Top Two Pushed at the Weekend, but remain a Cut Above the Rest
The latest Premier League weekend kicked off at Bramall Lane, where Sheffield United welcomed leaders Liverpool to the Steel City. Liverpool were chasing a seventh league win in as many games this season, and a 16th successive domestic victory, and a 24th game unbeaten.
But Jurgen Klopp’s side were anything but comfortable at Sheffield, not managing a shot on target for the entirety of the first half. In fact, they didn’t manage one on target until inside the final 20 minutes, when Georginio Wijnaldum’s effort was fumbled into the net by Blades goalkeeper Dean Henderson.
That was actually all it took. For all of Sheffield United’s enterprising play. For all their brashness and boldness, all the times they had Liverpool under the cosh (a bit), which required Virgil van Dijk to make last-ditch interventions, it was a plaudits-without-points afternoon for the hosts. That win for Liverpool was more evidence of their resoluteness and iron will to win. Not matter how much victory looks like slipping away, no matter how inevitable a collapse might seem, Klopp’s men almost always triumph.
But the victory is also indicative of the power of the top two, and how they can’t be caught. Because, about three hours after Liverpool saw off Sheffield United, Manchester City kicked off at Everton. Just like Liverpool, the champions were very much tested at Goodison Park, despite going in front midway through the first half, thanks to the head of Gabriel Jesus.
For all the accusations labelled at Everton for being quite soft, particularly when they concede, the Toffees didn’t fade away here. Marco Silva’s side battled their way back into contention in this game and grabbed an equaliser through Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The Merseyside club could have even gone in front after the break, but Yerry Mina would be denied by City goalie Ederson.
Yet, a win for City still bordered on inevitable. For all of Everton’s persistence and unhinging City, victory for the champions was still a near-certainty. And so when Riyad Mahrez, with 18 minutes to go, struck a low free-kick past Jordan Pickford, it was just about done and dusted.
Sure, Everton had chances afterwards, Calvert-Lewin and Mina testing Ederson, but it really mattered little. Just like Leon Clarke and Oliver McBurnie had opportunities for Sheffield against Liverpool. The predictable end result still feels inevitable no matter what. It’s the level of superiority the top two have managed to create in the past 12 months, a sense that eventually they’ll find a way, eventually they’ll pick you off. Fight it as hard as you can, it’s almost like some pre-destination.
Sure, some teams will pick up the inevitable (like Norwich against Man City two weeks ago), but it’s a ridiculous rarity. Since the start of 2018, both teams have suffered a combined five league defeats to teams not in the top six (four for City, one for Liverpool). It might be testament to their quality, the low quality of the rest, a combination of both, or the growing financial disparity between the top-six and the rest, but City and Liverpool are simply a cut above.
That Everton win for City also showed a brilliant display from Mahrez, who looks to blossoming this term. Playing a part in all three teams, the Algerian formed a devastating partnership with Kevin de Bruyne on the right, which doesn’t bode well for future opponents.
A much-needed win for Spurs, who celebrated a third victory of the season against Southampton. Hugo Lloris had an almost customary moment of gobsmacking absurdity late in the first half, but ultimately was the reason Spurs held on for three points, after spending the second half a man light, thanks to Serge Aurier being Serge Aurier.
A first home league win for Chelsea under Frank Lampard, and a first clean sheet of the season. Jorginho struck a penalty while designated taker Ross Barkley was on the pitch, which, in addition to Pedro taking one in the League Cup in midweek, makes Lampard’s claim that Barkley is the man from 12 yards all the weirder.
A much-needed win for Wolves, who won the battle of the bottom two against Watford, leaving the Hornets very much rooted to the foot of the table.
Just the 5-0 defeat for Newcastle United, which will be taken with so much calm and so little alarm.
Tottenham 2-1 Southampton; Wolves 2-0 Watford; Aston Villa 2-2 Burnley; Sheffield United 0-1 Liverpool; Bournemouth 2-2 West Ham; Chelsea 2-0 Brighton; Everton 1-3 Manchester City; Leicester 5-0 Newcastle; Crystal Palace 2-0 Norwich
Monday Night Football: Manchester United v Arsenal
Kunle Ajao121 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not