Underwhelming Old Trafford Affair Means It’s Very Much All to Play for at the Top
Well, we jinxed it, didn’t we? So much anticipation, so much build-up, so much dissection over the potential consequences. Will Liverpool grab a win that not sends them back to the top, but dents their rivals’ top four chances while also giving them a big psychological boost in their quest for a first league title in almost three decades? Will Manchester United get three crucial points that keeps them in the top four, derails Liverpool’s title challenge, and makes another strong case for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be given permanent reins at the Theatre of Dreams? Which would it be?
In the end, not quite any of them. A dour game produced a third goalless draw between these two sides in six league games. A game that was most notable for United making three enforced substitutions before halftime, with Liverpool making a mandated change of their own, and both right-backs getting booked. It says much about the game that only two minutes of stoppage time where added at the end of the second half In the end, neither seemed to discontent with the point, on the fact that United retreated for most of the second half, and Liverpool not displaying any real sense of urgency with the clock ticking down.
And the result doesn’t quite harm both sides’ chances, neither does it hinder that of those around them. Liverpool return to the top of the Premier League, having played their game in hand over Manchester City, but are only one point ahead of the champions. Even Spurs, who suffered a defeat at Burnley on Saturday, end the weekend only one point further behind the leaders, their loss at Turf Moor not as disastrous as it initially seemed, though they’ll no doubt feel a sense of what might have been.
A sense of what might have been might linger for Liverpool as well, as this game against United was one in which they could make a statement, and their opponents were probably there for the taking having suffered those first-half injuries. They go back to the top of the league, but the issue of a lack of fluidity, particularly up front, and pressure brewing have by no means been extinguished here. With 11 games, there are twists and turns to be had, with Liverpool still to go Everton (next weekend), as well as host Chelsea, while City have a date with United at Old Trafford in the future, and the top two still have to play Spurs. Spurs themselves have difficult tests at Chelsea (on Wednesday) and at home to North London rivals. The potential for swinging pendulums is very much there.
For United, they drop out of the top four, a point behind Arsenal, who beat Southampton at the Emirates. But this game means Solskjaer has amassed 26 points from 10 league games, and there is very much a race for the top four. Chelsea have a say in there as well, and United are still to host the Blues and visit the Gunners this season. Twists and turns lie ahead in the race for that final Champions League spot.
It was a weekend that promised much, yet delivered little. But in a way, a lot may have changed with just little changing.
For Southampton, they remain in the drop zone, after four without a win. The fabled new manager bounce since Ralph Hasenhuttl took over seems to have dissipated, and their fight for survival seemingly needs new impetus.
It’s rather apt to say Fulham weren’t kidding anybody when they took the lead on Friday night, and an eventual 3-1 defeat to West Ham surprised no one, even though the Hammers had a literal helping hand from Javier Hernandez, a move which aids in continuing the tedious VAR debate. Claudio Ranieri’s side are eight points from safety, and Wednesday’s game at Southampton seems like the last chance to make a survival statement.
Roy Hodgson marked his record game in the Premier League with a 4-1 win for Crystal Palace at Leicester. That heavy defeat means the Foxes have managed one point since New Year’s Day, and have finally done away with manager Claude Puel, the club announcing the Frenchman’s departure less than 24 hours after the Palace defeat.
Eight games unbeaten for Burnley, who saw off Spurs at Turf Moor, are six points clear of the drop zone.
A Premier League hat-trick for Gerard Deulofeu, and a 5-1 away win for Watford. Words you don’t plan to hear at any point.
And in the League Cup final, it was Manchester City who retained their crown, beating Chelsea on penalties. But that’s not even the biggest point of this game.
Cardiff 1-5 Watford
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton
Leicester 4-1 Crystal Palace
West Ham 3-1 Fulham
Manchester United 0-0 Liverpool
Bournemouth 1-1 Wolves
Burnley 2-1 Tottenham
Newcastle 2-0 Huddersfield