems for the visitors, the tactic of throttling the midfield against the Eagles worked for the most park, but after two twists of of fate, what could have been a superb win turned into something of a rescue mission.
The long-term ambitions of Arteta is to return Arsenal to their flowing best style, but in the transition period it is wins that are most vital to the Gunners’ progress under the Spaniard’s tutelage. Whilst there is clear evidence that the Islington ship has been tightened up, more effort must now going in to getting the job done – however ugly that means for the time being.
Hornets’ sting returns…
Aside from the game of the weekend in North London, Gameweek 22’s other sizeable clash featured a potential relegation six-pointer, as AFC Bournemouth entertained a buoyant Watford side, who before hand had won three out of four league games.
On a nervous afternoon at the Vitality Stadium, the opening goal was always likely to be a pivotal moment in proceedings, and with half-time in sight on the South coast, Abdoulaye Doucoure broke the tension to put the Hornets ahead.
Having rediscovered their vim under Nigel Pearson, the visitors then took control of the game in the second half and truth the 3-0 final score-line could have been a more handsome one for the Hertfordshire outfit.
With skipper Troy Deeney having also recaptured his form in front of goal – netting his third goal in as many games – Watford are looking in fine fettle. However, now comes the hard work of staying afloat in the top flight after re-establishing mere contact to the rest of the league.
There are bound to be further troublesome times ahead before the season in out, but should the Hornets retain their sting until May, there is now every chance Watford will again be a Premier League side next season.
…with Cherries sinking like a stone
On the flip side and whilst Watford left the bottom three for the first time this term, Bournemouth’s plight is looking worse by the week with the Cherries having failed to score in the last three games, taking just a single point from a possible 12 on offer.
Finding themselves in 19th spot after Gameweek 22, Eddie Howe is enduring his toughest spell in Dorset yet. Injuries have not helped the Bournemouth steward, but creativity levels have dipped alarmingly in the past few weeks and months, with no real sign of it returning.
Having lost to their rivals in what is now surely a fight to avoid the drop to the Championship, even the early return to fitness of Nathan Ake was not enough to plug the holes in the Cherries vessel, which is now looking more like trawling a doomed voyage.
There is of course still time to steer out of murky waters, but with a two point lead having opened already, another massive clash with Norwich City awaits this weekend, before Villa arrive on the first of February. The tough games will keep on coming for Howe, and even with a few shrewd investments in the January transfer window surely imminent, is it already too late to pluck the Cherries from danger?
Premier League Gameweek 23 begins on Saturday lunchtime, as Watford host Tottenham Hotspur, kick-off 12:30 UK time.
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