The Premier League in Focus: Liverpool Beaten by Two Crosses
“Angry” is rapidly becoming the default post-match setting for Jurgen Klopp. All smiles when they win, Klopp’s ill-temper when Liverpool fail to do so has been putting in more appearances than many would have expected of late and it was back again yesterday afternoon as his team were comfortably beaten by West Ham United in the first Premier League match of 2016. The headlines will read that it was goals from Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll that won the match for West Ham, but the truth of the matter is more that the match was won by two magnificent crosses, from Enner Valencia and Mark Noble.
So it is that Liverpool’s stuttering start under Klopp continues. Liverpool have won two and lost two of their last four matches and the very few that would have kept Brendan Rodgers in place at Anfield will continue to argue that Klopp is doing no better in charge of the club than Rodgers was prior to his dismissal. Perhaps the problem within the team is the players. We shall see whether the club decides to chance its arm in the January transfer window or whether it decides to concentrate on the cups for this season – Liverpool have a League Cup semi-final against Stoke City and an FA Cup Third Round trip to Exeter City over the course of the coming week – or gamble on shuffling the pack for a place in next season’s Champions League, which, whilst increasingly remote is still possible for Liverpool next season.
Still, there was cheer for everybody with the interests of English football in their hearts a little later in in the afternoon when Manchester United scrambled a two-one win against a Swansea City team that had previously won just once this season since last beating Manchester United at the end of August. As Daily Telegraph Paul Hayward reminded us this week, though, we should all be in mourning because this club is no longer grinding the vast majority of their opponents into the dust any more – and who amongst us doesn’t consider the absolute essence of English football to be he sight of “Cristiano Ronaldo flash[ing] by in a sports car”? – so the cheers across the nation heard when Gylfi Sigurdsson headed Swansea level with twenty minutes of the match left to play must have been carried across the border from South Wales.
In truth, no amount of post-match bluster could really disguise that this wasn’t a particularly fluid performance from Manchester United against a Swansea City team that is deeply entrenched in a fight to avoid relegation. Indeed, in the five minutes subsequent to Swansea’s goal and before Wayne Rooney awoke from his slumber to remind the world of a part of the reason why he is paid £300,000 per week, we could see the colour drain significantly from the cheeks of the United players, and the extent to which this “revival” can only be described as brittle was perhaps best summed by the Swansea City goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski flashing a stoppage-time header narrowly wide of the post. Media coverage of this weekend’s Premier League football would be very different had that dropped a foot or two to the left.
A couple of hundred miles to the south-east of Manchester, The Emirates Stadium was bearing witness to a demonstration of the power of positive thinking. There was nothing spectacular about their performance in Arsenal squeezing past Newcastle United. Indeed, Steve McClaren might well have woken up this morning feeling a little aggrieved at not having taken a point or more from the game. Laurent Koscielny bundled the only goal of the match over the line with just under twenty minutes to play, but the star of the afternoon was Petr Cech, who pulled off a string of magnificent saves to keep Arsenal in the game while it was still goalless. Arsenal will probably have to play better than they did yesterday against better teams than they played yesterday, but they won against Newcastle United without playing well, and that is a useful habit to acquire whilst top of the Premier League table.
It wasn’t a day for any of the teams at the top of the Premier League table to be looking particularly confident, though. Manchester City hadn’t won away from home since September, somehow or other, but they broke this unwanted record in yesterday’s late Premier League match at Watford, who may consider themselves a little unfortunate to have come away from three matches against Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City with “just” four points. This is not a sentence that one might have expected to read before the start of the season, but it is rather starting to feel as though this fun of the last twelve months or so might be starting to come to an end. It certainly felt that way at The King Power Stadium yesterday, where Leicester City reached their pre-season points target of forty but otherwise failed to impress in a goalless draw against a Bournemouth team that was doughty and hard working, and which also missed chances to win the game.
The remaining three games of the Saturday were largely concerned with events at the foot of the table. Norwich City beat Southampton – who don’t seem to even know whether they’re any good or not at the moment – and West Bromwich Albion beat Stoke City in pouring rain at The Hawthorns, but the match that will probably cast the longest shadow over the rest of the season was at The Stadium of Light, where Sunderland defeated Aston Villa by three goals to one. It won’t be over until it’s mathematically confirmed, of course, but there is a sense of finality coming to rest over the inevitability of Villa’s relegation. The team is now eleven points adrift of fourth from bottom place, having acquired just eight points from their first twenty matches, and with just eighteen left to play. If Jurgen Klopp has cause to be angry after his team’s performance at West Ham United yesterday afternoon, then what emotions do Aston Villa supporters have a right to feel today?
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