Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United could not muster a single victory between them this weekend to leave the Premier League title race still tantalisingly poised headed into a hectic Christmas schedule.
Just three points separate first from fifth, with Leicester and Southampton showing why they deserve to be in the top four with the performances of the weekend to cruise past Brighton and Sheffield United 3-0.
Southampton were just one of the beneficiaries of the impact made by the return of supporters, despite the limited attendances of just 2,000 in some parts of England. Crystal Palace and Fulham fed off the atmosphere at having fans back for the first time in nine months as they held Tottenham and Liverpool respectively.
Everton also welcomed fans back to Goodison Park where they defeated Chelsea.
Tired contenders leave title race wide open
Jurgen Klopp pointed to the demands of European football as the reason for the big guns’ struggles this weekend after a run of three consecutive midweeks in the Champions League and Europa League.
“When you look at the results, all the teams that played Champions League or Europa League had a tough one in this weekend in all the leagues,” said Klopp. “Now after all the games, maybe that was the weekend where we all felt it a little bit.”
Fatigue was the only justification for both sides of the Manchester divide as United and City played out of dull, goalless draw at Old Trafford.
United and City are languishing down in eighth and ninth respectively, but both have games in hand and they face the bottom two in midweek, whilst the top two go head-to-head when Liverpool host Tottenham.
After three seasons in which the title winner has averaged 99 points, the combination of injuries, a condensed calendar and an improving middle class in the Premier League is making for a far more competitive campaign.
Fans making an impact
Prior to the easing of coronavirus restrictions last weekend there had been 42 away wins in the Premier League this season to 36 for the home side.
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes his side’s run of just one win from their opening six games at Old Trafford compared to a perfect record on the road can be explained by the fact there is no such thing as home advantage when all games are behind closed doors.
However, that is no longer the case with some clubs allowed 2,000 fans back, while others in Newcastle, Manchester and the Midlands remain shut out.
The advantage for those teams in Liverpool, London and the south coast could be felt this weekend as Everton, Fulham, Palace and Southampton used the energy from the crowd that had been missing since March in the same way Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea did last weekend.
“They played a big part,” said Fulham boss Scott Parker on the fans impact on helping to hold the champions. “We felt the atmosphere before the game. The players come out for the warm-up and there are 2,000 fans. My God they were right behind this team.”
Arsenal were the only side with a home crowd to lose this weekend and they had dominated Burnley until Granit Xhaka’s 58th minute red card aided the visitors’ route to a 1-0 win at the Emirates.
Headstrong Southampton going places
Southampton are just two points off the top thanks to a stunning run since they lost their opening two games of the season.
Ralph Hassenhuttl’s men will face a real test of their credentials to qualify for Europe when they travel to face troubled Arsenal on Wednesday before hosting Manchester City next weekend. But Hassenhuttl believes he has changed the mentality at St Mary’s to such a degree that they should not be looking over their shoulder at the likes of Chelsea, City and United.
“I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t continue what we’re doing at this moment,” said the Austrian.
“We know every game is tough but as long as I see the guys are hungry, the mentality has changed completely at this club. There’s no reason, for me, why we shouldn’t keep playing like this.”