LONDON: A topsy-turvy weekend in the Premier League brought shock home defeats for Liverpool and Arsenal which left champions Manchester City – probably to their own surprise – on top of the table.

City had maintain their prospect of a unique fourth successive league title with Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Luton. They did it without several of the men who will face Real Madrid on Wednesday including Rodri who had complained last week that he needed a rest.

Manager Pep Guardiola’s men are unbeaten in 41 home matches in all competitions, one short of a club record established between 1919 and 1921. Mateo Kovacic, Erling Haaland (penalty), Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol scored the second-half goals which built on an early Luton own goal to the delight of Guardiola.

He said: “We’ve spoken with the players about how incredible it is to be here again, fighting for the league title with 18 points left to play for. All we can do is win all our games and, if we cannot do it, then we congratulate whoever can.

If the title escapes Liverpool then manager Jurgen Klopp and his players can look back on this past eight days as the week in which fates turned against them.

Eight days ago Liverpool struggled for a 2-2 draw away to Manchester United in a match they should have won; on Thursday they were embarrassed at Anfield in a three-goal Europa League beating by Atalanta; and yesterday, even worse, came another home defeat, 1-0 by Crystal Palace.

Full credit to the organisation of Oliver Glasner and the energy and commitment of his players but Liverpool wasted a host of chances. They may also ponder the Anfield negativity in midweek when fans put away the banners in protest at next season’s rise in ticket prices. The usual Anfield fire might have inspired a different result and thus a different approach to Palace.

Liverpool made the worst possible start with Eberechi Eze opening the score after 14 minutes. Andy Robertson cleared off the goal-line from Jean-Philippe Mateta while Liverpool saw Wataru Endo hit the bar. The second half saw Liverpool denied by some desperate defending, fine saves by keeper Dean Henderson and poor finishing from Diogo Jota, Curtis Jones and Mo Salah.

Klopp said: “It’s a really difficult one. We weren’t great. In more than 20 years when you watch my teams, the press and counter press is pretty good, some days it is outstanding. In the first half, it was nothing and then we were 1:0 down. Second half, we tried to change the formation and dynamic. Another day you could see the same balls go in and a 4-1 win, but football doesn’t work like that.”

Gunned down

A mild consolation for Klopp will have been Arsenal’s 2-0 home defeat by an Aston Villa perfectly set up by ex-Gunners manager Unai Emery. Villa had beaten the Gunners 1-0 in December and achieved the double with a late goals from second-half substitute Leon Bailey and England striker Ollie Watkins.

If Arsenal do not win the title for the first time since 2006 then no-one will have done more damage than the man they sacked after only 18 months on November 2019. Emery’s successor, fellow Spaniard Mikel Arteta, must now be haunted by fears of another failure to seize the day.

A first league defeat of the year was the worst possible preparation for Wednesday’s Champions League return against FC Bayern in Munich.

Arsenal dominated the first half with Kai Havertz creating breakthrough opportunities for Bukayo Saka on the right wing and Martin Odegaard out of midfield. Each time however, Arsenal wasted the final pass or were foiled by the reflexes of another ‘old boy’ in Emi Martinez.

Villa delivered a first-half warning when a Watkins shot hit keeper David Raya’s right-hand post, ran along the goal-line and out of play on the opposite side. Arsenal were lucky again after an hour when Youri Thielemans had an angled shot ricochet off the bar and Raya’s left-hand post.

Arteta responded by bringing on winger Gabriel Martinelli but, amid increasing desperation, they lost both shape and discipline and were properly punished.