My Top Four and Bottom Three predictions from August were starting to look shaky, what with the Hornets of Watford playing good football, Cardiff slowly putting distance between themselves and the relegation zone, and Fulham assembling the leakiest defense in the league. But my one bold prediction about the top spot is starting to look better and better. Because…
The Reds are up Top!
Liverpool have won their last five matches and remain the leagues only unbeaten team. Their 42 points puts them one ahead of Manchester City, the first time the Sky Blues haven’t been out of the top spot on the table since their 1-1 draw against Everton in the second week of the 2017/18 season.
The Reds traveled to Bournemouth on Saturday and showed no mercy, thrashing the Cherries 4-0. Mo Salah picked up a hat-trick of goals, including a dazzling display of footwork in front of goal that probably scarred many young Bournemouth fans for life.
After a slow start, the Egyptian whirlwind seems to be finding his form, which should alarm the rest of the Premier League.
A Wild Two Weeks for Spurs
The clubs just behind the top two have had a tumultuous opening to the Festive Season. Tottenham Hotspur kicked off December with a barn burner, a 4-2 defeat at the Emirates to Arsenal. It was a chippy affair with a lot of pushing and shoving, eventually leading to Jan Vertonghen being sent off after a pretty nasty foul late in the game. This capped off a pretty bad day for the big Belgian, whose handball in the box led to the first of two Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores. The Gunners finished off the win with a strike from Lacazette off the bench in the 74th minute and from Lucas Torreira in the 77th, his first premier league goal.
Luckily for Harry Kane and the boys, a fixture with the bottom of the table punching bag Southampton, a 3-1 drubbing at Wembley, and a 2-0 win to end Leicester’s six-game unbeaten run left Spurs with 36 points and third place, six off the pace set by the Reds. Oh, and they equalized late against Barcelona to advance to the round of sixteen in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Good Chelsea, or Bad Chelsea
Adding to the chaos just behind the leaders is Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea squad. The Blues troubles started in November when a lackluster 0-0 draw against Everton was followed by a brutal 3-1 pummeling from Spurs that ended Chelsea’s unblemished start to the campaign. The game highlighted one of the big problem’s for Sarri’s side, a reliance on veteran defender David Luiz, who was roundly beaten several times that week.
Hosting Fulham on the second was a bracing 2-0 tonic, as the Cottagers can’t stop anyone from scoring. But bad Chelsea got off the plane in the Midlands as they suffered a 2-1 come from behind shocker at Molineux. Now Wolves are on a nice run of their own, with three wins in December, but it was yet another sloppy game. Despite having 70% possession and 17 shots, the Blues had only two balls on target with most of their shots being wild misses. Alvaro Morata once again made way for Olivier Giroud in the second half without finding the net. The Premier League’s most invulnerable hairdo has looked aimless up top of late.
A Shocking Blues Win
All this was merely preluding to Chelsea’s first clash against the Champs, Manchester City. It was a game that featured some interesting lineup choices. With Kun Aguero unavailable, Pep Guardiola tabbed Raheem Sterling up top over a more traditional striker in Gabriel Jesus. And Chelsea chose to go without a #9 at all, sliding winger Eden Hazard into the middle rather than Morata or Giroud.
The first half saw Chelsea just absorbing City’s attack, barely able to cross midfield. But a long pass from Luiz eventually ended up on Hazard’s foot in first-half stoppage time was fed to N’Golo Kante for the surprise score. It’s the first time that Kante has scored twice in a Premier League season, rewarding Sarri’s move to push the midfielder into a more attacking role than previous years.
It was an impressive defensive performance, the Chelsea back line frustrated the City attack all game, getting in the way of every push forward despite the fact that City had so much of the ball. And unlike their previous weeks, they capitalized on chances rather than wildly flailing at goal. David Luiz headed in a 78th-minute corner to redeem himself a bit from his recent lapses and the Blues became the first team to not only beat Manchester City, they became the first team to score twice on the Sky Blues since their last loss, a 3-2 Manchester Derby match from April of last season!
What Does it All Mean?
It means that football, especially Premier League football, is just as much fun as ever! A Man City team that looked like an even more dangerous juggernaut than last years record setting squad were humbled by a Chelsea squad that looked like it was about to enter crisis mode. Liverpool stayed spotless, and by getting in front of City for the first time since last September they now put pressure on the rest of the league to match their perfection.
Spurs managed to bounce back from their worst loss of the season to hold onto third place and continue to scale European heights. And oh yeah… those Gunners? After a brutal opening two weeks against Chelsea and City, Arsenal is now unbeaten since and only in fifth on goal differential. You can’t assume anything this year. And that makes for fun football.
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