BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Five things we learned from the weekend

1 Reds are not out of title hunt
Liverpool are still title contenders despite the 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth but will probably have to reinforce their defence in January if they are to go the distance.

Joel Matip has been their standout defender this season and his absence left them horribly exposed to the Cherries’ spirited second-half fightback.

The space Bournemouth defender Steve Cook was afforded for the equalising goal was inexcusable and goalkeeper Loris Karius again has questions to answer.

On the plus side the Reds showed they have immense strength-in-depth in attack.

Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana were not available to start but Liverpool ripped apart the Bournemouth defence and deservedly led 2-0 at the break.

2 City also have major defensive problems
Chelsea rode their luck at the Etihad on Saturday but won the game because they were ruthless on the break and made fewer defensive errors.

Big matches are often decided by the fine details and Pep Guardiola was asking for trouble by changing his formation and playing two wingers – Leroy Sane and Jesus Navas – at wing-back.

Navas’s cross led to City’s goal but City never looked comfortable at the back and there was no need to play such an attacking team.

There was too much pressure on the back three and Nicolas Otamendi looked the most exposed – getting too tight to Diego Costa on two occasions and costing his team two goals.

Chelsea are flying but have not looked convincing at the back in either of their last two games and will need Costa and Eden Hazard to keep producing to stay at the summit.

3 Southampton defeat will not halt progress
Southampton slipped into the bottom half after their 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace but are highly unlikely to finish outside the top ten.

Fraser Forster’s error set them on the path to defeat against a determined Palace but they still played some excellent football and look a much better team than some of the sides above them.

A lack of goals has been the main concern – Saints average 0.93 per league game – and Claude Puel might ask the Southampton board to snap up a striker in January.

4 Howson influence crucial to Norwich
Midfielder Jonny Howson returned to the Norwich starting line up after a two-month absence and excelled as the Canaries triumphed 5-0 at home to Brentford.

The importance of individuals can be overstated but Howson makes Norwich tick in midfield and has been sorely missed during the Norfolk club’s five-match league losing sequence.

Another bright aspect was the superb performance of attacking asset Alex Pritchard.

The summer signing from Tottenham has taken time to settle at Norwich but was back to the standard he produced during a season-loan at Brentford in the 2014-15.

5 Newcastle still look promotion bound
Newcastle had a tough seven days – losing back-to-back league matches and an EFL Cup quarter-final – but aspects of their performance in Friday’s 2-1 loss at Nottingham Forest showed promotion-winning qualities.

They dominated from the outset and took the lead after going down to ten men and battled bravely and intelligently with nine men for over half of the match before conceding a late winning goal.

Jonjo Shelvey – suspended for the next three games – will be missed – but Newcastle still look the outstanding team in the division.

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Match in Focus

19:45 TODAY BT S

Basel v Arsenal

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Arsenal have scored in each of their last nine away Champions League matches
Expert verdict
Last month’s home draw with Paris St-Germain has left Arsenal contemplating another last-16 Champions League tie against one of the favourites for the tournament, but they should still go out on a high in Basel. The Gunners can show their class here even if they do once again finish second.