Tuesday and Wednesday’s action produced an eye opening couple of evenings in the premiership that could directly effect how things eventually shape up at both ends of the table by the time a hopefully slightly warmer month of May rolls around.
Here’s a quick fire overview of the main stories from a frenetic midweek of premiership action.
Klopp’s Liverpool need to overcome the nerves if glory is to be theirs.
After City’s surprise defeat to a spirited Newcastle on Tuesday night all eyes turned to Anfield where victory for Liverpool would take them seven points clear of Pep’s reigning champions. However a vague combination of nerves, icy conditions and a Leicester side with nothing to lose meant that Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw despite an early Sadio Mane strike. Some in the media somewhat naively remarked that City’s loss on Tuesday would take the pressure off Klopp’s men yet it’s clear that the opposite was the case. As surely knowing that a win would make them even heavier favourites to win their first league title in 28 years was always going to be an equally heavy burden to bear.
Yet as they move further and further into the glorious unknown (domestically anyway) , Klopp’s squad must learn how to deal with this kind of pressure every single week until the job is done. As despite City dropping points of late, they crucially have a squad that has recently been there and done it. Which could prove pivotal even if they still trail Liverpool by the time spring breaks.
Rafa Benitez can still work miracles.
‘’Pressure is for tyres!’’ comically proclaimed Newcastle legend Alan Shearer as Matt Ritchie waited to take the penalty they would put his side into a dream 2-1 lead at St James’ Park, and Ritchie didn’t let the former Newcastle striker or the rest of Toon Army down, (get it…tyres…let down) smashing the spot kick in to send tens of thousands of black and white shirts into delirium. Rafa Benitez’s men held out for a huge victory which is surely a highlight of what has been a rather turgid season both on and off the pitch thus far.
A morale boosting three points has since been sweetened even more by the surprise signing of Paraguayan playmaker Miguel Almiron from MLS outfit Atlanta United for a club record fee of £20m. With owner Mike Ashley publicly eager to sell the club in the face of ever growing critique from the Toon faithful (ironically there were planned protests against the club’s board before the City game), a fresh face in the dressing room this transfer window was the last thing that most around the club expected. Yet now, five points clear of the relegation zone and with a new player of apparent talent for fans to get a little giddy about, the dark clouds that have covered St James Park may be beginning to lighten just a touch.
And once again, much like last season, plaudits must be thrown towards Rafa Benitez for simultaneously getting a squad of limited quality to work as hard as they do week in week out, while also remaining entirely professional in the midst of a club that is no doubt still in turmoil. Whatever happens between now and the rest of his reign in the North East you imagine the Spaniard will leave the club as a legend for what he has done with the resources he has had at his disposal.
Chelsea officially have the away day blues.
On seeing the team sheets for Wednesday’s game at Vitality Stadium most Chelsea fans would surely have been delighted to see Eden Hazard well away from the false nine position he has filled in recent weeks due to the presence of new loan signing Gonzalo Higuain. Additionally, the fact that Bournemouth top scorer Callum Wilson was ruled out meant that Chelsea would have fancied themselves to gain a five point advantage over the chasing Manchester United, who had only managed a point at home versus Burnley despite coming back from a shock two goal deficit
This air of confidence around the Chelsea eleven had turned to indefensible arrogance by the time the final whistle had blew as by then they had inexplicably shipped four goals without reply. If this was ‘Sarri-ball’, it really wasn’t a pretty sight. Despite a decent first half performance where the teams went in at 0-0. After conceding to Josh King’s strike just after half time, Chelsea proceeded to implode, once again seemingly unable to cope with the fact they gone behind away from home. This is now an a frequent and unwanted trait of Sarri’s team since the former Napoli boss’ arrived in West London.
As they have now crumbled away from home in similar (albeit not such embarrassing) fashion at Wolves, Tottenham and Arsenal, yet even those performances were not as mentally lethargic as the second half at the Vitality. In the words of there already under pressure boss, ‘We have a problem to solve’ and the in truth the problem is large and immediate. With Manchester City away and Spurs at home in their next three league games as well as the Carabao Cup final in between, Sarri and his team will have to do some serious soul searching if they are to gain top four status this year. The issue for fan and onlookers like will be the simple question of: who is to blame? The same group of players that failed to keep Antonio Conte in employment or the new manager who might be just stubborn as the last? This lack of clarity of how to improve things quickly will be troubling for those around the club especially with the recent revival of Manchester United and fact that despite not having Harry Kane et al at present Spurs are now off in the distance in third position.
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