After this weekend’s obliteration of previous front runners Arsenal, Liverpool must now be considered contenders. The Premier League now officially features a four horse title race. With Mourinho styling current leaders Chelsea as a small horse with a target of third, and Manchester City and Arsenal seemingly determined not to open up a convincing lead, quite where that leaves Liverpool in terms of horses is unclear. What is clear however, is that with bags of goals and only six points off first, Liverpool are very much in the chase.
The victory over Arsenal was a triumph for Liverpool not just in terms of result, but also in the performance given. The Gunners’ passing game was stopped in its tracks by a master class in pressing by Liverpool. The Reds hunted in packs à la Barcelona, suppressing every Arsenal attack, and breaking quickly in numbers every time they won back the ball. It was a supreme midfield performance by Jordan Henderson. Once the victim of so much scorn by English football fans, Henderson has been resurgent under Brendan Rodgers, and his all action performance freed up the Liverpool attackers, with Coutinho in particular taking advantage of his colleague’s efforts with pinpoint, defence splitting passes. The Brazilian has been largely overlooked by national team manager Scolari, but if he can continue such imperious form, it may become near impossible to not to save Coutinho a place in the squad.
All the more impressive were the scorers. With Suarez’ name most conspicuously not on the score sheet, his partner in crime Sturridge did way in, with Skrtel capitalising on two fantastic set pieces to claim a double. It was however young Sterling who really stole the limelight. After bursting onto the scene last year, Sterling’s form has been inconsistent thus far in his Liverpool career, but his performance versus Arsenal was a display of real maturity, and Sterling earned his two goals.
For Arsenal fans, they will hope that the drubbing was a blip rather than the start of a real dip in form. The Gunners’ injury problems have been well reported, and the Arsenal have not been helped by recent underperformances by key figure Mesut Ozil. The German’s influence has been lacking in recent games and Ramsay’s absence has been desperately felt. However, whilst pundits seems to revel in writing Wenger’s side off, Arsenal have already proven that they can bounce back from a poor result, and only a point off top, it would be ridiculous to rule them out just yet.
As much as Liverpool should now be looking forward, Brendan Rodgers side must still keep one eye looking down the table. Whilst a five point lead over city rivals Everton is nice to have, it is by no means comfortable, with the Reds only ever a two match swing from finding themselves outside of those crucial Champions League places. Tottenham’s victory over Everton this weekend really blew the race for Europe wide open, and now only a point behind the team from the blue half of Liverpool, Spurs are right back in the hunt.
The weekend did not go so well for the Manchester clubs. The loss to Chelsea has obviously affected City’s confidence, and Pellegrini’s men were denied again, Norwich holding firm to deny the City onslaught. The Canaries defence was buoyed by the addition of former Everton man Yobo, and Houghton’s men could even have stolen a win if the ball had been moved quicker to Nathan Redmond. Still only two points off the top, City’s incredible home form has compensated for their slip ups away. Across the other side of Manchester, every point United drop is another backwards step from where the club undoubtedly belong, Champions League football. With Moyes blaming “mental weakness” for the Red Devil’s draw with Fulham, former United coach and Ferguson disciple Rene Meulensteen had a better explanation, United’s “straightforward tactics”. It is an issue that has been pointed out by ever pundit and journalist across the country it seems, but once again United were undone by a poor defence, and a one dimensional attack over reliant on crossing.
It is the first signs of life Fulham have shown under Meulensteen, and the London club will need many more points like this if they are to survive one of the tightest relegation dogfights in Premier League history.