1. A full debut to remember for Brady
BURNLEY MANAGED TO do something today that just one other side outside the top six has achieved this season — take points off Chelsea.
Not since Swansea’s 2-2 draw with the Blues last September has one of the so-called lesser teams succeeded in curing Chelsea’s seemingly unstoppable march towards the Premier League title until now.
Antonio Conte’s side’s ruthlessness in dispatching the weakest teams in the league has been the primary reason why they currently sit 10 points clear at the top.
Yet today, they encountered a stumbling block, as Burnley’s excellent form at Turf Moor continued.
The Clarets had one man in particular to thank for their revival, after Pedro had given the visitors the lead. Ireland international Robbie Brady, making his full debut for Burnley on the left side of midfield, curled home a beautiful a free kick to earn Sean Dyche’s side a hard-fought draw.
It was the second time within the space of a few months that the Dubliner left Conte frustrated — Brady’s headed winner ensured a few sleepless nights at Euro 2016 for the then-Italy boss last summer.
The pressure will have been on the 25-year-old winger, after he became Burnley’s record signing during the January transfer window, yet today constituted the perfect start as he bids to repay a substantial portion of that lofty fee, with moments such as the goal this afternoon enhancing his status as one of Europe’s most talented dead-ball specialists.
2. Liverpool exploit Tottenham’s vulnerable left side
Liverpool produced what was surely their best display of 2017, as they earned a deserved 2-0 win over Tottenham at Anfield yesterday.
Before Saturday evening, in 10 matches since their defeat of Man City on New Year’s Eve, they picked up just one win — a 1-0 victory over Plymouth in an FA Cup third-round replay.
But last night, a victory seldom looked in doubt for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who dominated proceedings from start to finish.
Yet as sharp and tenacious as the Liverpool performance was, Tottenham were invariably the architects of their own downfall.
A jaded display saw Spurs concede twice within one frenetic 138-second spell. Both goals emanated from unforced errors — Victor Wanyama gave the ball away sloppily in the lead up to the first goal, while Eric Dier was caught in possession and ultimately punished as Mane claimed his second goal in quick succession.
Liverpool badly missed their pacy attacker while he was away on Africa Cup of Nations duty, and it’s no coincidence that they have started to look a far more potent force now that he has returned — the uncharacteristically inept Spurs backline simply could not deal with the Senegal international’s rapid movement up front.
Moreover, Klopp clearly had done his homework ahead of the game. Liverpool launched the vast majority of their attacks down Tottenham’s makeshift left-side.
On the left wing, Son Heung-min produced an ill-disciplined performance, constantly finding himself too far forward as Liverpool counter-attacked, while full-back Ben Davies — in the side in place of the injured Danny Rose — was regularly exposed by the hosts’ dynamic attack as a result of the lack of protection in front of him.
3. Martial’s patience rewarded
Anthony Martial earned another chance to impress for Manchester United through hard work, manager Jose Mourinho claimed after the Frenchman starred in a 2-0 Premier League victory over Watford on Saturday.
Martial crossed for Juan Mata to open the scoring at Old Trafford and the forward then added the second goal for a dominant United himself with a sweetly taken finish to score his first Premier League goal of 2017.
Mourinho previously recalled Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Bastian Schweinsteiger after respective spells on the sidelines and the Portuguese said Martial deserved to start against Watford due to his performances in training.
“Martial deserves the chance,” Mourinho told BBC Sport after United extended their unbeaten run to 16 league games.
“He has worked harder than ever in the last two weeks in the way I like – silence but hard.”
4. Hughes and Pulis emerge from petty argument with little credit
The current argument that appears to have developed between Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes is one of the strangest managerial spats in recent memory.
Some have speculated that the feud between the two clubs began when news leaked that Stoke player Saido Berahino had failed a test for recreational drugs use while at West Brom.
Hughes subsequently expressed his disappointment that the news was leaked — a strange complaint perhaps, as transparency around such matters is surely vital if football is to promote an image of a clean, drugs-free sport.
The ill feeling between the clubs escalated, after Hughes claimed Pulis phoned Ryan Shawcross to call him a “loser” after their match last weekend.
The Potters’ 1-0 loss at the Hawthorns was played amid a bitter atmosphere, with the managers refusing to shake each other’s hands at the final whistle and Berahino loudly booed by his former fans.
Pulis then responded to Hughes’ remarks yesterday, calling the Stoke boss’ claims about the apparent Shawcross incident “absolutely disgraceful”.
The matter has therefore ultimately descended into a bizarre saga from which neither party is emerging with much credit.
5. Claudio Ranieri looks doomed
Following today’s loss to a Swansea side rejuvenated under new boss Paul Clement, Leicester have now gone over 10 hours without a Premier League goal.
The Foxes are consequently 17th, just one point above the relegation zone, and are in danger of becoming the first side to be relegated directly after winning the league in nearly 80 years — Man City in 1938 were the last team endure this unenviable fate.
Other than the loss of the inspirational N’Golo Kante in the summer to Chelsea, it is effectively the same side that were crowned Premier League champions last May. Such contrasting form simply defies explanation.
Claudio Ranieri may have been given a vote of confidence by his board recently, but such promises mean little in the harsh, results-driven business of modern-day football.
Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was in attendance today, amid what was billed as the most important game of their season, and it’s easy to see his patience wearing thin imminently, particularly after such a convincing and demoralising loss to a relegation rival.
Ranieri winning the Premier League with Leicester was undoubtedly the greatest individual managerial achievement in the competition’s history, but that historic feat has been undermined by the current disastrous campaign.
The Italian has earned plenty of goodwill on the back of last season, but the old ‘what have you done for me lately’ adage is especially pertinent in this most fickle of industries.
Additional reporting by Goal.com
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