Five talking points from this weekend’s Premier League action
Victories for leaders Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United preserved the status quo at the top of the Premier League this weekend.
Here are five things we learned:
Chelsea are showing title grit
For the first time in their commanding campaign, Chelsea could feel a title challenger breathing down their necks when they kicked off at Bournemouth. Would the leaders crack under the pressure? On the evidence of a clinical 3-1 victory that restored their seven-point lead, the answer is a resounding no. Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-0 rout of Watford had trimmed the Blues’ lead to four points and with a trip to Manchester United looming next weekend, Antonio Conte’s side could not afford a snooze in the south-coast sunshine.
Taking the lead through Adam Smith’s early own goal, Chelsea cruised through the gears, with Eden Hazard’s deftly taken second and Marcos Alonso’s sublime free-kick wrapping up the points. With seven games to go and 15 points needed to be crowned champions, it’s advantage Chelsea again.
Age is just a number for Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic compared himself to Benjamin Button, the film character played by Brad Pitt who ages in reverse, after his side’s 3-0 win at Sunderland — and with good reason. His opening goal was his 28th of the season in all competitions and, even more impressively, the 250th goal he has scored since turning 30. Now 35, Ibrahimovic is playing as well as he ever has and his goals are helping United keep in touch with the top four. With Juan Mata the only other United player in double figures this season, manager Jose Mourinho will hope his talismanic Swede continues to resist the ravages of age over the season’s closing weeks.
Spurs have champion quality
Since the start of last season, Tottenham have won more points in the Premier League than any other team. Their misfortune last season was to be swept away by the Leicester City miracle. Their misfortune this term has been to have come up against a Chelsea team who have left everyone in their wake. But as Saturday’s 4-0 demolition of Watford showed, they are a fine team: brilliantly well organised, tirelessly aggressive and blessed with richly talented individuals like Dele Alli and Harry Kane.
In the short term, they have another opportunity to trim Chelsea’s lead when they host Bournemouth next weekend. In the long term, the club must keep this squad together if Spurs are to end their 56-year wait for the title.
Liverpool need Coutinho and Firmino to stay fresh
Liverpool were toiling at Stoke City, trailing 1-0 at half-time, when manager Jurgen Klopp sent on his pair of Brazil forwards Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. Coutinho, a pre-match doubt due to illness, equalised in the 70th minute. Two minutes later, Firmino — rested due to fatigue — crashed in a stunning winner. With Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana currently injured, Divock Origi inconsistent and Daniel Sturridge working his way back to full fitness, Klopp desperately needs Coutinho and Firmino fit and firing if Liverpool are to hold onto their top-four place.
Everton face a fight to keep hold of Lukaku
Romelu Lukaku dropped a bombshell last month when he announced that Everton’s failure to attract top-quality players meant he would not sign a new contract. His performances since have left Everton’s fans thankful and rueful in roughly equal measure. The hulking Belgium striker scored twice on Sunday to inspire his side to a 4-2 win over Leicester and take his league-leading tally to 23 goals.
But Ronald Koeman’s side lie seven points off the Champions League places and if Lukaku, 23, wants to play in Europe’s top competition next season, it will have to be for another team.
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