Manchester United's Harry Maguire
Manchester United's Harry Maguire (L) heads home their second goal during the English Premier League football match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in London on February 17, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Liverpool’s march to the Premier League title is nothing short of breathtaking, given their sheer dominance over all comers this season, taking them to a massive 25-point lead over Manchester City in second place.

What is just as remarkable is the failure of each of the other Champions League hopefuls to nail down one of the top spots as their traditional rivals flounder.

By the end of 2019, Leicester and Chelsea looked like solid bets to close out the top four as Tottenham were shipping points, Manchester United lacked guidance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Arsenal were all over the place.

Fast forward to mid-February and only Leicester have sustained any sort of a charge — and that is including only one win in their last five games.

Chelsea are winless in four following their 2-0 defeat to United at Stamford Bridge on Monday night and are now only one point ahead of Spurs in fourth, two ahead of surprise package Sheffield United and a head-scratching three ahead of United.

Solskjaer’s side have been so woeful at times this season, it is bewildering to think they could be in the top four, come May.

On Monday night, Frank Lampard said it was ‘soul-destroying’ after a series of VAR decisions went against Chelsea against a United side that were again far from their best.

Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire got the goals at Stamford Bridge, but the visitors were lucky skipper Maguire was not shown red for a boot to a very sensitive area of Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi in the first half.

The video referee then ruled out a Kurt Zouma equaliser for the Blues for a foul on Brandon Williams by Cesar Azpilicueta, when the Chelsea man was actually fouled by United’s Fred.

These things come in threes, and VAR completed its hat-trick by disallowing Olivier Giroud’s 76th-minute header because his foot was about an inch in front of Mason Mount.

Solskjaer’s United side claimed their first league double over Chelsea since 1987-88 but, despite the refereeing errors, Lampard’s men were second best most of the night and have gifted their rivals three points that may come back to haunt them at the end of the season.

United were far from pretty, but these three points and a few more fortunate or gritty wins (depending on which side of the fence you are on) like the one in London will be most welcome by Solskjaer, who was looking like a very worried man only a few weeks ago over his job security at Old Trafford.

Yes, Lampard’s men were unlucky but the Chelsea fans were leaving in droves long before the whistle at Stamford Bridge. Unhappy at the team or VAR? That is unclear but Lampard offered them some sympathy. “It’s a bit soul destroying for the fans but it’s the culmination of a few incidents,” he said. “VAR is there for that and a toe offside is a toe offside, even if we don’t like it.”

Solskjaer understood Lampard’s grievances with VAR for the goals, but stuck up for Maguire over the red-card incident, backing his player even if it will make for some uncomfortable viewing for Batshuayi.

“Was Harry Maguire lucky? I don’t think so,” said the United boss. “He was fouled first and Batshuayi was going to fall on top of him so he put his leg out and hit him where it hurts.”

Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta finally got Arsenal out of their draw-every-game rut with a clinical second-half thrashing of Newcastle at the weekend following their winter jaunt to Dubai.

Only seven points separate the Gunners in 10th and Chelsea in fourth. European football is a distinct possibility, but a wee Champions League spot could be on the cards if those above them continue to slip up. Stranger things have happened.

Maybe Arsenal should go on a break to the UAE every week…


(After Monday’s matches)

P W D L F A Pts

1 Liverpool 26 25 1 0 61 15 76

2 Man City 25 16 3 6 65 29 51

3 Leicester 26 15 5 6 54 26 50

4 Chelsea 26 12 5 9 43 36 41

5 Tottenham 26 11 7 8 43 34 40

6 Sheff Utd 26 10 9 7 28 24 39

7 Man Utd 26 10 8 8 38 29 38

8 Wolverhampton 26 8 12 6 35 32 36

9 Everton 26 10 6 10 34 38 36

10 Arsenal 26 7 13 6 36 34 34

11 Burnley 26 10 4 12 30 39 34

12 Southampton 26 9 4 13 32 48 31

13 Newcastle 26 8 7 11 24 40 31

14 Crystal Palace 26 7 9 10 23 32 30

15 Brighton 26 6 9 11 31 38 27

16 Bournemouth 26 7 5 14 26 40 26

17 Aston Villa 26 7 4 15 34 50 25

18 West Ham 25 6 6 13 30 43 24

19 Watford 26 5 9 12 24 40 24

20 Norwich 26 4 6 16 24 48 18