MANCHESTER, England, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Five talking-points from the Premier League weekend after Liverpool crushed Arsenal, Tottenham’s great run of form ended with defeat to Wolves and Manchester United won their third game in a row under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
There is something slightly tedious and certainly cliched about a top of the table manager refusing to talk about the title race and insisting his team are taking ‘one game at a time’. But there is a reason why they do so and Juergen Klopp is certainly justified in his stance.
Liverpool are in sensational form at the moment, they swept aside Arsenal at Anfield in Saturday’s 5-1 win and look unstoppable.
A seven-point lead over Manchester City at this stage puts the Reds in the driving seat but with the two sides meeting at the Etihad on Thursday, that advantage could be cut back to just four points.
Four points can be wiped out in two games.
The German coach knows his Liverpool history, as much as he likes to downplay its significance, and there is plenty in the club’s past, not least the doomed 2014 title bid, to suggest that excessive expectations and excitement can sometimes get the better of the players.
Was Paul Pogba’s poor form at Manchester United a result of being unhappy under Jose Mourinho’s leadership? Or was he over-rated, petulant and as much to blame for United’s poor season as the Portuguese manager?
It was a question many United fans have pondered this season but three games into the post-Mourinho era - and he has provided an answer.
Pogba has scored four goals in those games and he has shown, especially in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Bournemouth, that when he feels valued, his confidence returns.
With his newly rediscovered belief, Pogba lives up his billing as a genuine world class talent. Strutting on the ball, delivering killer paces and making devastating runs into the box, the Frenchman was superb against Eddie Howe’s side.
Pogba has been told, by caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his coaching staff, to be himself, to express his creativity but not to let that freedom cross into self-indulgence.
The message has been a welcome one for the former Juventus midfielder and United are reaping the benefit.
A happy Pogba’s influence is rubbing off on Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, both of whom look full of life and invention. Suddenly United are having fun and are fun to watch.
With Fernandinho, David Silva and Sergio Aguero all fit again and in the starting line-up, Manchester City returned to winning ways at Southampton after defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester City.
The absence of all three of those players in recent weeks has hampered City’s progress and their return is timely given the crunch match with Liverpool at the Etihad on Thursday.
Kevin De Bruyne missed out on the trip to St Mary’s with a muscle injury but if he is 100 percent by Thursday, City could line-up with last season’s midfield trio of David Silva, Fernandinho and De Bruyne for the first time in this campaign.
The stunning 6-2 win at Everton and the 5-0 crushing over Bournemouth saw Spurs move up to second in the Premier League and prompt talk of a genuine title bid from Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
But a 3-1 home loss to Wolves on Saturday has put such optimism on hold and has led to some crowing that Spurs lack the ‘bottle’ to cope with such expectations.
But Pochettino highlighted the real issue. To be title winners in the Premier League you need constant focus, constantly.
“You need to play 95 minutes your best. We dropped a little bit our energy and focus, and in the last 20 minutes we conceded three goals.
“That’s why it’s so tough to win the Premier League because you need to be consistent. And (Saturday) it’s a clear example if you are not consistent enough, with not only good quality during the game but the right energy, it’s difficult to compete for these things.”
For weeks Burnley fans have been suggesting that while Joe Hart, the former Manchester City and England keeper, had not made any howling mistakes, the team’s defence did not look as solid with him in goal as they did under predecessors Tom Heaton and Nick Pope.
Hart was signed after injuries sidelined both the club’s other keepers but with Heaton sat on the bench while the team slumped into the relegation zone, many Clarets supporters wanted manager Sean Dyche to recall the club captain.
The 5-1 home loss to Everton on Boxing Day was evidence the problems at Burnley, who finished seventh last season, were getting serious.
Dyche bit the bullet for Sunday’s visit of West Ham and with the crowd welcoming that move, Burnley looked back to their form of last season as they enjoyed a 2-0 win over the in-form Hammers.
Heaton had been expected to move in the January transfer window but now says that is unlikely.
“With January coming and me not playing it was uncertain,” he said. “Does that change now? I’d imagine so.” (Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Pritha Sarkar)