After a busy cup weekend, the Premier League returned for a midweek jaunt, as Leicester City underlined their title credentials by demolishing Liverpool.
With a 2-0 win at home to Liverpool on Tuesday night, Leicester extended their lead at the top of the table, while the chasing pack endured hit-and-miss encounters as the title race continued to heat up.
While Man United secured a 3-0 win at home to Stoke City and their rivals Man City also boosted their chances with a 1-0 win away to Sunderland, Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Southampton left them languishing.
At the opposite end of the table, a win for Bournemouth over Crystal Palace pushed the Cherries further away from the relegation zone, while Sunderland and Aston Villa remained rooted in defeat.
For the neutral, Leicester’s win at the King Power Stadium will have been one of many compelling encounters on Tuesday night.
Here are five talking points from this midweek Premier League action.
Leicester Are Here to Stay
Whether it is Claudio Ranieri’s kind nature, or the lowly status of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Co., Leicester’s title hopes have been sneered at all season from corners of the Premier League.
How could a side that were promoted in 2014, and avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth in the previous campaign, conquer the English top flight?
With Vardy’s two-goal haul against the Reds coming after a successful winter transfer window for the Foxes, Ranieri’s side not only look like favourites to win the Premier League, but they look capable of remaining challengers for the foreseeable future.
Spending the summer acquiring low-key signings such as Christian Fuchs, N’Golo Kante, Shinji Okazaki and Robert Huth, Leicester have assembled an impressive, highly experienced squad bursting with an attacking verve from the likes of Vardy, Mahrez and January addition Demarai Gray.
If Leicester do win the title this season, don’t expect them to fall from grace in 2016/17.
Stoke’s Lofty Ambitions Must be Matched on the Field
Stoke’s deadline-day signing of Giannelli Imbula served as a real signal of intent from manager Mark Hughes, with the Frenchman a genuine top-level talent in the making.
Breaking their transfer record to secure the 23-year-old box-to-box midfielder’s services showed the Potters’ ambition.
For a side to spend upwards of £18 million on a mid-season transfer, Hughes’s Stoke should now expect to be firmly in the race for European qualification by the end of the season.
But in falling to a 3-0 defeat to Man United on Tuesday night, they revealed a crippling lack of winning mentality throughout the squad—they have the personnel, but they’re yet to foster the belief.
Stoke have now won just one game in their last five in the Premier League, and with Hughes able to call upon Imbula, Bojan, Ibrahim Afellay, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic among others, he should expect more.
West Brom’s Berahino Treatment Bizarre
Saido Berahino made a big mistake at the end of the summer transfer window, taking to Twitter to “officially say I will never play [for West Brom chairman] Jeremy Peace.”
This showed a lack of class, and with Peace and his first-team manager Tony Pulis a staunch, hard-nosed duo, it was never going to go down well.
As the winter transfer window opened, Berahino’s exit looked set to be sealed with Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Stoke among those circling; arguably Liverpool should have been.
But despite big-money bids from both Spurs and the Magpies on Monday’s deadline day, the 22-year-old remains at The Hawthorns.
With his replacement, Salomon Rondon, firing a late equaliser against Swansea City on Tuesday night, it is clear that Berahino has now long-term future with the Baggies—so why not cash in?
Fraser Forster Return Perfectly Poised to Boost Southampton
As Simon Mignolet‘s struggles continue throughout 2015/16, the importance of a top-level goalkeeper will not have eluded Liverpool supporters.
For much of the season, Ronald Koeman has been without one at Southampton—though Maarten Stekelenburg is a reasonable option—and has seen his side toil for mid-table stability.
But with Fraser Forster returning from a horrific knee injury last month, after nine months on the sidelines, the Saints have been provided a welcome boost.
When on form, the 6’6″ behemoth is one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, and his heroics against Arsenal on Tuesday night—making 10 saves to keep the likes of Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez at bay—saw him at his best.
Forster has kept four Premier League clean sheets in his four appearances back from injury so far this season, and this could prove so important as Southampton challenge for the top six.
Aston Villa Cutting Their Losses Ahead of Relegation
Moving from the shambles of Tim Sherwood’s reign to the meek months of Remi Garde, Villa have been favourites for relegation throughout 2015/16.
Enduring turmoil both on and off the field, a lack of activity in the winter transfer window saw the Villa hierarchy acknowledge this, with a 2-0 defeat to West Ham United on Tuesday compounding their woes.
While Sunderland routinely utilise the mid-season market to stave off relegation, Villa made no moves to strengthen Garde’s squad this winter, seemingly accepting their fate.
Garde is reportedly considering his future as a result, but Villa chairman Randy Lerner may not be concerned.
Villa are preparing themselves for life in the Championship, and a quiet January may prove to be a wise decision as Lerner looks to avoid financial uncertainty.
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