Three things we learned: Man City v. Chelsea

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MANCHESTER — This is what you call making a statement.

Manchester City hammered Chelsea 6-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola‘s men scoring four times in the first 25 minutes to move back to the top of the Premier League table on goal difference.

A hat trick from Sergio Aguero and goals from Raheem Sterling (two) and Ilkay Gundogan did the damage, as Chelsea collapsed away from home once again to cast fresh doubt over Maurizio Sarri‘s future as the Blues’ manager.

Here’s what we learned from a huge win for Man City, and another demoralizing defeat for Chelsea.


ANOTHER FAST START PROPELS CITY

Nothing eases tension in a title race better than an early goal. In three of Man City’s last four Premier League games they’ve scored their opener with less than four minutes on the clock, and Sterling’s opener set the tone for the entire game. City should have been 5-0 up inside 25 minutes, but they had to settle for 4-0 as Aguero scored twice and missed a sitter, while Gundogan added another. City got the ball wide as quickly as they could and dominated the individual battles with Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso. City are showing no signs of nerves because they are just blowing teams away early on and they have now opened up a +10 goal differential lead on Liverpool which like an extra point.

Aside from their early goal at Newcastle, which seemed to breath overconfidence into the team which led to their shock defeat, scoring early has put Guardiola’s men back in the title race. The fast start also provided Guardiola with the luxury of subbing off the likes of Aguero, Fernandinho and Kevin De Bruyne for well-earned rests. In two weeks time City play against Chelsea at Wembley in the League Cup final and this display will leave Chelsea shuddering with fear. Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp will be watching on with a similar feeling of angst. City are pushing themselves to the limit as they chase winning all four competitions they’re in.


A NEW LOW FOR CHELSEA UNDER SARRI

Chelsea have had some embarrassing moments recently but the capitulation at Man City took the biscuit. These are the kind of defeats which instantly get you fired. Sarri knows that. Of course, City can do this to any team in the world but the way Chelsea totally lost their shape and any defensive stability was painful for Sarri to watch. You could see it etched on his face throughout the game. For the first time since December 1999 Chelsea conceded four times in the first half of a PL game and for the first time in the PL era they’ve lost three top-flight games in a row on the road without scoring.

Coming after their similarly horrific defensive displays at Arsenal and Bournemouth, Sarri has a huge problem to solve. If he’s given the chance to solve it. After they went 4-0 down, Chelsea did okay in the first half. Gonzalo Higuain went close on a couple of occasions and they patched together some fluid attacks, but that all came when City had taken their foot off the gas. Chelsea have now failed to beat any of the so-called ‘big six’ in their last seven away games against them, and this display underlined how far from a title-challenging team they are.

Many would suggest Chelsea’s players have chucked in the towel and after conceding 12 goals and scoring zero in their last three PL away games (all defeats) things are quickly unraveling for Sarri. The way a disinterested Eden Hazard failed to track back on City’s first goal, Ross Barkley nodded to Aguero to score and the general lack of defensive cover for full backs suggests Chelsea are in a whole world of hurt. The Blues are only one point off the top four and sit in fifth, but at this rate you’d put money on Manchester United and even Arsenal finishing above them. You also wouldn’t put much money on Sarri lasting beyond this season as his tactics and man-management aren’t working at all. Sarri-ball has been kicked into touch in a big way with this embarrassing shellacking.


AGUERO, GUNDOGAN KEY IN TITLE BID

Aguero is on the kind of tear which ends up winning a Premier League title. He’s now scored seven goals in his last four PL games and his treble on Sunday saw him equal the most hat tricks scored (11) in Premier League history. In truth, he should have scored five as he hit the bar and missed an absolute sitter early on. But we will let him off… City’s all-time leading goalscorer has now scored 10 goals in his last seven PL matches, with that run starting in City’s win against Liverpool on Jan. 3. If City win the league this season, it will be because Aguero remained fit and kept scoring goals. Simple. The stats around Aguero are mind-boggling. He’s now scored eight goals in his last six PL games against Chelsea and he has scored 14 times in 12 home games for City this season. He also leads the PL, along with Mohamed Salah, in goals with 17.

Eyebrows were raised when City’s resident magician David Silva was left out of their starting lineup for such a pivotal game in the title race, but that was soon forgotten. Gunodgan pressed Jorginho into making several mistakes and scored City’s fourth with a trademark cool finish. The German midfielder is finally injury free and his freshness as a combative playmaker could prove pivotal in the big games coming up. Gundogan doesn’t do anything outstanding. He just oozes class at whatever he does. From his chipped pass to Sterling to set up City’s second goal against Arsenal last week to his caressed finish against Chelsea, Gundogan is popping up with vital contributions in the title run.

Three things we learned: West Ham v. Liverpool

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LONDON — Liverpool dropped two more points in the Premier League title race, as they drew 1-1 at West Ham United.

Pressure does strange things to teams at this part of the season.

Monday’s trip to the London Stadium offered Jurgen Klopp‘s men the chance to open up a five-point gap atop the table, but a spirited Hammers side cancelled out Sadio Mane‘s controversial opener as Michail Antonio grabbed them a well-earned point. And West Ham could’ve easily won the game had they taken their chances.

With Liverpool now drawing to both Leicester and West Ham in their last two games, Manchester City can jump top of the table with a win at Everton on Wednesday and put the pressure back on the Reds.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the London Stadium, as the title race is well and truly on.


LIVERPOOL SHOULD BE HAPPY WITH A DRAW

In the first half West Ham should have been at least 3-0 up. Liverpool were all over the place from defensive set piece situations, holding a high line for no apparent reason. Antonio scored from one situation. Declan Rice somehow nodded wide from another and both Aaron Cresswell and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez drilled just wide from counters which stretched Liverpool’s defense easily. It was as if Liverpool’s defenders were keen to keep their high-line no matter what, and in the second half they were lucky both Felipe Anderson and Mark Noble lost their cool in the penalty box when big chances arrived. Liverpool had chances themselves, as they always do, but this was far from a game where they played well and had to settle for a draw against a stubborn West Ham side. Klopp’s men got away with one by not losing at West Ham and now they are just three points ahead of Man City atop the Premier League table, and must expect City to beat Everton on Wednesday and slip to second place, albeit with a game in hand. Injuries are impacting Liverpool, but Klopp’s men are showing signs that they are cracking under the pressure. The nervous tension emanating from Liverpool’s fanbase is seeping into the previously carefree players. The 29-year wait for a league title is weighing heavy on everyone connected with Liverpool right now.


WEST HAM COUNTER TO PERFECTION

Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and now Liverpool have all failed to win at the London Stadium and for Pellegrini this was a perfect response after three-straight defeats for the Hammers in embarrassing fashion. Like Leicester City, the Hammers are one of those teams outside of the top six who frighten the life out of the big boys. When they aren’t forced to possess the ball, create chances and take the games to opponents, that is when they are at their best. Sure, Manuel Pellegrini has brought a certain panache and control to their game since arriving in the summer, but the fact that both Marko Arnautovic and Samir Nasri were missing through injury did them a favor. Anderson, Antonio and Chicharito pounced when they could on the counter and the pace of full backs Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks was helpful in supporting attacks and stopping Mane and Salah from running riot. In truth, West Ham’s wasteful finishing let Liverpool off the hook. Yes, West Ham’s fans want them to be more attractive to watch but when they counter this well, it’s hard to see them not deploying these kind of tactics on a regular basis against the big boys. They lost their impetus when Andy Carroll came on late in the game and that proved what direction the Hammers must move in going forward. They have the squad to hurt teams on the counter and must realize, and play to, their strengths.


INJURIES MOUNT UP FOR KLOPP

The news that Joe Gomez now requires surgery on a fractured leg was bad enough for Liverpool fans to wake up to Monday, but when Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren and particularly Georginio Wijnaldum missed the game at West Ham due to injury, the alarm bells were ringing. A midfield trio of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Adam Lallana should have had enough quality to wrestle control of this game but Mark Noble, Robert Snodgrass and Declan Rice won that battle rather easily. Joel Matip appears to frighten the life out of his fellow defenders when he plays and even the usually placid Virgil Van Dijk was caught out as Liverpool’s undoubted defensive leader failed to settle things down. James Milner, playing at right back, was targeted throughout and both Snodgrass and Anderson had a field day drifting out to his flank. Liverpool’s squad is not quite large enough to deal with injuries to five key players, as Milner and Henderson at right back in recent games has shown. Letting Nathaniel Clyne leave on loan in the January window and not adding another defender as back up could be the difference for them in this title race.

Three things we learned: Arsenal v. Chelsea

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Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to keep their top four hopes well and truly alive as they’re now just three points behind fourth-place Chelsea.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Two first half goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Laurent Koscielny did the damage against a lackluster Chelsea, as Maurizio Sarri‘s men continue to struggle to score goals and badly need to complete their business in the January transfer window.

Here’s a look at what we learned as Unai Emery got a huge win in this London derby.


NO CENTRAL STRIKER HOLDING BACK CHELSEA

With Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian deployed as the front three and the former playing as a false nine, time and time again the ball just kept coming back at Chelsea’s midfield. Even with N'Golo Kante around they couldn’t deal with it. Chelsea’s midfielders and attackers looked as if they were treading through treacle in the final third and they were lacking a focal point. In the second half they improved, but they hardly had Arsenal’s defense worried. With Olivier Giroud on the bench, Alvaro Morata on his way out of the club and Gonzalo Higuain close to arriving on a loan move, it is clear Sarri wants a focal point in his team and Higuain is the answer. But Chelsea’s play has to get the best out of a central striker and that will take a significant shift in the the Sarri-ball style. The high-pressing style wasn’t clear to see in a big London derby against one of the top four rivals. If Higuain, 31, isn’t the answer, Sarri has big problems in his debut campaign in England as Manchester United and now Arsenal breath down their necks in the top four battle. They still have United, Man City and Liverpool to play away from home, and Chelsea will be looking over their shoulders nervously. Hazard and N’Golo Kante are being played out of position and Sarri is showing signs of being stubborn. Things are not heading in the right direction.


ARSENAL’S HUNGER REIGNITES TOP 4 HOPES

In contrast to Chelsea’s slow, predictable play, the pressure from Arsenal’s attacking players was relentless and set the tone for this victory. It also showed why Mesut Ozil’s days are likely numbered at Arsenal under Emery and how big, and correct, of a call that was. The way both Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubemayeng tracked back from the front was infectious, especially in the first half when the damage was done. With the Gunners now just three points off the top four, it shows they are still in the hunt for a UEFA Champions League spot despite their recent defeats against the likes of Southampton, West Ham and Liverpool amid a defensive injury crisis. The Gunners simply had to win this game against Chelsea and they were well organized and as soon as they went 2-0 up, you never felt like they were going to blow this lead. The hunger of their frontline to deliver was key, and Emery’s men now have a run of four very winnable games (and a trip to Man City) in their next five PL games.


EMERY OUTPERFORMING SARRI

When these two teams met in August, it was Sarri’s Chelsea who prevailed 3-2 as two new managers were getting used to life in the Premier League. There were signs in that clash that Arsenal were turning the corner after a slow start. And you can now say that Arsenal look more likely than Chelsea to kick on in the second half of the season. Going forward they have more dynamism, more flexibility and more options. In midfield both teams posses masterful technicians and impactful destroyers. Emery and Sarri both have their strict philosophies and love to press high, and although Arsenal’s defensive deficiencies weren’t exposed by an extremely toothless Chelsea, that is the area Emery will want to improve. He has improved an awful lot at Arsenal since he arrived in the summer and you can make a very good argument that this win highlighted the greater progress he has made compared to Sarri. Chelsea started the season superbly, but Arsenal are just three points behind them with 15 games to go. The race for a place in the top four between two giants juggling the Europa League this season will go down to the wire.

Three things we learned: Tottenham v. Man United (highlights)

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LONDON — Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 at Wembley top keep Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s perfect record intact and all but end Spurs’ faint hopes of winning the Premier League title this season.

[ MORE: Solskjaer, Pochettino react

Marcus Rashford struck in the first half to win it, as United are just six points off the top four and have won six on the trot in all competitions since Jose Mourinho left.

[ MORE: Kane injured? ]

This was by far the biggest test for Solskjaer and he had David De Gea to thank for the win. The Spaniard denied Harry Kane and Dele Alli on multiple occasions after a Spurs onslaught in the second half.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating clash.


RASHFORD, POGBA KEY TO UNITED’S REVIVAL

United’s first goal summed up exactly what has changed at the club since Solskjaer arrived and Jose Mourinho departed. Paul Pogba played a long, inch-perfect pass and Marcus Rashford (solely used as a center forward by Mourinho) raced onto it and finished superbly across goal. The simplicity of United’s play is clear for all to see as Solskjaer has stripped them back to basics and allowed Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Lingard the freedom to attack whenever they see fit. Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic shielded the back four superbly and they had a solid back four. It really isn’t that difficult. Rashford has been superb under Solskjaer, scoring four goals in his five PL games in charge and he’s now been involved in 10 goals in his last nine PL games (five goals, five assists). This was the first time in his career he’s scored in three-straight league games and the local lad has clearly benefitted from spending some time with a predatory finisher like Solskjaer on the training ground. It is looking more absurd by the week that Mourinho didn’t play Rashford centrally and failed to give Pogba the freedom to be a no. 10.


SOLSKJAER BEATS POCHETTINO IN PUBLIC JOB INTERVIEW

After this enthralling end-to-end encounter Ed Woodward’s finger will be hovering over and between two names on the contact list on his phone: “Mauricio. Ole. Mauricio. Ole. Hmmm..”

Both Solskjaer and Pochettino will have come out of this gripping, committed with credit to prove that they can set up teams to attack, entertain and have the quality to at least be in the top four. The sample size of five wins his first five Premier League games is too small to say Solskajer should be United’s preferred choice as their long-term manager, but there’s no doubt this was a huge feather in his cap if he’s going to get the job on a full-time basis when his caretaker role ends in May. There were obvious defensive flaws for United which David de Gea’s brilliance covered up (more on that below), but the way Solskjaer has instantaneously returned swagger to United’s attack, midfield and pretty much their entire team is remarkable. He is a born winner, someone who knows the club inside out and would probably manage United for a fraction of the salary Pochettino would demand. He matched Sir Matt Busby’s United record of winning his first five league games in charge and Solskjaer can do no wrong. In a very public job interview he got the better of Pochettino, as the latter was let down by his slack strikers.


TOTTENHAM SUCCUMB TO DE GEA’S BRILLIANCE

There is no shame on holding your hands up and saying it is not your day. Tottenham had to do that Sunday. David de Gea produced four superb saves in the second half alone as the Spaniard stood tall to deny Harry Kane and Dele Alli twice when it seemed improbably they would be denied. De Gea’s sublime form has been the one constant through United’s struggles in the post-Ferguson era and he put on a clinic in the second half with save after save with his feet to leave Kane looking to the heavens in disbelief. Those who remember the Ferguson era so fondly are perhaps easy to forget the big saves Peter Schmeichel made time and time again.

De Gea will need to carry on this form until the end of the season if United are to sneak their way into the top four.

After a wobble over the summer with Spain, there is no doubt he is back to his best. From his foot saves to standing tall to putting Spurs’ strikers off at key moments, De Gea was the real reason United won at Wembley.

Three things we learned: Man City v. Liverpool

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MANCHESTER — The Premier League title race is now officially back on. The atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium was crackling in what felt like a cup final and the home team delivered.

[ MORE: Klopp keeps the faith ]

Manchester City beat Liverpool 2-1 Thursday, as Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane moved the hosts to just four points behind leaders Liverpool who had briefly looked like grabbing a point through Roberto Firmino‘s equalizer.

In their 21st game of the 2018-19 PL campaign, Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool lost for the first time this season and Pep Guardiola and Man City will now be smelling blood in the water as they hunt down the league leaders following a crucial victory.

Here’s what we learned from a pulsating encounter.


CITY’S OLD GUARD DELIVERS

Sergio Aguero delivered another big moment for Man City, as the Argentine has now scored in all seven of his home league games against Liverpool. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Aguero has scored 37 Premier League goals for Man City in meetings between ‘big six’ clubs, which is 16 more than any other player. Mr. Clutch set them on their way with a wonderful finish and was a constant pest. But Aguero had help as the old guard stood tall and set the tone for the hunger and determination City showed throughout. Vincent Kompany made several crucial, well-timed tackles (aside from the lunge on Mohamed Salah in the first half). And Fernandinho was phenomenal in breaking up City’s attacks and setting up counters. When City needed them most, all three delivered colossal displays to drag them back into the title race. Leroy Sane scored a fine winner and Bernardo Silva was everywhere as he surprisingly launched into tackles, but it was the experienced trio who dug deep and inspired a wonderful City display as they overcame their defensive injuries and changes to secure a deserved victory.


LACKLUSTER LIVERPOOL NOW UNDER PRESSURE

From the first few minutes it was clear that Liverpool weren’t at the races. Alisson‘s shaky clearances out of play. Klopp screaming at Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino for their poor positioning. This wasn’t a Liverpool side in control. The only chance they had in the first half fell to Mane who hit the post and then John Stones somehow cleared, but in the second half they improved after Fabinho came on and a tactical switch saw Mohamed Salah pushed into a central position to support Firmino. Despite the latter pulling Liverpool level, they didn’t deserve to get anything from this game and now the pressure is on. Dejan Lovren switched off for City’s first goal as Aguero finished superbly, then Liverpool conceded the key goal just when they were on top as they committed too many men forward.

With their lead atop the table now down to just four points with 17 games to go, Liverpool’s nerves will be jangling. And they are now in a month where historically they’ve struggled under Klopp — they have lost 10 of the 25 games in January since his arrival — and this stat will feel Liverpool’s fans with dread.

Liverpool topped the Premier League table by seven points at the turn of the year, and no team in history has failed to win the English top-flight title with such a lead coming into the new year. Man City, and maybe Tottenham, will push Liverpool all the way this season and the title race is on.


THIS LIVED UP TO THE HYPE

Given the fact that a draw would have been a great result for Liverpool, Klopp’s defensive starting lineup was understandable. But it handed the initiative to Man City. A midfield three of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum just didn’t work and handed City’s trio of Fernandinho, David Silva and Bernardo Silva the advantage in midfield. Guardiola was bold with his selection of Sane ands Sterling and he got his tactics spot on. Klopp didn’t and only when he introduced Fabinho did Liverpool have any control in this game. This game lived up to the hype in so many ways. City’s fans created a great atmosphere. Both sets of players launched themselves into tackles and there were huge saves, big misses and high levels of drama as Guardiola and Klopp went wild on the sidelines. This had it all and it was a wonderful advertisement for everything that is good about the Premier League.