In a thrilling night of Premier League drama, five matches brought five wins for the visitors in games that could prove to have a major impact on events at the top and bottom of the table. Manchester City cruised back to a three-point lead at the top of the table with a comfortable 2-0 win over Burnley whilst at the same time Leicester City picked up an equally convincing victory over Fulham. To add to the problems for Scott Parker one of their nearest rivals towards the bottom picked up three surprising points as Brighton left Anfield with a 1-0 win over Liverpool.
Defeat for Jurgen Klopp's side leaves them battling to preserve their status in the top four ahead of Sunday's game with Manchester City with victories for West Ham and Everton putting them firmly in the mix. Recap the key talking points from Wednesday's games below:
Premier League results
- Burnley 0, Manchester City 2
- Fulham 0, Leicester City 2
- Leeds United 1, Everton 2
- Aston Villa 1, West Ham 3
- Liverpool 0, Brighton and Hove Albion 1
Winner: The chasing pack
It was not just that Liverpool dropped yet more points in the top-four race. It was that it looked so easy for Brighton to hold them at bay. Graham Potter's side are a better team than their record suggests but equally their game plan was not the sort that others cannot replicate.
The visiting Seagulls pressed energetically but they were shrewd enough to keep men in reserve if Liverpool were to break the press. If the Premier League champions were able to reach the final third then they would be challenged with getting through two banks of four at the very least. When the ball came their way Brighton countered with an aggression and purpose that had not been apparent with other teams in the bottom third. Even aside from Steven Alzate's goal (or was it Leandro Trossard's?) the best chances of the first 75 minutes were Brighton's.
Suddenly Liverpool fans will be looking over their shoulders at those in their rearview mirror rather than the Manchester sides duking it out at the top. West Ham's win over Aston Villa brought them within two points. If Everton win their two games in hand they will leapfrog their Merseyside rivals. The winner of Tottenham and Chelsea on Thursday will be firmly in the mix. They will all believe that Jurgen Klopp's side will make further slips in the race for fourth.
Loser: The bottom three
Aside from the fact that two of them have lost in the last two days it is the strides taken by those around them that will have Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United fearing the worst.
A 2-0 loss to Leicester extended a run of reasonable performances and disappointing returns for Fulham that now have them eight points from safety with a game in hand on only some of those around them. Those towards the bottom of the table must have know that Brighton's results would begin reflecting their underlying metrics eventually, even they might not have expected back-to-back wins against Tottenham and Liverpool.
Meanwhile Burnley showed even in defeat to Manchester City that they will be a tough out whilst wins for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Crystal Palace on Tuesday opened up a generous cushion for them over the relegation zone. Perhaps the last realistic hope of salvation for the Cottagers and those below them is that Newcastle get dragged into the mire, that they are more the team who threw away an early lead at St James' Park than the one that beat Everton at the weekend.
Even then there is little margin for error left at Fulham, West Brom or Sheffield United.
Winner: Ilkay Gundogan
The German perhaps lacks the profile or the sheer weight of numbers to put together a convincing case for being in the mix for individual awards come the end of the season, but if you are looking for the most influential figure in Manchester City's rise up the league then you will find few better candidates than Gundogan.
This season he is enjoying Premier League best returns in goals and assists per 90, making a higher proportion of forward passes than ever before in a City shirt and is the starting point of a goal every four games, by far his best top-flight output in England. On his current form he is as near an approximation for David Silva as Pep Guardiola could realistically hope for.
"There is not really a secret," Gundogan said last week. "I try to be in the right spaces at the right moment. I played the last few weeks a bit more offensive role."
He certainly did so against Burnley, creating five chances in a game for the first time in his Premier League career and ending the match with his highest expected assists tally. He also managed to register an actual assist in outstanding fashion, though the English game has seen dozens of driven City crosses from the byline for a winger to tap in few have been as well-delivered as Gundogan's, the crowning moment on an outstanding evening for a player whose excellence of late cannot be overstated.
Loser: Leeds' defense
Whilst Marcelo Bielsa's side have been a breath of fresh air for neutrals in the Premier League, they have perhaps been a welcome sight for Premier League attackers with only West Bromwich Albion having conceded more goals so far this season. That the tally swelled to 38 with little difficulty for Everton.
Lucas Digne delivered a brilliant cross from the left in the ninth minute to pick out Gylfi Sigurdsson but Everton's outstanding full-back so consistently digs out exceptional deliveries that Raphinha should have known to do more, to be quicker at getting toward the France international whilst there are even greater questions to be asked about how four recovering Leeds defenders were unable to pick up the run of the goalscorer.
Similarly no-one was tracking Dominic Calvert-Lewin at the back post from a first-half corner. This is the same striker who now has nine headed goals since the start of the 2019-20 season, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski in Europe's top-five leagues. And no one was paying attention to him.
What ought to be so frustrating for Leeds is heading in the other direction there were impressive moments when they showed their best qualities, particularly the relentless pressing from Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford that forced the ball away from a panicked Everton and into Raphinha's path.
Winner: The other Leicester Jameses
It was perhaps natural that Leicester would struggle without the talismanic Jamie Vardy, a forward whose energy and intensity sets the tone for Brendan Rodgers' side from the top of the pitch to the bottom. But he is not the only player of quality capable of carrying an attacking burden for the high-flying Foxes.
In their first Premier League win without Vardy this season, James Maddison was exceptional, delivering a brilliant cross for Kelechi Iheanacho to head in the opener, of which Rodgers said: "If that was Kevin de Bruyne, everybody would be talking about it."
The game was won by halftime as Maddison laid another goal on the plate of a teammate, this time the ever-improving James Justin. Leicester's No. 2 began the move in the left-back position, slipping a pass infield for Iheanacho before bursting out of the blocks. Seemingly out of nowhere he emerged in the penalty area to aid his No. 10, so quick had he moved that he had to slow to a jog to receive the pass before calmly rounding Alphonse Areola to score yet another goal.
Maddison now has six goals and six assists in his last 12 appearances for Leicester. Justin's three goals and two assists this season is not to be sniffed at for a full-back who often fills in a back three. Both players ought to be thoroughly disappointed if they are not in Gareth Southgate's England squad next month.
Loser: Premier League referees
They are not as bad as they are made out to be by aggrieved fans. They are no more error-prone than they used to be despite what managers might think. There is rarely anything productive or interesting to be gained from debating the men with the whistle.
And yet the penalty missed by Martin Atkinson for a heavy hit by James Tarkowski on Gabriel Jesus will inevitably be under the spotlight after David Luiz and Jan Bednarek saw red on Tuesday following incidents that were arguably dives by the opposing attackers. On both occasions simulation and exaggeration were rewarded with penalties and red cards, tonight Jesus drew contact only to see it missed.
Atkinson should be allowed to make such errors. They happen. Even the very best are imperfect, as Nick Pope could attest after his careless error handed City a lead they never looked like letting slip. But there is supposed to be a safety net for such mistakes. Yet VAR, which was supposed to bring consistency to incidents, is being applied in a confusing fashion.
Was Jesus' tumble even checked? If not, was that because Atkinson was so well placed that it was felt unacceptable to overrule him? Ultimately for fans watching on TV these questions are unanswerable, City supporters may not have been unduly perturbed as their side cruised to another three points but that does not mean we should not get more explanation for how referees are adjudicating in the penalty area.