Manchester City’s Premier League title defence came to an end on Thursday as Liverpool were crowned champions. Chelsea boosted their chances of a top-four finish with a 2-1 win over Pep Guardiola’s men while Arsenal kept alive their hopes of qualifying for Europe.
The defensive mistakes that have undone City’s title challenge were in evidence as Christian Pulisic punished two errors by Benjamin Mendy to open the scoring.
Kevin De Bruyne’s brilliant free-kick brought the visitors level, but Liverpool’s 30-year wait to win a league title was ended when Fernandinho was sent-off for palming the ball clear off his own goal line and Willian converted the resulting penalty 12 minutes from time.
A huge three points for Frank Lampard’s men moves them within a point of third-placed Leicester and opens a five-point advantage over Manchester United and Wolves in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
For Arsenal, Eddie Nketiah punished a howler from Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to inspire a much-needed 2-0 win. Mikel Arteta’s side were handed the opener in the first half at St Mary’s when Nketiah picked off McCarthy’s pass and fired home.
Joe Willock doubled their lead late in the second half, moments after Southampton’s Jack Stephens was sent off for bringing down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
As it stands, City are banned from European competition for the next two seasons, but still have aspirations to win the Champions League for the first time when the competition resumes in August.
However, Guardiola was given another reminder that his side’s defending must improve to compete with Europe’s best. After a slow start, Chelsea began to enjoy the better of the chances as Olivier Giroud failed to connect with a dangerous Ross Barkley cross before Andreas Christensen’s header was well saved by Ederson.
Two calamitous pieces of defending from Mendy then presented Pulisic with the opener as the Frenchman overhit a pass into Ilkay Gundogan and then dived in to allow the American a clear run on goal.
Pulisic kept his head to slot into the far corner and score his second goal of the restart after a long injury layoff before the coronavirus shutdown.
City responded strongly after a talking to by Guardiola at half-time as they tried to keep Liverpool waiting for at least another week when they face the Reds at the Etihad.
Chelsea have long since regretted letting De Bruyne go and the Belgian midfielder gave another reminder to the Blues what they are missing by sending a dipping free-kick into the top corner.
City’s strength in depth has been emphasised by the temporary change in rules to allow five substitutions and nine replacements on the bench.
Guardiola introduced Gabriel Jesus and David Silva straight after the equaliser and Chelsea were left clinging on for a spell.
Raheem Sterling nearly capped a brilliant counter-attack from Ederson’s throw out to first time passes from De Bruyne and Jesus only to see his chip over Kepa Arrizabalaga come back off the post.
An uncharacteristic error from Ederson then nearly threw City’s good work away as the Brazilian passed the ball into the path of Mason Mount, who wastefully fired wide.
Only a stunning goal line clearance from Kyle Walker then denied Pulisic a second after rounding Ederson as City’s defence was again caught flat-footed.
However, City were punished at the third time of asking as after seemingly escaping a goal mouth scramble, VAR was required to see Fernandinho had used a hand to clear.
The Brazilian was given his marching orders and then saw his former international teammate Willian dispatch the penalty confidently into the top corner.
That was the cue for Liverpool fans around the world the celebrate the end of a three-decade wait as they were finally crowned champions of England.
Arsenal snap troubling streak
Arsenal had suffered two successive defeats following the Premier League restart after the coronavirus hiatus.
That wretched run effectively ended their bid to reach the Champions League and sparked criticism of Arteta’s decision to give new contracts to David Luiz and Cedric Soares despite their problems with poor form and injuries respectively.
Against the dispiriting backdrop, Arsenal’s success at St Mary’s, which lifted them into ninth place and kept them in the hunt for a Europa League berth, was a welcome tonic for Arteta.
“It was an important win for us. We had two very difficult weeks with a lot of things that happened to us,” Arteta said.
“I was concerned because after the defeat at Brighton where we threw the game away, it really touched the team.”
Arsenal had kicked off with 40 points, which ranked as their joint lowest tally after 30 games of a Premier League campaign.
Matteo Guendouzi was dropped just days after reports that Arteta has grown frustrated with the French midfielder’s behaviour, while Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil were left on the bench.
Guendouzi reportedly taunted Brighton players about how much he earns during Saturday’s match and clashed with Seagulls striker Neal Maupay after the final whistle, with his absence at St Mary’s put down to “squad management” by Arteta.
“No [it wasn’t punishment for Brighton],” Arteta said. “I don’t like to make any decisions to send messages.
“The messages that I send to the team or individually are very open and I’m clear with how I feel.
“Whatever issue we have internally, I will resolve it in a private way.”
Despite all the turbulence around Arsenal at present, they started brightly in scorching hot temperatures on the south-coast.
Aubameyang should have put Arsenal ahead early on but, after racing into the penalty area, the Gabon forward’s close-range shot cannoned off the bar and bounced clear.
The Gunners were making all the running and their pressure was rewarded in the 20th minute thanks to the gift from McCarthy.
Chasing down Jan Bednarek’s ball to McCarthy, Nketiah forced a woefully misdirected pass from the Saints keeper, pounced on the loose ball and slotted into the empty net.
It was the 21-year-old’s second Premier League goal of the season and his fourth in all competitions for the Gunners after a loan spell at Leeds.
Arsenal had blown the lead at Brighton and have a poor away record this season, so alarm bells were ringing when Southampton striker Danny Ings was left unmarked to volley over.
But Stephens saw red for his foul on Aubameyang on the edge of the area and Willock slotted home from close-range to seal the points in the 87th minute.
Burnley sink Watford
In Thursday’s other early kick-off, Burnley beat struggling Watford 1-0 thanks to Jay Rodriguez’s goal.
Sean Dyche’s team took the lead in the 73rd minute when Rodriguez got across his man at the near post and stooped to head in Dwight McNeil’s cross.
Burnley, rocked by speculation Dyche might quit at the end of the season, remain in mid-table, while Watford are just one point above the relegation zone.
“I’ve always said that somewhere down the line one party wants the other one gone or another party comes in. That is not to do with this moment,” Dyche said when asked about his future.
“I’ve been saying that for six out of seven-and-a-half years when I’ve been linked with various situations and I’m still here.”
With AFP Inputs