If there were any suspicions that the Premier League might have a title race after all – that its leaders, after seeing their winning streak snapped by Crystal Palace, might be vulnerable – they lasted little more than 48 hours. Manchester City wasted no time quashing them.
The Citizens led Watford inside a minute, and restored their 15-point lead atop the table with a comfortable 3-1 victory. It wasn’t quite the 6-0 thrashing of the Hornets back in September. But it wasn’t too far away.
City welcomed back a few members of its first-choice starting 11, and got back to its inexorable best. David Silva returned to the team after a brief leave to deal with personal issues. John Stones made his first appearance since straining his hamstring in November. And superhuman midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, remarkably, returned from a scary lower-leg injury suffered just two days earlier.
City was ahead after just 37 seconds. Raheem Sterling capitalized on some slack Watford marking, and turned in Leroy Sane’s cross at the back post:
De Bruyne then created City’s second, and hit the crossbar with a thunderous free kick that nearly was a third.
Sergio Aguero, who’ll shoulder more responsibility with Gabriel Jesus ruled out for at least a month, got City’s third early in the second half.
Watford manufactured a late consolation goal, and City’s defense, in all honesty, was alarmingly lax over the final 10 minutes. Watford should have had a penalty in stoppage time to make it 3-2.
But City easily found its footing after the slip-up at Selhurst Park. And with its first-choice 11 reunited – sans long-term absentee Benjamin Mendy – it should continue to widen the gap at the top of the league.
Tottenham survives at Swansea
Mauricio Pochettino chose to rest Harry Kane after his star striker came down with an illness. Kane could have started if necessary, but Spurs also play again in two days against West Ham. And, as it turns out, he wasn’t necessary.
His replacement, Fernando Llorente, scored the opening goal of a wet, wacky match against his former club. Llorente was clearly offside when Christian Eriksen served in a sumptuous free kick, but the assistant referee, looking on through torrential rain, failed to spot the infraction.
Toward the end of the first half, which was bossed by Spurs, the ball began to hold up on a water-logged Liberty Stadium pitch. Players dripped with excess rain water as if their chins were storm drain pipes.
the wet look is in pic.twitter.com/a2Tn34UOTr
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) January 2, 2018
In the second half, as the rain eased up, Spurs wobbled. Swansea, on the back of a comeback win against Watford, had a few chances to equalize. Hugo Lloris stood tall to keep the Swans off the board, and got a little help from his left-hand post, too.
In the end, Kane came on for the final 22 minutes and helped put the game away. He released Dele Alli with a brilliant ball, and the 21-year-old English attacker, after being denied at the first attempt, bundled the rebound into the roof of the net.
Tottenham’s performance wasn’t awe-inspiring by any stretch of the imagination. But it hung on for three points in difficult conditions, and if it takes three more on Thursday, it’ll head into the brief FA Cup break one point off fourth place.
Andy Carroll’s stoppage-time winner completes West Ham comeback
The biggest result of the day had nothing to do with the title race, or the battle for the Champions League places. It had a lot to do with the battle to avoid the drop, which suddenly has two clear underdogs.
West Ham and West Brom both entered the day in the bottom three, which mean Tuesday’s clash at the London Stadium qualified as a relegation six-pointer – and a massive one at that. Andy Carroll’s first goal of the season cancelled out James McClean’s deflected opener to bring the home team level in a tense affair.
The overpowering header was vintage Carroll. But the English striker wasn’t done.
With hopes of a winner at either end fading, Carroll found himself unmarked at the back post. Marko Arnautovic’s cross eluded Chicharito, but trickled through to Carroll, who finished from a tight angle.
The 94th-minute winner caused goalkeeper Adrian to run the length of the pitch to join in the celebrations. That’s how much it meant to West Ham. It lifted David Moyes’ side out of the relegation zone, and opened up a four-point gap between 18th – Stoke City – and the bottom two – West Brom and Swansea.
Southampton in trouble
Southampton is too good to get sucked into the relegation battle. Or so it would seem. But the Saints continue to underwhelm, and the longer they hang around near the bottom three, the more real a threat the drop becomes.
Southampton was well on top of Crystal Palace in the first half at St. Mary’s on Tuesday, and was 1-0 up as well. Shane Long scored his first goal in 325 days to put the hosts ahead.
But the Saints couldn’t put Palace away. They didn’t create enough chances while they were in control. And they paid the price.
James McCarthur equalized with just over 20 minutes remaining:
Luka Milivojevic – two days after missing the penalty that could have ended Man City’s unbeaten run – then won the game in the 80th minute:
The Eagles, even with the win, are just two points clear of 18th place. But they look like one of the 10 best teams in the league, and should soon distance themselves from the pack.
Southampton, meanwhile, looks like one of the 10 best teams in the league on paper. But the Saints are stuck in 17th, level on points with 18th-place Stoke. Mauricio Pellegrino is under pressure. There’s no need to panic. But it’s almost time to seriously consider the possibility that Southampton is a relegation candidate.
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