Has there ever been a collapse like it? A year ago, we ran out of superlatives for Liverpool. 12 months on, and with the memory of the champions topping the table at Christmas still fresh, it’s ways of expressing our shock that have been exhausted.
After 68 unbeaten matches at Anfield, Liverpool have now lost all of their last four home games – their worst run in almost 100 years. This is a collapse for the ages.
If the mystery is why and how, the unanswered – and unanswerable – question is whether it was actually the first Merseyside derby of the season, when Virgil van Dijk suffered his season-ending knee injury, that ultimately ruined their bid for back-to-back titles. But as Jamie Carragher rightly observed during commentary, Liverpool’s issue of late hasn’t been at the back but up front. “Going forward is as big a problem as what we’re seeing defensively from Liverpool now,” noted Carragher. “Very rarely do you see Liverpool play now when you expect them to score.”
On that basis, it could be argued that Diogo Jota’s injury is what really did for Liverpool’s season, although whether the champions ought to have been so instantly dependent on a late-summer recruit expected to play a reserve role is a scenario difficult to rationalise and difficult to defend. Anyone can play manager with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, but Liverpool’s over-dependence on their ‘fab three’ should have been insured against over the summer with recruitment beyond just Jota. Since being crowned champions, Liverpool have signed Jota, Thiago and three defenders – Ozan Kabak, Ben Davies and Kostas Tsimikas. Some would say not enough, others not good enough. Both sets of dissenters would be right.
Against Everton, Liverpool’s display felt neither good nor bad. It’s only noteworthy characteristic was the absence of any fight. “It didn’t look like they had any aggression, or fight or energy about them,” concluded Graeme Souness. “Liverpool used to be horrible to play against. Now everybody wants to play against them. They are an easy touch.”
It was, at best, a flat display. A display of a team which has simply run out of steam after an exhausting three years. What happened to Liverpool? The answer is that nothing happened – they tried to go again with the same team and more or less the same squad, only to find that this has been a season too far for a group running at full-pelt since 2018. Where once there were superlatives, now there is only shock. But after the shock, there may be some sympathy too.
“Viva Tom Davies” – the Everton fans would have sung in the away end at Anfield. And I’m sure many were boogying around their living room to the Elvis Pressley tune.
The Everton midfielder certainly had Liverpool all shook up with a destructive and tactically astute performance in front of his expertly organised defence. No player made more tackles than Davies (5) and no Everton player gained possession for their side on more occasions (8). Jurgen Klopp’s side couldn’t find Roberto Firmino in the pockets because of Davies’ sublime positioning.
The 22-year-old is another example of Carlo Ancelotti’s ability as the top man. Many had written off Davies when Everton snapped up Allan in the summer but instead of casting him aside, Ancelotti has kept Davies part of his plans and he’s now receiving the benefits for persevering with the midfielder.
In the absence of Allan, who had looked an impressive piece of business on his performances since signing from Napoli, Davies has slotted in perfectly to that role to the extent that the Brazil international won’t be getting back in the side with Davies in this type of form.
No one likes getting hooked having only just come on as a substitute, but Thomas Tuchel hopes his young forward Callum Hudson-Odoi will learn from the chastening experience at St Mary’s on Saturday lunchtime.
The new Chelsea head coach brought on Hudson-Odoi at half-time with his side trailing 1-0 to Southampton on Saturday, replacing Tammy Abraham.
However, despite the visitors equalising, the German then raised eyebrows on the south coast when removing the 20-year-old with 14 minutes to go.
Tuchel later confirmed Hudson-Odoi was not injured and that his substitution was down to the player’s attitude.
The German did, however, hold out an olive branch to the England international ahead of Chelsea’s next match against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday night.
“You know I trust him a lot as he plays every game for us, but today I was close to him and… I do not know, maybe it was unfair, but I did not get the normal feeling with him today that he can be decisive,” Tuchel said.
“So it is a hard decision today, but nothing that will stick between us, or stick for long. Tomorrow it will be forgotten and we prepare for Atletico.
“But now it’s forgotten and he has step up, learn from it, swallow it, and there’s no problem.”
So, all eyes on the team-sheet in the Spanish capital come 7pm on Tuesday…
“Let’s try and rack up some wins and put pressure on the other teams. That’s the main focus,” said Fulham boss Scott Parker after another crucial win for his side.
Fulham’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United means it is now seven points from a possible nine this week and it’s got a few clubs looking nervously over their shoulders.
Parker’s men went into the game six points adrift of Newcastle but victory over bottom side Sheffield United means they have closed the gap to just three, ahead of the Steve Bruce’s side’s trip to Manchester United on Sunday.
“I’m really proud of this team because it’s a huge moment,” Parker added. “Not just this game but this week. It’s been massive. We need to rest now; we’ve had a tough week. We’ll get back to it on Monday ready to push again.”
Parker will be hoping his words ring loud in his player’s ears as the job is far from done for Fulham.
They have another huge game next weekend against Crystal Palace before the fixtures take a more difficult turn with games against Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City on the horizon. However, to be right on the heels of the likes of Newcastle and Brighton in the fight for survival will give Parker and his players all the fuel they need for their next big push.
After a run of three wins from five games between mid-January and early February which hinted at a late-season rally, it seems Sheffield United’s slim hopes of Premier League survival may finally have been extinguished.
The 1-0 reverse at Fulham was their third consecutive defeat and leaves them 14 points from safety with only 13 Premier League games remaining. By the end of the weekend, the gap could stand at 17 points.
Chris Wilder knows what’s coming.
“There’s always something to play for,” he told Sky Sports after Saturday’s game. “I won’t accept relegation until it happens – and even then I still won’t accept it. But I can’t mug everybody off by saying we’re going to have a miraculous recovery.”
Not when they perform as poorly as they did at Craven Cottage. The meeting with a relegation rival was an opportunity to close the gap on the teams above them but for all their endeavour, they only mustered four shots on goal over the course of the 90 minutes.
“It looks like next season we’ll be in the Championship,” added Wilder afterwards. The achievements of last season will not be forgotten but the spectre of what happens next has become impossible to ignore.
Many sides in a more favourable position than the one West Brom find themselves currently in the Premier League would have folded at Turf Moor.
With half an hour on the clock, the Baggies were reduced to 10 men when Semi Ajayi’s handball was penalised by referee Mike Dean after consolation with VAR.
While the decision to give Ajayi his marching orders for denying a goalscoring opportunity followed the letter of the law, with the infringement occurring some 50 yards from goal, it could also have been considered harsh.
But with time ticking down on West Brom’s bid to avoid relegation, there was no time for self-pity. Instead, the decision seemed to galvanise the Baggies, and swift reorganisation at the back set them on their way to another encouraging performance.
Sam Allardyce’s career in management has been built, first and foremost, on clean sheets, so to secure the first of his tenure at West Brom having played an hour with 10 men spoke volumes of his work to date at The Hawthorns.
Those foundations alone, however, look unlikely to maintain Allardyce’s record of never being relegated from the Premier League, with the Baggies’ failure to convert a host of chances at Burnley stopping them from securing a morale-boosting victory and cutting the gap to safety.
The Baggies have 13 games to bridge the current 11-point gap to safety, but in recent weeks they have demonstrated they have the defence and stomach for the fight that lies in front of them. Big Sam’s challenge now is to unearth the quality.
Boss Marcelo Bielsa refused to blame bad luck after Illan Meslier’s own goal condemned Leeds to a 1-0 defeat at Wolves on Friday night.
But while his goalkeeper unwittingly turned in Adama Traore’s shot after it came back off the bar to decide this cagey contest, Leeds will take solace from another bewitching display from Raphinha.
The Brazilian winger, signed from Rennes for £17m plus add-ons last October, has sparkled since his debut in the reverse fixture at Elland Road and was unfortunate to be on the losing side at Molineux.
Three times his wicked set-piece deliveries found Liam Cooper unmarked but on each occasion the Leeds defender was unable to find a way past Rui Patricio.
Bielsa said: “Luck is not a factor in the result. It’s clear the result was defined by their efficiency. Luck and what you deserve is not always the same.
“Look at the chances we had, we had double they did, and we defended well, we attacked well. There were only a few moments in the game where we didn’t dominate.
“We had 10 chances and we weren’t able to score a goal, they had five and scored one. That explains the game.”
No player provided more than Raphinha’s six key passes across the 90 minutes, which bodes well for the remainder of the season. It was a game of fine margins, and Leeds will have the opportunity to bounce back quickly when they host Southampton on Tuesday, live on Sky Sports.