By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool win festive double-header to extend Premier League lead to by 13 points with game in hand
- Manchester City suffer Wolves defeat, whilst Leicester City thumped by Reds
- Watford make it seven points from nine, Everton get Ancelotti bounce, as AFC Bournemouth slip into relegation picture
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – After a festive double-header which saw Liverpool take control of the title race, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweeks 19 & 20?
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Liverpool primed to end 30-year wait
It’s surely just a matter of time, isn’t it? With the 2019/20 Premier League campaign now into its’ second half, there are of course 19 league games to play, but with Liverpool holding a 13-point advantage already – with a game in hand to go – the destination of the domestic crown looks almost certainly pre-determined not even into the new calendar year.
December was set to be a testing time for the Reds but having come through with flying colours – Club World Champions to boot – Jurgen Klopp‘s men have not only held their lead to the chasing pack but extended it, beating Leicester City handsomely and overcoming Wolves by a single goal in Gameweek 20.
With the sheer belief the current European champions are playing with, the chances of Mohamed Salah and co. surrendering a seemingly insurmountable lead appear far-fetched at the very, very least, not least with the main challengers around them continuing to falter.
It would be foolhardy to already hand Liverpool the Premier League title with a job still to do, but with the festive period all but conquered with aplomb the long wait for the league title seems to be at an end. The Reds have waited since 1990 to lift the league title, but must endure for only another five short months to finally be crowned Premier League champions in May. Can anything or anyone stop them?
VAR must be modified
As again prime beneficiaries of VAR once more this season, the league leaders’ title quest was again nudged in the right direction, after Adam Lallana‘s handball was overturned for Sadio Mane‘s lone goal of the game at Anfield. If that was enough, Pedro Neto‘s leveller before the break was then ruled out for offside. Liverpool’s fortune however, is just the tip of the iceberg for the Video Assistant Referee which must go through steps of change in the post-season.
Brought in to revolutionise the modern game and to finally make affairs more balanced and just, VAR has become almost a caricature of itself this season, with such a level of confusion and inconsistency, that precious few really appear to know the reality of what goes on at Stockley Park.
Of course, there were likely to be teething problems in its’ first season, but frankly the FA are making what should have been implementations to clarify the game into something now which threatens the very Premier League brand itself.
Not least the increasingly stimying offside rule, which is designed to prevent clear and obvious errors, but what has actually evolved into a process that punishes the attacking side – and by entirely unfair margins.
Whilst the subjective nature will likely remain with VAR – a system unlikely to removed any time soon – there needs to be serious attention paid by the Premier League to introduce a pitch-side screen utilised on the continent and in Asia, and also the huge necessity for a benchmark in decision making to be made clear. For all involved.
Ancelotti gets reaction
On the subject of revolution, two games into the Carlo Ancelotti regime and all is rosy in the garden of Everton, with the Toffees having been released from their rather sticky patch that saw the club drop inexorably toward the bottom three.
A maximum haul makes good reading for the Italian steward then, and after singing his praises, the oft-maligned Dominic Calvert-Lewin looks reborn under his new manager, netting all of his side’s goals – the latest two in a brace at Newcastle United in Gameweek 20.
Though the fact just one player has been on the scoresheet will be of concern to the two Champions League winner, his charges have responded to his arrival on Merseyside, not least the return to form of Gylfi Sigurdsson, who at long last is beginning to show signs of his former talismanic status in an Everton shirt.
Not only are the Toffees pressing higher, but their work-rate has doubled whilst we have also had a window into the mind of Ancelotti, who has experimented with both a 3-4-3 wing-back system, whilst also deploying the versatile Djibril Sidibe in a more attacking role – at last in one of the two outings – as well a retaining a back four set-up.
Two games is a mere drop in the ocean in terms of gauging the long-term impact Ancelotti will have at Goodison Park, however the signs are evident that change has been a thing for the good at Everton.
Pearson returns Hornets’ sting
Another man who has overseen a considerable reversal in fortunes is Nigel Pearson, who has seen Watford now take seven of nine points on offer since his arrival, more particularly four from six over Gameweeks 19 & 20.
Now off the foot of the Premier League table, the next target is to catapult themselves out of the bottom three, with just three points now separating themselves and West Ham United in 17th spot.
Defensively, the Hornets have improved immeasurably, but the real fillip for Pearson has been the return to the goals for captain Troy Deeney after injury, a man who will in large part determine whether the Watford will remain in the top flight come May.
Having seen the seeds of hope sewn in Gameweek 18, the shoots are now starting to bloom, with Pearson’s installation into the Watford dugout, returning the sting to the Hornets’ wings. There is however, still a massive fight on for the Hertfordshire outfit to come in the New Year, but hope springs eternal for Watford.
Cherries join relegation mire
Gameweek 19 & 20’s other big confirmation was that AFC Bournemouth are now very much in the relegation scrap, with their fifth-successive year in the top flight now in danger of being their last for the moment at least, following a chastening defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion.
Injury is biting hard in Dorset, with the loss of Nathan Ake having been a colossal blow to the Cherries a month ago, the goals have dried up in an alarming manner for Bournemouth’s front men, with Ryan Fraser, Josh King and Callum Wilson all suffering a drought in front of goal. A drought that has become so bad, only Dan Gosling has been on the score-sheet this month.
One win in nine has boss Eddie Howe looking rather nervously over his shoulder toward the drop zone, now just two points from Aston Villa in 18th place and for now, there seems to be no sign of the Cherries’ issues ending.
The January transfer window therefore will be pivotal to his side’s fortunes for the remainder of the campaign, but just like his rivals, the scrap to avoid being over the trapdoor to the Championship in just over four month’s time looks set to a far more heated contest than ever before, with just seven points between the relegation zone and mid-table at the end of 2019. Bournemouth are in need of a serious rescue mission in the New Year.
Premier League Gameweek 21 begins on New Year’s Day as Brighton & Hove Albion host Chelsea, kick-off 12:30 UK time.
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