Premier League review: Liverpool, City the gold standard as United, Spurs and Arsenal struggle
Nick Miller recaps another wild weekend in the Premier League, as Man United were hammered, Liverpool and Man City kept up their title challenges, and Tottenham and Arsenal lost.
Ludicrous standard of the weekend
March 3, which was 50 days ago, was the last time one of the top two dropped points in the Premier League -- 12 flawless games between them. You have to go back as far as January to find a game either Manchester City or Liverpool have lost.
This title race is frankly absurd, and you wouldn't bet on either of them losing any of their remaining games. People often talk about ludicrous winning runs that have turned out to be title-clinching -- like Arsenal in 1998 or Manchester City in 2012 -- but on those occasions it was only one team doing it. Here we have two.
One of these teams will, despite this brilliance, finish second. Technically speaking, they will be losers, but it's tough to see how either could have done more.
Deflection of the weekend
Poring over the minutiae of refereeing decisions is usually pretty tedious, but a quick word about the penalty awarded to Liverpool against Cardiff. Yes, Mohamed Salah went to ground when he could probably have stayed on his feet. But also: Yes, Sean Morrison had his arms around the Egypt international's torso, then his neck, which is a foul that was rightly penalised. It's possible for those two things to both be true.
Cardiff can whinge about the decision, but the offence took place well before Salah went to ground. Any complaining on the part of the club or the player just looks like deflection from the fact Morrison missed an open goal a few minutes earlier.
Inevitability of the weekend
Of course it was inevitable that Manchester City v. Spurs Part III would be nothing like Part II (the epic 4-3 encounter in the Champions League). You can hardly blame them, but it looked like 22 men with hangovers running around, everything at about 85 percent, passes not quite as sharp, shooting not quite as crisp. You could call it "engrossing" or "an intriguing tactical battle," but really it was just quite dull, and thus tricky to draw any broad conclusions from.
Perhaps the only one from which Liverpool might take heart was that City showed they have weaknesses and will have to regather their energy for the Manchester derby on Wednesday, which remains the most likely fixture in which they will drop points. Not that United's performance in losing 4-0 at Goodison will have made the hosts particularly optimistic.
Symptom of the weekend
It tells you plenty about the state of things at Manchester United that Phil Jones and Chris Smalling played in the corresponding fixture against Everton back in 2014 (which turned out to be David Moyes' last) and also started at Goodison Park on Sunday. Any club that aspires to be among the best and had any clear line of thinking through its decision-making process would have moved these two on some years ago.
- Dawson: United's worst day since Fergie left
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer questioned his players' commitment after this thrashing and was right to do so. But the problems at United are much more serious than that. Solskjaer's appointment might turn out to have been hasty, he might turn out to be a failure, but if he does it will only partly be his fault.
Liability of the weekend
The most worrying thing about Shkodran Mustafi's brainless error to allow Wilfried Zaha to score Crystal Palace's second goal in their 3-2 win over Arsenal wasn't even the mistake, it was that he seemed to think it was goalkeeper Bernd Leno's fault. Footballers often look around for someone or something else to blame, but this was ludicrous, and it's not the first time Mustafi has done it, either. Arsenal have many priorities this summer, but ensuring the German defender is nowhere near their first-choice team should be high on the list.
Wait of the weekend
It finally happened. In some ways, it was a shame that Christian Benteke didn't wait another week to find the net for Crystal Palace, because next Sunday would have been the one-year anniversary of his most recent goal. You'd have to have a cold, dark heart not to hope this is the start of a recovery for the Belgian.
"It feels more like three points," goalkeeper Mat Ryan after Brighton didn't so much park the bus against Wolves, more cement its wheels to the edge of the six-yard box. Wolves had 68 percent of the ball and took 22 shots against Chris Hughton's side but couldn't break through, and while that point is extremely valuable, it's an indication of how much their season has tanked that they regard this as progress.
You wonder whether this point, for all its value, was really enough. Brighton's remaining four games are absolutely horrible, and it's easy to see them not getting a single point from Spurs, Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester City, all good/in-form teams with plenty to play for. Unless Southampton implode horribly, it looks like a two-way scrap between Brighton and Cardiff to avoid the remaining relegation spot. This one should go down to the very last day.
Mixed feelings of the weekend
This sort of thing often happens, but since Fulham's relegation was confirmed, they have won twice, kept two clean sheets and recorded their first away league victory of the season, exactly a year since their previous. The psychology is different when players know all is lost, but knowing they're capable of this after a season of grim failure must be galling to say the least.
Old dog of the weekend
Leicester striker Jamie Vardy was rarely shy about complaining/admitting that Claude Puel's style didn't suit him, but that point has been made rather more emphatically by the fact he's now scored eight goals in eight games since Brendan Rodgers was appointed. The arrival of Rodgers was supposed to benefit Leicester's young players most, but at least one older dog is thriving, too.
Emphasised potential of the weekend
Watching Rafa Benitez achieve what he has with this Newcastle side must be slightly bittersweet for their fans. The second half of this campaign has underlined why Benitez is so incredibly popular at St. James' Park: If the season had started on Jan. 1, Newcastle would be sixth, above Tottenham and Chelsea, and all achieved with one hand tied behind his back.
But at least part of the reason for that post-January revival has been the addition of Miguel Almiron, the man for whom Newcastle finally broke their 14-year-old transfer record. That serves to emphasise what this season might have been had Benitez received even more financial backing from the Newcastle board. One hopes, one day, from this owner or another, that backing will come.
Consolation of the weekend
There has been virtually nothing to recommend this season for Huddersfield, but a word on Karlan Grant. His goal against Watford made him the Terriers' top scorer for the season, and while four strikes doesn't sound particularly impressive, to get those goals in just six starts, in the worst team in the Premier League, and having never previously played above League One, most definitely is.
Team of the weekend