By Neil Leverett
Liverpool fight back from a goal down against West Ham United to win 3-2 in Premier League Gameweek 27
Manchester City edge top two rivals Leicester, but again endure penalty woes
Manchester United romp to Watford win, Bournemouth and Norwich lose again as VAR reputation further dented
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – After Liverpool survive West Ham test to remain unbeaten with a 22-point league lead, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 27?
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Four games from history
Four games; 360 minutes. That is all that now stands between Liverpool and their exhaustive 30-year wait to seal their first Premier League crown, after a hard-fought 3-2 win over West Ham United in Gameweek 27.
After Georginio Wijnaldum had given his side their latest lead, the Reds were then forced into a place they have rarely been this season; forced to play catch-up in a league game.
Issa Diop and Pablo Fornals rather caught the Reds off guard, but after Mohamed Salah‘s effort slipped through the clutches of Lukasz Fabianski in the visiting goal, Sadio Mane then scored for the second successive league game to seal the comeback win in the final 20 minutes – this just days after Liverpool’s chastening 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish capital.
Inspired once more by the latest pulse-racing performance of Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Reds’ roaming full-back added two further assists to his tally for the season to take his total to an incredible 14 with 11 games to play, as Thierry Henry‘s record of 20 in single season now coming into view – as a defender.
As one record appears fragile at best, it will be the main priority for Liverpool of course to now seal the title at the earliest available opportunity. Although with a tricky trip to Watford to negotiate next up and a visit to Goodison Park in three weeks’ time, that could now come at home to Crystal Palace on March 21. To clinch the title with the best part of two months left is one thing; to do it in front of the Kop is quite another. That now is a spine-tingling possibility.
In defeat, Hammers have platform
In closing Premier League Gameweek 27 out at Anfield, few expected relegation-mired West Ham to put up any sort of fight against the champions-in-waiting Liverpool. However to their credit, the Hammers gave the hosts one of their biggest tests of the campaign thus far.
Though defeat leaves David Moyes‘ side still perched on the Championship precipice, the Irons’ stirring showing on Merseyside could be the platform to mount a survival bid against the impending odds – and an indeed nightmarish upcoming fixture list.
A goal down at Anfield, expectations might have been for the visitors to fold but after Diop levelled the scores from a corner, West Ham suddenly had a foot in the contest.
With the scores then level at the break, Fornals stunned the Reds to take the lead, before the inevitable comeback showed its’ hand – albeit with a pinch more fortune from this season’s fairy godmother.
On a night where the Hammers perhaps deserved to take a point back to the capital, the appetite for the fight was there for all to see, and if West Ham can replicate that in their final 11 games, hope springs eternal in East London.
The ‘X factor’ for the Irons appears to be Michail Antonio, who when fit enough to start makes West Ham’s two different visages look like chalk and cheese, whilst Robert Snodgrass again impressed from set-pieces versus one of the best back lines in Europe. For a side that is still heavily reliant on goals from that area, the Scot’s match-fitness will be equally key for the remainder of the season.
Back-to-back games against champions and champions elect were always set to deliver nil points, but after Monday night’s showing, West Ham can comfort themselves with their performance. Now however comes the next vital run of fixtures.
With the visit of Southampton on Saturday, an away trip to a still nervy Arsenal follows in Gameweek 29. Wolves then visit the London Stadium, before a double-header of derbies versus Spurs and Chelsea.
West Ham are still deep in a relegation hole there can be no doubt about that, but after a rousing showing at Anfield, there is far more optimism in the air for Hammers’ fans – only seven days on from the seeming inevitability of second tier football.
Ederson must be given penalty shot
With Manchester City set to surrender their Premier League crown they have held for two years, this season is descending into something of a snuff movie for the Citizens, with FFP now hanging like a dark cloud over the Etihad Stadium. Though Pep Guardiola was given respite with a win at Leicester City in Gameweek 27, another of City’s many growing list of troubles again reared its’ rather unsightly head.
A win is a win; that will no doubt be the emphasised message from Guardiola, however it came despite yet another miss from the penalty spot, which, like financial irregularities is becoming a rather thorny subject.
Having now missed four from four spot-kicks, City are enduring an alarming crisis from the 12-yard line. Sergio Aguero‘s miss was not his first against the Foxes, but with Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne also having had their efforts saved in the past, City could now turn to a typically unlikely source.
It is a well-kept secret with the club that Ederson is regarded as the best penalty taker in the Citizen dressing room, but thus far, Guardiola has been keen to keep duties firmly on the shoulders of out-field personnel, so as not to belittle the significance of the very idea of penalties.
Whilst no top flight ‘keeper in England has ever been considered for said duties, in Germany, Hans-Jorg Butt has history with Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen, famously scoring for the latter and instantly conceding at the other end.
That is now surely a major consideration for Guardiola. Ederson is in any right regarded as the most versatile sweeper-keeper there is out there, but should he add penalty-taker to his bow, the Brazilian could not only make history, but become the ultimate in indispensable stoppers.
Fernandes will be United hit
After tipping him to shine against Watford in Gameweek 27, Bruno Fernandes wasted no time in driving Manchester United to a masterly 3-0 win at Old Trafford, in what could be the first of many dominant performances for the Red Devils.
Despite having had just over a month to settle in to life in the North-West, the Portuguese looks set to become the latest Iberian recruit to meld into the Premier League effortlessly.
Coolly slotting home from the penalty spot – as we foretold – Fernandes then laid on the United’s third goal through Mason Greenwood, to complete a wholly satisfying afternoon from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s charges.
Since the ongoing sagas of the erstwhile Paul Pogba have rolled on, United have lacked a real presence in the middle of the park, and occupying a number ten role behind Anthony Martial – also on the score-sheet this past weekend – has instantly transformed his side’s still rather floundering attack.
With the stakes having upped since their City rival’s European ban, United suddenly have a three fronts to fight on with the Europa League and FA Cup also firmly in their sights. Fernandes may still eased into life in the top flight yet, but the early signs are for all to see that the Portuguese could be a bit hit.
VAR’s further blushes
It wouldn’t be a Premier League weekend without the odd VAR controversy, but in Gameweek 27, the Video Assistant Referee fully and completely left its’ early reputation further in the gutter.
As the bane of AFC Bournemouth fans on this particular weekend, it was however the performance of David Coote at Stockley Park during Chelsea’s London derby clash with Tottenham Hotspur, that left video technology’s current incarnation in the dock, walking in chains.
Turf Moor saw a controversial ruling out of Cherries’ goals twice-over against Burnley – in one instance for Callum Wilson‘s goal to be ruled out after a handball referral at the opposite end, which led to a Clarets penalty – but is was at Stamford Bridge that grew the consternation of Premier League fans in unison.
With Chelsea holding a 2-0 advantage over Spurs, Giovani Lo Celso went into a challenge late on Cesar Azpilicueta, as the Blues’ defender attempted to prevent the Argentine from taking the ball. As the Spaniard clutched his ankle, the yellow-card-walking Lo Celso was cautioned finally for the incident, however after VAR intervened, replays suggested the Spurs midfielder was set to be handed his marching orders.
As images showed Azpilicueta’s ankle at a slight bend after Lo Celso’s studs-down tackle however, VAR deemed the incident was sufficiently punished. With the game still continuing, news filtered through that the tackle should indeed have resulted in a red card.
Issuing a full apology for a loss of translation between VAR HQ and referee Michael Oliver – the only Premier League official thus far to consult a pitch-side monitor – after the match, the growing fury of the system and its’ many inconsistencies were again highlighted in damning fashion.
Let’s get this straight; VAR can be a very good thing for football. Across the continent and indeed the global game the system is being used as a beneficiary. However in the English top flight, its’ very presence is being abused and quite simply, complicated. Aside from the many instances of offside irritants we have already seen, if basic foul play is not being punished, serious questions should now be posed of it.
Premier League Gameweek 28 begins on Friday night as Norwich City host Leicester City, kick-off 20:00 UK time.
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