theScore examines the most important Premier League developments by answering 10 key questions that arose from this weekend’s slate of action.
Does Liverpool’s loss even matter?
Liverpool’s remarkable 44-match unbeaten run, along with their record-equalling 18-match winning streak, were both halted in staggering fashion on Saturday, as the Reds were thoroughly outplayed in a 3-0 defeat to relegation-threatened Watford.
Amid all the hysteria at the final whistle over how, exactly, the lowly Hornets managed to dominate the champions-elect, one nagging thought came to mind: does it really matter that Liverpool finally lost?
Yes, a few potential records went up in smoke at Vicarage Road, but barring an earth-shattering collapse, Jurgen Klopp’s side will capture the title this season, ending the club’s much-publicized 30-year drought. That’s what really matters, at the end of the day. The all-time Premier League points record is still very much in play, too, which is surely the best measuring stick in the debate over the team’s status amongst the league’s all-time great sides. Which brings us to our next point …
Are we putting too much stock in being ‘Invincible?’
Arsenal supporters were jubilant in the wake of Liverpool’s loss, as the Gunners retained their status as the only side in the Premier League era to complete an undefeated season. For a club that hasn’t had much to get excited about recently, the response was understandable.
The Invincible 2003-04 season, overseen by storied bench boss Arsene Wenger, will always have a place in the annals of English football history. There’s a reason nobody else has replicated the feat. It’s damn impressive.
That said, Arsenal finished with 90 points that fateful season after drawing 12 matches. Liverpool already have 79 points on the campaign; they could finish with 109 should they win their remaining ten games. Invincible? No. The best team in league history, though? You be the judge.
Can Watford keep it up?
On the flip side of Saturday’s result, we’d be remiss if we didn’t heap praise on Watford, who looked sharp, quick, and dangerous all game. The opposite of everything they’ve been for most of the season, really. The win, powered largely by the impressive Ismaila Sarr, actually lifted the Hornets out of the relegation zone on goal difference. After looking like a shoo-in to go down, Nigel Pearson has come in and given the club hope of survival.
But can they keep it up? A freak result like this, though wildly impressive, needs to be the building block for a prolonged run of points. Watford would have gone into the match with no expectations, knowing that they were fully expected to be another notch on Liverpool’s record-breaking belt. Surely, that had to provide the players with some sense of freedom. The lack of pressure, though impossible to measure, couldn’t hurt.
When they come up against fellow bottom-half teams, which will be the case in most of Watford’s remaining matches this season, can they maintain that laser focus and attacking panache showed against the Reds, or will they wilt?
What do we make of Chelsea?
Chelsea continue to be an enigma.
At this point in the season, with only 10 matches remaining, you’d expect to have a pretty good grasp on the relative strengths and weaknesses of any given club. The sample size should be more than large enough by now. The Blues, though, are going in the opposite direction. They began the season as a wildly entertaining attacking team that had the firepower to make up for their defensive issues, which stemmed largely from having an unconvincing crop of center-backs.
That issue absolutely remains. If anything, it’s become more pronounced as Frank Lampard continues to slot different options alongside Antonio Rudiger. But the scoring prowess Chelsea showed earlier in the year is disintegrating to the point where Marcos Alonso, who scored both goals in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Bournemouth, appears to be their most credible scoring threat.
Injuries to Tammy Abraham and Christian Pulisic have played a huge role in that, but if Chelsea aren’t careful, their once iron-clad grip on fourth place – and a Champions League berth – is going to disappear.
Can Fernandes carry United into Europe?
It’s still early in his Manchester United career, but in just four league matches, Bruno Fernandes has already established himself as the focal point of the Red Devils’ midfield, pulling the strings and moving freely about the pitch to create chances for his teammates.
He’s paired two Premier League goals with two assists so far, uncorking a long-distance effort on Sunday to help United earn a 1-1 draw against Everton. Jordan Pickford would probably like to have that shot back, but the big-money January signing won’t be too bothered by that, especially when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Co. need every one they can get to squeeze into a Champions League place.
“He’s given everyone a boost,” Solskjaer said of the 25-year-old Fernandes earlier this week. “It means more than just getting a player in. You can see the supporters, they’re used to players with that personality, mentality, and quality so he’s been a big plus.
“He’s come in from day one, the first minute, and felt like a presence in the group. First training session, demanding the ball … He’s a bit of a mix between (Paul) Scholes and (Juan Sebastian) Veron, to be fair. He’s got the temperament maybe of Veron and a lot of the quality of him and Scholesy.”
That may be a stretch – Solskjaer has a penchant for hyperbole – but after watching United be drab and uninspiring for so long, it’s exciting to think about what they can do when Fernandes, Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford all get on the pitch together.
Time to cash in on De Gea?
High-profile (and pretty hilarious) errors have continued to mar David De Gea. The once infallible Spaniard made another brutal blunder this weekend, dawdling with the ball at his feet for no apparent reason, thus letting Dominic Calvert-Lewin block his attempted punt right into a gaping net.
It was an inexplicable error, made worse by the fact that it happened within the opening three minutes of the tussle.
With on-loan youngster Dean Henderson rising to prominence with Sheffield United, perhaps it would behoove the Red Devils to seriously consider cashing in on the 29-year-old De Gea this summer.
In fairness to the Spanish international, he made a spectacular late kick save to salvage the point for Manchester United at Goodison Park, but his mistakes are overshadowing his heroics far too often nowadays.
Did Everton get jobbed?
Everton were perplexed at the final whistle of Sunday’s draw after a last-gasp winner was chalked off for offside. With Gylfi Sigurdsson lying on the ground in front of De Gea, Calvert-Lewin fired a low shot that deflected off Harry Maguire and snuck into the bottom corner.
A brief VAR review deemed Sigurdsson to be interfering with play despite getting his legs out of the way and avoiding contact with the ball. Would De Gea, who was already leaning in the other direction before the deflection, have gotten to the ball if Sigurdsson wasn’t lying there? Probably not. Regardless, as the Icelandic midfielder was directly in the line of the ‘keeper’s vision and made a movement that would theoretically impact De Gea’s ability to make the save, the goal came off the board.
“The decision was difficult. From our side we say Gylfi (Sigurdsson) didn’t affect the vision of the goalkeeper and they decided differently. Sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong. But the performance gives us more confidence that we can compete with these teams,” manager Carlo Ancelotti said after he had a chance to cool down.
The typically reserved Italian, incensed in the immediate aftermath of the decision, was shown a red card for remonstrating with the referee when the final whistle sounded.
“When I saw the red card it was a disappointment,” he later explained. “I asked for an explanation and afterwards I had a conversation with him – I want to keep that private.”
What’s Jose Mourinho thinking?
Look, Jose Mourinho obviously knows more about his team than anybody looking in on the situation from the outside. He’s seeing all the training sessions, he’s interacting with the players, and he and his coaching team are studying the opposition every week to implement a plan that will deliver three points for Tottenham. We can’t dispute that.
But it’s impossible not to question some of the lineup decisions he made on Sunday, even if his squad has been ravaged by untimely, crucial injuries. For all the ailments that have devastated his forward line, Mourinho’s defenders are available for selection, and yet he continues to make puzzling choices in that area which are adversely affecting his team.
Both Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen remained glued to the bench in a critical 3-2 loss to fellow Champions League contenders Wolverhampton Wanderers, with Eric Dier selected to anchor the three-man backline at their expense. Considering Alderweireld is infinitely better than the seldom-used Englishman – even if he’s not at his peak anymore – that seems suboptimal.
Again, Mourinho surely has his reasons, but decisions like that can’t help but leave you scratching your head.
Does anybody want to make the Champions League?
Honestly, who knows at this point.
Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham continue to throw points away at will. Even Leicester City, who not too long ago were challenging for second place, are in a rut, and they’re slowly dropping back toward the chasing pack.
The most solid bet right now might actually be Wolves, who twice came from behind to beat Spurs on Sunday thanks in large part to the contributions of their electrifying attacking duo, Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez. The pair combined to score a breathtaking winner, with the Mexican striker finishing off a counterattacking move that was teed up by Jota.
“It’s an amazing feeling. We knew that we are a very good team that can do these kind of things,” Jimenez said after the match. “This is our spirit, this is what we want. That’s what characterizes us.”
With an exceedingly forgiving schedule over the next month, Wolves may actually be the team that everyone else is trying to chase down in the Champions League race before too long.
Can Bowen, Haller save West Ham?
West Ham United picked up a massive three points on Saturday, beating Southampton to notch their first league victory since Jan. 1. It’s been a while.
Both Jarrod Bowen and Sebastien Haller were on the scoresheet, and the two forwards will need to continue delivering if the Hammers have any chance of avoiding the drop to the Championship. Bowen, lured from Hull City for a reported £22-million during the January transfer window, doesn’t have the luxury of slowly being integrated into the team; West Ham need him to score right away.
Haller, signed in the summer from Eintracht Frankfurt, got off to a quick start with three goals in as many matches to begin his Premier League adventure, but, like the rest of his team, his production fell off a cliff shortly after.
His goal on Saturday was his first since that aforementioned win on New Year’s Day. If he can regain his scoring form, and Bowen can chip in as well, David Moyes should be able to keep this team in the top flight.