Five things we learned from Premier League GW18
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Five things we learned from Premier League GW18

This week's action threw out a few surprises.

grantmcquillan
Grant McQuillan

In this new addition to VAVEL, we uncover five things we learned from the latest Premier League gameweek. 

Liverpool are top of the tree at Christmas time with thanks to a stunning show from Crystal Palace at the home of the champions, whilst Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got off to a flyer in life post-Jose Mourinho.

Down at the bottom of the table, Fulham's woes continued, whilst Southampton rose victorious from in a relegation scrap between Huddersfield, with another impressive victory under new boss Ralph Hasenhüttl.

Liverpool top of the tree this Christmas

In 23 of the 26 Premier League seasons, the team at the top of the table at Christmas has gone onto win the title, and if you're reading this as a Liverpool fan, you probably can't help but burst with excitement, no matter the previous title-chasing issues at the club.

What has usually been one of those issues for Liverpool is their un-championship like manor and inability to 'see games off'. In 2008, they finished just four points behind bitter rivals Manchester United, and with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres firing on all cylinders, the Reds truly looked unstoppable, as they lost just two games all season.

However, Rafael Benitez's men had 11 draws that year, most coming against lower opposition, such as Stoke, Wigan Athletic, Middlesbrough and Hull. Fast forward five years and Gerrard repeats his mesmerising form and Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge begin to obliterate defences. However, 50 goals conceded, which, to put in perspective, was three less than 16th place Hull, prevented them from clinching Premier League glory once again, as they finished an agonising two points behind Manchester City.

But, now, in 2018, they look like the complete outfit. With the addition of Virgil Van Dijk, Trent Alexander-ArnoldAndrew Robertson and Alisson Becker, Liverpool have conceded just seven goals thus far, six less than champions Manchester City. The 'one season wonder' Mohamed Salah is still the Premier League's number one hotshot. Plus, intelligent purchases of the likes of Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabinho have only helped bolster an already impressive squad.

Jurgen Klopp's men truly do look like the real deal and although they have scored 11 goals less than City, they are by a distance the best defence in England, and as we've known for some time with Liverpool, as soon as they fix the leaks in their defence, they could be onto something special.

City still remain the favourites the favourites (just about) according to the bookies, and, in truth, City are not exactly worse than last year where they broke almost every record imaginable, so, anything could happen.

Fact: Only three times in the history of the Premier League has the team top at Christmas failed to be top at the end of the campaign. All of three occasions it has been Liverpool (1996, 2008, 2013)

'The shackles are off for United'

'The shackles are off seems to be the phrase doing the rounds to describe United's first post-Mourinho match and justifiably so it seems.

Before the game against Cardiff City, United fans were positive and there was belief that with Mourinho gone they could finally watch their team play attractive football, and they did just that in Solskjaer's first match at the helm. It wasn't just a five-goal demolition in south Wales, it was an elegant, consistently threatening, free-flowing United performance.

Paul Pogba played with freedom, which resulted in a hat-trick of assists. Likewise with Jesse Lingard, which resulted in two goals. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford played to their strengths, utilising their pace and dribbling ability, also resulting in a goal each.

The entire buildup from Solksjaer's perspective was 'play with freedom - play the United way', and that echoed throughout every performance and even Victor Lindelof was able to burst up with confidence on occasions, just proving that they are finally playing with the shackles off.

Now here is the thing, Solskjaer only had 48 hours in charge before kick-off in Cardiff, so, logically, it was not all his doing. Yet, it seems extremely coincidental that United begin to play well immediately after Mourinho's departure, doesn't it? Time will tell if it really was a Mourinho problem or a player problem, but, one thing is true - United can play beautiful football after all.

Fact: This was the first time Manchester United scored five goals in one game since Sir Alex Ferguson's last ever game, where United drew 5-5 against West Brom at the Hawthorns in May 2013.

Don't rule out Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur just seem to be getting better and better as the Mauricio Pochettino years go on. Three years on from when they probably should have won the league, Spurs are testing the big guns once again. With Liverpool and City brushing aside most teams, it is easy to forget that Pochettino's men are just two points shy of the champions and six off leaders Liverpool. 

Spurs continued their wonderful form with a 6-2 onslaught against Everton on Merseyside, and it's performances as such that justify why you shouldn't rule them out. Spurs are understandably so not considered title contenders as greatly as Liverpool and City. For example, there attack isn't as threatening as City's, but with Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-Min, they are not that far behind, especially when you consider Kane looks set to compete yet again for the Golden Boot with 11 goals in 18 games.

One thing which has been clear to see with Spurs' recent title chasing, is their inability to remain consistently a threat. Aspects such as over-reliance on Kane and failure to beat the teams around them have left Spurs to settle for second place on more than one occasion.

However, Alli is continuing to improve on his already world-beating ability, Son is in blistering form once again and Pochettino is by this point vastly experienced. There are many reasons why you can not rule Spurs out just yet.

Fact: Spurs have won eight of their 10 away games this season. This is already more than they had won in 20 of their previous 26 seasons in the Premier League.

The race for the Golden Boot will be a thrilling one

Since the Premier League graced our screens we have been blessed with many exhilarating races for the prestigious Golden Boot. Didier Drogba versus Wayne Rooney,  Ruud Van Nistelrooy versus Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer versus Robbie Fowler and many more. Now, here we have Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fighting for the award.

Arsenal's man up top leads the way with 12, whilst Salah and Kane, who pushed each other all the way last year, are both on 11. But what makes this one so thrilling, is that we know they all have previous experiences to win the top scorer award.

Aubameyang was the Bundesliga top scorer in 2016-17 with 31, Kane has already won the award twice in England and Salah shocked the world as he scored the most goals in the history of a single Premier League season last campaign.

With Aubameyang's proven ability to outscore most, Salah's record-breaking habits and Kane's unrivalled ability in recent years, it is going to be a thrilling ride.

Fact: Despite Kane scoring the most Premier League goals of the three (119) and Salah scoring the most in one season (32), Aubameyang has the highest goals per match ratio with 0.71.

The relegation battle proving impossible to call

By this point in the year, it is usually clear to see a few main contenders for the drop. Teams are often rooted to the bottom by this stage, and the hectic Winter period tends to be too much for the lower levelled squads. However, just as we approach the New Year there are eight points between 20th and 14th, and whilst that is a lot in terms of fighting relegation, with 20 games still to play, eight points is very little.

Fulham and Huddersfield are yet to get going at all this year and are stuck to the bottom both on 10 points, whilst Burnley have well and truly lost their magnificent form of last year. Cardiff, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and Southampton have all yet to piece together any sort of impressive form.

Palace's stunning victory at the Etihad sent them eight points clear of the drop, but with games against Liverpool, Chelsea, Wolves and fellow strugglers Cardiff all coming up within the next three weeks, they may well be sent right back into the deep end.

Southampton's appointment of Hasenhüttl is proving to be a clever one thus far, and Neil Warnock, Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson and Benitez all have proven ability in fighting the drop. This one is becoming very tough to call and there is an argument for anyone from 20th to 12th to be sent packing for the Championship next summer.

Fact: Roy Hodgson became the first English manager to win a Premier League game at the Etihad since Harry Redknapp with Spurs in May 2010 (P39, W0, L36 for Englishmen beforehand).

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