MANCHESTER (Reuters) – The Premier League title battle appears a two-horse race after leaders Liverpool and champions Manchester City both won on Wednesday while third-placed Tottenham fell to a second straight defeat.
Liverpool thrashed Watford 5-0 and champions City claimed a narrow 1-0 win over West Ham United, but third-placed Tottenham’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea left them nine points off the top, needing a remarkable turn of events to make up the gap.
Liverpool, who had struggled to create openings in recent goalless draws with Bayern Munich and Manchester United, returned to their prolific best by crushing eighth-placed Watford.
Senegalese striker Sadio Mane and Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk both scored twice for Juergen Klopp’s side who took early command.
Mane scored both his goals inside the opening 20 minutes – the first a header and the second a cheeky back-heel with both set-up by the excellent Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Klopp laughed off his team’s recent form and said there was plenty of excitement to come in the season.
“We drew against Manchester United and Bayern Munich. I think most teams would wish they had these problems,” said the German.
“Tonight we were sensational. It was really good football. We have 69 points. We could have had 75 that’s possible. But we are playing a really good season. Let’s enjoy the ride and see as far as it takes us.”
City needed a questionable penalty, converted by Sergio Aguero in the 59th minute, to beat a highly-disciplined West Ham, staying a point adrift of Klopp’s side in the table.
Although City dominated the game, they struggled to create clear openings against a West Ham backline that forced them out wide where Guardiola’s side, for once, struggled to carve out opportunities.
“We played so well, you see the scoreline and think it was a tough game but… we did everything and they created one shot on the target. I am delighted with the way we performed,” said City manager Pep Guardiola.
Yet West Ham’s former City manager Manuel Pellegrini was far from happy with the penalty decision.
“To be generous, it is a little soft, but that is too generous. It was not a penalty. If we lose this game with another action then maybe we can accept it but not that penalty,” said the Chilean.
Tottenham’s title hopes faded with Saturday’s loss to Burnley and defeat to Chelsea pushed them further out of contention.
Under-pressure Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri dropped Kepa Arrizabalaga, the world’s most expensive keeper, in favour of Willy Caballero after the Spaniard refused to be substituted in Sunday’s League Cup final defeat to Manchester City at Wembley.
Chelsea secured the three points thanks to Pedro’s opener midway through the second half and an embarrassing Kieran Trippier own goal late on, leaving Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino with no complaints about the result.
“They dominated, we dominated, I think they have one shot on target and they score – we had zero and it’s impossible to score. But we didn’t deserve more than to lose,” he said.
Injury-hit Manchester United remain unbeaten in the Premier League under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after Romelu Lukaku scored twice in a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace.
United remain fifth, a point behind Arsenal who smashed Bournemouth 5-1 at the Emirates with Mesut Ozil marking his first Premier League start of 2019 with a goal and an assist. Southampton climbed out of the bottom three with a 2-0 win over second-bottom Fulham with first-half goals from Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse.
The win lifts the Saints onto 27 points, two points above 18th-placed Cardiff City. Fulham are 19th on 17 points, three clear of bottom side Huddersfield Town.