Iain Macintosh picks his tops and flops from another fascinating weekend in the Premier League.
The noise you just heard was the sound of the title race being blown wide open This is not the first time that Jose Mourinho has caused significant damage to someone else’s season: In 2014, Chelsea’s 2-0 win at Anfield was the beginning of the end of Liverpool’s title challenge. Did he do the same thing to his old club on Sunday? Well, never mind that for the moment. Let’s just focus on Manchester United. When was the last time you were excited to watch them? Sometime back in 2013? More of this, please.
That result leaves the door open for increasingly impressive Tottenham, and their numbers are looking good. Bournemouth were swept aside 4-0, Spurs’ second straight win by that score and their 12th home win in a row. Overall, it was their seventh consecutive victory, something they haven’t achieved for 50 years. For the second time in a week, Chelsea had to kick off their fixture knowing that the gap was down to four points. And this time, the pressure got to them.
In the rush to laugh at Manchester City’s flappy goalkeepers and flailing full-backs, we forget sometimes they have a man capable of pulling it all together. It’s just that Vincent Kompany has been injured so often that Saturday was only his fifth league game of the season. City miss him so much, partly for the desire that drove him to head home the crucial opening goal at Southampton, partly for the way he knows when to step up and snuff out attacks and partly because he radiates composure across the rearguard.
It was quite the week for Ross Barkley. After being assaulted in a nightclub on Sunday and humiliated in a national newspaper on Friday, the 23-year-old had the last laugh, sort-of-scoring — OK, it was an own goal — against Burnley in a 3-1 win. It has been a tumultuous season for Barkley, who has attracted the ire of manager Ronald Koeman and is known to be considering his future. But given the way the city of Liverpool has closed ranks around him, maybe he should now put pen to paper at Goodison.
In fact, it’s been a very good weekend on both sides of Stanley Park. Traditionally, a narrow victory over West Brom wouldn’t be worthy of celebration by Liverpool, but times have changed. After all, a mere 2-2 draw with the same opponents at Anfield last season prompted choreographed thanks for the crowd. But this result was important: A victory against a weaker side and a performance that showcased ruthlessness up front and featured another good performance from Simon Mignolet in goal.
Was this just a bad day at the office or the continuation of a Chelsea wobble that will knock them off balance and hand Tottenham the title? For the moment, given their four-point advantage with six games left, you’d still back Antonio Conte’s side. But only just. Outwitted by their old boss, they barely made a chance at Old Trafford and ended the game without a shot on target. When will Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso return? Where have Diego Costa’s goals gone? They have questions to answer.
Perhaps less of a villain than a victim, given the injury that would see him leave White Hart Lane on crutches, this was a nightmare weekend for Jack Wilshere. The Bournemouth loanee’s passing was wretched — an accuracy of just 62.1 percent — and he was the target of sustained abuse from Spurs fans. Wilshere made clear his feelings about the club a few years ago when he led Arsenal fans in a particularly spiky chant. Revenge was a dish served at high volume and with gales of mocking laughter.
Sunderland finally scored after a goalless run of 11 hours and 41 minutes, but they didn’t beat West Ham and there was audible dissent toward David Moyes. Fans know their manager has been dealt a bad hand, but also believe he’s holding his cards the wrong way round. His tactics are ineffectual, his signings have been mostly poor and he has done himself no favours with the media. Moyes will want to lead Sunderland back to the Premier League if, as expected, they go down. But will fans want to let him try?
Alfie Mawson had been carving out a reputation as an impressive, young, ball-playing defender, but his calamity on Saturday will set him back a little. The Swansea centre-back dawdled in possession on the edge of his own box and was robbed by Etienne Capoue, who scored at the second attempt. Not that that wasn’t the only reason Swansea lost. They cannot seem to replicate the form that saw them soar out of the drop zone after Paul Clement’s arrival. They need to find it soon, because time is running out.
First on Ronald Koeman’s to-do list at Everton this summer has to be the acquisition of a new goalkeeper. Joel Robles had an absolute stinker against Liverpool last month and isn’t getting any better. Only he will know why he chose to follow Sam Vokes as the Burnley striker ran away from goal and then bring him down from behind. Robles is fortunate his teammates were able to repair the damage and secure victory. Everton are not far from challenging for the top four. But they won’t do that without a better No. 1.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.