Our second day of midweek football was always going to be crucial both at the top and bottom. Slip ups from the Manchester clubs on Tuesday night gave opportunities for both Liverpool to pull clear at the top and Chelsea to edge ever nearer to securing 4th position. It was also a big day for clubs in a relegation scrap as 16th and 17th, Crystal Palace and Southampton, went head to head at St Mary’s. With United and City not getting their desired results against teams they’d expect to beat, surely simlar sort of shocks couldn’t happen again the following evening, could they?
Let’s begin with the title race as Liverpool faced Leicester at Anfield looking to capitalise on City’s mistakes. Guardiola’s side suffered a 2-1 loss at the hands of Newcastle gifting the reds the opportunity to go 7 points clear at the top of table, a margin which could prove difficult to make up across the remainder of the season. It looked like it could end up being quite a confortable evening for Klopp when Mane put his side 1-0 up just three minutes into the game. Yet, Leicester were resilient in their response and Harry Maguire managed to equalise just before half time. Somewhat surprisingly, no further goals were scored in the second half but when you realise there were only a total of 5 shots on target throughout the whole game, it becomes easy to see why. Both teams earned a point as Liverpool increased their advantage at the top to 5 points, but they would have been so desperate to have made that 7. Whilst Liverpool would still have been favourites going into the game, they had their fair share of issues prior to it. It seems that all their injury woes have come to defenders this season. They were without the likes of Gomez, Alexander-Arnold and Lovren consequently meaning Matip made a rare start alongside Van Dijk, who was also a doubt due to illness. They didn’t even have the versatile James Milner, who was suspended, available to fill in at right back forcing Klopp to play Jordan Henderson there. Despite all this, Liverpool’s problems on the pitch didn’t really appear to be at the back. They only conceded one goal and faced just 5 shots displaying how they limited Leicester’s attack to a reasonable extent. For once, Liverpool struggled going forward creating a lack of clear chances following their only goal. Klopp will be hoping that this is just the sort of blip likely to occur during a season. The return of a few key players and the forwards playing as well as we all know they can should mean Liverpool still have enough to claim their first title in 25 years.
Things were also looking good for Chelsea prior to their trip to Bournemouth. Although Champions League spot hopefuls Arsenal put themselves level on points with Chelsea after a 2-1 against Cardiff, the blues did have the chance to pull away from Manchesster United, who only managed a draw at home to Burnley. Like Liverpool, Chelsea would have been favourites in this match but they would have also been more than aware of the threats that Bournemouth could pose to them; they were on the receiving end of a 0-3 defeat to them at Stamford Bridge the previous season. Regardless, hopes were high for Chelsea fans following the recent arrival of new striker Gonzalo Higuain, who was part of Sarri’s chosen lineup on Wednesday night. The first half was somewhat uneventful but positive for Chelsea as they forced Bournemouth keeper Boruc into a few impressive saves. However, the second was, as described by Sarri, a complete disaster. They conceded just two minutes after kick off and Bournemouth were excellent, youngster Brooks particularly outstanding, as they added another three goals across the rest of the match to inflict Chelsea with an embarrassing 4-0 defeat. If his side’s performances weren’t bad enough, Sarri has done nothing to help himself with his comments in the media. He recently suggested that Hazard, almost certainly Chelsea’s most prized possession, can leave if he wants to. He has also stated, for the second time now, that he struggles to motivate his players. As the manager, it his job to motivate his players and if he’s unable to do that then Chelsea are certainly a big enough club to attract someone who can. Perhaps it’s too soon to start discussing the possibility of Sarri leaving the club but if performances don’t drastically improve and if problems off the pitch aren’t resolved, it definitely looks like it could reach that point.
With sides at the top of the league failing to capitalise on excellent opportunities, lets see which of the teams at the bottom could do so. Southampton entertained Crystal Palace in a real six pointer as the two sides sat level on points in 16th and 17th. The winner of this game would pull 6 points clear of the relegation zone, a significant margin considering how tight the relegation scrap has become. Anyone up to about 13th place are still at risk of facing relegation if they are unable to pick up results. The teams looked finely balanced, both in fine form, and it showed on the pitch. However, it was the away side who struck first thanks to a tidy finish from the Eagles’ main man Wilfred Zaha just before half time. They could have built on this lead, Sakho in particular, failing to capitalise on two decent chances. Palace suffered the consequences as Ward-Prowse equalised in the 77th minute. The two goalscorers continued to be in the thick of the action when Ward-Prowse knocked Zaha to the ground in what looked like a foul only for nothing to be given. Zaha responded angrily to the challenge as Ward-Prowse only wound him up more. Ultimately, Zaha earned himself a yellow card for his outburst followed by an idiotic sending off moments later after sarcastically applauding the referee. Zaha has since apologised to and will be thankful that his dismissal didn’t contribute to his side conceding any more goals late on. Whilst his red card may not have been detrimental to his side on the night, his suspension from the next match could be. Zaha will be aware of how crucial he is and with Palace being so close to the relegation zone, they can’t afford to put themselves at a disadvantage in upcoming games from getting silly sending offs. The result isn’t an awful one for either of the sides but it will not be what they were truly hoping for. You always want to beat the teams in and around you but Southampton and Palace find themselves 4 points clear of the drop nonetheless.
It may not have been the best couple of days for some football fans, particulary those of a few big clubs like Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea, but it has certainly been great for the neutral. Battles for significant positions in the table are all now wide open. 5 Points is a defecit Man City are capable of making up in order to catch leaders Liverpool whilst Arsenal and Chelsea find themselves level on points, with United just two points behind in the fight for the final Champions League spot. A win for Fulham and a draw between Southampton and Palace means the relegation scrap is as tight as ever as well.