Realisation of the weekend
Liverpool won’t be getting ahead of themselves having beaten a Bournemouth side who have lost their past nine away games, but the 3-0 victory was at least a nerve-steadier, a reminder that two draws wasn’t a colossal crisis. Also, it will have been a relief that they held on to, then extended an early lead, rather than relinquishing it — as they did against Leicester and West Ham.
But while they will have been encouraged on Saturday, on Sunday the task before them was made stark by a Manchester City team who blew away a theoretical challenger in Chelsea. Liverpool knew they would have to be at their peak to win the league even with City stumbling, but if that 6-0 thrashing of Chelsea is anything to go by, even their best might not turn out to be good enough.
It took Manchester City 37 minutes to score four goals against Burton in the Carabao Cup the other week. They had that many against Chelsea in just 25.
The problem is not necessarily that Maurizio Sarri’s football isn’t working, it’s that Chelsea aren’t playing Maurizio Sarri’s football or any discernible style at all. At the start of the season, Sarri repeatedly noted it would take a few months for his methods to truly take hold, while at the time there were signs his early work was bearing fruit. Weirdly, the longer they have spent with Sarri, the less they seem to be playing how he wants.
“No, because today I didn’t see my football,” said Sarri afterward, when asked if this showed his football can’t be played in England. But while he might have intended that as a defence of his ethos, in reality it served as an indictment of how he is managing Chelsea: Firstly, that he hasn’t been able to instil his style; and secondly, that he is too inflexible to try something else.
Chelsea hired an ideologue to change the way they play, so in theory they should stick with Sarri for longer than two-thirds of a season. But their choice now is how long they wait to see that.
Burley accuses Marcotti of being a ‘Sarri apologist’
ESPN FC’s Craig Burley takes issue with colleague Gab Marcotti’s excuse-making for Maurizio Sarri’s tactics in Chelsea’s 6-0 defeat at Man City.
Goal of the weekend
In picking out the top corner from 25 yards a few minutes after missing an open goal, it was as if Sergio Aguero was one of those high jumpers who don’t bother going for the first few designated heights. Too easy; at least make it challenging for me. You can see why a man who has more goals in 2019 (eight) than nine other Premier League clubs would feel like he needs to make things a little more sporting.
Improvement of the weekend
Depending on how you look at things, you could say Tottenham either got away with a game in which they were battered and their opponents missed a penalty or that they showed plenty of gumption to claim a 3-1 victory over Leicester when not at their best and while undermanned.
Either way, the win takes Spurs to 60 points: That’s 11 more than they had after the same number of games last season, seven more than in 2016-17, nine more than 2015-16 and 15 more than 2014-15. In terms of points alone, it’s their best season under Mauricio Pochettino. And don’t forget, Spurs haven’t signed a player for a year. If you ever need a counterargument to someone who doesn’t think the job he has done over the past five seasons is much to shout about, that should do.
Regression of the weekend
Fulham are heading down, and there seems to be a vague mood of acceptance at Craven Cottage, but with some anger thrown in too. On Saturday — after a 3-0 loss to Manchester United — that was directed at Claudio Ranieri, specifically about his decision to leave Ryan Sessegnon on the bench until the closing stages. “He’s a good player, but at this moment, he’s not in the best fitness or form,” said Ranieri afterward, by way of explanation.
The idea of clubs not being ready for promotion to the Premier League can be false: Huddersfield weren’t “ready” last season, Cardiff this. But it does seem that the step up was premature for Sessegnon. He is, after all, still only 18, and he probably would have been better served by another season or so in the Championship. As it is, he has been caught up in a relegation scrap in which he has been used in half a dozen different positions. It’s not necessarily his fault, but his development has suffered.
Motivator of the weekend
“At Manchester United, we go into every game thinking we can win it,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian has occasionally sounded like a stuck record with his repeated references to Manchester United’s glorious past. But half of Solskjaer’s job is to be the exact opposite of Jose Mourinho, so if the Portuguese spent the latter parts of his tenure talking about United like they were hopeless minnows who barely deserved to be near the top six, Solskjaer must turn the bombast up to 11 and act like this is a team still in the pomp of Sir Alex Ferguson. Having cracked the top four over the weekend, it seems to be working too.
Concern of the weekend
Not much of substance can really be taken from Arsenal’s win at Huddersfield: They won away for the first time since November, but against a team who will probably be relegated by 15 points.
But one slightly troubling thing that appeared in the aftermath was Ashley Maitland-Niles responding to people on social media criticising his performance. Some of the comments were relatively mild by modern social media standards, but you get the sense that a young man engaging with faceless internet users like that cannot ultimately end well.
Return of the weekend
“I’m back,” yelled Kenneth Zohore, after scuffing home Cardiff’s late winner against Southampton. Perhaps he is, and that would be very welcome too: Neil Warnock has spent much of the season aiming wry digs in Zohore’s direction, suggesting that he has been missing in action. If he actually is back and can offer a viable option up front, the implausible fantasy of Cardiff surviving is more likely to turn into reality.
Discipline of the weekend
After collecting nine yellow cards in his first 17 games for Bournemouth, Jefferson Lerma has now gone five matches without one. That’s his longest spell without a caution since his first six games for Levante, in 2015.
Team of the weekend
Tom Heaton; Ashley Maitland-Niles, Ben Mee, Sol Bamba, Andy Robertson; Paul Pogba, Gini Wijnaldum; Son Heung-Min, Sergio Aguero, Chris Wood, Anthony Martial.