Liverpool’s win away at West Brom could signal a turning point in Klopp’s reign, plus what did we learn from Manchester United’s win over Chelsea? Who should win the PFA Player of the Year? All discussed in Monday Verdict…
A tale of two sides as United stun Chelsea
Chelsea’s trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United was never going to be an easy one.
There were far too many variables that made this a potential banana skin for Antonio Conte’s men. There was the pressure of Spurs winning, the fact United are pushing for top four and of course the Jose Mourinho effect.
What we saw in Manchester on Sunday was something that could potentially give Chelsea fans cause for concern because something just wasn’t right.
The players looked lost, and when turning to their normally exuberant manager for inspiration they were met with a Conte who looked equally as puzzled, hand on chin, watching his worst nightmare unfold.
The Blues looked off the pace from the start, rarely threatening a very well organised opponent and doing very little to quash any doubts that may have crept in after their home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Any Spurs fans watching on must have been licking their lips as they saw United cut through Chelsea early on allowing Marcus Rashford to open the scoring, then again when in the second half Ander Herrera’s deflected shot effectively killed the game off.
The run of games without a clean sheet must worry Antonio Conte now. Something didn’t look quite right about the back line, which in fairness was hampered by the fact Kurt Zouma had to come in late due to an injury to Marcos Alonso in the warm-ups.
When Chelsea’s lead atop the Premier League table was in double figures in terms of points, it seemed a matter of when not if Antonio Conte’s side would clinch the title. But the defeat at Old Trafford, a second loss in four matches, has reduced their advantage over Tottenham to a far-from-insurmountable four points.
Chelsea’s remaining fixtures mean they are still very much in pole position, with four games at home and a trip to Goodison Park the only obvious major hurdle.
Credit must also go to Jose Mourinho’s side for what was a very assured home performance, something which has been a rarity this season.
Heading into this game, there were lingering doubts surrounding United’s home form and particularly their lack of ability to break teams down. You wouldn’t have guessed that from their showing on Sunday.
United ran the game, using an intelligent style of midfield pressing, using Rashford to stretch the line and exploit the gaps, and keeping it organised at the back. It was a Mourinho masterclass against his former club, and one that let’s not forget has been utterly dominant in the Premier League this season.
The performances of Rashford and Herrera in particular were huge positives on a day where United really needed their energy in order to combat Chelsea’s style. As it turned out, the visitors played right into their hands.
If United want to sneak into the top four, then they need more performances like that, particularly at home.
Liverpool show far less silk but plenty of steel
It looks as if Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has finally worked out a way for his team to win ugly, if Sunday’s 1-0 victory at West Brom is anything to go by.
The Reds were far from their creative best, particularly in the first half at the Hawthorns, but Roberto Firmino’s header in stoppage time at the end of that first period gave them a crucial three points in their bid to secure a top-four spot this season.
Without the outstanding Sadio Mane and the silky tricks and flicks of Adam Lallana you can forgive Liverpool, to a certain extent, from not really being anywhere near their flowing best but defensively they were as solid as a rock, with the central defensive pairing of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren coping with everything that was thrown at them.
Okay, so West Brom were very ordinary but for every long throw Tony Pulis’ men launched into the box, and there were plenty, there was a Liverpool head there first and when the ball was launched forward by Ben Foster or the Baggies centre-backs it was predominantly Lovren, Matip or Emre Can, playing in a deeper role in the second half, who won their challenges.
Roberto Firmino and Phillipe Coutinho were mostly on the fringes of the game, with the latter drifting completely out of the contest as the home side pushed for an equaliser, but Firmino has a real habit of popping up at the right time to notch important goals and he was on hand to do so again.
What was impressive about Klopp’s men at the Hawthorns was how organised they were.
Sometimes, given the pace at which they play the game, it can all become a bit hectic but Liverpool were measured on the ball and kept their shape really well throughout the whole side.
A performance like this, off the back of a similar display at Stoke the week before, should definitely see Klopp’s men secure one of those all-important top-four spots come the end of the season.
Ibrahimovic deserves PFA Player of the Year crown
The nominees for the Professional Footballers’ Association player of the year award were announced last week with N’Golo Kante, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard, Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez all up for the crown.
All six of the potential winners have had brilliant seasons for their respective clubs but for me one player just edges it over his adversaries with his overall contribution.
That man is Zlatan Ibrahimovic with 28 goals in all competitions this season, including 17 in his first-ever Premier League campaign.
United have only managed 48 goals this season in the Premier League, if you take away Ibrahimovic’s goals that reduces to 29 with only Middlesbrough and Sunderland having scored less than that figure.
There’s an argument that United would have been able to score the same if not more goals had Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford been given more matches this season but the Red Devils side of last season could only muster 49 goals.
Not only has the Swede given United a bag full of goals but he has brought a big-game mentality to a team that was lacking characters before this season.
Eye-catching performances in the Community Shield and League Cup finals have propelled the Red Devils to two trophies already with possible success in the Europa League to come.
Of course, Ibrahimovic has not been completely flawless with a three-match suspension for elbowing Tyrone Mings while he has missed a fair amount of chances himself.
Hazard and Kante – two of the other favourites for the award – have been brilliant, but they have a team around them all performing to the best of their ability whereas Ibrahimovic has single-handedly lifted United out of some holes this season.
Other superstars have arrived on these shores with incredible reputations – Andriy Shevchenko, Falcao and Angel di Maria to name a few – only for the Premier League to send them packing.
Where would Manchester United be without Zlatan? The Swede has added 12 points onto United’s tally in the Premier League with winning goals this season.
His goals, influence, mentality and overall contribution would make him a worthy winner and at the age of 35 his achievements are even more remarkable.