Chelsea and United draw, Liverpool win as top-four battle heats up
LONDON: After Manchester City extended their lead of the Premier League, the battle for a top-four finish intensified on Sunday as Chelsea and Manchester United ground out a goalless draw, Leicester City lost and Liverpool finally came back to life.
Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal showed signs that they could also join the fray while at the bottom Fulham missed an opportunity to claw closer to escaping the drop zone.
Chelsea’s 0-0 home draw with second-placed United ensured Thomas Tuchel is still undefeated in nine games since replacing Frank Lampard, but it meant they failed to dislodge fourth-placed West Ham United who became Manchester City’s 20th successive victims in all competitions on Saturday.
The match at Stamford Bridge was largely a forgettable affair with the main talking point a controversial penalty incident in the first half when referee Stuart Attwell opted not to award United a spot kick for a handball by Callum Hudson-Odoi.
It would have been a harsh decision but the fact that Attwell was instructed to watch the incident on a VAR monitor amplified the debate about the technology.
Needless to say both managers disagreed, with United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saying it was a 100% penalty and Tuchel offering the opposing view.
“It was a penalty, 100 percent nailed on. If that’s a natural position for a hand to be in when the ball comes in then I must be blind,” Solskjaer said.
Either way it was a better result for United who preserved their six-point lead over Chelsea, even if it left them 12 points behind runaway leaders City.
“It would have been a big result,” Tuchel said. “We tried everything to win, to be prepared for no other intention but to win. We are in the middle of a battle to the top four. We have closed the gap quickly and now is the moment to hang in and to show performances every three or four days.”
Injury-hit champions Liverpool snapped a four-match losing run in the league with a rather laboured 2-0 win at bottom club Sheffield United.
The first goal in the 48th minute was made in Liverpool’s academy as Trent Alexander-Arnold hit a deflected cross for fellow academy graduate Curtis Jones to send past the otherwise impressive Sheffield goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
In the 64th, Roberto Firmino thought he’d ended his run of six games without a goal in all competitions when his deflected shot went in but the Premier League ruled it was an own-goal for Sheffield’s Kean Bryan.
Liverpool stayed sixth with 43 points but are only a point behind fifth-placed Chelsea, who they play on Thursday, and two behind surprise package West Ham.
“[The result] is very important because plenty of people have written us off,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp told Sky Sports. “That’s completely fine because it’s about us to show if were still there.”
Leicester, who are third with 49 points, ended a dismal week in which they went out of the Europa League with a 3-1 home defeat by Arsenal, despite taking the lead.
Youri Tielemans put Leicester ahead goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.
Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games, lifting them to 10th with 37 points.
BALE TURNS BACK TIME AT TOTTENHAM
Gareth Bale turned back time for Tottenham, looking like the star player who left Spurs for Real Madrid in 2013 as he scored twice in the club’s 4-0 win over Burnley that lifted Jose Mourinho’s side to eighth with 39 points.
The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.
Bale, starting only his third league game of the season, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.
The four-time Champions League winner then picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.
Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish before Bale, who had scored just once in the league all season before Sunday, grabbed his second with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.
It could have been more if not for some good saves from Nick Pope.
“There is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said. “There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”
Third-from-bottom Fulham had the chance to pull to within a point of 17th-placed Newcastle United but could only draw 0-0 with Crystal Palace and with Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City up next it could prove costly.
“I personally believe we can give anyone a game in this division. There’s still a long way to go,” manager Scott Parker said.
Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021