What we learned in the Premier League
Seven games took place in the Premier League on Saturday and we learned plenty at both ends of the table.
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Huddersfield and Fulham will both be frustrated as their bad luck continued, while Liverpool and Chelsea held their nerve and there were big wins for Watford, Southampton, Burnley and West Ham.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Here’s a look at the key takeaways from Saturday’s PL action.
Liverpool respond with gritty away win
It wasn’t pretty but Liverpool regained a seven-point lead atop the Premier League table as Mohamed Salah won and converted a penalty kick to beat Brighton 1-0. This was the kind of test Liverpool had to pass if they’re going to win the Premier League this season. After back-to-back defeats against Man City (in the Premier League) and Wolves (in the FA Cup), this was a big statement from Liverpool. Playing at a well-organized Brighton is always tough but Jurgen Klopp’s side made relatively light work of it as their defensive injuries didn’t hamper their charge towards the Premier League title. Of course, there are bigger tests ahead but they don’t arrive for a while. The next time they play a top six side is the trip to Old Trafford to play Manchester United on Feb. 24. Between now and then there are plenty of tricky tests against teams they are supposed to beat sandwiched between their UEFA Champions League last 16 clashes against Bayern Munich. Liverpool were far from their best at Brighton, but they got the job done with minimal fuss as they were back to being ruthlessly efficient, and solid, just as they were at the start of the campaign. That is a very good sign for Klopp after the disappointment of the last week.
Emery’s Ozil problem not going away
Arsenal lost 1-0 at West Ham on Saturday and Unai Emery’s post-game press conference was dominated by one person: Mesut Ozil. The German playmaker was not in Arsenal’s 18-man squad for the London derby and Emery said that was because “the players who were here are the players who deserved to be in this match.” That is yet another ominous statement from Emery for Ozil, as the highest-paid player in Arsenal’s history is the biggest headache Arsenal’s new manager has. The defending wasn’t as bad as it has been at times this season in the defeat at West Ham, but you could say that Ozil’s creativity would have been handy as Arsenal had plenty of the ball but couldn’t break down a stubborn West Ham defense. They are now six points off fourth-place Chelsea and could be overtaken by Manchester United in the next few weeks, and all of the momentum Emery had from that 22-game unbeaten run has evaporated with away defeats at Southampton, Liverpool and now West Ham, as they’ve had no victories in their last four PL away games. This poor away form is all getting very similar to Arsene Wenger’s final season in charge...
Talking of Wenger, he oversaw Ozil, 30, signing a new bumper contract in January and he is guaranteed huge sums of cash. Ozil has only appeared in 16 games in all competitions this season and Emery clearly doesn’t trust him, as he’s said before, in away games against feisty, dedicated opponents. Ozil is a luxury player who is excellent, when given the chance, against lesser opponents at home but it doesn’t appear that the high-pressing, more defensive style Emery prefers can carry any passengers against more aggressive opponents. If Arsenal aren’t going to use Ozil, they have to loan him out or sell him in January. With his huge wages that will be tough and an argument can be made that Arsenal needed him at West Ham to unlock a defense and create chances in only the way he can. Emery’s issue with Ozil, on or off the pitch, has to be resolved one way or another as it threatens to derail their season.
Puel’s time at Leicester coming to an end
The boos rang out at the King Power Stadium as Leicester City lost 2-1 to Southampton, with Claude Puel’s time in charge of the Foxes surely coming to an end soon. After their big wins against Chelsea, Man City and Everton over the festive period, all was well. But three-straight defeats to Cardiff, fourth-tier Newport County in the FA Cup and now an injury-hit Saints (who played over 55 minutes with 10-men) have cemented what many Leicester fans have been saying: Puel is not getting the best out of this team consistently. His decision to play three defensive midfielders against Saints was baffling, as the likes of Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes sat on the bench and made a big difference in the second half. Leicester play extremely well against the big boys as they have less of the ball and their squad of players have perfected the art of counter-attacking. Against the teams they are supposed to beat they just aren’t able to break them down, as Puel’s belief in ball rotation, slow build-up and keeping possession doesn’t play to the strengths of this squad. After a testing year off the pitch for Leicester, Puel has brought some stability. He is a good, honest man who has brought plenty of Leicester’s young players to another level but it looks like he may get the hook soon. There is no chance of Leicester being relegated this season, so now is a good time to bring in a manager who can get the best out of this group and kick them on in their pursuit of Europa League qualification.
Huddersfield, Fulham in danger of being cut adrift
The bad luck continued for two relegation battlers as Fulham scored two own goals to lose at Burnley and Huddersfield had a penalty kick awarded, then overturned at Cardiff. In two six-pointers they both came up short and all of a sudden Huddersfield are eight points from safety and Fulham are five points (basically six points, given their goal difference) from staying up. Given their respective schedules in the next few weeks as they play plenty of the big boys, they are likely to be cut adrift. David Wagner is doing all he can with limited resources at Huddersfield, while the jury is out as to whether Claudio Ranieri was ever the right hire for Fulham. Both teams have shown they can hang in games but the little things are going against them as Saturday proved. Their fortunes will have to change quickly if they’re going to drag themselves out of the relegation zone with 16 games to go. There is almost a resignation among the Huddersfield fans that they are doing down, while Fulham will be at that stage very quickly.