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Talking points from Premier League Matchday 29 – Liverpool suffer travel sickness, Arsenal have intestinal fortitude and more

The Premier League returned after the international break and generated plenty of intriguing storylines, from the title race and relegation scrap to Chelsea’s fall from grace.

While Arsenal and Manchester City strengthened their title credentials with identical 4-1 victories over Leeds United and Liverpool, respectively, Chelsea’s freefall continued in west London.

But as the title race heats up, so does a fierce battle for survival, with a plethora of teams still fighting tooth and nail to cling to their top-flight status as the Premier League approaches the run-in.

Here are six talking points from the first post-international break Premier League round.

Liverpool’s Premier League travel sickness

What looked like a promising start for Liverpool turned into a nightmare as Man City fought from an early deficit to humble the Reds 4-1 in Saturday’s mammoth showdown at the Etihad Stadium.

Even though the Premier League leading goalscorer Erling Braut Haaland was out with a groin injury, Pep Guardiola’s high-flyers coasted to an eye-catching win over bitter rivals to keep their title dream alive. 

Completely overpowered and outclassed, the Merseyside strugglers were lucky to get away with ‘only four goals conceded,’ as admitted by frustrated Jurgen Klopp in the aftermath (via the Independent). 

In addition to suffering their first loss when taking the lead in 37 Premier League fixtures, Liverpool went down for the eighth time on the road this season, accounting for their worst away league record under Klopp.

You don’t have to look beyond their dismal 12-point tally outside Anfield to understand their proneness to waste points on hostile turf, but the Reds seem to have taken their dreadful away form to a new level.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of when losing to a star-studded Man City, but defeats at Brighton & Hove Albion, Brentford, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bournemouth earlier this year have caught the eye of the critics. 

Arsenal prove they’re title material

Doubters will always doubt, but Arsenal’s overwhelming 4-1 rout of Leeds on Saturday was a statement of intent as they followed Man City’s example from earlier in the day with another outrageous performance. 

Gabriel Jesus returned to the scoresheet with a brace in his first Premier League after a long-term injury, helping Mikel Arteta’s side tear the Whites to pieces and re-establish an eight-point cushion at the summit.

Not only have the Gunners won seven league matches on the spin since a 3-1 home loss to the Cityzens, but they again proved how formidable they’re to play against when having the lead.

They’ve not lost a single Premier League match when leading at half-time this season, pinpointing Arteta’s unwavering desire to get Arsenal over the line for the first time since Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles.’ 

On top of their relentless form against pre-match outsiders, the Gunners delivered another free-scoring showing, with only Man City (71) netting more Premier League goals than them (70) this term.

Going toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s most prolific sides this deep into the season is another clear indication that the Londoners are on the right course.

Is it time to cut Potter loose?

March’s international break seems to have curtailed Chelsea’s momentum as Aston Villa’s commanding 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge knocked the Blues down from a three-match unbeaten league run (W2, D1). 

Although it looked like Graham Potter turned the corner following a ponderous start to the new calendar year, his team has returned to a dark place they hoped to have left behind in early March. 

Ollie Watkins and John McGinn scored on either side of half-time on Saturday to heap more pressure on Potter and send Chelsea into the bottom half of the table.

Languishing alongside the likes of Bournemouth and Crystal Palace was not what the club’s powerbrokers had in mind when they forked out upwards of £300 million on players in January.

But the reality is harsh. Chelsea may have to settle for a bottom-half finish in the Premier League for the first time since 1995/96 unless they make drastic changes down the final stretch.

Maybe sacking underperforming Potter, who praised his players in the aftermath, could be a good place to start. 

Nine-way Premier League relegation race

Given how dominant Arsenal and Man City have been this season, the Premier League title race will go down to the wire.

But a closely-contested battle for survival may overshadow the Gunners’ long-awaited title push.

A mere seven points stand between basement boys Southampton and 12th-placed Palace.

Palace finally got off the mark in 2023 under new manager Roy Hodgson, eking out a 2-1 home win over fellow relegation rivals Leicester City to move four points clear of the drop zone.

However, the Eagles are not out of the woods yet. They have played a game more than numerous relegation-threatened sides, and must frantically look over their shoulders for the rest of the season.

To better understand the complexity of one of the hottest relegation fights in recent Premier League history, consider the rock-bottom Southampton lag only three points behind safety.

While a widely-accepted premise sees a 40-point milestone as a threshold to secure top-flight survival, it may take less to stay in the Premier League if bottom-half sides continue to drop points. 

Goodbye Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers became the last to join an ever-growing list of sacked managers in the Premier League after Leicester City showed him the door on Sunday.

Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Palace was the final straw to break the camel’s back as the Foxes relieved their long-serving boss of his duties after a string of woeful results.

A fifth loss in six Premier League games dropped Leicester straight back into the relegation territory after they fought tooth and nail to climb up the ladder at the start of 2023.

Rodgers’ dismissal marks the 12th managerial change in the Premier League this season, with West Ham United and Nottingham Forest the only two sides of the bottom nine still sticking with their bosses.

Man Utd outclassed by Newcastle in top-four six-pointer

With Arsenal and Man City already waltzing away with the top-two spots, six sides are battling it out for being ‘the best of the rest,’ including Manchester United and Newcastle United.

Despite coming into this encounter on the periphery of the top four, the Magpies knew that beating the Red Devils would see them swap places in the standings.

A high-stakes contest at St James’ Park had all the makings of a ‘top-four six-pointer,’ and it’s fair to say it lived up to its billing, though mainly thanks to Newcastle’s effort.

Second-half strikes from Joe Willock and Callum Wilson helped Eddie Howe’s side topple Man Utd 2-0 and leapfrog them into third in the table following a dominant display on home turf.

United had just one shot on target and could consider themselves happy for not conceding more, as David de Gea pulled off numerous impressive saves to contain the damage.

While the Magpies tallied a third straight Premier League win, Erik ten Hag’s men are now winless in their last three (D2, L1) and must bounce back against Brentford on Wednesday to stem the bleeding.

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