London — Talking points from the English Premier League weekend.
Makeshift centre-backs a testament to Liverpool’s depth: Manchester United missed a chance to snatch a smash-and-grab win at Liverpool but the champions underlined their depth as holding midfielders Jordan Henderson and Fabinho both enjoyed a superb afternoon in the centre of defence.
Ravaged by injuries to his first-choice centre-backs, Juergen Klopp was again forced to field the duo in unfamiliar roles and they responded with some aplomb.
Liverpool dominated possession largely due to their natural ability to pass their way under pressure, leaving United’s forwards and midfielders chasing shadows in the opening hour of a chess-like contest.
They also showed remarkable composure in clearing their lines when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side pressed sporadically. Goalkeeper Alisson emerged as Liverpool’s man-of-the-match as he kept out sitters from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the second half, but Henderson and Fabinho deserve as many accolades for their uncanny versatility.
Man City ready to take control of title race: Pep Guardiola’s side are now looming large in the title race after a sizzling burst of form has taken them into second place, two points behind Manchester United with a game in hand.
It was City’s defensive improvement that has earned plaudits during their current nine-match unbeaten league run, but Guardiola’s side are now beginning to play with panache that fans have become accustomed to. If they hit the top in the next week or so they might be hard to shift.
Leeds United’s star is fading: Ever since Leeds’ Twitter account questioned a female pundit’s opinion that their high-tempo style of play was taking its toll, forcing her to delete her own account after the abuse that followed, the club have lost all their games without scoring.
While that is a coincidence, the truth is the feel-good factor Leeds brought on their return to the top flight is fading fast. They have now lost three in a row — including a humiliating 3-0 cup defeat by fourth-tier Crawley Town — and the team looked drained in their 1-0 home loss to a Brighton & Hove Albion side that hovered above the relegation zone.
The energy appears to have gone out of Leeds’ play and while Marcelo Bielsa’s side are safely in mid-table, they will need to rediscover their spark soon if all their early good work is not to be wasted.
Wolves unable to arrest decline without Jimenez: Nuno Espirito Santos has enjoyed widespread praise for turning Wolverhampton Wanderers into one of the most attractive sides in the Premier League since he got them promoted from the Championship in 2018.
For the first time, however, the Portuguese is feeling a bit of pressure after his side have picked up two points from their last six games to drop to 14th spot. Saturday’s 3-2 defeat by West Bromwich Albion, who had won only once all season before that, has led to some fans questioning whether he has lost his magic touch.
While their defending is careless, the biggest problem for Wolves is the continued absence of Mexican striker Raul Jimenez because of a head injury. Without him they look blunt.
What of Gareth Bale? Reports are circulating that Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham Hotspur on loan from Real Madrid might not last beyond the season.
The Welshman has played only 45 minutes in the Premier League since November 8, and on Sunday in the 3-1 win at Sheffield United he was once again an unused substitute.
“I start to worry about whether [Jose] Mourinho really wanted him or whether the chairman brought him in because not to give him many minutes is a sign,” Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness said on Sunday.
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