James Milner reminded Liverpool he still has a lot left to offer by inspiring the Reds to a 2-1 win over Leicester City on Saturday. Milner converted a stoppage-time penalty to claim the points after he'd earlier assisted Sadio Mane for the opening goal.
The result has extended Liverpool's lead at the top of the Premier League to eight points ahead of Manchester City's game at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
Liverpool are flying high, but Tottenham Hotspur remain in free-fall after losing 3-0 away to Brighton & Hove Albion. The heavy defeat follows the 7-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday and completes a miserable week for manager Mauricio Pochettino, who is finding it increasingly difficult to motivate a struggling squad.
Statements were also made at the other end of the table, where Wesley proved he can make the grade as a Premier League centre-forward by bagging a brace for Aston Villa. His goals helped his team beat Norwich City 5-1 at Carrow Road, raising serious doubts about the defensively inept Canaries' ability to avoid the drop this season.
- Brighton & Hove Albion 3-0 Tottenham Hotspur
- Burnley 1-0 Everton
- Liverpool 2-1 Leicester City
- Norwich City 1-5 Aston Villa
- Watford 0-0 Sheffield United
- West Ham United 1-2 Crystal Palace
Updated Table (Played, Won, Goal Difference and Points)
1. Liverpool: 8, 8, +14, 24
2. Manchester City: 7, 5, +20, 16
3. Leicester City: 8, 4, +7, 14
4. Crystal Palace: 8, 4, 0, 14
5. Burnley: 8, 3, +2, 12
6. Arsenal: 7, 3, +1, 12
7. West Ham United: 8, 3, 0, 12
8. Tottenham Hotspur: 8, 3, +2, 11
9. Chelsea: 7, 3, +1, 11
10. Bournemouth: 7, 3, +1, 11
11. Manchester United: 7, 2, +2, 9
12. Sheffield United: 8, 2, 0, 9
13. Brighton & Hove Albion: 8, 2, -2, 9
14. Aston Villa: 8, 2, +1, 8
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers: 7, 1, -2, 7
16. Southampton: 7, 2, -4, 7
17. Everton: 8, 2, -7, 7
18. Norwich City: 8, 2, -11, 6
19. Newcastle United: 7, 1, -9, 5
20. Watford: 8, 0, -16, 3
Winner: James Milner
Liverpool's big spending on midfielders such as Fabinho, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in recent years has sent James Milner a not-so-subtle message. The Reds are happy to have him around, but the 33-year-old's days of being a fixture in the starting XI are over.
Milner may only have a cameo role these days, but he's the kind of versatile and resilient contributor all title-winning squads need. His value was obvious when he made the most of a rare start in the league by playing in Mane to open the scoring five minutes before the break:
Providing creativity on this scale in a reserve role is why Jurgen Klopp can trust Milner to step in and still make an impact in a tough fixture. All managers want to be able to rotate without a drop in quality, something Milner continues to offer a club expected to compete on all fronts.
Klopp also knows how important experience can be in the tense moments during a title race. Tensions were high when VAR deemed Marc Albrighton's challenge on Mane was worthy of a penalty.
After the Leicester protests had died down, it was left to Milner to make his kick count in the 95th minute. Being responsible for guaranteeing either a win or a draw didn't faze the veteran, who slotted in the penalty with the minimum of fuss.
Moments like this often determine where the title goes at the end of a campaign. If Liverpool are celebrating in May, the Reds will be thankful to have had a supporting act as capable as Milner.
Loser: Mauricio Pochettino
Former Spurs chairman Lord Sugar's plea for Arsene Wenger to join Tottenham may have only been a tongue-in-cheek statement, but it also reflected how much Pochettino is struggling this season:
The Argentinian responded to conceding seven at home to Bayern by picking a defensive starting lineup with rugged holder Eric Dier in midfield. Pochettino left prime creative talents Dele Alli, Lucas Moura and Harry Winks on the bench.
His selections said Spurs were in damage-control mode, but they encouraged Brighton to seize the initiative against a cautious and jaded starting XI. It was hardly a surprise when the Seagulls bossed possession early and quickly worked the ball between the lines with one- and two-touch passing dictated by schemers Pascal Gross and Aaron Mooy.
There was little response from Spurs because of the paucity of support for striker Harry Kane, while Christian Eriksen struggled to shoulder the creative burden. Eriksen's motivation has been in doubt since he made it clear he wanted out during the summer.
Tapping into the right motivation among his players is becoming an increasing problem for Pochettino. He could do nothing about the early mistake from Hugo Lloris that gave Brighton the lead and ended with the goalkeeper suffering a dislocated elbow.
However, other factors are beginning to get on top of Pochettino, who is already deflecting questions about his future:
Getting a stale-looking squad in the mood after the hangover of losing last season's Champions League final is the main priority before Tottenham's campaign resumes at home to Watford on October 19, after the international break.
Making the jump from Belgium to England's top flight and the burden of a club-record £22 million price tag was a lot for Wesley Moraes to handle. It had been looking too much for the Brazilian, who was criticised by fans after recent performances, per Matt Maher of the Express & Star.
The dissenting voices have been quieted somewhat by Wesley's two-goal display at Norwich. He took both goals well, controlling a cross from Anwar El Ghazi to finish smartly for his first, before being in the right spot to convert a Conor Hourihane pass for his second.
The goals have taken the powerhouse No. 9's tally to four. Only a terrific double save from Norwich stand-in goalkeeper Michael McGovern denied Wesley from the penalty spot and spoiled his hat-trick bid.
Even so, his assist for Villa's fifth, scored by Douglas Luiz, showed how well Wesley can operate as a link player as well as a goalscorer.
Having a striker with a complete game is Villa's ticket to staying up.
Villa have the quality to achieve safety this season, but Norwich won't manage the same feat. Instead, an imbalanced team is primed for the drop thanks to a leaky defence that looks increasingly vulnerable each week.
Goal-shy Villa scoring five only underlines the Canaries' problems at the back. Injuries aren't helping, and Tim Krul's absence between the sticks was keenly felt while McGovern struggled in goal.
Boss Daniel Farke has also been without key centre-back Grant Hanley, instead playing Ibrahim Amadou, a defensive midfielder who can also operate as a centre-back, at the heart of defence.
The experiment hasn't worked, and the Canaries have now conceded 21 goals in eight matches. As if that number didn't make for ugly-enough reading, this was the second time Norwich have shipped four or more goals in a single game already.
They've only conceded fewer than two once, so there will be no mystery about why the Canaries find themselves back in the Championship next season.