Harry Maguire put in a great performance to silence City’s strikers.
Harry Maguire put in a great performance to silence City’s strikers.

Glaring cracks appear as City crumble

The best of the weekend's talking points, from Liverpool passing their latest test to Manchester United finally showing "the way" and exposing City's biggest flaws.

The other end of the table also became a little clearer with two big victories on Monday morning (AEDT) starting to open up some telling gaps.

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Liverpool pass another test

As Jurgen Klopp said in his post-match interview, Liverpool do not go into any game expecting to win but realistically, they were never going to lose at Bournemouth. The stats and form all pointed to another Liverpool victory and they ultimately glided to an easy three points.

The game turned on Nathan Ake's injury and once Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flicked home past Aaron Ramsdale, there was only going to be one outcome. Naby Keita and Mohamed Salah were outstanding and linked up with one another for two of the goals, with similarly impressive performances across the park.

Perhaps the biggest positive was their clean sheet, having not kept one in 13 games in all competitions heading into Saturday's match, with the returning Alisson making only one clear save. That will give Liverpool huge confidence going into their midweek Champions League fixture against Red Bull Salzburg, which they must at least draw to make the last 16.

 

All in all, it's another game ticked off for Liverpool in an incredibly congested run of fixtures and they passed the sometimes tricky Bournemouth test with flying colours. Klopp even joked at the end of his press conference he could not yet think about Christmas because he still had to travel to Qatar for the Club World Cup, but maintaining their 11-point lead at the top of the table over this period would surely be present enough.

 

United show the 'way', but City show their cracks

Saturday felt like a moment in time on both sides of Manchester. It was the day Manchester United finally got going, finally started playing. It was, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put it, the 'Manchester United way'.

Seven years on from their last title, and even longer since Solskjaer's last appearance for the club, what is that 'way'?

It's domination of the ball at home - something they have not quite mastered yet - but away from Old Trafford it's counter attacking football, and not in the direct, negative sense.

Each and every time United won the ball in their own half, the first thought was forward. They advanced fast, never less than three players busting a gut to reach the penalty area. Daniel James, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were magnificent.

Solskjaer said it was a Manchester United performance in his mould. Beating Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola in the space of four days is quite a feat, considering this week looked to be the beginning of the end of the Norwegian.

But for City, this was the day the title looked out of their reach. Guardiola insisted he was happy with the performance, but how could he be, given they were carved open at will in a chaotic and brilliant first 30 minutes.

Their defence was the weakness again, and Pep's apparent avoidance of realisation he has an issue is a stick repeatedly used to beat him with. Will this prompt January movement? Or will Fernandinho finally move back into midfield?

Stubbornness has worked for the Catalan in the past, but at the moment, City's season is at stake.

 

Leicester looking like the real deal

Another game, another win for Leicester City and this one was pretty convincing. They had arguably not been at their best for a few games, but still managed to grind out the victories. However, Sunday's 4-1 win against Aston Villa saw them at their free-flowing best.

They did have to bide their time, but similarly to Nathan Ake's injury in Liverpool's win against Bournemouth on Saturday, it was an injury to Tyrone Mings that seem to sway the game. Jamie Vardy scored his opener almost instantly after the defender had come back onto the field, although he was still struggling and had to be replaced not long after.

From then on, Leicester were always going to win. Jack Grealish's deflected strike did pull one back for Aston Villa at the end of the first half, but the Foxes dashed any shred of confidence their opponents had when Jonny Evans headed home seven minutes after the restart.

 

Brendan Rodgers' side should have scored another few in the second half - James Maddison twice put efforts wide, Caglar Soyuncu smashed a shot into Tom Heaton's face and Harvey Barnes also forced a save from the Aston Villa goalkeeper. Rodgers himself said after the game that they should maybe have won by a greater margin, but didn't want to be greedy. He already has a nine-goal win this season after all.

And let's not forget, Leicester made history with their win. They won an eighth successive Premier League game - a club record for the longest such run in the top flight - and are tightening their grip on second place with every victory. Liverpool still have a monstrous fixture list to contend with and should they slip, the Foxes are ready to pounce.

 

Bad decisions cost Aston Villa

Aston Villa are hovering perilously close to the relegation places and they did themselves no favours in their defeat to Leicester. Other losses may have been partly due to outside factors, but there were instances here that Villa had full control over.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back, manager Dean Smith should have bought Tyrone Mings off a few minutes earlier than he did. The defender picked up a muscle injury, but attempted to play on, with Jamie Vardy scoring not long after. Mings was not his usual self as the Leicester strike strode into the area and things might have been different if Bjorn Engels had replaced him sooner.

There was also a poor pass from Douglas Luiz in the build-up to Vardy's second goal, which was Leicester's fourth. His sloppy kick went to Dennis Praet, who set the striker through on goal - and we all know how that ends.

It was a real shame for Aston Villa, who did have their own sights of goal in an end-to-end start, but once Leicester opened the floodgates, there was going to be no stopping a side who ooze composure and confidence.

Aston Villa currently occupy 17th place by virtue of goal difference over Southampton, who they face in a key game on December 21. They have a favourable run over Christmas and now is the time to start pulling away from the bottom three.

 

Wolves' unbeaten run continues

It's amazing to think that earlier in the season there were a few concerns for Wolves, who were without a win from their opening six Premier League games.

Having to cope with the demands of an early start to the season due to the Europa League, Wolves were 19th in the table following four draws and two defeats.

However, Nuno Espirito Santo's side have fought back impressively in the league, while also qualifying for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

 

Wolves, who are up to sixth, are now unbeaten in 11 Premier League matches - their longest run in the top-flight since 1962. They have amassed 24 points from their 16 Premier League games this season (W5 D9 L2) - their highest total at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1979/80 under John Barnwell (25 points).

Their stock continues to rise under Nuno.

 

Ferguson transforms the mood at Everton

Everton supporters might have hoped their struggling side would suddenly play in the image of their caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson but they could not have believed that the transformation would be this dramatic. The team's tenacity was evident right from the start of their 3-1 win over Chelsea at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime.

The victory lifted Everton out of the relegation zone in which they had been languishing at the time of Marco Silva's sacking but much more than that it featured a bit of the pride and spirit that these supporters demand from their players. Everton made 37 tackles in the game - the most by any team in a Premier League game so far this season.

 

Ferguson went with an ambitious 4-4-2 formation and committed to getting the ball forward. In the opening 45 minutes, Everton played more passes into the final third than they had in any previous game of the current campaign. Chelsea just could not cope with it - Dominic Calvert-Lewin channelling his new manager's aggression in scoring twice.

Chelsea were threatening at the other end but time and time again there was an Everton player there to block the path of the ball. Perhaps this is a mere short-term fix for a club in need of a long-term plan but at this stage Everton need any type of fix going. One inspired by Ferguson, celebrating with gusto on the touchline, is as welcome as they come.

 

Carroll gamble paying off

The gamble of handing a contract to Andy Carroll seems to be paying off for Steve Bruce and Newcastle.

The big man was the game-changer Bruce required in their 2-1 win over Southampton.

Newcastle's hopes of turning the game around at 1-0 down looked slim with Joelinton fumbling around up top - but cometh the hour, cometh the Carroll. His introduction sparked the crowd into life, and his teammates too, as one of his first touches sent Allan Saint-Maximin into a dangerous area.

 

Carroll then provided the key moment with a delicious cross from almost on the touchline that was thumped home - in Carroll style - by Jonjo Shelvey. His aerial prowess was required in the closing stages as he headed clear three late Southampton corners, proving his worth in both boxes.

If Bruce can manage Carroll's schedule, then Newcastle have a genuine threat to lead their line for the remainder of the season.

 

Lampard must solve Chelsea's defensive issues

Chelsea remain well placed among the Premier League's top four and know a win at home to Lille on Tuesday will ensure progression through to the knockout stages of the Champions League too. Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, scorers against Aston Villa in midweek, continue to make great strides. That's the context. But still there are concerns.

Either side of that win over Villa, Frank Lampard has seen his team beaten on consecutive weekends. Firstly by West Ham, ending their run of eight without a win, and now against Everton, ending their own sequence of three consecutive defeats. The defensive vulnerability of this Chelsea team is all too apparent. They were hapless at Goodison Park.

Kurt Zouma and Andreas Christensen were far too passive for Dominic Calvert-Lewin's first goal. For his second, Kepa Arrizabalaga's sloppy kick started it but Kurt Zouma appeared to switch off yet again. If Chelsea had merely matched the desire shown by Everton then the quality of Mateo Kovacic and the rest would surely have taken the game away from the home side.

Fikayo Tomori was on the bench. Antonio Rudiger can come back in too. But the lifting of Chelsea's transfer ban also gives Lampard the option of looking elsewhere. He knows that if he turns to the market then there will be talk of him showing a lack of faith in this young team. But many more performances like this one and his players risk testing his patience.

 

Kane quietly brilliant again as Son takes the headlines

"Incredible. Top, top, top player. Top, top, top person. I cannot find more words to describe." That was Jose Mourinho after Tottenham's 5-0 thrashing of Burnley. He was not speaking about Heung-Min Son - he had plenty to say about him too - but his captain Harry Kane, who happened to score two stunners of his own on Saturday.

 

Son's wonder goal will take the headlines - and rightly so. But Tottenham's hopes of success over the course of this season are intrinsically linked to Kane and, after a couple of games without him scouring, Mourinho will have been delighted to see his talisman back to his brilliant best.

 

"It's not just the goals," Mourinho said when he was eventually asked about Kane in his post-match press conference. They help, of course, and he now has 15 in 19 appearances for Spurs this season. But Kane's all-round contribution to this team is now pivotal. "It's the combination play, it's what he does in between the lines, in the defensive process, at the leadership level…" Mourinho continued.

Moments before smacking in his second powerful finish of the afternoon, Kane had gone down after landing awkwardly on his ankle while challenging for a header. It was a reminder of his vulnerability to that type of injury in recent seasons. And a reminder of how much Spurs would miss him. But for now, Kane looks pumped up and excited by Mourinho's arrival - and, while his teammates take the headlines, continues to be quietly brilliant.

 

Bournemouth bad luck continues

Bournemouth cannot catch a break at the moment, especially with injuries. Heading into the game, they were already missing Steve Cook, Josh King and Junior Stanislas just to name a few, and two more huge names will be joining them in the treatment room.

 

Up until the 33rd minute, Nathan Ake was Bournemouth's best defender and, to use a popular vernacular, had Mohamed Salah in his back pocket. Indeed, it was another well-time clearance ahead of the Liverpool forward that appeared to stretch his hamstring, forcing him off the field, with the visitors going on to score just a few seconds after. This was no coincidence.

Fast forward an hour or so, and down goes Callum Wilson after chasing after a pass down the left wing, with Trent Alexander-Arnold in quick pursuit. The striker pulled up and he was also replaced not long after. Bournemouth may now have two key players at either end out of action for a while, which is not going to help their current slump.

Away from the injury woes, Bournemouth also need to stamp out individual errors that are leading to opposition goals. Goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was always going to have a tough afternoon against Liverpool's forward line, but his indecisiveness arguably gifted Liverpool their first goal, while a woeful Jack Simpson pass allowed Naby Keita to set up Salah, who rarely misses.

A dejected Eddie Howe said his post-match press conference this was the toughest spell Bournemouth have faced in the Premier League. It's hard to disagree with him and while Bournemouth's form has often yo-yoed, their lengthy injury list is an entirely new problem Howe and his team must overcome quickly.

 

Hope for Watford?

Watford certainly produced a stoic display in their goalless draw against Crystal Palace, with new boss Nigel Pearson watching from the stands.

Hayden Mullins assumed control for the second game running and stirred the Hornets into producing a physical performance worthy of three points.

 

Pearson will be most impressed with wingers Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu, who rattled a Palace side that sat 13 places above them upon kick-off.

Despite sitting two points adrift at the foot of the table, Watford have some key players returning from injury and, with Pearson on board, top-flight survival appears achievable if the goals starts to flow.

This article was originally published by Sky Sports and reproduced with permission.

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