Debrief: Coutinho shows Liverpool can beat the best even when the SAS fire blanks
Liverpool aren’t reliant on Suarez and Sturridge
After all the talk of how Liverpool’s SAS partnership would torment Manchester City’s occasionally shaky defence, it was the C that did the most damage – Philippe Coutinho. By their standards this season, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge had largely quiet matches.
The Uruguayan did brilliantly to outmuscle Gael Clichy before slotting in Raheem Sterling for the Reds’ opener, but other than that admittedly crucial contribution, he struggled to leave his usual mark on the game. He created no other chances, only completed 76% of his passes, saw both his two shots fail to hit the target, and failed with 10 of his 12 attempted take-ons. Perhaps his frustration was the cause of the return of the kind of simulation-related shenanigans he’s largely avoided this season.
If anything, Sturridge struggled even more. He completed just 12 passes in his 66 minutes on the pitch, missed the target with the one chance he had (and it was a good one), and failed with all five of his attempted take-ons.
Fortunately Liverpool, their other attacking players were in fine fettle – Coutinho in particular. The 21-year-old kept things ticking over with 40 passes over the course of the match, created two goal-scoring chances from corner-kicks, and rattled in the winner by instantly pouncing on a sliced clearance from Vincent Kompany.
STATS ZONE Liverpool 3-2 Manchester City
Equally as importantly, he was also diligent in his dirty work. The Brazilian made six successful tackles and 14 ball recoveries – both more than any other player on the pitch. This helped upset City’s rhythm, particularly in the first half, and also helped Liverpool stem the tide when it turned in the visitors’ favour after the interval.
Suggestions this Liverpool team is a one or two-man team are clearly wide of the mark. And that's why their title challenge has gone the distance.
Villa looking over their shoulder once again
A couple of weeks ago it seemed that Fulham, Cardiff and Sunderland were doomed to finish the season in the relegation places, a fair distance behind the rest of the season’s strugglers. Back-to-back wins over Norwich and Chelsea left Aston Villa looking home and hosed. Yet recent results, particularly this weekend, mean the destiny of several sides towards the bottom of the Premier League are suddenly rather uncertain.
Although bottom-dwellers Sunderland still look done-for (they have games in hand, but also face trips to Manchester City and Chelsea in the next week), there are now just five points between the six teams above them.
STATS ZONE Crystal Palace 1-0 Aston Villa
Aston Villa - who were beaten 1-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday - are currently top of the mini-league nobody wants to be in, but given their recent form, they could easily slip out of the division next month. On the face of it, their next three games (Southampton at home, Swansea away, and Hull at home) look winnable, but their performances in their previous four matches have been so lackluster that it’s not at all difficult to imagine them failing to win all three. With away trips to Manchester City and Tottenham to follow, doing so could prove costly.
Norwich's own nightmare run-in (Liverpool at home, Manchester United away, Chelsea away, Arsenal at home) and Cardiff's almost comic inconsistency may ultimately be what saves the Villa Park side from the ignominy of the drop, but there could be some nervous days ahead.
Narrow win shows Chelsea’s weakness
The headline is that determined Chelsea secured a win that keeps them well in the title hunt, but the fact they struggled so badly to finish off the 10-men of Swansea speaks volumes. The Blues enjoyed vastly more shots and possession (than Swansea - Swansea!), but were still blunt in front of goal.
STATS ZONE Swansea City 0-1 Chelsea
It's not news, but the addition of a 'toptop' striker would transform this team - if and when they can marry a dangerous and clinical attack to a solid defence, they might leave more attacking but less solid rivals like Liverpool and Man City eating dust.
Jose Mourinho usually wins the title in his second season (not that he's averse to winning it at the first go...) and for all the élan of Liverpool and City it might only take one signing to achieve.
Eriksen brings spark to Spurs' damp squib season
Starting matches slowly has been a constant theme of Tottenham’s season – and the bad habit is only getting worse. The North Londoners have conceded in the first 20 minutes in eight of Tim Sherwood's 18 Premier League matches in charge – including each of their last five matches. West Brom managed to breach Spurs’ creaking defence twice in that period of Saturday’s meeting at The Hawthorns (the opening five minutes, to be exact). By way of comparison, Tottenham only shipped goals in the first 20 minutes in three of the 16 league matches overseen by Andre Villas-Boas.
While Sherwood has done well to unshackle his side’s attacking players, and there’s a lot to be said for the way have dug deep to come back against Southampton, Sunderland and West Brom, the disorganisation that plagues their defensive play must be a huge concern.
STATS ZONE West Bromwich Albion 3-3 Tottenham Hotspur
The first half hour against the Baggies was perhaps as shambolic a spell as Spurs have mustered all season. The Lilywhites were shapeless and aimless from front to back, with several players looking demotivated.
One player who did keep plugging away was Christian Eriksen, scorer of Spurs’ late equaliser. The Dane’s influence on Tottenham’s play is continuing to grow, and building a team around for the former Ajax man should be a priority for Tottenham’s manager next season – whoever that may be.
SATURDAY ANALYSIS Relegation concertina puts the squeeze on Norwich and Sunderland
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NEWS Reports and reaction from all of the weekend's Premier League matches