An enjoyable weekend of Premier League action saw a number of Liverpool’s rivals make headway in the race for the top four, while others continued to flounder.
While the sight of Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players saluting the Kop end at full-time in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion provided the defining image of this latest Premier League weekend, it was another round packed with talking points across the board.
Liverpool’s disappointing stalemate was not the only shock draw of the weekend, with Everton also held away to Norwich City, while Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Southampton all suffered miserable defeats.
Here are five talking points from the latest Premier League weekend.
Everton‘s Shining Attack Let Down by Lack of Cutting Edge
The top-level output of Everton‘s star attacking quartet of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Arouna Kone deserves commendation.
Deulofeu’s exceptional cross for Lukaku’s opener in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City was a moment of sheer class, and with the Spaniard, the Belgian and their English team-mate, Barkley, all 22 and under, Roberto Martinez can look forward to more of this over the coming years.
But with Wes Hoolahon’s strike boosting the Carrow Road crowd two minutes into the second half, the Toffees’ faults became apparent once more.
For all of their attacking might, Everton‘s success in the final third is undermined by a lack of ruthlessness elsewhere on the pitch; the hapless efforts of Tim Howard in goal, for example, belie their credentials as a Premier League force.
In the technical area, too, Martinez is worrying reticent when it comes to changing the game with substitutions—is he fearful of upsetting his balance in attack?
It could prove pivotal in his quest for a top-four finish.
Determination and Belief Could Save Bournemouth‘s Season
The sobering news of the loss of Harry Arter’s child at birth in midweek added a poignancy to Bournemouth‘s encounter at home to United on Saturday.
But the way in which Arter and his side responded, continuing their battle against relegation with 2-1 win at Dean Court, showed the hardline determination of the Irish international and his side in adversity.
“The support of everyone at the club is why I felt like I wanted to play as well,” he said after the game.
“They have been unbelievable for me this week and made things a tad easier. I am sure my partner at home will be really proud too. It’s a game that we can look back on with a lot of pride.”
Arter’s impressive performance in the middle of the park was typical of the grit shown by the Cherries this season, and a win against United pushed them further away from the relegation zone.
For Bournemouth, this was about more than the result, as Eddie Howe’s side once again showed the belief that will likely keep them up in 2015/16.
Fortunately for the Yorkshireman, his opposition once again suffered what is becoming a worrying custom: the European hangover.
After going ahead with Eric Dier’s 39th-minute strike, Spurs took their foot off the gas completely, while McClaren urged his side on to victory.
Late goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez sealed another vital three points for Newcastle, and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will be concerned with the drop-off in his side’s output—perhaps particularly the abject display of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
This saw Spurs drop points once again as the race for the top four continues its steady, open dialogue between 11 clubs, and Pochettino will no doubt explore the pitfalls of Europa contention and the Thursday-Sunday gulf as he looks to reinforce his side’s challenge.
The Importance of the Goalkeeper Cannot be Underestimated
Just as Howard and Lloris floundered between the sticks over the weekend, the dismal display of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet highlighted the importance of the goalkeeper.
Mignolet’s lack of command in the penalty area, and his tendency to shrink into the periphery, played into Tony Pulis’ hands on Sunday evening, with West Brom dominant in the Liverpool penalty area.
Both of the Baggies’ goals came from set pieces, and while Mignolet was not the only player at fault, his role was central to Liverpool’s failure.
Contrasting the Belgian’s performance—and that of Howard and Lloris—with those of Watford‘s Heurelho Gomes, Stoke City‘s Jack Butland, West Ham United’s Adrian and, to a lesser extent, Paulo Gazzaniga of Southampton shows why Klopp should be searching for a new No. 1.
Strong, composed and hugely confident, Gomes, Butland and Adrian are playing key roles as their respective sides push up the table.
Watford Form Makes Them Top-10 Favourites
The Hornets have been in exceptional form throughout 2015/16 so far, with the former Real Madrid right-back instilling a rigid defensive core within his new side, as well as magnifying the talents of his strike partnership.
In Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, Watford have a classic attacking duo—the big-man, little-man tandem—and their goals have played a major role as Flores look set to avoid relegation by a wide margin.
Watford welcome Liverpool to Vicarage Road on Sunday, and Klopp will be preparing his side for a tough battle.
Flores has his side extremely focussed, hardworking and, most importantly, thriving in the attacking third, and they could surprise Liverpool with another defeat if they are underestimated.