Naby Keita had not scored for Liverpool since October but he chose a good moment to pop up with a goal and it was beautifully taken too, the 27-year-old dribbling inside from the right then keeping his cool to beat Martin Dubravka and find the net.
It proved a decisive contribution as Liverpool secured a 1-0 win over Newcastle at St James’ Park but it was not all he offered.
Keita’s eye-catching all-round display made him the game’s stand-out performer. As well as scoring the winner and playing a part in many of Liverpool’s best attacking moments, he won possession more times (nine) than anyone else.
His off-the-ball industry on the right of Liverpool’s midfield ensured Joe Gomez was rarely exposed behind him and he also played a key role in their pressing game, snapping at the heels of Newcastle players on the rare occasions they attempted to construct attacks.
Keita’s time at Anfield has been up and down, the Guinea international at times struggling to hold down a place in the side following his arrival from RB Leipzig in 2018.
But this was just the latest in a run of impressive displays.
In the FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City, he was arguably the best player on the pitch. It was a similar story in the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Benfica.
His energy and intensity is proving invaluable for Liverpool as a gruelling season enters a crunch period. He will become even more important if he can produce another goal or two between now and the end of the campaign.
Norwich were finally consigned to the Championship as results conspired against them to prevent another week’s delay.
Dean Smith appeared to trigger a short-lived bounce effect upon taking charge at Carrow Road in mid-November with a 2-1 win against Southampton, followed by back-to-back draws with Wolves and Newcastle – but six consecutive defeats followed.
Norwich mustered another flurry of hope in January, beating Everton and fellow relegation battlers Watford, before a 1-1 stalemate with Crystal Palace – but another six defeats on the bounce virtually sealed the club’s fate.
The Canaries only escaped the drop zone for one matchday throughout the season, following the 3-0 win at Watford in January – a position which was skewed by the fact Smith’s side had played two games more than their relegation rivals.
The club’s immediate return to England’s second tier appears unsurprising, ranking bottom in the division across a raft of stats this term, including goals, shots on target, final-third passes completed, possession won in the middle third and goals conceded.
However, Norwich averaged the fifth-youngest starting XI in the Premier League this season, which suggests Smith’s side has room to develop and improve ahead of the challenge for an immediate return to the top flight next season.
Manchester City have been adding another string to their bow over the last few seasons. As they racked up some 98 points to pip Liverpool to the title by a solitary point, only six of their 95 goals came from corners and 11 from set-pieces – half that of Jurgen Klopp’s side that season.
Over the three years since things have been gradually changing. Driven in his pursuit of perfection, Pep Guardiola saw a weakness in his side’s game and has set about ensuring that even if frustrated in open play, City can still hurt you.
The league leaders now also top the charts for goals from set-pieces too, and needed them to shake off a terrier of a Leeds side who knocked them out of their rhythm for long periods at Elland Road.
That seems an odd claim following a 4-0 win but without City’s opening two goals from set-pieces, both created by well-worked Phil Foden deliveries, Leeds would not have opened up in search of a comeback as they did for the final half hour.
The cushion they provided also helped the Champions League semi-finalists cope with an exhausting week. The emotionally charged 4-3 win over Real Madrid on Tuesday must have taken a lot out of Guardiola’s men, and being able to win without really getting out of third gear is another sign of a good team.
Really, all of this points to one thing. City will take some stopping in the final four games to avoid the Premier League trophy remaining at the Etihad.
Many of the Burnley supporters were still inside Vicarage Road singing Mike Jackson’s name more than 20 minutes after the full-time whistle.
They knew just how important the turnaround victory at Watford might be in their survival bid, and the value of the job caretaker boss Jackson is doing.
It was their third win in his four games in charge meaning Burnley have amassed 10 points during his interim tenure – more than any of the three Watford managers have achieved in their individual spells this season. More importantly, it’s moved them five points above the relegation zone.
We will never know whether they would have still achieved these results under Sean Dyche although, not for the first time this season in an important relegation clash, the grit and character installed by their previous boss was plain to see.
They started poorly but slowly worked their way into the game, regrouped at half-time before dominating the second half. Then, when Jack Cork headed in the equaliser, they went for the win – and got it.
It is hard to believe Jackson when he says he doesn’t look at the league table. Perhaps he has seen enough on the pitch to know that Burnley, at this moment, do not look like a side that will go down.
Watford will be relegated not just as a result of their dismal home record, but because firing multiple managers in a season will rarely achieve Premier League survival.
The last time they dropped out of the top-flight in 2020 came after they had axed bosses Javi Gracia, Quique Sánchez Flores and Nigel Pearson. Now, after firing Xisco Munoz and Claudio Ranieri they are on the brink of heading straight back down.
Watford became the first side in top-flight history to lose 11 consecutive home league games as they imploded against Burnley by conceding twice in the final 10 minutes.
“You saw the fear factor that exists at this place,” said assistant manager Ray Lewington in the aftermath of the defeat which leaves them 12 points adrift of safety with four games remaining.
“Confidence was low when we got here,” he added after Ranieri won just two games from 14 attempts. Manager Roy Hodgson and Lewington, despite their vast experience, have been unable to make any sort of impact.
Hodgson remained seated throughout the Burnley match due to illness, but even when his side went 2-1 down with four minutes remaining, plus added time, he did not make a substitute.
“We just didn’t feel the change would make any difference, we kept it as it was in the hope that we could create something going forward,” said Lewington, a damning verdict on the Watford squad. Perhaps more could be invested into signing players if they stopped hiring and firing.
Bruno Lage didn’t hold back with his post-match comments after an abject display against Brighton that saw Wolves slump to their third straight loss without scoring.
The Wolves boss slammed his side for showing no desire in what he described as their worst performance since his arrival as Nuno Espirito Santo’s replacement last year.
“We just came to watch Brighton play,” concluded the manager.
The home crowd clearly agreed as they booed the team off at half-time, with the few that remaining inside Molineux by the time the final whistle sounded, booing the team back into the dressing-room.
Brighton dominated the clash from the outset, with Wolves playing more like a group of players thrown together on the morning of the game, rather than a team.
Wolves had less possession than the visitors and could only manage a single shot on target in the 90 minutes, with their best chance falling to Pedro Neto who hit the post with what ended up being the last kick of the game.
The result and the performance will give Lage plenty of food for thought heading into what promises to be a far less enjoyable summer than the one Brighton boss Graham Potter can look forward to.
Brighton were solid as a rock at the back, with Marc Cucurella, Yves Bissouma and Enock Mwepu all putting in eye-catching performances.
The win at Molineux was Brighton’s 10th of the season, moving them into the top half of the table and into ninth on 44 points, to record their highest ever Premier League total with three games still to play.
If they can hang onto their best players and recruit well over the summer, Brighton might just be a team to watch out for next season in the race for European football.
After Saturday’s 2-1 comeback win over Southampton, Crystal Palace have their sights firmly set on a top-half finish in the Premier League for the first time since the 2014/15 season. With four fixtures remaining, the Eagles are two points behind 10th-placed Newcastle with a game in hand.
It has been a brilliant start to life at Selhurst Park for Patrick Vieira. Following a run of one point from three league games, either side of an FA Cup semi-final defeat by Chelsea, Palace’s campaign had threatened to fizzle out, but Wilfried Zaha’s late winner at St Mary’s summed up the feel-good factor under the former Arsenal captain.
Palace ended the 2020/21 season fielding the oldest average line-up of any Premier League club, but the likes of Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Marc Guehi, and the impressive Conor Gallagher – on loan from Chelsea – have brought some youthful exuberance to south London.
Every young side needs to be balanced with experience though and Zaha, if he stays, showed he might just be capable of leading this group of players into the next stage of Vieira’s long-term project.
Palace are far from perfect, but they are now playing an attractive brand of football and the excitement at the club is building. Those supporters who travelled down to the south coast on Saturday never stopped singing and never stopped believing. They’ve loved every minute of this entertaining season.
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