LONDON — The expectation is the rails will come off Leicester’s title challenge and Manchester United will get back on track. Little goes to the script in this Premier League season.
Manchester United was stunned 1-0 at home by Southampton on Saturday. Leicester went three points clear at the top — for 24 hours at least before Arsenal hosts Chelsea — by beating Stoke 3-0.
Watch match highlights: Norwich City 4, Liverpool 5 || Sunderland 1, Bournemouth 1 || Crystal Palace 1, Tottenham 3 || West Bromwich Albion 0, Aston Villa 0 || Watford 2, Newcastle 1 || Manchester United 0, Southampton 1 || Leicester City 3, Stoke City 0 || West Ham 2, Manchester City 2 ||
Jamie Vardy, having set the record for scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League games earlier in the season, ended a goal drought exceeding 10 hours for Leicester. A first-ever Champions League qualification for the central England club seems less fanciful by the week.
Will United return to the European elite, though? Not if Louis van Gaal’s side continues to produce such dismal football. The record 20-time English champions went an 11th home game in a row without scoring in the first half and then conceded after the break when Charlie Austin netted on his Southampton debut.
Perhaps United should have taken a punt on signing Austin from Queens Park Rangers, given the outlay was only around $6 million.
United fans chanted "Attack! Attack!" at their shot-shy team and will have been even more vexed at seeing Mexico striker Javier Hernandez, who was discarded by Louis van Gaal and sent out on loan to Bayer Leverkusen, named the CONCACAF region’s player of the year on Friday.
United remains fifth but is now five points behind Tottenham, which came from behind to win 3-1 at Crystal Palace. A moment of individual brilliance saw Tottenham go in front with 10 minutes to go. Dele Alli, one of the breakthrough stars of the season, flicked the ball up and back over his own head before volleying into the bottom corner.
The biggest scoring game of the day was on the east coast with a nine-goal thriller, including two in stoppage time. After Norwich threw away a 3-1 lead in the second half to Liverpool, Sebastian Bassong thought he had secured a 4-4 draw. But in the fourth minute of injury time, Adam Lallana scored his first goal of the season to clinch a 5-4 victory for 7th-place Liverpool.
At Vicarage Road, Watford ended a four-game losing streak by beating Newcastle 2-1. Newcastle remains in the relegation zone along with Sunderland, which was held 1-1 by Bournemouth. Bottom-place Aston Villa endured a goal-less stalemate with local rival West Bromwich Albion and is nine points from safety.
In the late game, West Ham hosted Manchester City.
Sergio Aguero twice came to Manchester City’s rescue with the team’s only shots on target to recover a 2-2 draw at West Ham on another frustrating away-day for the title-chasers on Saturday.
City has just one win in eight games on the road — the type of form that contributes to Manuel Pellegrini’s side being three points behind leader Leicester.
West Ham remained sixth, six points behind Tottenham, which occupies the fourth Champions League place. The east London club is enjoying its best run in the league in 19 years in its final season at Upton Park before moving to the nearby Olympic Stadium.
Both times Aguero cancelled out goals from Enner Valencia, who put West Ham ahead only 53 seconds into the game after Cheikhou Kouyate swept past Yaya Toure before cutting the ball back to the winger.
Aguero hit back from the penalty spot in the ninth minute after Carl Jenkinson tripped David Silva.
A superb save by Joe Hart prevented West Ham going in front, with the goalkeeper flinging his body in the air to turn over Dimitri Payet’s free kick.
“That save did feel good … I had to move my feet quickly,” Hart said.
Hart was beaten again 11 minutes into the second half. Michail Antonio launched a quick, long throw-in to the penalty area, Valencia got in front of Nicolas Otamendi and knocked the ball past Hart.
“We were not very concentrated,” Pellegrini said. “Maybe with the throw-in you are thinking that there can be a danger. But we knew before the game that Antonio has a very long throw-in.”
But Aguero played a one-two with Kelechi Iheanacho before slotting the ball past Adrian into the bottom corner with nine minutes to go.
“It’s very important for him (Aguero) to be 100 per cent fit,” Pellegrini said. “I hope he will continue like us until the end of the season.”
West Ham could have won it with the final touch of the game, but Cheikhou Kouyate’s header hit the crossbar.
“We could have got the third goal even though they were dominating,” West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said. “So when I went back into dressing room I felt disappointed. But that’s good — that shows how well we played.”