The main hope for the chasing pack in this midweek’s round of league fixtures was that Liverpool would shake off their recent woeful form and do everyone a favour and take points off Chelsea; in the end it was only Manchester City that were able to capitalise and Antonio Conte’s men actually increased their lead at the top to 9 points.
Jurgen Klopp and his team must have feared the worst as Diego Costa lined up a late penalty that could have resigned them to a fourth consecutive home defeat; but if not quite cometh the hour cometh the man, Liverpool’s much-maligned Belgian shot-stopper Simon Mignolet atoned for passively allowing David Luiz’s cheekily taken free kick leaving him rooted to his line as he lined up his wall in the first half, plunging low to his right to push away the striker’s effort and keeping the title race alive for at least a few more days.
Arsenal’s all too familiar capitulation at home to a Watford side whose season was all but ended with their defeat to Milllwall in the FA Cup Fourth Round the previous weekend, sparked more frustration-induced wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the Goonerati, myself included. Once again the team was found wanting when it needed to step up to the mark and the feeling around the Emirates was one of reluctance acceptance that familiar issues around mental toughness and attitude continue to plague the squad. It is just about conceivable that Arsenal can go to Stamford Bridge and get a result this Saturday lunchtime; it would however be a foolish follower that put any money on it.
It was to prove a frustrating trip to Wearside for Arsenal’s North London neighbours and second favourites for the title Tottenham, who were held to a draw by an obstinate Sunderland side fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table. Taking a point off top four teams may not secure their survival, but Sunderland’s resilience will provide some slither of encouragement for their long-suffering fans. As for Tottenham, they will probably regard it as two points dropped and will no doubt rue Victor Wanyama’s spurned late header that could have stolen it for them.
Once again the self-titled ‘Special One’ ensured that the press coverage would be all about him and his antics by storming out of the post-match Old Trafford press conference after his team had drawn a blank in a performance that echoed the blunt displays under his much-castigated predecessor Louis Van Gaal. Seasoned Mourinho observers might suggest that his behaviour was designed to deflect attention from his team who, despite enjoying 66% possession, were unable to make their dominance count against a Hull side that have seemed doomed for the majority of the season. He will no doubt see it as a missed opportunity to put pressure on the teams ahead in the race for the Champions League.
On the subject of tetchy Premier League managers, Pep Guardiola may well be feeling a lot better about life in England after his side put West Ham to the sword at the London Stadium with a performance more in tune with expectations fostered since his arrival on these shores. Guardiola said last week that the front line made up of 3 players all under the age of 23 in Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling, was a glimpse into the future for Manchester City. Although to borrow from the traditional terrace refrain, it may well be that City wish they could play West Ham every week; that was the third time they had faced Slaven Bilic’s side this season, the aggregate scoreline being 12-1. It may well be too early to suggest based on their current resurrection that City are completely back on track, but they seem to be coming good just as we head into the crucial part of the season, catching Chelsea may well be beyond them but a credible tilt at the Champions League would go some way to proving that the Catalan super coach is the one to lead them to the promised land.
Heading into this weekend, all eyes will be on Arsenal’s aforementioned trip to Stamford Bridge in the Saturday lunchtime kick-off; if by some act of footballing fortune the Gunners were to emerge victorious from that game, then it would give the chasing pack grounds for renewed hope; although this time they will all need to make sure they capitalise and win their own games. If Chelsea avoid defeat, or see off the Gunners’ challenge, then even with fourteen more games still to play, it is difficult to see them dropping enough points to be caught.