Liverpool and Manchester City’s shootout for the Premier League title intensified on Saturday with comfortable wins over Southampton and Cardiff, while Manchester United were held 1-1 by Wolves on the day Alex Ferguson returned to Old Trafford.
Jurgen Klopp could afford the luxury of handing Xherdan Shaqiri his first Liverpool start for a 3-0 victory at Anfield and Wesley Hoedt turned the Swiss international’s deflected shot in for the opener before Joel Matip and Mohamed Salah’s first goal in four games sealed Liverpool’s seventh straight win in all competitions.
City edged ahead of Chelsea, who travel to West Ham on Sunday, into second, two points behind the leaders, as they bounced back from a shock Champions League defeat to Lyon in midweek by thrashing Cardiff 5-0 in the Welsh capital.
United, though, are now eight points off the top as a run of three straight wins to avert an early season crisis came to an end against an impressive Wolves while Ferguson watched on for the first time since undergoing emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage in May.
– Shaqiri stars –
Liverpool’s new-found strength in depth was in evidence as Daniel Sturridge netted on his first start of the season against Paris Saint-Germain in midweek, and those coming into the side made a big impact again as Klopp made three changes.
The hosts were handed a huge helping hand early on by Saints thanks to a comical own goal by Hoedt as he failed to sort his feet out as Shaqiri’s deflected drive trickled across the area.
Matip was another to be making his first start of the campaign and powered home Trent Alexander-Arnold’s corner before Salah won the foot race to force the ball over the line after a Shaqiri free-kick came back off the bar.
Liverpool’s afternoon was soured, though, by a rib injury to Virgil van Dijk that forced the world’s most expensive defender off early in the second period ahead of a demanding run of fixtures.
Klopp’s men face Chelsea and City in their next two league games, with a Champions League trip to Napoli in between.
– Wolves blight Ferguson welcome –
Ferguson was given a standing ovation before kick-off at Old Trafford as he took his seat accompanied by his wife Cathy in the United directors’ box.
However, the presence of the club’s most successful manager couldn’t inspire United to victory despite Fred’s first goal for the club opening the scoring 18 minutes in.
Wolves have thoroughly impressed on their return to the top flight and only a series of fine saves by David de Gea meant they went in behind at the break.
However, even the Spanish number one was helpless when Joao Moutinho curled into the top corner eight minutes into the second half.
– City cruise –
City boss Pep Guardiola was back on the touchline after having to watch his side’s defeat on Wednesday from the stands as he served a one-match ban.
However, there was little chance of a Cardiff side still waiting for their first win back in the top flight also embarrassing the Premier League champions.
Sergio Aguero celebrated signing a new contract till 2021 on Friday by firing home the opener in sodden conditions before Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gundogan made it 3-0 before half-time.
Club record signing Riyad Mahrez then came off the bench to score his first two City goals.
Elsewhere, Burnley moved out of the bottom three in comprehensive fashion by thrashing Bournemouth 4-0 for their first league win of the season.
Leicester came from behind to beat Huddersfield 3-1 to ease the pressure on Claude Puel.
Newcastle remain in the relegation zone despite holding out for a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace for just their second point of the season.
And Aleksandar Mitrovic moved level with Eden Hazard as the league’s top scorer with five goals in six games as the Serbian’s equaliser earned a 1-1 draw with Watford.