Liverpool and Chelsea breathe new life into title race

Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 3-1 to cut the gap to Premier League leaders Manchester City
Liverpool beat Crystal Palace 3-1 to cut the gap to Premier League leaders Manchester City

Call off the trophy engravers; hold that order of sky blue ticker tape; put Pep Guardiola’s dancing shoes away for now: we may have a Premier League title race after all. 

Leaders Manchester City’s slip-up at Southampton on Saturday dropped blood into the water and 24 hours later Liverpool and Chelsea showed they still have the taste for a chase.

Liverpool closed the gap to nine points and a game in hand with a 3-1 victory at Crystal Palace on Sunday that owed more than a little to good fortune.

Hours later, Chelsea revived their faintest of hopes by beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 and moving to within 10 points of runaway leaders City.

City may disagree but their dropping of points came at an ideal time, injecting some jeopardy into their title defence as the Premier League pauses for its winter break.

Liverpool, meanwhile, can toast their success in negotiating a tricky period, while Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are absent at the Africa Cup of Nations.

With their prolific forwards unavailable they have progressed in both domestic cup competitions and won both league games, scoring three times in each.

Yet it was not as easy as the scoreline might suggest, despite going two up inside 31 minutes through Virgil van Dijk’s header and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strike.

For half an hour either side of half-time Palace cut through Liverpool’s defence time and time again, with livewire Michael Olise to the fore.

Wasteful finishing from Jean-Philippe Mateta and Odsonne Edouard spared the visitors until the 55th minute, when the two combined for the latter to tap in and revive the contest.

In the dying moments Liverpool were bailed out by VAR, however, when they received the most generous of penalty awards after a video review. Fabinho converted.

It was not the finale either the game or Palace merited but Jurgen Klopp won’t mind. His team  now have a target to chase, however small, and neutrals have a contest.

Chelsea ride luck to end winless run

Whether Chelsea can be said to be part of any title race is open to debate, but an end to their four-game winless run in the Premier League means they can look up rather than down again.

They were good value for their win over Tottenham, even if they had to ride their luck when Harry Kane had an effort softly disallowed for a push on Tiago Silva shortly before half-time.

Hakim Ziyech put them ahead just after the break with his third goal in his last four starts, a left-footed curler that goalkeeper Hugo Lloris appeared to think was sailing wide until a late swing into the top corner. 

Morocco chose not to select the winger for the Africa Cup of Nations; their loss has very much been Chelsea and Ziyech’s gain.

Chelsea’s second came in the 55th minute, when Mason Mount’s free-kick appeared to be glanced in by Tiago Silva. 

Hakim Ziyech helped Chelsea end their four-game winless run in the Premier League
Hakim Ziyech helped Chelsea end their four-game winless run in the Premier League

This was the west Londoners’ third win over their rivals from across the capital in under three weeks, underlying the gulf in class between the league’s top three and the rest.

For Spurs, questions remain about their ability to beat those around them in the table. Their six top-flight defeats this term have come against teams currently sitting above their seventh place.

Antonio Conte has made no secret of his desire for reinforcements but as the transfer window enters its final week, none have yet been forthcoming. It is a familiar tale for a Spurs boss.

For Thomas Tuchel, meanwhile, who celebrates his one-year anniversary as Chelsea manager on Wednesday, a nine-point cushion to fourth-placed Manchester United is a decent present.


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