By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool beat old Premier League foes Manchester United 2-0, to further extend league lead to 16 points with a game in hand
- Manchester City again drop points to Crystal Palace, as Leicester City suffer defeat to Burnley
- Arsenal held by Sheffield United, Norwich edge Bournemouth win, as Southampton’s unbeaten streak comes to an end
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – With midweek action following hot on the heels of a weekend of Premier League fixtures, what did we learn from Gameweek 23?
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Liverpool set to challenge ‘Invincibles’
It almost seemed fitting it was Manchester United who became Liverpool’s latest victims in Premier League Gameweek 23, as once the bane of Reds’ fan’s existence, perennially mocked for their inability to win the league trophy. But this Liverpool side is different from the any of the those witnessed in the previous 29 league seasons. In the case of Mohamed Salah, as the Egyptian wrenched his shirt off in the stoppage time at Anfield, his actions and emotions spoke volumes.
Despite the protestations – and indeed hopes – of fans across the top flight that the Merseysiders could falter, Jurgen Klopp‘s men have merely strengthened during a period many thought they could suffer from fixture congestion.
Now, having won every game since they were held by United at Old Trafford in October, Sunday’s win signals the Reds’ sheer dominance of the top flight. And, whilst the goals tally may not have continued in the same vein as it had at the beginning of the season, Liverpool have almost sacrificed goals for defensive solidity, having kept seven consecutive Premier League clean sheets.
Whilst Klopp and his charges will maintain work needs to be done – and it does – the silent focus for the champions elect may now switch to replicating the efforts of Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 16 years ago, when the Gunners went unbeaten for the entire duration of the season.
With Liverpool’s game in hand against West Ham United to come in Gameweek 24, 16 outings separate the Reds from footballing immortality, and though the North Londoners themselves and Manchester City could again foil their plans like two seasons ago, you would be hard-pressed to predict the next Liverpool loss to come. In the league, or in Europe.
Guardiola must adapt next season
As Liverpool prep themselves for a springtime celebration, the reigning and defending league champions Manchester City’s time on the throne begins to ebb away after again dropping league points, finding Crystal Palace particularly tricky customers once more.
Coming back from Cenk Tosun‘s goal on debut for the Eagles, Sergio Aguero added a brace late in the second half, before Fernandinho‘s own goal in the final seconds subjected the Citizens to further frustration, with Liverpool galloping off toward the league crown.
Away from the further acquiescence of league spoils, City’s latest fork in the road was further evidence that Pep Guardiola may need to tweak his tactics, with the Spaniard stating he is 100% staying with City next term as per BBC Sport.
With five defeats and three draws to their name with more than a third of the season to play, City’s two-year monopoly of the Premier League title is now at an end, and if Guardiola and co. are intent on regaining their prized possession the hard must graft must be done this summer, not only in the boardroom but on both the training pitch and indeed, inside the mind of the fallen master.
Saints’ unbeaten streak broken
Southampton also were left with food for thought in Gameweek 23, after a Raul Jimenez-inspired second half fightback saw Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s men suffer their first defeat since before Christmas – during a run of four league wins in five.
Coinciding with only the third game since Gameweek 11 in which Danny Ings has failed to score, goals from Shane Long and Jan Bednarek proved insufficient to ward off the efforts of Wolves’ Mexican marksman.
After a run of form that completely transformed the Saints from nailed-on candidates for the drop to mid-table prospects, the defeat this weekend will give Hasenhuttl cause for concern, knowing how quickly the scenario could change despite the current six-point buffer they hold to the bottom three, with said cushion being far from solid ground.
Southampton however, unlike those around and below themselves in the league show no sign of lacking goals, which should go a long way to steering the Saints’ ship clear of stormy seas. Nevertheless, a home loss – albeit to an always enigmatic Wolves – will be food for thought for those in Hampshire.
Has the Rodgers effect peaked?
The previous victims of Southampton in Leicester City also fell to a loss in Gameweek 23, and after a period where the Foxes had staged an unlikely bid a challengers to Liverpool for the league crown, has the Brendan Rodgers sheen lost some of its’ gloss?
After the rare occurrence of a missed Jamie Vardy penalty, the visitors squandered the chance to take three points away from Turf Moor and instead suffered defeat via an Ashley Westwood goal sixteen minutes from time.
Back-to-back league defeats have a rather unfamiliar flavour for Rodgers and Leicester, but still with a top four place to fight four – a full six points clear of fourth-placed Chelsea – can the Foxes find their feet once in the coming weeks, beginning with the visit of West Ham in Gameweek 24?
The previously impenetrable defensive duo of Jonny Evans and Caglar Soyuncu has shown its’ foibles in the past fortnight, and with Youri Tielemans having found himself warming the bench also, can Rodgers put the swagger back into the East Midlands side’s game? Or, could further defeat lay in store?
Cherries’ blossom fading
Things are beginning to look drastic for Bournemouth. Now three points from safety, Eddie Howe‘s Cherries have lost their last four league games, but the bigger and more thorny issue lies in not having scored a league goal for 360 minutes of gametime.
As the only team below themselves in Norwich City took three points off the Dorset side at the weekend, the South coast side look devoid of ideas and having now lost their captain Steve Cook for the next three vital games after being sent off – the first two against Brighton & Hove Albion and relegation rivals Aston Villa – things are looking bleak.
As Cook trudged off the Carrow Road pitch and with Chris Mepham absent with injury, contenders to fill the captain’s boots for Gameweek 24’s South coast derby with Brighton are not exactly innumerate. With the pace and ability the Seagulls have in their front line, Bournemouth’s problems could increase in the coming seven days.
Bournemouth must look for positives in their difficult position, and in the knowledge they picked up a win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge only a month ago, the hope is still there for Howe.
However, if points do not come in the next two games, and with all of the top ten to play before the season is out, it really is difficult to see where Bournemouth might get close to being able to salvage themselves from the Championship quagmire.
Premier League Gameweek 24 begins on Tuesday evening, with five games kicking off at 19:30 UK time, including Sheffield United vs. Manchester City.
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