Revitalised Liverpool. Liverpool were the big winners this weekend after mixed results for the Premier League’s top seven. The scene was set at St Mary’s for the six-pointer after top-four contenders Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur dropped points. Southampton had the chance to reclaim third spot and damage Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League. However, Philippe Coutinho put the away side at ease inside three minutes before Raheem Sterling sealed a 2-0 win for a drenched Liverpool side with 17 minutes remaining. The Reds are just two points behind United and on current form, Liverpool must be favourites along with Arsenal (1/4) to finish behind Chelsea and Manchester City (although United are priced at 5/6 to finish in Champions League places, whilst Liverpool are a larger 13/8). Liverpool have games against the Red Devils and Arsenal on the horizon, and if Rodgers can keep Coutinho, Sterling and Daniel Sturridge fit, as well as maintaining their impressive defensive form, the Reds could well be in pole position come early April.
Ballsy Bruce. Steve Bruce is a winner for two reasons in the eyes of this columnist. Hull City recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this season. While that is a significant stat for the relegation battlers, winning 2-1 against their fellow rivals for the drop, Queens Park Rangers, is even more significant. The Tigers boss has rekindled goal-scoring form in his front-men, too, as Nikica Jelavic and Dame N’Doye scored in successive Premier League games. Undoubtedly, Hull were aided by Joey Barton’s sending off after the QPR captain gave Tom Huddlestone’s crown jewels a tap. Whilst the red card was a source of frustration for Barton, manager Chris Ramsey and the west London club’s fans, it gave Bruce the opportunity to provide an early contender for the quote of the year. On the incident, Bruce said: “You can’t be punching people in the knackers.”
Van Gaal can’t conquer Wales. Louis van Gaal provided a nice soundbite ahead of Manchester United’s trip to Liberty Stadium after he described his Red Devils outfit as the best side in the Premier League. While the 20-time English champions have lost just once in their past 15 games ahead of their Swansea clash, United had hardly dominated during their good run. “The best side in England? United aren’t even the best side in Wales,” quipped Gary Lineker on Match Of The Day. Ki Seung-yung completed his double against United after he cancelled out Ander Herrera’s opener before Bafetimbi Gomis’ dreadlocks deflected Jonjo Shelvey’s ambitious effort past David De Gea. Garry Monk was delighted that Swansea managed to complete the double over United for their first time in the club’s history, whilst the Red Devils were left to lick their wounds after an undeserving defeat. Although as former Red Devil Alan Tonge pointed out on Twitter, United were reasonably lucky as Southampton and Tottenham failed to win, leaving United in the top four.
Premier League referees. Jose Mourinho hastily organised an impromptu appearance on Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday following Chelsea’s controversial 1-1 draw with Burnley at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. Ashley Barnes was the villain as he avoided a booking despite two dreadful challenges on Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic. Does the Burnley man hold a grudge against Serbians? Ivanovic showed more restraint that his midfield compatriot, who pushed Barnes to the ground following a horrific challenge. Matic was deservedly sent off as such behaviour is unacceptable if understandable despite a tasteless tackle. Remarkably, the FA opted against retrospective action as referee Martin Atkinson saw the incident and deemed that action wasn’t necessary on the day. Do Premier League officials do enough to protect players from potential leg-breaking tackles? And that was just the Chelsea game as Tottenham-West Ham and Southampton-Liverpool provided even more refereeing talking points.
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