Another weekend of Premier League action saw the top-four race open up, with potentially costly injuries to Alexis Sanchez and Sergio Aguero.
The 14th round of games in this season’s competition saw draws between Bournemouth and Everton, Leicester City and Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea, and Norwich City and Arsenal, blowing the race for the top four wide open.
Here are five talking points from another entertaining weekend in the Premier League.
Jack Grealish Experiencing the Scrutiny of Young Fame
Grealish is one of the most talented young players in the Premier League, with the potential to go on to star in the England national team.
But, despite Villa being rooted to the bottom of the table heading into their clash with Watford on Saturday afternoon, manager Remi Garde banished the 20-year-old to U21s training.
This came as a result of Grealish being spotted out in a Manchester nightclub after the Villans’ 4-0 defeat to Everton the previous weekend, with Garde saying the midfielder must “behave as a professional.”
Unfortunately, this is a familiar trope within modern football, with young players expected to live a monastic lifestyle off the field—similar happened with Raheem Sterling when at Liverpool last term.
Grealish is beginning to experience the ridiculous scrutiny of young fame, and rather than publicly chastise him, the Frenchman could take a leaf out of Brendan Rodgers’ book and take a more sensitive approach to his transgressions, as Villa desperately need him on the pitch.
Pressure Grows on Steve McClaren
The appointment of McClaren this summer, coinciding with a host of shrewd moves in the transfer market, looked set to realign Newcastle with their top-half reputation in the Premier League.
Adding the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba to the Magpies’ squad, alongside a manager who had gone to lengths to repair his own flagging reputation, should in theory see Mike Ashley’s beleaguered outfit out of their desperate position.
But for one reason or another, it just isn’t working for McClaren on Tyneside, and the 54-year-old is now under immense pressure.
A 5-1 defeat away to Palace on Saturday afternoon saw Ashley’s decision to part ways with former manager Alan Pardew ridiculed, with the Eagles overwhelming their meagre opposition.
Liverpool should hope that McClaren retains his position for Sunday’s clash at St. James’ Park, as there could be another rout on the cards.
Chelsea Malaise Continues With London Derby Draw
At some stage in the season, Chelsea should turn around their harrowing run of form—but as they lined up against Spurs on Sunday, their league troubles continued.
That a supremely confident Spurs will be disappointed that they only secured a point via a goalless draw with Jose Mourinho’s side says it all: this is a Chelsea squad devoid of belief, and it is as much to do with the players as it is their manager.
Mourinho surprised many by leaving Diego Costa on the substitutes’ bench at White Hart Lane, but his response when questioned about his decision in post-match highlights the overriding issue.
“Diego is very privileged because he was the last one to be on the bench,” he said.
“Everyone else has been—the captain, Ivanovic, Cahill, the vice-captain of England, Fabregas, Pedro, Hazard, player of the season, Oscar. Everyone was on the bench.”
At present, Mourinho cannot trust any of his stars to produce the defining performance to quell their poor form, and long as this continues, so will Chelsea‘s league malaise.
On Saturday, Aguero limped off just after the hour mark in City’s 3-1 win at home to Southampton, with scans suggesting that this foot injury could see him miss the title favourites’ next two outings.
A day later it was Sanchez’s turn to damage his side’s prospects at the top of the Premier League table.
The Chilean was withdrawn 59 minutes into Arsenal‘s 1-1 draw away to Norwich, clutching his hamstring, and with Arsene Wenger revealing before the game that Sanchez was already struggling with a similar issue, the Frenchman’s risk could haunt him this season.
Like Aguero for City, Sanchez is the focal point of Wenger’s Arsenal side, and despite the Gunners’ myriad talents, losing their No. 17 will be crushing.
The absence of both Aguero and Sanchez could prove costly, and may well benefit Liverpool.
Results Swing Liverpool’s Way in Top-Four Race
Liverpool’s win over Garry Monk’s Swans was an immensely significant result.
This is not only due to the Reds vanquishing their Europa League hangover, but also as many of their rivals dropped points over the weekend.
Spurs, Arsenal, United, Leicester, Everton all failed to secure victory in their clashes, allowing Liverpool’s three points to bring Jurgen Klopp‘s side up to sixth—within six points of first-placed City.
This is a major step forward for Liverpool, who have all too often failed to capitalise on these favourable situations in the past.
Gaining points on their rivals, Liverpool can now dream of a top-four finish in 2015/16.