By Neil Leverett
- Liverpool pick up back-to-back wins against Wolves and West Ham, now a possible eight games from the Premier League title
- Manchester City grind out hard-fought 1-0 win over Sheffield United, as ten-man Arsenal come from behind twice away to Chelsea
- Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth both claim huge league wins, as West Ham slide further into relegation trouble
PREMIER LEAGUE, UK – After Liverpool claimed back-to-back wins to put themselves a possible eight league games from the title, what did we learn from Premier League Gameweek 24?
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Liverpool show winning mentality – again
The Premier League title may mathematically not be over, but after Liverpool grabbed another six points for their tally even that is becoming nothing short of academic also, after two wins of a very different nature against Wolves and West Ham United in Gameweek 24.
First up for the Reds in their re-arranged double gameweek, a trip to Molineux looked a daunting task for the Merseysiders and despite Jordan Henderson‘s impeccable header from another pin-point Trent Alexander-Arnold corner kick to give the visitors the lead, Wolves put Jurgen Klopp‘s men through the second half mill.
After Raul Jimenez leveled the score from the tyrannical Adama Traore‘s cross from the right, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men arguably came the closest Liverpool have come their season – in the league at the very least – to going behind this term and potentially losing their unbeaten record.
As Wolves piled forward in search of a winner however, the Reds again showed their guts in clinging on for what looked like a draw before Roberto Firmino struck five minutes from time.
Though the Brazilian has been relatively peripheral this season, Firmino has recaptured his scoring touch in recent weeks and if further evidence were needed that this is to be Liverpool’s season, Firmino’s cool finish past Rui Patricio emphatically underlined that impending statistic.
Victory against a relegation threatened Hammers then a week later was somewhat of an act of academia, as Mohamed Salah took his opportunity to grab the limelight again, as the injured Sadio Mane sat out the London Stadium clash.
With game in hand ticked off, the points gap to defending champions Manchester City is a staggering 19 points – a gap that almost puts their fallen rivals to shame after their own 2017/18 romp to the title. The only question now is exactly when Liverpool can seal their first Premier League title? After a thirty year wait, another eight days of determination puts the Reds ever closer to their momentous crowning day.
Laporte will tighten City defence
On the subject of the Citizens, the early return from injury of talismanic defender Aymeric Laporte cannot be underestimated and as Pep Guardiola’s men took three points away from a most inhospitable Bramall Lane, the Frenchman’s return to the defensive fold is massive for City.
Would the picture in the title race be different had Laporte not sustained his knee injury back in the early weeks of the campaign? That is unclear, but as the former Athletic Bilbao centre back slips back into defence – in so notching only the third clean sheet since November for the visitors – the run-in for City should on paper bring with it more league wins in ratio than the past four months.
That was in full display against the Blades, who themselves has enjoyed a superb return to the stop flight and even with a Gabriel Jesus missed penalty, the almost flammable Sergio Aguero came off the bench to seal the win.
Simply put – as we witnessed against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday night – a Laporte-less City are like chalk and cheese, and though the champions will be forced to relinquish their league crown, the spoils of League, FA and perhaps the UEFA Champions League remain to be snaffled this term.
Hope springs eternal for basement duo
At the other end of the table, Gameweek 24 saw the hopes of both two sides staring a relegation battle in the face rise, as Aston Villa and AFC Bournemouth picked up potentially pivotal wins at the foot of the league standings.
Whilst the Cherries finally ended a four-game losing streak without a goal, Callum Wilson also brought and end to his own personal goal drought of over 1000 minutes without a league strike, however it was the Villans whose 95th-minute winner against Watford that made for the most eyebrow-raising show.
After Birmingham’s own Troy Deeney gave the Hornets the lead, more misery looked in store at Villa Park, before Douglas Luiz and then Tyrone Mings‘ last-gasp goal – via Ezri Konsa‘s driven effort from the edge of the box – sent the Villa fans into delirium, as Nigel Pearson tasted his first defeat since taking over.
The win clearly had an impact as after knocking out Leicester City in midweek’s semi-final, and Villa now find themselves with a date at Wembley next month. In the case of Bournemouth however, victory over the Seagulls could prove to be short-lived success, after another toothless showing in the FA Cup versus Arsenal.
Victories in other competition may be somewhat a cliche in their knock-effect elsewhere, but in the case of a Villa side now two points out of the bottom three, momentum will be massive for the remainder of the season. But what of the Cherries?
Gunners show true grit
Still in its’ early days, the Mikel Arteta effect on Arsenal was in full show in Gameweek 24, and staring another league defeat in the face, a rousing and gritty showing saw the North Londoners fight back from arrears in their capital clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
In what was until David Luiz‘s dismissal against his former side a tight contest with little space, ten-man Arsenal should the sort of fight simply bereft of them under predecessor Unai Emery, and with many a Gunners fan writing off another three points after Jorginho‘s spot-kick, a breakaway goal from the increasingly impressive Gabriel Martinelli caught the hosts off guard.
When Cesar Azpilicueta looked to have grabbed the win late on, it was another testament to Arsenal’s gritty new exterior to snatch a point in the dying embers of the game, via Hector Bellerin‘s measured left-footed shot past Kepa in the Blues’ goal.
There is of course much work still to be down at Arsenal – indeed the bottom three is closer in proximity than the top four – but if recent weeks are anything to go by, with Southampton full-back Cedric and Flamengo defender Pablo Mari set to be drafted in this transfer window, the Gunners appear to moving in the right direction but more importantly, have finally grown a spine.
Lejeune again boasts Magpie character
Perhaps the most stunning result of Gameweek 24 was Everton’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle United, a result which on paper looks like an entertaining fare but fails to tell the true tale of the clash at Goodison Park, as centre-back Florian Lejeune‘s remarkable stoppage-time double for the visitors grabbed a hugely unlikely point from the jaws of defeat.
With the Toffees cruising to victory, Steve Bruce elected to throw on an extra defender to increase Newcastle’s threat from set-pieces, but Bruce could surely never has expected the substitute to wrestle a point back for his side, as the game entered the third minute of additional time.
Set-pieces have been a strong point for Newcastle with the likes of Ciaran Clark, Federico Fernandez and Fabian Schar in their ranks, but in Lejeune, the Frenchman had not scored a Premier League goal to date. That however, was about to change in remarkable fashion.
As the visitors threw the kitchen sink at an Everton defence that had yet to concede a home league goal under Carlo Ancleotti, Lejeune spectacularly hooked a volleyed attempt into the Toffees’ net, but it was surely an effort that would little more than a consolation.
A minute later though and with the highest of drama, and as Everton were pressed off the ball, Newcastle won yet another late corner. In an ensuing goal-mouth scramble – having broken his league goal drought mere seconds earlier – Lejeune suddenly acquired a taste goal, and as the ball fell to the former Villarreal defender, his rebound effort was too much for a disbelieving Jordan Pickford and his defence to prevent from crossing a goal line strewn with bodies throwing themselves at the ball.
It was a simply remarkable footnote to the Gameweek’s events, and as the Magpies once again displayed their growing character – after a smash-and-grab win against Chelsea a week previously, Lejeune became the toast of the Toon.
Premier League Gameweek 25 begins on Saturday lunchtime, as Leicester City host Chelsea, kick-off 12:30 UK time.
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