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Premier League Round-Up: Gameweek 18

The title race blows open as Palace shock City and Spurs smash six

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Liverpool: Again, Liverpool got a win without having to reach out of third gear. It took just 18 minutes for them to go ahead, as Mohamed Salah converted a cross cutely with the outside of his left foot while unmarked in the box. Jurgen Klopp described it as ‘perfect football’ which the media luvvies at Sky will be all over, despite in reality it just being a good goal by a good team, not the greatest moment in the history of the game as many a delusional Red will have you believe. Salah was at the centre of the Liverpool second as well, lofting a cross over the Wolves defence for Virgil van Dijk, who is allegedly now better then Beckenbauer and Moore combined, to finish off with a well steered effort into the bottom right. Liverpool now sit four points ahead of Manchester City and six ahead of Tottenham at the top of the league. Generally, the team top at Christmas goes on to win the league in May, only failing twice, both failures belonging to Liverpool. Fingers crossed it happens a third time, for everyone’s sake…

West Ham 0-2 Watford: Four wins and we thought we’d won the World Cup again.  We will of course win it again soon, but it was disappointing to be brought back down to earth with a miserable 2-0 defeat at home to Watford.  West Ham were poor, Lukasz Fabianski and Issa Diop the only players who seemed to give solid accounts of themselves.  Right from the start, Watford seemed more up for it.  They were far more physical than West Ham, not something the Hammers normally lack.  When the home side were physical, it was certainly not at the right times.  Fabian Balbuena had to make a last-ditch tackle when Watford were through on goal, but completely mistimed it.  Troy Deeney scored the penalty, but his celebrations afterwards caused some controversy.  The Watford forward punched the corner flag and gestured the West Ham fans.  Unsurprisingly, the East Enders were not impressed, and plenty of objects were thrown onto the pitch.  Of course, it’s not the sort of scenes we like to see, but what does Deeney expect is going to happen? A round of applause and a few kisses blown? Not in the East End mate.  West Ham had a staggering number of chances to score in the second-half, but neither Javier Hernandez nor Andy Carroll could convert them.  Perhaps it was just one of those days.  Watford wrapped up all three points in the 87th minute through Gerard Deulofeu.  An absolutely deserved three points for the Hornets, West Ham will need to be far better when they visit in-form Southampton on Thursday.

Manchester City 2-3 Crystal Palace: If you said there would be five goals in this tie, pretty much everyone would have agreed that Pep Guardiola’s men would put around that number in the Crystal Palace net.  There were five goals, but the game was not what anyone expected.  Ilkay Gundogan’s header put City in the lead after 27 minutes, but two goals in quick succession shortly after stunned the Etihad Stadium.  Jeffrey Schlupp got the equaliser, before Andros Townsend put Palace in front with possibly the best goal this season.  Manchester City just about cleared their lines, but Townsend met the ball on the volley and fired it in from the edge of the area.  Guardiola made a change early in the second half, bringing on Sergio Aguero for Nicolas Otamendi.  Incredibly, though, Palace were even further ahead just a minute later when Luka Milivojevic fired home from the penalty spot.  Kevin de Bruyne came on with 30 minutes to go, and pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough for Guardiola’s men.  His side are now four points behind Liverpool.  Please, Manchester City – sort yourselves out.  No one in football wants them to win it.

Huddersfield Town 1-3 Southampton: Ralph Hassenhuttl made it two wins in a row in West Yorkshire, as Huddersfield continue to struggle.  Nathan Redmond put Southampton ahead after thirty minutes, and Danny Ings’ penalty doubled their lead moments before half time.  Philip Billing gave the Terriers a glimmer of hope with an excellent strike, but Michael Obafemi sealed all three points for Hassenhuttl’s team soon after.  Huddersfield remain in the bottom three and have scored just 11 goals this season, the fewest in the league.  They’re currently four points adrift, and really are struggling under David Wagner.  A change in manager might offer a dose of fresh inspiration, but it seems as though they just don’t have the quality to stay up this season.  An enormous second half of the season is required from them if they wish to stay in the top flight.  Southampton, meanwhile, look a completely different team to the one under Mark Hughes.  There was scepticism that Hassenhuttl would struggle in the English game, but he’s definitely silencing his critics at the moment.

AFC Bournemouth 2-0 Brighton and Hove Albion: When David Brooks arrived on the South Coast from Sheffield United in the summer, few heads were turned.  But for just £11.5m, it looks to be a fantastic purchase by Eddie Howe, especially given he’s just 21 years old.  He opened the scoring midway through the first half with a delightful goal.  Chris Hughton will no doubt be fuming with his defence though, who made that basic schoolboy error of turning away from the ball as Brooks made his shot.  This was a really important game for Bournemouth, who’d lost six of their previous seven games.  Halfway through the second half, their chances of holding onto their win were boosted, when Lewis Dunk received a second yellow card.  It came with plenty of controversy though, as his first should have been given to Yves Bissouma.  Brighton’s afternoon was completely written off just four minutes later, when David Brooks doubled Bournemouth’s lead, heading the ball past Mat Ryan from a perfectly timed run.

Chelsea 0-1 Leicester City: Claude Puel has been under some heavy criticism from Leicester fans in the last few weeks, but that will no doubt be put on hold for a few days after a great afternoon for the travelling faithful at Stamford Bridge.  Jamie Vardy got the only goal of the game in what was a fairly dull game.  Chelsea dominated the possession and had 17 shots, but only five of those were on target.  It’ll be a blue Christmas for their fans in more ways than one, as they’re now level on points with Arsenal.  Perhaps this was just a blip in form for Sarri’s men, and it is their only loss at home this season.  Nonetheless, this fixture would certainly have been expected to deliver three points for the Blues.  They’ll hope to turn things around at Vicarage Road on Boxing Day when they take on Watford.  Leicester, meanwhile, host Manchester City.  Could they make Pep Guardiola’s Christmas even worse?

Arsenal 3-1 Burnley: Sean Dyche criticised the officials heavily after this game in what was a toasty match-up, seven yellow cards being shown and several moments of controversy taking centre stage. Dyche’s concerns centre around the amazing statistic that Burnley have now gone 60 games without receiving a penalty. A double from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on 14 and 48 and a late goal from Alex Iwobi cancelled out Ashley Barnes’ 63rd minute strike, although Dyche will argue that Iwobi was offside. However, despite Arsenal getting all the luck from the officials (again), they were just too good for a struggling Burnley, who continue to languish in the relegation spaces. Unless they sort things out soon, they could well be in danger of the drop after such an impressive 2017/18 campaign.

Newcastle United 0-0 Fulham: I’m not going to waste your time, I’ll make this quick. There was an obscene lack of clear chances, which Newcastle will be devastated by. This was an easy game they should have won, and perhaps needed to win going into a run of fixtures that includes Liverpool, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs. Perhaps the only thing worth nothing is that Fulham finally seem to have a mild cohesion in defence, keeping their first clean sheet of the season. Their new-found cohesion was on better display in the first half, with Newcastle coming into the game and being slightly more dangerous on the attack in the second half. Despite this, Newcastle still failed to register a shot on target, while Fulham only managed four. A point apiece was fair, but both sides will feel upset that they didn’t fully capitalise and deliver a hammer blow to relegation rivals.

Cardiff City 1-5 Manchester United: Like the United players, the United fans will be taking a sigh of relief after their trip to Wales. True, it was only Cardiff, but the absence of Jose Mourinho was felt in droves at the Cardiff City Stadium.Manchester United looked freed from the tactical rigidity of the Portuguese and their rip-roaring quality was best illustrated by a fantastic team goal tucked away by Anthony Martial. Cardiff were outrun, outfought and, in truth, there was a gulf in quality between the two. The old United seem to be awakening.

Everton 2-6 Tottenham Hotspur: After Manchester City’s shock loss to Palace and Chelsea’s defeat at the hands of Leicester, Spurs had a chance to make a statement of their intentions – do they want to be in the title picture with Liverpool and City, or battling for top four with Arsenal, Chelsea and United? Spurs started much better, a couple of chances going narrowly wide and one saved after a questionable decision from the linesman. As many Spurs fans expected, their good start was foiled by familiar foe Theo Walcott wh scored against the run of play to put the Toffees one up. Six minutes later, a calamity from Jordan Pickford and Yerry Mina in the Everton defence left an open, but narrow, target for Son Heung-Min to expertly steer the ball in to the empty net. Shortly after that, Dele Alli belted a rebound in to set up a dominant rest of the afternoon for Tottenham. Harry Kane finished off a rebound from a Kieran Trippier free-kick just before half-time to solidify Spurs’ dominance. Christian Eriksen scored a long-range beauty after the break, which former Spurs man Gylfi Sigurdsson responded to 3 minutes later, squeezing the ball past a weak Hugo Lloris. Son collected an Erik Lamela through pass and slotted home a fifth, before a brilliant 18-pass team move was coolly guided into the Everton net by Harry Kane on 74 minutes making it 6. I won’t be biased as the result speaks for itself, with six of their next eight games at home and a real home to be opened imminently, Spurs are firmly in the picture for the Premier League title.

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