LONDON: Liverpool will enjoy a third successive happy Christmas sitting on top of the Premier League. The ruthless manner in which they despatched Crystal Palace 7-0 in south London underlined their determination to keep hold of the crown for which they waited 30 years.
Behind them Tottenham slipped back over the weekend but Leicester, Everton and Manchester United all pressed onward and ulpward.
Equally important as victory itself was the margin. Jurgen Klopp’s team needed to make up in goals for the 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa in October which badly damaged their goal difference. Now their tally of +17 (36 goals scored, 19 conceded) is the best in the league.
Liverpool’s record away win in the Premier League was delivered by slick counter-attacking goals from Takumi Minamino (his first in the league), Sadio Mane and captain Jordan Henderson plus two each from Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah. They also achieved that only 60 hours after a difficult win over Tottenham on Wednesday night.
Klopp has enjoyed his week. Victories over the two clubs came either side of his being voted FIFA’s Best Coach of the Year for the second time in succession.
He said: “Everything is pleasing, everything is good. It was top finishing. They all brought their finishing boots. That’s the reason for the result. But it makes no sense to be over the moon. The problems and challenges don’t get smaller. At least now we have more time to recover than we ever had before this season.”
Liverpool are in action next on Sunday against West Bromwich under their new manager Sam Allardyce. In the meantime Liverpool’s pursuers are struggling to keep up.
Tottenham’s title challenge has suffered two major setbacks in five days. First they lost 2:1 to a last-minute goal against Liverpool on Wednesday then came a second defeat by 2-0 at home to Leicester yesterday. The Foxes thus took over second place from Spurs by playing Jose Mourinho at his own counter-attacking game to provide Brendan Rodgers with a first win over his old managerial mentor.
Jamie Vardy opened the scoring with a penalty in the fourth-minute of first-half stoppage time after Serge Aurier pushed down Wesley Fofana. James Maddison was denied by VAR three minutes into the second half but Leicester did not have to wait long for a second goal. Vardy’s header from a Marc Albrighton cross deflected in to goal off Toby Alderweireld after 59 minutes.
Tottenham showed none of the pace or penetration of earlier in the season. Instead Leicester were closer to a further goal through Youri Tielemans.
Vardy, with 11 goals so far in the league, said: “We came here with a game plan and we’ve absolutely nailed it. As soon as they got towards the halfway line, we knew we could put the press on, get the ball back, keep it, find the spaces and create some chances. That’s six wins away from home out of seven. Hopefully we’ll pick up some more.”
Mourinho said: “It’s frustrating – a game where your goalkeeper doesn’t make a single save but in which we didn’t play very well. The teams are similar levels and it can be a mistake that makes the difference. Now, if you look at the table, everybody is there.”
Manchester United also overtook Spurs and pushed them out of the top four by defeating Leeds 6-2 in the first league revival of an old, bitter rivalry since 2004.
The tension between the two Uniteds is rooted in the old 19th-century industrial rivalry between their two home countries of Lancashire and Yorkshire. It exploded in football between the late 1960s and the 1990s including fighting among the fans and direct personal clashes between Denis Law and Jack Charlton as well as Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland (father of the Dortmund striker).
Eric Cantona, famously, won league championship titles with both clubs.
This time no fans were present to see an explosive start which put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men in command. There was no sign of a hangover from United’s Champions League failure as they raced to a 3:0 lead inside 20 minutes. Scotland midfielder Scott McTominay struck twice in the first three minutes and Bruno Fernandes added a third.
McTominay is the first player in the history of the Premier League to score twice so soon after kickoff.
Victor Lindelof scored a fourth from close range after a left-wing corner to leave Leeds with the worst defensive record in the league. It was also their ninth goal conceded from a set piece. United had thus scored more goals in 37 minutes than in all their previous six home Premier League matches.
Leeds, who had enjoyed more of the possession in this duel of awful defending, finally responded with a goal of their own after a corner, by captain Liam Cooper.
Daniel James and Fernandes (penalty) added further goals for United with Stuart Dallas striking a further consolation for Leeds.