We’re into the home stretch on the Premier League season and while Liverpool have well and truly pulled up limp, Manchester City’s all-out sprint doesn’t look like it’s going slow down – despite a little stumble over the weekend.
The race for the top four is getting tighter with every passing week while scrap at the other end of the table is just as close.
Here’s everything we learned from the weekend’s action …
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KLOPP’S LEGACY UNRAVELLING
Another defeat and Liverpool are sleepwalking their way through their title defence, proving once again that the easy part is actually winning the Premier League and retaining it is in fact the difficult bit.
Defeat to Fulham at Anfield made it six home defeats on the bounce for the Reds – the worst run in their history – and all of Jurgen Klopp’s good work at Liverpool is coming undone, game by game.
Remarkably, the Reds are now closer to the relegation points – 20 points away – than they are to City – 22 points away at the top of the league. It’s a staggering statistic that shows just how badly the champions have collapsed.
Gone is the attacking flair, gone is the indefensible supply line from full back, gone is the intense midfield drive and the energy-fuelled pressing game which suffocated all those who came into contact with it.
That’s not to say those aspects won’t come back. The defence has taken the biggest hit with injuries but the knock-on effect has caused rippled chaos across the whole team and it is now stumbling to what could end up as the worst-ever defence of a Premier League title.
The fear factor around Liverpool has gone and it’s going to take some time for Klopp to get it back – it took 68 games the first time around, after all.
No Champions League next season, Klopp having achieved everything he can, a big rebuild needed and a certain ex-captain’s stock as a manager growing with every passing game up in Scotland could spell a big summer of change for Liverpool and the start of a new era at the club.
MAN UTD SMASH THROUGH GLASS CEILING
Manchester United, despite the disappointing recent run of results which has seen them all but hand their noisy neighbours the title, have had an above expected season but have struggled when the big moments come at them.
Up until the weekend, Utd had only managed one goal against the traditional ‘Big Six’ this season – a Bruno Fernandes penalty – as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggled to do what he did so well in his first season and break down the bigger sides.
So perhaps it was fitting that he was able to make a statement against a team who up until that point had gone 28 games unbeaten. And perhaps it was even more fitting that it began with a Bruno Fernandes penalty.
With 10 games left to play, United cannot afford to drop any more points and even that probably won’t be enough but finishing second is vital in their development for next season, when a proper title challenge will be expected of them.
CITY STILL LOOKING PRETTY
No team has been 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League after 28 games and failed to win the title, so it would take a collapse of unprecedented proportions.
City are in the safest of zones but defeat to Manchester United will at least have sharpened the focus of Pep Guardiola’s men as they look to finally reach the Champions League final after such a dominant season so far.
Guardiola has an unwanted trend of losing home derbies to United but he will continue to look forward rather than back with Southampton back at the Etihad on Thursday morning (AEDT) and Fulham away on Sunday (AEDT) before the Champions League campaign gets back underway.
The defeat to United means that the pressure of extending the winning run is over and the players’ focus on the task at hand can resume.
The title box is not yet ticked, but history is a comfortable reminder that the home stretch should be an easy jog from here.
WEST HAM’S RESURGENCE
If there is a team which has thrived without the pressure of thousands and thousands of braying fans behind them then it’s West Ham, and the transformation has been dramatic.
They’ve gone from a relegation-threatened club on the brink of disaster to the European contenders they’ve always striven to be since moving to the London Stadium.
And it’s all been done on the back of a man they sacked after guiding them to Premier League survival because he wasn’t a stylish enough manager.
He was reappointed to do the same job – only this time, David Moyes has been allowed to continue in the role. And it’s paying off.
He has West Ham looking solid at the back and playing with fluidity at the front and the smart acquisition of Jesse Lingard has paid immediate dividends on the pitch but also off it, with the youthful core of the squad seemingly being brought closer together than ever before.
The Champions League isn’t out of the question and if it’s achieved in the final 10 games of the season it’ll be down to this new-found spirit at the Hammers.
HAVERTZ STARTING TO REPAY THE FAITH
Will this be the week we look back at as the one where Kai Havertz finally turned a $128m corner?
The highly-rated German has been a shadow of the player who tore up the Bundesliga and caused owners all over Europe to tear up their budgets and try and sign him from Bayer Leverkusen.
Chelsea won the battle but were left feeling short changed – that was until he took apart Everton on Tuesday morning, seeing his shot deflected in for the opener before winning a penalty for the Blues’ second.
But there was so much more than that. He was not only a partner for Timo Werner in attack, he dropped deep to create and pressed in defence.
Havertz has scored a hat-trick before of course, under Frank Lampard, but this was the more impressive performance as it wasn’t about just goalscoring, it was about what made him a $128m player in the first place.
The start to Thomas Tuchel’s reign has been encouraging but this will be the thing which has excited Chelsea fans – and the accountants – the most.
FULHAM HAVE STOMACH FOR RELEGATION SCRAP
Fulham’s season has been a tale of impressive performances backed up with a less-than-impressive points tally but the two are finally starting to come together and the great escape is on.
While those around them are stuttering, Fulham are picking up points left, right and centre.
Scott Parker’s side have only lost once in their last seven games and haven’t conceded more than twice in a game since November.
Draws have been their downfall in terms of points but have been the biggest indication of how they’ve stuck in every game they’ve been in right until the end and how they are only ever a shot away from picking up a point or three.
The way they withstood all Liverpool had to throw at them and came out unscathed will give the squad all of the belief they need to the final 10 games of the season.
West Brom and Sheffield United appear adrift but Brighton are level on points and Newcastle just one ahead and both in severe danger of filling Fulham’s spot in the bottom three. But it’s not going to be an easy road, with Manchester City next up on Sunday morning (AEDT).