Monday 27 March 2017

Low-quality North London Derby, high-quality Liverpool: Six things we learned from the weekend Premier League action

Georginio Wijnaldum, centre, is loving life at Liverpool
Georginio Wijnaldum, centre, is loving life at Liverpool

Jack de Menezes

Liverpool are serious title contenders; Pogba and Ibrahimovic will only justify outlay if they keep up form - six things we learned from the weekend action.

Even if it was against Watford, Liverpool sent out a statement

The reaction to Liverpool’s crushing 6-1 defeat of Watford has been split between their fans who believe the Premier League title could be in their grasp, and rival supporters who claim a win over the Hornets is nothing to write home about.

But no matter who the opponent was – one that remains in the top half of the table and who have not conceded six goals since the 6-3 loss to Tottenham on 21 September 1994 – it was the manner of Liverpool’s victory that was so impressive. In Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio mane, Jürgen Klopp has himself arguably the best attack-force in the league, and it won’t matter too much that they can’t keep a clean sheet if they continue to outscore their opponents in every match.

Another telling factor is that in their four matches against their supposed title rivals so far this season, Liverpool have beaten Arsenal and Chelsea and drawn with Tottenham and Manchester United. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until New Year’s Eve before we find out how they shape up against Manchester City.

North London derby high on excitement, low on quality

The north London derby proved to be an end-to-end affair on Sunday afternoon that provided as much entertainment as it did for both sets of fans. Either side could have grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and taken all three points, but in the end there was a distinct lack of quality in front of goal.

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Alex Iwobi saw two chances to score go begging, while some last-ditch defending kept Olivier Giroud at bay towards the end of the match. Spurs meanwhile saw Christian Eriksen’s free-kick rattle the post and could well have nicked victory late on through a close-range effort from Eriksen that was brilliantly saved by Petr Cech. It was Cech’s slip that nearly gifted Son Heung-min a chance to run through unopposed on goal, but he couldn’t take the opportunity and in the end, everyone left the Emirates Stadium feeling a touch disappointed.

Is Hazard a confidence player or is there more to it?

What’s changed in Eden Hazard this season compared to last? The Chelsea manager, obviously, with Antonio Conte clearly getting more out of Hazard than Jose Mourinho was able to in 2015/16. But that can’t be the complete story/ Hazard did struggle with injury last season, but he looks like he has the confidence back this term and that shone through his desire to take players on in the 5-0 demolition of Everton on Saturday.

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With Diego Costa toning down the aggression this season to concentrate on scoring goals, Hazard’s resurgence has helped throw Chelsea right into the middle of the title picture. Before his dramatic slump in form, Hazard was talking of himself rivalling Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s best player. Perhaps it went to his head, and when his form dropped it hit him harder than it would have done others.

But now that the Belgian is back to his best, who knows how far can he push Chelsea on this season.

Pogba and Ibrahimovic will only justify outlay if they keep up form

It’s only natural to expect a healthy return on the £89m Manchester United spent on Paul Pogba, so to see him score twice in 10 Premier League matches was certainly a disappointment to those who sanctioned his world record transfer in the summer. However, the France international provided a timely reminder of his class on Sunday when he struck home a fierce half-volley in the 3-1 victory over Swansea.

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Even though Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrived on a free transfer, there’s a still an expectation on him to deliver given that he is earning a reported £200,000-a-week at Old Trafford. Having not scored in his last seven league outings, there was a collective sigh of relief at the Liberty Stadium from the away fans when he struck twice, but that goals on Sunday are not enough to placate the sense of under-achievement this season.

Sunderland show mettle to keep survival hopes alive

Bottom of the Premier League table, down to 10 men after having Steven Pienaar sent-off for two bookings and having already fought back from a goal down, Sunderland had no right to beat Bournemouth on Saturday. Yet the rallied, and with manager David Moyes barking orders from the stands due to his touchline suspension, a resurgent Victor Anichebe won a penalty that allowed strike partner Jermain Defoe to land their first winning goal of the season.

If Sunderland are to perform their greatest miracle and stay up this season, they need more steely performances like the one at The Vitality Stadium. They remain bottom of the pile, but a few more results like this one can drag teams like Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and West Brom towards the wrong end of the table. There’s still enough time to perform the unthinkable.

Burnley learn from the error of their ways

Two years ago during their last spell in the Premier League, Burnley led Crystal Palace 2-0 only to concede twice and see a later winner fgo in favour of their opponents to suffer a 3-2 defeat. It must have felt like déjà vu for Sean Dyche on Saturday when, after Sam Vokes and Johann Berg Gudmundsson goals, Connor Wickham and Christian Benteke dragged the Eagles level.

It looked like there would be only one winner, yet Ashley Barnes struck deep into injury-time to clinch an unlikely victory and maintain Burnley’s run in the top half. Dyche’s side look far better equipped to handle the Premier League this time around, but for Palace, they sit two places above the relegation zone and face a testing return to action after the international break when Manchester City travel to Selhurst Park.

(© Independent News Service)

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