Five things we learned in the Premier League
Raheem Sterling’s sensational 96th-minute winner against Southampton kept Manchester City eight points clear at the Premier League summit, while Tottenham Hotspur slumped to seventh place.
Here are five things we learned from the mid-week Premier League matches:
Sterling has become Man City’s lucky charm
Manchester City’s record-breaking 18-match winning streak looked set to end against Southampton, but with Raheem Sterling in the team, Pep Guardiola’s side simply do not know when they are beaten. The score was 1-1 in the sixth minute of stoppage time at the Etihad Stadium when Sterling swapped passes with Kevin De Bruyne and whipped a magnificent winner inside Fraser Forster’s left-hand post. It was the fourth late winner he has scored this season — the third, remarkably, in as many games — and it served to reinforce the impression that it is only a matter of time until City are champions.
Lingard deserves a chance at Man United
Having again omitted Henrikh Mkhitaryan from his squad, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho gave Jesse Lingard an opportunity to stake a claim to a central playmaking role at Watford and the 24-year-old took it with both hands. Operating behind Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial in a 3-4-1-2 formation, Lingard gave Watford constant headaches. He teed up Ashley Young for United’s opener and then, after Watford had threatened to come back from 3-0 down, scored a sublime late solo goal — running from deep inside his own half before beating Heurelho Gomes — to complete a 4-2 win. His display moved United great Paul Scholes to say he had “the same level of ability” as the under-performing Mkhitaryan and could earn him a starting berth at Arsenal on Saturday.
Spurs hurt by Alderweireld absence
Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 loss at Leicester City was their third successive away defeat and left their latest bid to be crowned champions of England for the first time since 1961 in tatters before the end of the year. It was perhaps no coincidence this latest setback coincided with the ongoing absence of Toby Alderweireld, who has been out of action since injuring his hamstring against Real Madrid on November 1. Spurs have missed the 28-year-old Belgium centre-back’s ability to launch attacks from the back, with neither Eric Dier nor Davinson Sanchez possessing the same range of passing, as well as his defensive organisation. While both of Leicester’s goals came via fine finishes, Jamie Vardy was allowed to run free into the box and Riyad Mahrez was unchallenged before letting fly with a powerful shot. It might have been a different story had Alderweireld been marshalling Tottenham’s defence.
Chelsea lack sparkle without Hazard
Five days after delivering a masterclass in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool, Eden Hazard was given a breather against Swansea City and the Belgian playmaker’s absence was noticeable as the champions laboured to a 1-0 win. Hazard’s link-up play had been inspired at Anfield as he dovetailed perfectly with Spain striker Alvaro Morata, yet Blues boss Antonio Conte felt the visit of one of the Premier League’s lesser lights was the ideal chance to rest his prize asset before the hectic Christmas programme. It was a gamble that nearly backfired as Chelsea found it tough to break Swansea down until Antonio Rudiger headed home a 55th-minute winner.
Rooney-Allardyce pairing might just work
Sam Allardyce would have thought his chances of working with Wayne Rooney had disappeared when he was sacked by England in September 2016, but his imminent appointment as Everton manager has brought the pair back together. Allardyce was in the stands at Goodison Park as Rooney marked his return to the starting XI with a masterclass against West Ham United, scoring a hat-trick — capped by a jaw-dropping 70-yard lob over his former England team-mate Joe Hart — in a timely 4-0 win.
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