At first of the week, you most likely wouldn’t have thought that West Ham United-Tottenham Hotspur, a recreation between the 14th- and Sixteenth-placed groups going into the weekend, would wind up overshadowing the massive Manchester Metropolis-Chelsea showdown for third place. However that’s what it did, due to Tottenham’s beautiful firing of Mauricio Pochettino and much more stunning hiring of Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho’s new expenses ran out to a 3-0 lead on the Hammers, earlier than hanging on for a slender 3-2 victory, Spurs’ first league win in virtually two months. The three factors vaulted Tottenham 5 locations up the standings to ninth.
However it was one other pair of outcomes that mentioned much more in regards to the course of this season, and the way it’s prone to play out.
In Manchester, the back-to-back champions Metropolis had a tougher time than anybody anticipated of beating the Blues 2-1, avoiding a second league loss in a row – after the cataclysmic-seeming 3-1 loss to leaders Liverpool earlier than the worldwide break. Chelsea, for its half, noticed its six-game successful streak ended, a run that had turned its season round after a middling begin.
There was a way that Chelsea, regardless of discovering itself in third place, a spot above Metropolis, could be overmatched. Sure, there have been these six wins, however they’d come in opposition to Brighton, Southampton, Newcastle, Burnley, Watford and Crystal Palace, solely certainly one of whom sits increased than twelfth within the desk. And as lately as Feb. 10, Metropolis had battered Chelsea 6-0. Since then, Chelsea has been transfer-banned and misplaced star ahead Eden Hazard to Actual Madrid.
But right here got here the Blues, counting on younger, homegrown merchandise and gamers they’d maybe written off already, going toe-to-toe with large, dangerous Metropolis, star-studded and bottomless-pocketed. Any sincere accounting of the primary half hour made Chelsea the higher aspect, holding stress on Metropolis’s unconvincing again line with fast transitions and a harrying press.
Chelsea bought its reward, too, as N’Golo Kante in some way scrambled his end by Benjamin Mendy and goalkeeper Ederson. Earlier than halftime, Metropolis set issues proper by Kevin de Bruyne’s deflected shot and a sensible particular person effort from Riyad Mahrez. And the margin might have been larger, had Kun Aguero not hit the upright with an open shot from a wretched Kepa clearance, or if the Video Assistant Referee had allowed Raheem Sterling’s injury-time objective to face.
Definitely, Metropolis expertly sucked the oxygen out of the sport after taking the lead, and the second half didn’t a lot threaten Pep Guardiola’s aspect. But Chelsea being aggressive in any respect, not to mention going forward and having the higher of the primary half, on stability if not the scoreboard, is a testomony to the job first-year supervisor Frank Lampard has accomplished in deeply difficult circumstances.
However the distinction with final season’s equal fixture was sharp nonetheless. Chelsea was, on paper a minimum of, a lot better geared up to deal with Metropolis then. However that was additionally a really totally different Metropolis, rampant and on its approach to a near-record level haul. This incarnation, regardless of consisting virtually fully of the identical squad, hasn’t almost been as sharp or as incisive – already dropping 11 factors in a 3rd of a season, after spilling solely 16 in all of final season.
Which brings us to Liverpool’s late win at Palace earlier within the day. Wilfried Zaha’s 82nd-minute equalizer threatened to show this into simply the second recreation all season during which the Reds had dropped factors. However Roberto Firmino shortly answered with a winner, preserving Liverpool’s eight-point lead over Leicester Metropolis in its lengthy marketing campaign to win a primary league title in three many years.
Liverpool, in reality, hasn’t hit the heights of final season but both. Of its 12 wins, greater than half had been by only a single objective. However the Reds have been environment friendly, clawing out outcomes after they didn’t come simple. And it felt poignant that they got here by at Palace, which is the precise fixture the place the 2013-14 title push fell aside. Again then, within the penultimate recreation of the season, Liverpool squandered a three-goal lead within the final 12 minutes, handing Metropolis the Premier League trophy on a platter. This time round, there could be no such capitulation, regardless that we’re at a really totally different stage of the season.
Taken collectively, Saturday’s occasions painted a vivid image of this marketing campaign. Of a Metropolis group that’s in some way each largely the identical and visibly susceptible and a Liverpool that’s gutting out the outcomes that had eluded it in all of its final 29 makes an attempt to win the league.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports activities soccer columnist and a sports activities communication lecturer at Marist Faculty. Comply with him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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