Runaway leaders Liverpool were held to a goalless draw by rivals Everton meaning they must wait a little longer to be crowned Premier League champions.
Manchester City have restarted in perfect fashion with a 3-0 victory over Arsenal followed up by another 5-0 thrashing of Burnley.
Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham drew 1-1 with his old side Manchester United, while Norwich looked doomed after a 3-0 drubbing at home against Southampton.
There were wins for Chelsea,Wolves,Crystal Palace and Newcastle.
Goalkeeper – Alisson (Liverpool)
This was no ordinary Merseyside derby. Liverpool are on the verge of a long-awaited Premier League title and were planning a big party on Wednesday night at Anfield. Everton, on the other hand, were desperate to delay the celebrations. In fact, they almost crashed the party. Two magnificent saves by Allison, from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, which under normal circumstances would have been quite ordinary, proved crucial. Liverpool want this title done and dusted and only a second spike of Covid-19 can stop them – that is why there can be no delay. The Reds face Crystal Palace at Anfield on Wednesday and without their fans in the stadium, getting over the finishing line might be more difficult than first envisaged.
Did you know? Of the 116 goalkeepers to have played at least 50 Premier League games, Liverpool’s Alisson has the best clean-sheet ratio of 54% with 32 in 59 matches.
Defenders – Willy Boly (Wolves), Gary Cahill (Crystal Palace), Craig Dawson (Watford)
Boly: Willy Boly has had his fair share of injury problems this season but three months of lockdown seem to have aided his recovery. Against West Ham, the Frenchman was magnificent. Everything he did was done with the minimum of fuss but maximum effectiveness. Along with Conor Coady and Romain Saiss, they reduced the Hammers to a handful of half-chances. Wolves are now sitting pretty and beautifully poised to attack that Europa League place.
Did you know? Boly made five clearances and three interceptions versus West Ham; no Wolves player managed more.
Cahill: Since Gary Cahill’s arrival at Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace have looked in a different class at the back. Against Bournemouth, who looked in desperate need of inspiration, the former Chelsea captain performed as though he could play at this level for another five years. Bournemouth never laid a glove on Palace. Three wins in a row before the lockdown and a victory immediately afterwards doesn’t happen by accident. Roy Hodgson has transformed the Eagles and the arrival of Cahill has played a very important part in that transition. After years of chaos, Palace have some stability.
Did you know? Cahill helped his Crystal Palace side to victory at the weekend by making five clearances v Bournemouth, more than any player in the match.
Dawson: Both Watford and Leicester went after this game but in the final analysis a draw seemed a fair result. Brendan Rodgers’ side still look in the mood to get that Champions League spot while Watford seem to have no intention of giving up their Premier League status any time soon. I’ve admired Craig Dawson for some time and thought he was excellent under Darren Moore at West Brom. He looks in tremendous shape for a 30-year-old and played like it against the Foxes. Dawson is not averse to scoring the occasional goal, normally with his head, but his immaculate overhead equaliser for the Hornets (his first goal for the club) must go down as one of his best.
Did you know? Dawson’s goal was his first in the Premier League in 31 appearances (since February 2018).
Midfielders – Adama Traore (Wolves), Kevin de Bruyne (Man City), Bruno Fernandes (Man Utd), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Phil Foden (Man City)
Traore: I don’t understand managers sometimes. When I saw Adama Traore warming up to come on my immediate thoughts were, ‘Why didn’t he start the match?’ Wolves had huffed and puffed for an hour and couldn’t blow a raspberry, never mind a house down. Traore had only been on the pitch for nine minutes and he supplied the perfect cross for Raul Jimenez to score, followed by a touch of magic to open up the Hammers yet again – this time for Matt Doherty to supply a lovely ball for Pedro Neto to smash home. I think Nuno Espirito Santo is trying to keep Traore off the transfer radar, you know. What other reason can there be not to play a player who is unplayable at the moment?
Did you know? Traore has provided eight assists in the Premier League this season, with no Wolves player ever providing more in a single Premier League campaign.
De Bruyne: I wasn’t sure that Kevin De Bruyne realised the season had stopped for three months after his contribution for Manchester City against Arsenal. He played the game as though he had had a few days off and went straight back to work without the slightest concern. He strutted around the pitch like he owned it, cutting Arsenal to shreds with every pass. I think Pep Guardiola brought him off after 70 minutes because he was so impressed with what he saw and decided to put his prized possession back into cold storage in preparation for his next seek and destroy mission. I don’t even want to talk about David Luiz.
Did you know? De Bruyne has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than any other player this season (25: Nine goals and 16 assists). It is also his best goal involvement tally in a single top-flight campaign in England.
Fernandes: It was the introduction of Paul Pogba and Marcus Greenwood that changed Manchester United’s fortunes against Tottenham but it was Bruno Fernandes who looked the part. With Fernandes and Pogba in the side, they suddenly look like a midfield to be taken seriously as opposed to what we saw earlier in the season – a group of soccer adolescents hurriedly thrown together and learning on the job. With a fit Pogba and Fernandes running the show, they no longer need Jack Grealish. The likes of Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic are the real support acts.
Did you know? Fernandes is the first Mancheser United player to remain unbeaten in his first 10 appearances (all competitions) for the club since Phil Jones in 2011.
Milivojevic: From the moment Luka Milivojevic converted his brilliant free-kick, Crystal Palace looked in a different league. That was rather unfortunate for Bournemouth because in a matter of weeks that might be the case. Eddie Howe has done wonders with the south-coast club but they look desperately tired and running on empty, not least Howe himself. I have a lot of time for the Bournemouth manager but a change of club might be in the best interests of all concerned. In the meantime, Milivojevic and Crystal Palace appear to going from strength to strength.
Did you know? Of Luka Milivojevic’s 27 Premier League goals for Crystal Palace, 24 have come from either a penalty (21) or direct free-kick (three), accounting for 89% of his goals in the competition.
Foden: They have dubbed him the Stockport Iniesta after Barcelona and Spain World Cup winner Andres Iniesta. High praise indeed but and I don’t intend to argue with that title. Phil Foden is fast making a name for himself and doing it with one of the best teams in the country. The England U21 international was outstanding against Burnley and looks the perfect replacement for David Silva who will call it a day at Manchester City at the end of the season. Foden scored two and made another in a 5-0 romp and Kevin De Bruyne didn’t even start the match.
Did you know? Foden has scored four goals and provided seven assists in 12 starts in all competitions this season.
Forwards – Danny Ings (Southampton), Allan Saint-Maximin (Newcastle)
Ings: If ever I saw a team that looked unfit, unprepared and out of their depth in their first fixture after the lockdown then it was Norwich City. What happened to the side I saw knock Spurs out of the FA Cup? Teemu Pukki looked pedestrian and Todd Cantwell off the pace, leaving manager Daniel Farke staring at the Premier League trap door. Meanwhile, Saints striker Danny Ings was as sharp as a razor. One minute the former Liverpool player was defending Southampton’s corners like his life depended on it and the next minute he was chastising the entire Canaries back four. An outstanding display by Ings.
Did you know? Ings is the first Southampton player to score more than 15 Premier League goals in a season (16) since James Beattie netted 23 in 2002-03.
St-Maximin: This was a professional and disciplined performance by Newcastle United. When this season started, the team and their manager got a roasting for their lack of managerial leadership and absence of ambition on the field. They reacted to that stinging criticism and retained that spirit against Sheffield United. I thought the Blades might have the edge, as it was their second game in a week, but the Magpies were always the better side, even before the enforced departure of John Egan. Newcastle’s Allan Saint-Maximin was the difference between the two teams. The young Frenchman seems to get better every time I see him.
Did you know? After scoring with just one of his first 30 Premier League shots, Saint-Maximin has now netted with his last two attempts.
The Crooks of the Matter
One thing we’ve learned during the lockdown is the importance of symbols. Whether it be a statue or a footballer paying homage, the message is clear – symbols can be powerful. Watching Premier League players ‘take the knee’, an anti-racist symbol popularised by American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, made the point that professional footballers were united in their fight against racism.
However, Marcus Rashford’s campaign, which prompted a government U-turn that will see parents claim food vouchers for about 1.3m children in England during the summer holidays, was far more than symbolic. It demonstrated the power of the footballer and the role they can play in societal change. It also demonstrated that moving government on policy is far easier than shifting racial attitudes in football.
Steven Gerrard waltzes into Glasgow Rangers for his first managerial post followed by Frank Lampard at Chelsea after one season at Derby; meanwhile, their England team-mate Sol Campbell saves League Two strugglers Macclesfield Town from Football League oblivion only to be rewarded with a post at fellow strugglers Southend.
What Rashford achieved in forcing the government to rethink their strategy was far greater than symbolism – it moved the dial. It also indicated that racism is a far bigger problem in football than many are prepared to admit. When the Manchester United and England star eventually decides to hang up his boots, I hope society remembers what this young man did and demands the game offers him the same opportunities as Lampard and Gerrard, should he choose football management as a viable career option.