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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 22 February, 2020

Liverpool and Mignolet enjoy rub of the green and more Premier League talking points

Plus, Wayne Rooney heaps misery on old boss David Moyes.

1. Liverpool enjoy rub of the green in Stoke win

Stoke City v Liverpool - Premier League - bet365 Stadium Mo Salah celebrates his goal. Source: David Davies

THERE WERE TWO pivotal moments that went Liverpool’s way in their 3-0 victory against Stoke tonight.

The referee certainly could not be accused of being a ‘homer’ as he got the fans at the Britannia Stadium riled up on more than one occasion.

One of the officials’ big calls looked correct, while the other was extremely questionable.

Simon Mignolet brought down Mame Biram Diouf on the edge of the area towards the end of the first half.

The Belgian stopper was the last man and denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. By the letter of the law, he surely should have been dismissed, but the referee rather leniently let him off with a booking.

Of course, the outcome may well have been the same had the card issued been red instead of yellow.

Liverpool would still have been potent on the counter-attack and would probably have brought on the magnificent Salah anyway, while Stoke would likely have still been somewhat lacklustre going forward — they managed only one shot on target all night.

Nevertheless, Mark Hughes, who is under pressure with his side just three points above the relegation zone, has reason to feel aggrieved over a decision that may well have cost the Potters at least a point.

2. Relentless Man City show mentality to match class

Manchester City v Southampton - Premier League - Etihad Stadium Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola celebrates their last minute goal with David Silva. Source: Mike Egerton

Raheem Sterling and Man City have been on a seriously impressive run of late.

The England international could legitimately be called inconsistent in the past, but Pep Guardiola seems to have improved the youngster considerably since taking over at the club.

Sterling, one of the players of the season so far, has now scored late winners in City’s last three matches — against Feyenoord, Huddersfield and tonight.

And while the 22-year-old continues to grab headlines, City as a unit — more than anything else — are truly exceptional.

Everton remain the only Premier League side to have taken points off the Etihad outfit this season.

This evening was Guardiola’s side’s 12th league win in succession and sees them go eight points clear at the top of the table.

It’s also no coincidence that they keep scoring late winners. Not only is Guardiola’s style of football effective and beautiful to watch, it’s also useful for grinding teams down.

The hosts had 74% of the possession tonight — with that much of the ball, the opposition are bound to tire and lose concentration in the latter stages owing to all the chasing they constantly have to do, thanks to the technical wizardry of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne among others.

3. Rooney heaps misery on old boss Moyes

Everton v West Ham United - Premier League - Goodison Park Everton's Wayne Rooney celebrates his second goal of the game. Source: Richard Sellers

Wayne Rooney has not had the best of seasons and at 32, is undoubtedly past his best.

For the astronomical money he is earning and the standards by which he deserves to be judged, five Everton goals in 19 appearances before tonight is a disappointing return.

However, in a relegation six-pointer and with incoming boss Sam Allardyce watching on, Rooney showed some of his old magic this evening.

After scoring two clinically taken goals to give Everton a healthy lead, he effectively sealed his side’s victory in the 66th minute.

Following a poor clearance by Joe Hart, Rooney found the net from inside his own half, with a dazzling half volley, heaping misery on former coach David Moyes in the process.

Perhaps most interestingly, Rooney was picked in central midfield by caretaker manager David Unsworth this evening — the position Jose Mourinho insisted the former England international could not play during his Man United days.

It will be intriguing to see how Allardyce uses Rooney. Despite being left out of the starting XI for the weekend’s 4-1 loss to Southampton, tonight would suggest he remains a key figure for the Toffees, who went up to 13th in the table following the emphatic win.

4. Burnley and Brady in wonderland

AFC Bournemouth v Burnley - Premier League - Vitality Stadium Burnley's Robbie Brady (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with team-mates. Source: Steven Paston

Somewhat incredibly, a 2-1 win over Bournemouth saw Burnley leapfrog Tottenham into sixth position.

The Clarets are just three points off fourth-place Arsenal, despite having just a fraction of the resources of the sides around them.

When The42 spoke to Stephen Ward at the beginning of the season, the left-back suggested his team would take narrowly avoiding relegation and finishing 17th if it was offered to them at that stage.

Yet Burnley must surely have more lofty ambitions now, as they are just 15 points off the 40-point mark that is usually good enough to survive the drop.

One benefit to the side has been the form of Robbie Brady. The Dubliner may have disappointed for Ireland in the recent games against Denmark, but he has been frequently outstanding for Burnley.

Having been in and out of the side last season, the 25-year-old has been a regular since the start of the campaign, featuring in all 14 of the team’s Premier League games so far.

Tonight, his terrific season continued, as a beautifully taken strike helped Sean Dyche’s men earn a hard-fought away victory.

An assist for Chris Wood’s opener, meanwhile, ensured the former St Kevin’s Boys youngster took home the man-of-the-match accolade.

5. Ozil shines in Arsenal rout 

Arsenal v Huddersfield Town - Premier League - Emirates Stadium Mesut Ozil reacts to scoring. Source: Nigel French

Mesut Ozil attracts an awful lot of criticism, and rightfully so at times.

The German international has a tendency to disappear from games, particularly when the chips are down.

But on his day, there are few more naturally gifted players in the Premier League.

Tonight was a good example of his prowess — Ozil was inspirational, scoring one and setting up two as Arsenal thumped Huddersfield 5-0.

The 29-year-old, who is out of contract in the summer, was also highly influential in the Gunners’ morale-boosting 2-0 win over bitter rivals Tottenham earlier this month.

There has been plenty of focus in recent times on what he cannot do, but as a creative player whose job is to take risks in the final third, there are bound to be some nights where his intricate passes invariably don’t come off.

The ex-Real Madrid star still can be better and stamp his influence on big games more, of course — the fact that he was left out of the starting XI against Chelsea last September was an indication that even Wenger has reservations about playing him against elite sides — but it’s also important to recognise his brilliance and savour evenings like tonight.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Paul Fennessy

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