Three talking points from the Premier League

Manchester United's Paul Pogba in action with Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum during the match at Anfield in Liverpool January 17, 2021. — Pool pic via Reuters
Manchester United's Paul Pogba in action with Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum during the match at Anfield in Liverpool January 17, 2021. — Pool pic via Reuters

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LONDON, Jan 18 — Manchester City were the big winners of the Premier League weekend after Manchester United’s trip to Liverpool failed to live up to the hype in a 0-0 draw.

United stay top for now, but City are just two points back with a game in hand after they thrashed Crystal Palace 4-0.

Liverpool are now down to fourth as Leicester moved into third with an impressive 2-0 win over Southampton, while Tottenham and Chelsea boosted their quest for a top-four finish by returning to winning ways at struggling Sheffield United and Fulham respectively.

Liverpool lose their spark

When Liverpool also thrashed Palace 7-0 just before Christmas, the champions were threatening to pull away from the pack in a tightly bunched table.

Instead, the Reds are now enduring their longest run in the league without a win since the early days of Jurgen Klopp’s reign in 2017.

A series of defensive injuries, most notably to Virgil van Dijk, has disrupted Liverpool’s season, but they are also missing the presence of Diogo Jota at the other end as goals have dried up of late.

For the first time in 16 years Liverpool have failed to score in three consecutive league games as the trusted trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have all gone off the boil.

Jota made an instant impact after his signing from Wolves in September, scoring five times in his first eight league appearances.

Since the Portuguese suffered a costly knee injury in a Champions League dead rubber against Midtjylland in early December, Klopp is short on options to provide competition for Salah, Mane and Firmino.

“We have not to worry about it but obviously we work on it,” said Klopp on his side’s lack of goals.

“It’s not that we ignore the fact and just hope it will be good again. The only possibility you have to score goals is to create situations and to be ready to fail and to do it again.”

Man City throw Stones at Palace

The arrival of Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake at the Etihad over the summer could have been the end of John Stones’s City career after his struggles for form and fitness over the previous two seasons.

However, alongside the powerful presence of Dias, Stones has been a bedrock of City’s revival in a 15-game unbeaten run that has taken them into second in the table and with the chance to go top should they win their game in hand over United.

In the nine Premier League games the England defender has started this season, City have won eight and conceded just two goals.

In the eight matches without Stones, City have conceded 11 and won only twice.

The 26-year-old is even making an impact at the other end of the field. After scoring in City’s 2-0 League Cup semi-final win at United earlier this month, Stones scored his first two Premier League goals in five seasons at the club against Palace.

Maddison keeps his distance

Players were under the spotlight to start socially distancing in their celebrations with pressure being applied by politicians over the optics of group hugs while coronavirus infections have locked down most aspects of daily life in England.

Leicester’s James Maddison showed the restraint Premier League bosses asked for as he mimicked hand shakes and high-fives from a distance after smashing the Foxes into the lead against Southampton.

“If little things like that are what’s required to keep football going, that’s what we all want,” said Maddison.

“Footballers get a lot of stick and it’s nice to try to turn a serious message into a lighter note because I think the whole country wants football to continue. I don’t think you’ll find one person that wants it to stop.”

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers revealed he had asked his players to “get creative” and invent new ways to celebrate without congregating.

However, some others failed to follow the warnings as City’s players gathered together after their goals, while Brighton’s long-awaited 1-0 win at Leeds was met with wild celebrations from Graham Potter’s men on full-time. — AFP

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