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Liverpool one of the biggest losers of the Premier League weekend along with Manchester United

Liverpool one of the biggest losers of the Premier League weekend along with Manchester United

We’re being naughty and putting Liverpool in the losers section on a weekend where they won a literal trophy with actual kids. Partly because we live for drama, but also because this is Barclays focused and their title hopes took blameless and often indirect hits but potentially really quite significant ones.


Should we be worried about the diminishing returns? Six goals at West Ham, five at Burnley, but only four against Newcastle. Should this troubling trend continue, they would only beat Sheffield United 3-0 or 3-1 – or even 3-2 should the goals against column also follow recent trends. By the time they play Chelsea just before the international break, their season might be unravelling completely.

Best make sure they score more than three at Sheffield United just to be on the safe side. Let’s be real, you’d back them to do so based on all available recent evidence from both clubs that doesn’t involve pretending “six, five, four” is a bad number of goals to be scoring in consecutive league games.

Arsenal are very much in what modern football for some reason has decided is called “a good moment”. Football isn’t always a game where results and performances are so perfectly in alignment, but right now Arsenal are getting precisely what they deserve from every game. This also includes the away leg of their Champions League last-16 clash in Porto, but forget about that for now.

Whether or not they can sustain this run is another matter; whether or not even this would be enough to beat Manchester City and Liverpool to the title another matter still.

But what can be said right now is that there is no obvious reason to expect anything to change any time soon. This is not a flash in the pan, this is not a run being sustained by the otherworldly endeavours of one player, and the absolute mastery Arsenal currently display at set-pieces is not going to go away. And nor are the set-pieces.

They really didn’t ever look quite this good even during their dizziest and giddiest moments last season. They’ve gone up another level; the insane thing is that it probably still won’t be enough.

A great deal more on Arsenal is available in 16 Conclusions if for some unfathomable reason you haven’t read it already.

Declan Rice
While it’s true that there is no one player responsible for Arsenal’s current excellence, there is one player perhaps standing just slightly taller than the rest. West Ham fans will tell you that it was already clear by the end of last season that Rice was far more than just an (excellent) holding midfielder. But not sure any of us were quite ready for how complete a midfielder Rice would become so soon at Arsenal.

When Thomas Partey wasn’t around last season, Arsenal often looked vulnerable and a touch flimsy in midfield. He’s barely been seen this season and hasn’t been missed at all. If Arsenal do manage to deliver a league title – and that would be a monumental achievement – the dogged and laser-focused pursuit and acquisition of Rice will be a huge part of it.

Even if they don’t quite get over the line, he is already up there alongside Liverpool signing Virgil van Dijk and Alisson in that category of spending a huge amount on one player is absolutely justified when that one player is the exact, precise, ready-made player you urgently, obviously and desperately require.

Manchester City
Arsenal are playing brilliantly and winning. Fine, if you like those sorts of showy antics. But we all know that is not the Hallmark of Champions. The Hallmark of Champions is playing crap and still winning, and Manchester City are doing that extremely well right now, thank you very much.

If you wanted to be really hyper-critical, you could make a case that they haven’t really been truly complete-90-minute-performance convincing in the Premier League since the 6-1 dismantling of Bournemouth, which was in November. They followed that with three draws of assorted degrees of silliness against Chelsea (very silly), Liverpool (only slightly silly) and Spurs (monumentally silly) and a defeat at Aston Villa. They then laboured to victory at Luton and threw away a 2-0 lead against Crystal Palace.

Questions about their general performance level remain entirely valid, yet in nine not fully convincing Premier League efforts since that Palace draw they’ve collected 25 points from 27, scoring 19 goals and conceding six.

It’s an extraordinary run and the expectation remains that at some point performances are going to start tallying more obviously with those results and then everyone else is screwed. But it also might need to happen soon. It’s Manchester United next and then Liverpool and Arsenal in the space of three games either side of the interlull with Brighton away – absolutely not a gimme – in between.

Aston Villa
Pretty much the ideal weekend for Villa, taking advantage of Spurs having no game and Manchester United doing Manchester United things to open up a gap on their top-four rivals that is going to take a fair bit of closing.

They’ve got Tottenham at home in a fortnight’s time, and it already looks a potentially seismic game for the top-four picture. For Villa, it’s enormously welcome for many reasons that they now won’t be going into that game still searching for a first home win of the year at what had for so long been in impregnable Villa Park fortress.

Douglas Luiz
A pair of goals for the player now surely in possession of the ‘Best Player Outside The Established Elite’ mantle as he helps propel Villa further and further into that elite.

Pau Torres
There is a case to be made that while Luiz is Villa’s best player he is not their most important. That might just be Pau Torres, based on results. A cornerstone of the defence that helped keep Villa on that extraordinary run of home wins, his absence over the last couple of months has been keenly felt as that imperious home form dropped off alarmingly. Back he comes, and back to winning ways go the Villa.

But even then he was forced off at half-time and they went just a little bit wobbly again. Unai Emery insisted his half-time withdrawal to be replaced by the lesser-spotted Calum Chambers was merely a precaution, and all Villa fans will be desperately hoping that proves to be the case with some crunch games coming up.

Establishing themselves as the very ideal kind of mid-table team, capable of inflicting damaging misery on any dozing elite club while making enough of a bollocks of enough other games for their own ambitions to remain meagre.

Saturday’s victory at Old Trafford was a sweet one for a side that has also this season taken four points off Arsenal – having trailed in both games – but one point from a possible six against Burnley.

Oliver Glasner
You couldn’t ask for a much kinder game for a new-manager-bounce than Burnley at home even before the visitors found themselves down to 10 men, but you still have to take these opportunities when they present themselves. Securing their biggest Premier League win of the season and a first clean sheet in the league since beating the same opponent in November is the very ideal kind of thing.

Did the necessary in backing up last weekend’s fine win at Tottenham with a more prosaic and predictable three points against Sheffield United. A team widely tipped to struggle (certainly by, er, us at any rate) now sits eighth and with an outside chance of bringing European football back to Molineux. They have also now both scored and conceded 20 goals in their 13 home matches and their 13 away matches, and that’s precisely the sort of chiefly meaningless but vaguely interesting statistical quirk we can always get behind. We really want their next two games to be goalless draws so they can achieve the holy grail of reaching the 40-point barrier with 40 goals scored and 40 goals conceded, and are a tiny bit sad they won’t be able to do so with an even home-and-away points split as well.


Manchester United
In some ways, the biggest takeaway from Manchester United’s defeat to Fulham is a warning for their noisy neighbours about how the Hallmark of Champions stops being the Hallmark of Champions and starts being an Unsustainable Run of Dumb Luck if you keep insisting on doing it week in, week out.

Manchester United allowed 20 shots on their goal in the 2-1 win at Luton, but that was a fourth win in a row and was seen very much in that context with a “three points is three points” kind of vibe.

But it’s only “three points is three points” if you take some learning from the experience and don’t assume it’s going to keep happening because it’s happened the last couple of times you’ve pushed your luck.

It was still a huge surprise to see United come specifically unstuck in this game – especially after a late equaliser that, if anything, looked more likely to bring an even later winner than what actually happened – but equally this defeat had probably been in the post for a while.

United have been better in recent weeks, but it’s all relative and it’s often been a bit skin of the teeth for comfort. The Luton game should not have become that dicey after racing into a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes. The Wolves game was if anything even sillier.

They remain way short of where they would want or expect to be and it still remains up for enormous debate as to whether they are actually getting anywhere at all. They are already startlingly reliant on Rasmus Hojlund, whose recent run of form has been exceptional but whose absence here was felt so keenly. It’s an absurd situation United have found themselves in, possessing just a single senior striker and that striker being both so young and so relatively unproven. The 14-game run without a goal to start his Premier League career was far more predictable and likelier than his dazzling recent exploits, and without that run of goals United would be just another mid-table team like Chelsea or Newcastle.

READ MORETen Hag could follow Antony out of Manchester United with Kompany sack surely next

Bruno Fernandes
Just one of the single funniest footballers there has ever been when things are not going his way. His supporters will always call it a sign of a winning mentality and it’s a view not entirely without merit. But when that winning mentality manifests as a massive toddler tantrum you have to accept everyone else will point and laugh. He’s a magnificent pantomime villain of a thing, moaning, complaining, grassing, rolling around on the floor. It’s rarely the only amusing thing about a Manchester United defeat, but it’s nearly always right up there.

This really has been a powerfully inadequate season from a team that only nine months ago was emphatically qualifying for the Champions League. Were they anyone but Newcastle, were their manager anyone but an enormously English “Spoke well, I thought” merchant, they would be getting absolute pelters from all directions.

There is no disgrace currently in losing at the Emirates, but Newcastle’s acquiescence to such a beating absolutely was a desgracia. They were bullied by Arsenal, and treated exactly as the bald stats tell you they have once again become: just another – albeit filthy rich – mid-table team in a Barclays clogged with them.

On its own, this defeat could be easily explained away by pointing, not unreasonably, at the sheer excellence of Arsenal. But this is not a one-off. This is the third time in less than three months that Newcastle have travelled to one of the league’s better attacking sides and been smashed for four. Spurs did it in December when coming off a run of four defeats in five games, Liverpool pummeled them into xG oblivion at Anfield three weeks later, and now this. While also conceding three goals and four goals respectively at home to fellow powerhouses Manchester City and, er, Luton.

Newcastle have now won only three of 12 Premier League games since back-to-back home wins against Chelsea and Manchester United appeared to indicate a corner had been turned in December.

Most damning of all, Newcastle have shipped 31 goals in those 12 games. It’s a catastrophic drop-off for a side that conceded only 33 in the whole of last season.

Defeat to Klopp’s Kids at Wembley but significantly for our Barclays purposes here back in the bottom half of the Premier League. You can argue forever about whether Blue Billion Pound Bottlejobs was a fair analysis of their efforts in a final against an injury-ravaged yet superior side, but their overall season is another miserably ineffective one in which they are going to have to drag themselves past every single one of West Ham, Newcastle, Wolves and Brighton to achieve even the barest passing grade.

Viewed purely through the Barclays prism, as a feature called “Premier League winners and losers” surely must be, Liverpool simply have to go in here as well. Don’t get cross, we can explain. Or at least try. The Carabao final was riotously entertaining and winning it with all those kids on the pitch a huge moment for Klopp and the club and his legacy and their future. All that good stuff.

But a dispassionate calculation tells us that Liverpool are now less likely to win the Premier League than they were before this weekend. You could even slightly mischievously make the argument they are less likely to win their Quadruple now than they were on Saturday morning, before a final for which they were, despite what Jamie Carragher would have you believe, always favourites.

Manchester City and Arsenal both won, most obviously. Arsenal’s latest thumping win also saw them complete the task of wiping out and even overhauling Liverpool’s at one time sizeable goal difference advantage, the significance of which could yet be gigantic a couple of months down the line. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s Carabao glory came despite both Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch ending the afternoon in protective boots. Their already reduced midfield options are suddenly wafer-thin as the Premier League run-in begins in earnest.

They may well be the winningest losers we’ve ever put in here, and there is a tongue-in-cheek element to it, but on a righteously joyous and celebratory weekend for the club there really is no getting round the fact their title hopes took unfortunate, blameless and indirect but nevertheless significant and repeated hits.

Twenty-three attempts on goal to Everton’s six and yet came within a 94th-minute Lewis Dunk header of getting Fully Dyched.

They’re not exactly playing badly and it’s still a fine old season in the grand scheme – they’re still seventh! Which is really quite good! – but there’s a frustrating inability to really get anything going for the Seagulls in recent month. It’s faintly ludicrous, but they haven’t won back-to-back Premier League games since a run of three 3-1 wins over Newcastle, Manchester United and Bournemouth in September.

Having won five of their first six games of the season, they’ve now the same number of their last 20 and overall have fewer wins than Wolves. Bit weird, that.

Not materially any better than Sheffield United. That’s very bad, guys.

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