London, United Kingdom | AFP | Liverpool enjoyed the early Christmas present of a shock defeat for Manchester City to move four points clear at the top and further raise hopes their near three-decade wait to win the title could come to an end in May.
Manchester United’s mood for the festive season was also lifted by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer making an instant impact, as for the first time in five years United scored five goals in the league by thrashing Cardiff 5-1.
United are now just eight points off the top four and the race for Champions League places tightened thanks to Chelsea’s first home defeat under Maurizio Sarri to Leicester and Arsenal’s routine win over Burnley.
Tottenham are now five points clear of their London rivals and just six off the top in third as Mauricio Pochettino’s side outclassed Everton in a 6-2 win at Goodison Park.
Here, AFP Sports looks at five things we learned from the Premier League weekend:
Fernandinho City’s unsung star
City have coped admirably without Kevin De Bruyne for almost the entire campaign and even David Silva in recent weeks, but were shocked by Crystal Palace when forced to cope without Fernandinho in midfield for the first time in the league this season.
There is little even the Brazilian could have done to stop Andros Townsend’s stunning volley that put Palace into a 2-1 lead against the run of play, but in and out of possession, Fernandinho makes City tick.
Unfortunately for the champions, he is also the one player in their squad without a natural replacement.
With John Stones pushed into an unfamiliar holding midfield role, City didn’t control the Palace counter-attack.
Now chasing in the title race, City need the 33-year-old back quickly for what could be a decisive three-game run starting away at Leicester and Southampton before they host Liverpool on January 3.
Solskjaer makes Man Utd smile again
The contrast between the sombre mood of Jose Mourinho’s final days as Manchester United manager and the joy at the final whistle as Solskjaer and his players basked in the adulation of the travelling support in the Welsh capital said it all.
For the first time in a long time United’s fans had witnessed the sort of fast, attack-minded and clinical football that Solskjaer was so often involved in as a player at Old Trafford.
The Norwegian insisted the result was all down to having “good players”, but with the same squad Mourinho’s sullen nature failed to summon the same response.
“He always has a smile on his face and I think that can reflect down on to the team,” said United captain Ashley Young of Solskjaer’s impact.