Just how bad were Chelsea on Wednesday night? Or rather, how impressive were Bournemouth? Everyone will remember their extremely impressive second-half showing but that first half was decisive as well. Bournemouth came under constant attack from an obviously motivated Chelsea in that first half but hardly let anything through. [contextly_sidebar id=”5qb2Dt8x0AApd31lgj9mssm9VHI0vecV”]The few times Chelsea went past the backline, they found goalkeeper Arthur Boruc and impenetrable barrier. That first period set the tone for the rest of the game as it enabled the Cherries to increasingly frustrate the Blues and force errors and poor judgement. The four goals that followed were a masterclass in counter-attacking football and dogged determination. Bournemouth were a class above on the night.
For Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, it was another evening of torture following the previous week’s loss to Arsenal, only more embarrassing. Chelsea were fourth with a game in hand over fifth-placed Arsenal heading into the game. At the end of the night the Gunners were ahead. That’s how bad of a night it was for the Blues.
Unlike Arsenal, who are one of the Premier League’s established elite, Sarri’s side was facing a team that had won only three times in their last 13 and had lost all home games against Chelsea. This was supposed to be a walkover for a team hoping to finish in the Top Four, instead, it was a massacre. Chelsea were let down in every third of the field, particularly in that second half. A first Premier League start for new boy Gonzalo Higuain was as forgettable as they come, with Hazard and Pedro running from touchline to touchline with the ball with very little impact. Chelsea’s midfield has lacked a bit of creativity this season and despite Kante’s strong running, that fact was made even more apparent last night.
But it was in defence that Chelsea really fell apart, with David Luiz the biggest culprit. But it would be unfair to lay all the blame on him as the others had their moments as well. So with things going so badly for Chelsea, it was time for the manager to step up and tweak his tactics but alas, he didn’t. His changes were; a striker for a striker, a left central midfielder for a left central midfielder and a right-sided forward for, you guessed it, right-sided forward. No variation, no evolution from Sarri and maybe soon, given how fast Chelsea are falling, no job as well.
Newcastle keep survival hopes alive as Man City slip up…
A week of upsets began with holders, Manchester City’s hopes of defending their title dealt a severe blow with a loss at Newcastle. City had been hoping to cut Liverpool’s lead to one point ahead of the Wednesday tie at Anfield with Leicester but former Reds boss, Rafa Benitez’s side had other ideas. A brilliant Newcastle came from a goal down against a side that had been tipped to wipe the floor with them to pick up a much-needed win to boost their own hopes of survival. Benitez has had to deal with a squad that’s, frankly, hardly Premier League quality. That he’s kept them fighting and beating the Champions is a huge achievement, in spite of the general disdain for his tactics.
Man City’s title hopes hung by a thread after the defeat, a shocking result that gave the Reds a chance to go seven points clear at the top.
It’s been a feature of Man City’s season so far, surprisingly; build up a head of steam, look unstoppable and then slip up. Their massively talented side is waning, players aren’t giving their best and it’s affecting them badly. Pep Guardiola’s side have enough quality to give Liverpool a real chase but a few more bad nights like these and they might have to kiss the Premier League title adiós.
…but Liverpool keep title race wide open
Of course, Man City can afford to have a couple more nights like Tuesday if Liverpool keep having nights like Wednesday. The Reds were far from their sparkling best, breaching a notoriously porous defence like Leicester’s just once at home. The fact that they let in one at the other end meant that they stretched their lead at the top by only one point, when a seven-point gap beckoned after Newcastle’s heroics the previous night.
Liverpool, however, are still picking up points and that’s the most important thing for them right now. They have been by far the best team in the league and are just 14 games away from a first Premier League title. When their front three step up, they are unstoppable, and their defence is still the strongest in the league. However, five points aren’t insurmountable so Liverpool will need everyone on their A game from now till the end of the campaign. There aren’t too many former Reds bosses left to bail them out.
Ole no longer perfect but United show character
When Burnley went 2-0 up at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Man Utd fans must have feared that the change they sought, the change they thought they’d got under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had run its course. United had done all the running without breaching the Burnley wall. It had shades of the Jose Mourinho era, failing to break down a very beatable team at home.
When Burnley scored, and with Heaton in some inspired form, the fears of some fans might have been confirmed. However, as we’ve seen a number of times from United this season, even under the ill-fated final year under Mourinho, they came back into it late on, scoring two crucial goals to pick up a point. But this seemed different. Unlike the frantic, almost desperate recoveries earlier in the season, Man United seemed to have an air of calm about them, and there was almost an inevitability about their goals.
It might not have been the win United fans were now accustomed to getting under the Norwegian but it seems there’s no need for them to panic under a manager who was the epitome of ‘Fergie Time’ in his playing days.
Zaha no longer a teenage prospect, he must lead
Wilfried Zaha seemed to have turned a corner with his first goal since September for Crystal Palace against Southampton on Wednesday. He seemed to be back in form, linking up with his teammates and giving opposing defenders grief, as only he can. But the night turned sour for the star when he was sent off for clapping in the referee’s face because he disagreed with a call, earning a second yellow card.
Palace had already conceded an equaliser but any hope of them getting a winner was extinguished when they lost their star man. They have had a bad season, with Zaha’s average form a major factor. While defenders may target him with intentional and frustrating fouls, and decisions may not go his way, it’s ultimately up to Zaha to determine what kind of player he wants to be. One who withers at the slightest pressure or one who steps up to the plate when his team needs him the most.