Given he delivered back-to-back LaLiga titles and left Barcelona still at the summit, Ernesto Valverde's departure appears perplexing on the surface.

There has been no great decline to speak of, no obvious player revolt and no boardroom bickering.

Why then have the Blaugrana opted to part ways with their head coach and replace him with Quique Setien, a man who could only lead Real Betis to a 10th-place finish last term?

We have taken a look at the five games which might have ultimately resulted in Valverde's exit.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona. Champions League quarter-final second leg. April 10, 2018.

After being beaten in both legs of the Supercopa de Espana by Real Madrid to begin his reign, things picked up for Valverde, who enjoyed a 36-match unbeaten run at the beginning of the 2017-18 LaLiga campaign.

However, two and a half weeks before that title triumph was sealed, Barcelona were stunned in Europe.

Valverde's side were in control of the tie having beaten the Serie A side 4-1 at home, but Roma became only the third side in Champions League history to overturn a first-leg deficit of three goals or more.

Greek defender Kostas Manolas scored the crucial third goal eight minutes from time as Roma went through on away goals and Valverde suffered his first, but not last, European humiliation.

Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona. Champions League semi-final second leg. May 7, 2019.

Fast forward a year and a case of deja vu, with Barca sitting pretty on a 3-0 first-leg lead in their last-four tie against Liverpool.

The Reds were without Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino for the return fixture at Anfield, where Divock Origi's early goal only gave them a sliver of hope.

Yet Barca looked shell-shocked as Georginio Wijnaldum's double was followed up by another Origi strike, Liverpool incredibly progressing to a final they would win.

Described in the Spanish press as a "debacle", "tragedy" and "historic failure", the writing seemed to be on the wall for Valverde from that point.

Barcelona 1-2 Valencia. Copa del Rey final. May 25, 2019. 

Not even a second LaLiga title could silence Valverde's doubters, who had more ammo when his team lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Valverde had hoped a victory would ease the pain of the Liverpool loss but Barca were stunned again, Kevin Gameiro and Rodrigo putting Valencia 2-0 ahead before Lionel Messi pulled one back.

Rather than wield the axe, though, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu absolved Valverde of blame for the result.

 

Espanyol 2-2 Barcelona. LaLiga. January 4, 2020.

Away defeats to Athletic Bilbao, Granada and Levante would have looked costlier had the champions' nearest rivals Real Madrid not stumbled along themselves in the first half of this season.

Both teams' struggles were evident in a 0-0 Clasico draw at Camp Nou in December, but it was Barcelona's first result back after the mid-season break that would have set more alarm bells ringing.

Derby rivals Espanyol were bottom of the table and had not beaten Barca in LaLiga since 2009 but Frenkie de Jong was sent off as the strugglers claimed a 2-2 draw.

Barcelona 2-3 Atletico Madrid. Supercopa de Espana semi-final. January 9, 2020.

Five days later and it got even worse for Valverde and Barcelona.

Leading 2-1 in Saudi Arabia with nine minutes to go, the Blaugrana collapsed again late on, with Alvaro Morata and Angel Correa sending Atletico through to a final against their cross-city rivals Madrid.

It meant Barcelona had won just one of their previous five games, a sour note to end on for Valverde.

Liverpool have sent centre-back Nathaniel Phillips back to Stuttgart on loan for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

The 22-year-old was only recalled to Anfield on December 27 amid a defensive injury crisis for manager Jurgen Klopp.

Phillips made his Liverpool debut in the FA Cup win over Everton earlier this month, but it was confirmed on Monday he will now return to Stuttgart with Joel Matip (knee) and Dejan Lovren (hamstring) closing in on returns to fitness.

Stuttgart sit third in the Bundesliga II and Phillips made nine league appearances for them during his initial spell.

Liverpool continued their relentless march towards the Premier League title with a 1-0 victory over Tottenham while Sergio Aguero sent records tumbling in Manchester City's resounding win at Aston Villa.

The Reds moved 16 points clear at the top thanks to Leicester City's defeat to Southampton – as Danny Ings kept up his superb form – though the gap was reduced slightly when City thrashed Villa on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Manchester United ended a three-match winless streak with a resounding 4-0 triumph over lowly Norwich City.

We review the key top-flight matches with the help of Opta data.

 

CHAMPIONS-ELECT SET NEW BENCHMARKS AS TITLE TILT CONTINUES AT PACE

Barring a collapse of epic proportions, it seems certain that the Premier League title will be Liverpool's for the first time come the end of the season – or earlier, at this rate.

Roberto Firmino's fifth goal in his past six appearances handed Jurgen Klopp's side the points at Tottenham, who lost successive league matches for the first time this season, and have also conceded 20 goals in 13 matches under Jose Mourinho.

Liverpool sit on 61 points at the top of the pile, the most any side has ever registered after 21 matches in a single season across Europe's big five leagues.

Klopp's team have amassed 104 points across their past 38 Premier League games, winning 33 times and drawing on five occasions; this is a record total by any team across a 38-match run in the competition's history.

It is 38 league games since Liverpool last suffered a defeat. In the same amount of time, Spurs have lost 16 matches – including three defeats to the Reds.

AGUERO SMASHES RECORDS IN SIX-GOAL ROMP

It was a waltz in Villa Park for City on Sunday, as Aguero's hat-trick and a masterclass from Kevin De Bruyne propelled Pep Guardiola's side to a 6-1 win and up into second place.

With his second goal – which came early in the second half to put City 5-0 up – Aguero became the highest-scoring non-British player in Premier League history, moving ahead of Thierry Henry.

Aguero moved onto 177 top-flight goals when he thumped in his third, making the former Atletico Madrid forward the outright record holder for hat-tricks in the Premier League with 12 to his name – one ahead of Alan Shearer's tally of 11.

After his first-half double and assist for Aguero's hat-trick goal, Riyad Mahrez is the only Premier League player to both score and assist 20 goals or more since the start of last season in all competitions. 

De Bruyne, meanwhile, is now on 15 assists for this campaign after teeing up two of City's goals.

INGS KEEPS GETTING BETTER

Two of the Premier League's leading scorers went head-to-head at the King Power Stadium, but while Jamie Vardy failed to inspire Leicester City to victory, Southampton's Ings proved the match-winner as the Saints gained revenge for their 9-0 defeat in the reverse fixture.

Ings' effort nine minutes from time was his 14th of the season and his ninth goal in his past 10 top-flight appearances.

It means 40 per cent of Ings' 35 Premier League goals have come in this campaign, while he is also the highest-scoring Southampton player since Jay Rodriguez in 2013-14.

Dennis Praet put Leicester ahead and is the 14th different player to have scored for the Foxes in the Premier League this term, while Brendan Rodgers suffered successive home defeats for the first time since he took over.

UNITED'S FORWARDS RUN RIOT IN OLD TRAFFORD ROUT

Missing leading scorer Teemu Pukki, Norwich City never looked likely to trouble United, who cruised to a convincing win to lift themselves into fifth place.

It is the first time United have scored four goals in consecutive home games in the league since September 2017, while the Canaries have not won in nine Premier League matches.

Marcus Rashford scored twice and is now on 19 goals in all competitions this season – only Raheem Sterling, with 20, has more among Premier League players.

Juan Mata set up two goals, the first time he has provided two assists in a league match since October 2012 – also against Norwich – while Mason Greenwood has scored four top-flight goals this term, more than any other teenager in the competition.

Fabinho expects to return to first-team action in the near future and warned Liverpool not to relent in their "incredible" season.

Defensive midfielder Fabinho has been absent since the end of November with an ankle injury, but Jurgen Klopp said on Friday he expects to have the Brazil international back in full training this week.

Liverpool have continued to shine in Fabinho's absence and a 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday moved them 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League, although Manchester City had a chance to trim that to 14 points on Sunday with a win over Aston Villa.

Speaking to Telefoot, Fabinho said: "I'm on the right path. We are in full recovery. I train individually.

"For example, I make changes in direction, but also exercises with the ball. I am very confident [about a quick comeback].

"I think I can resume soon, but we will see with the medical staff."

Roberto Firmino's first-half strike was enough to see off Tottenham as the Reds recorded their 20th top-flight victory in 21 games to take their tally to 61 points this term.

In the three-points-for-a-win era, that is the biggest haul any team in Europe's top five leagues has ever managed after 21 games.

But Fabinho is taking nothing for granted.

"We can win the title, but we are not yet champions. We are on the right track. What we have done so far is incredible, but we must continue," he added.

"I hope we will not crack. We have the confidence to continue like this. Despite the injuries, we continue to play at a high level."

Liverpool are back in action next Sunday when they host fierce rivals Manchester United at Anfield.

Tottenham head coach Jose Mourinho dismissed transfer speculation amid rumours over Gedson Fernandes and Christian Eriksen.

Benfica midfielder Fernandes is reportedly close to joining Tottenham on an 18-month loan deal, while Spurs star Eriksen has emerged as a target for Serie A outfit Inter in January.

Out of contract at the end of the season, Eriksen has been linked to a move to Inter, who denied contact with Tottenham prior to their draw against Atalanta.

Mourinho, however, did not want to talk about transfers following Tottenham's 1-0 defeat at home to runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool on Saturday.

"It's the last thing I want to do after this performance is talk about [new] players," Mourinho told reporters. I think it's a way to show respect to these guys is to not talk about new players.

"Can we say [Japhet] Tanganga is a new player? Can we say that? He never played a match for Tottenham in the Premier League. Today he played and today he proved that he can play for us.

It's a pity that he's not a striker, it's a pity that he's not a midfield player, but he's one more player that we have. So I think [Sadio] Mane and [Mohamed] Salah, they know who Tanganga is. They didn't know before the game. I think when they saw the list they wondered where this guy plays. I think now they know.

"The kid was really good so instead of speaking, or crying about Harry Kane and [Moussa] Sissoko and [Hugo] Lloris and Ben Davies, let's smile with Tanganga."

Tottenham are eighth in the Premier League and four points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea after three matches without a win.

Jurgen Klopp says Roberto Firmino apologised for not adding to his decisive strike in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

The result means the Reds have now won 20 of their opening 21 Premier League games of the season to sit 16 points ahead of second-placed Leicester City at the summit.

That lead could be cut to 14 points if Manchester City overcome Aston Villa on Sunday, but Liverpool are firmly on course to be crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years.

Firmino scored the only goal of the game after 37 minutes at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but the Brazil international was in sheepish mood at the final whistle, according to his boss.

"When I went to him and wanted to give him a hug after the game, he wanted to stop and talk first," Klopp said. "He said: 'I know I should have scored more goals'. It was absolutely not what I wanted to say!

"It is true probably. He should have scored immediately with the first chance.

"He is a super player, super. I don't say this for the first time and will hopefully not say it for the last time. [He's] pretty impressive."

Giovani Lo Celso squandered a golden opportunity to snatch a scarcely deserved point for Spurs in the closing stages.

It would have been exceptionally harsh on a Liverpool side who had dominated for long periods, with Klopp keen to highlight his side's impressive "fight" against Jose Mourinho's men.

"We had to play for it and in the end we had to fight for it, really hard," he said.

"We could have closed this game earlier; we should have I would say. The chances were clear. We had moments when we didn't make chances, but they were ones I would say usually would have to be a 100 per cent chance.

"I think we played some exceptional football to bring in Andy Robertson on the touchline but then we didn't find the free player or the defender blocked the last ball. We could have done better in these moments, but then it was only 1-0 and that's normal.

"Against a team like Tottenham, it is not decided and in the end we needed luck in one situation and Alisson in two or three other situations.

"It was intense, really, but I think we deserved the three points. It was not our best game we played so far, but it was a very good one and, as I said, [we played] really good football in a lot of parts of the game and in the end a proper fight. All good."

Liverpool are back in Premier League action next Sunday against bitter rivals Manchester United, who are the only side to have taken points from them this season.

Liverpool broke yet more records in their latest Premier League triumph over Tottenham, achieving a benchmark that not even Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich have previously managed. 

Roberto Firmino scored the first-half winner as the unbeaten Reds recorded their 20th top-flight victory in 21 games to take their tally to 61 points this term.

In the three-points-for-a-win era, that is the biggest points haul any team in Europe's top five leagues has ever managed after 21 games.

The likes of Barcelona, PSG, Juventus and Bayern Munich have enjoyed spells as all-conquering giants in their respective domestic leagues, yet none of those sides have been able to achieve such a total at the same stage.

In avoiding defeat, Klopp's side also extended their unbeaten Premier League run to 38 games, the equivalent of a full season.

They have accrued 104 points in that time, winning 33 times and drawing on five occasions, bettering the previous record totals Manchester City and Chelsea (both 102) managed across 38-match spells in 2017-18 and 2005 respectively.

An exasperated Jose Mourinho suggested the VAR official must have been "having a tea" after a heavy tackle from Andy Robertson went unpunished in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

After taking a poor touch deep in Spurs territory during the second half, a stretching Robertson appeared to catch Spurs debutant Japhet Tanganga firmly on the shin with his studs.

However, the Liverpool left-back was not even booked for the incident and Mourinho was less than impressed.

After hailing Jurgen Klopp's side, who are 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League after a 20th win from 21 games, the Spurs head coach suggested his team had been hard done by, comparing Robertson's challenge to the incident that saw Son Heung-min dismissed against Chelsea following a VAR review.

"They are so, so good and so, so strong in every area," said Mourinho of Liverpool in an interview with Sky Sports. "On top of that, they are lucky.

"Because they were lucky – they could perfectly concede a goal, they could perfectly finish the game with 10 because the VAR at the time they were having a [cup of] tea and they didn't watch Robertson for a red card.

"Compare that with Son [against Chelsea], when Son got a red card."

Mourinho also felt Liverpool were wrongly awarded a throw-in prior to Roberto Firmino scoring the only goal of the game, but he was proud of Tottenham's efforts in the absence of injured talisman Harry Kane, who is set to be out until at least April.

"I think I have only reasons to be sad with the result, but I have only reasons to be happy and proud of what the boys did and tried to do with the situation we had," he added.

"I think we deserved more from this game.

"With the throw-in [before Firmino's goal], that should be a throw-in in our favour, so it's a bit frustrating. I think the refs did a very good job, but unfortunately the assistant on the opposite side of us didn't see that throw-in."

In an interview with the BBC, Mourinho said: "This is football. Sometimes you get more than you deserve, sometimes you get less. I think this was one of the occasions when we got nothing when we deserved so much to get something.

"It was probably the best team in the world in the maximum of its potential against a team in a difficult moment, lots of injuries, important injuries, a difficult season, and I think the boys competed in a fantastic way. We were just unlucky not to score."

Jurgen Klopp described Liverpool's record-breaking points tally as "special" but insists he will not get carried away until his side have an unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League. 

The Reds made it 61 points from their 21 league games this season with a 1-0 win at Tottenham on Saturday, courtesy of Roberto Firmino's first-half goal.

That is the most any side has registered after the same number of games in a single season across Europe's big five leagues.

Klopp's men are now a whopping 16 points ahead of second-place Leicester City – who lost to Southampton earlier in the day – although their lead at the summit would be cut to 14 points if Manchester City overcome Aston Villa on Sunday.

"That is special [the points tally]," the German told Sky Sports. "If it would be easy then a lot more teams would have done it.

"It's really difficult to win the number of games and always be ready to fight on your best day, on your worst day and on the average days. Always that's what the boys do; that's why we are here.

"I'm really happy about it. The only problem is you don't get anything for best starts apart from numbers. The only thing we are interested in is what happens at the end of the season and so that's not done yet, because this league is so strong, because we face so many strong opponents.

"The moment that we have enough points that nobody can catch us anymore, then we start talking about it. Until then I couldn't be less interested."

Tottenham should have sealed a point late on, with Son Hueng-min and Giovani Lo Celso guilty of squandering golden opportunities, and Klopp expressed his frustration at his side's failure to put the game out of the hosts' reach. 

"First and foremost the result is the most important thing," he said. "One team deserved to win and that was us. That the game was not decided after 50-60 minutes was, of course, our fault as well.

"We had big chances and didn't score with them. There were a lot of good parts but we should have scored more goals; that's the truth. We have to be honest to ourselves and that's what we are.

"So, we could have scored more and when you can do that you have to do it; especially against an opponent like Tottenham, in a stadium like this."

Despite their stunning campaign, defender Virgil van Dijk claims there is more to come from the Merseysiders. 

"It gives us all a good feeling, but I think you see especially in the second half there's still room for improvement, so we're going to have to look at the things we have to improve," he said.

"That's the mentality we have and obviously we're in a good situation but there's still so much work we can do to make it even easier at times. It's a difficult place to come and three points is outstanding for us."

Jose Mourinho certainly sprung a surprise with his team for Tottenham's Premier League clash with runaway leaders Liverpool as he handed a top-flight debut to Japhet Tanganga.

The 20-year-old, whose only previous experience of senior football came in an EFL Cup tie, operated in a centralised right-back role behind Serge Aurier, and was handed the unenviable task of shackling Sadio Mane.

Though Spurs were unable to record their third clean sheet of the season, Tanganga had an encouraging debut, winning 71.4 per cent of his duels.

We took a closer look at Tanganga's display in Spurs' 1-0 loss.

 

2' - It was quite an introduction to the Premier League for Tanganga, whose first touch was a goal-line block with his outstretched left leg to deny Roberto Firmino the opener. The Spurs youngster would have been well placed to thwart Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's follow-up effort had it been on target and not hit the post, though Tanganga was fortunate the ball did not go in via the back of his leg after it ricocheted off him. 

8' - Perhaps buoyed by that fine intervention, an eager Tanganga naively surged upfield to try to dispossess Mane, only to see the Senegal international easily turn away from trouble. Tanganga eventually brought Mane down and can count himself lucky not to have been booked.

22' - Spurs were utilising a somewhat hybrid formation, with regular right-back Aurier sometimes operating slightly further forward to account for the raiding Andy Robertson. However, as Aurier squared up to Mane with Tanganga directly behind him in support, nobody had thought about Robertson, with Spurs' debutant eventually recovering to snuff out the attempted cutback to Firmino. 

32' - Tanganga's next direct duel with Mane resulted in a victory for the rookie. He stepped in to win the ball, outmuscled the Reds attacker and burst forward. This time Mane brought down Tanganga, who needed some treatment on a blow to the back of the head sustained as he fell.

37' - The Liverpool breakthrough. The Spurs defending in the build-up was shoddy but Tanganga's attempt to cut out Mohamed Salah's pass to Firmino was futile, the Brazilian opening his body to fire the league leaders ahead.

62' - After a quiet start to the second half, Tanganga made his mark by winning a 50-50 against Jordan Henderson, nullifying a potential Liverpool counter-attack.

64' - Tanganga may have been fortunate early on when the ball hit the back of his leg and did not go in, but Lady Luck was not smiling on him just after the hour mark as he slipped, fell and saw Mane glide beyond him. Toby Alderweireld had to deal with Robertson's eventual cross.

65'-  The youngster was in the wars again moments later after a loose touch from Robertson saw him chase the ball and mistime a tackle on Tanganga, who was caught on the shin by the full-back's studs. VAR did not look at the incident again and both men were still on the ground in pain when Paulo Gazzaniga pushed away Mane's header.

69' - A double change for Spurs saw a new role for Tanganga, who shifted across to left-back after a chat with Mourinho when Danny Rose was withdrawn.

88' - Spurs pressed for a late leveller – one that never came – and the newcomer offered very little to their attacking cause, opting to pass backwards or across and rarely venturing beyond the halfway line. Tanganga was, unsurprisingly, tiring late on as he let Henderson easily go past him via a one-two.

Roberto Firmino scored the only goal of the game as relentless Liverpool won at Tottenham to go 16 points clear at the top of the Premier League following Leicester City's defeat to Southampton.

Firmino's first-half strike on Saturday took the runaway leaders to 61 points, a European record among the continent's big-five leagues after 21 games played.

Liverpool look unstoppable in their quest to be crowned champions of England for the first time in 30 years, with second-placed Leicester – who have played a game more than the Merseyside club – slumping to a 2-1 loss at home to Southampton.

The Foxes consigned the Saints to a record-equalling 9-0 drubbing in October, but had three goals ruled out for offside at the King Power Stadium and Danny Ings' 10th goal in his last 10 top-flight starts gave the south-coast club sweet revenge.

Manchester United replaced Sheffield United in fifth spot with a 4-0 drubbing of Norwich City at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford claiming a brace, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored and was sent off in Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.

Chelsea are five points better off than the Red Devils in fourth, having avoided a third successive Premier League home defeat with a 3-0 victory over Burnley.

Richarlison scored the only goal in Everton's win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Goodison Park, while Newcastle United and Wolves had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Molineux.

 

FIRMINO GIVES REDS CAPITAL GAINS

Jurgen Klopp's all-conquering side took another stride towards an elusive title by making it 20 wins out of 21 in the Premier League.

A clinical finish from Firmino eight minutes before half-time was enough to seal maximum points in north London.

Son Hueng-min and Giovani Lo Celso squandered great chances to level for Spurs and they proved to be costly as Jose Mourinho's side suffered back-to-back Premier League defeats to sit in eighth spot.

INGS KEEPS SAINTS MARCHING

Southampton pulled off a magnificent victory to leave high-flying Leicester stunned.

Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans had goals disallowed for offside and Southampton had a penalty decision overturned by VAR in an action-packed encounter.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's upwardly mobile side were not to be denied maximum points, though, courtesy of a deflected first-half strike from Stuart Armstrong and a 14th of the season in the league from Ings – who hit the crossbar twice – either side of Dennis Praet's first Leicester goal.

 

RUTHLESS UNITED HAMMER CANARIES

Manchester United responded to their 3-1 EFL Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City with a ruthless demolition of bottom side Norwich.

Rashford took his tally of league goals this season to 14 with one in each half and Anthony Martial scored United's third two minutes after the England striker helped himself to a double from the penalty spot.

Mason Greenwood was given far too much time to add a fourth soon after coming off the bench as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ran riot, leaving Norwich still seven points adrift of fourth-bottom Aston Villa.

AUBA AND OUT

Aubameyang's 15th top-flight goal of the campaign gave the Gunners a first-half advantage at Selhurst Park, but things turned sour for the striker after the break.

The Gabon international was initially booked by referee Paul Tierney for a challenge on Max Meyer, but a red card was brandished after a VAR review which took over two minutes. 

Jordan Ayew's deflected strike had brought injury-hit Palace level before Aubameyang was ordered off and neither side could force a derby winner.

Liverpool's seemingly unstoppable march towards a first Premier League title continued as Roberto Firmino's goal sealed a 1-0 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp's side are now a whopping 16 points ahead of second-place Leicester City – who lost to Southampton earlier in the day – although their lead at the summit could be cut to 14 points if Manchester City overcome Aston Villa on Sunday.

The Reds were dominant in the first half and made the most of their superiority when Firmino expertly drilled home from inside the penalty area after 37 minutes.

Son Hueng-min and Giovani Lo Celso squandered golden opportunities to snatch a scarcely deserved point for Jose Mourinho's men late on, with Liverpool ultimately holding on for yet another three points.

Liverpool twice came agonisingly close to going ahead inside two minutes. Firmino's initial effort was cleared off the line by top-flight debutant Japhet Tanganga, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lashing against the post from the follow-up.

Lucas Moura, Son and Dele Alli all missed the target from promising positions soon after, while at the other end Virgil van Dijk headed straight at Paulo Gazzaniga from just six yards.

There was little the Spurs goalkeeper could do to deny Firmino eight minutes before the interval, the Brazil international controlling Mohamed Salah's pass with a sublime touch before lashing in from 10 yards.

Spurs started the second half with a spring in their step and twice came close before the hour mark, with Serge Aurier testing Alisson and Son seeing an effort deflected narrowly wide.

The game was almost put out of their reach in the 66th minute but Gazzaniga got down sharply to paw away Sadio Mane's header.

Spurs rallied in the closing stages, with Son blazing over from a glorious position and substitute Lo Celso somehow diverting Aurier's cross wide from inside the six-yard box seven minutes from time.

Klopp was visibly furious at his side's defending, but it mattered little in the end as they held on for a win that strengthens their already formidable position at the summit.

 

What does it mean? Relentless Reds march on

Klopp's men have now taken a scarcely believable 88 points from their last 90 available in the Premier League, winning their last 12 matches in a row.

They rarely looked in danger of failing to claim all three points against a Spurs side desperately missing the presence of the injured Harry Kane in attack.

Mourinho, meanwhile, needs to turn his side's fortunes around sharpish. They have now won just one of their last five Premier League games and are nine points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.

Firmino's touch of class

Mane and Salah often steal the headlines, but Firmino once again proved his worth with a superb goal. His first touch was exquisite, and the finish was not bad either. He also created four chances for his team-mates.

Eriksen's Spurs career ending with a whimper

With a move to Inter seemingly on the cards, it was a surprise to see Christian Eriksen named in Mourinho's starting XI.

Despite creating a few chances, he failed to repay his manager's faith, serving up a dismal display where he was often outmuscled and appeared to be lacking intensity. 

What might be one of his last appearances in a Spurs shirt ended with a 69th-minute substitution.

What's next?

Tottenham host Middlesbrough in an FA Cup third-round replay on Tuesday before visiting Watford in the Premier League on Saturday. Liverpool, meanwhile, welcome bitter rivals Manchester United – the only side they have dropped points against this season – to Anfield on Sunday.

Danny Ings gave in-form Southampton sweet revenge over Leicester City and Manchester United hammered bottom side Norwich City in the Premier League on Saturday.

Leicester consigned the Saints to a record-equalling 9-0 defeat in October, but the second-placed Foxes – who had three goals ruled out – were beaten 2-1 at the King Power Stadium less than three months later.

Ings' 10th goal in his last 10 top-flight starts sealed all three points for a Southampton side who have now won three and drawn one of their last four Premier League matches.

Manchester United replaced Sheffield United in fifth spot with a 4-0 drubbing of Norwich at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford scoring twice, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored and was sent off in Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Crystal Palace.

Chelsea are five points better off than the Red Devils in fourth, having avoided a third successive Premier League home defeat with a 3-0 victory over Burnley.

Richarlison scored the only goal in Everton's win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Goodison Park, while Newcastle United and Wolves had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Molineux.

 

INGS KEEPS SAINTS MARCHING

Southampton pulled off a magnificent victory to leave high-flying Leicester stunned.

Jamie Vardy, Kelechi Iheanacho and Jonny Evans had goals disallowed for offside and Southampton had a penalty decision overturned by VAR in an action-packed encounter.

Ralph Hasenhuttl's upwardly mobile side were not to be denied maximum points, though, courtesy of a deflected first-half strike from Stuart Armstrong and a 14th of the season in the league from Ings – who hit the crossbar twice – either side of Dennis Praet's first Leicester goal.

 

RUTHLESS UNITED HAMMER CANARIES

Manchester United responded to their 3-1 EFL Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester City with a ruthless demolition of bottom side Norwich.

Rashford took his tally of league goals this season to 14 with one in each half and Anthony Martial scored United's third two minutes after the England striker helped himself to a double from the penalty spot.

Mason Greenwood was given far too much time to add a fourth soon after coming off the bench as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ran riot, leaving Norwich still seven points adrift of fourth-bottom Aston Villa.

AUBA AND OUT

Aubameyang's 15th top-flight goal of the campaign gave the Gunners a first-half advantage at Selhurst Park, but things turned sour for the striker after the break.

The Gabon international was initially booked by referee Paul Tierney for a challenge on Max Meyer, but a red card was brandished after a VAR review which took over two minutes. 

Jordan Ayew's deflected strike had brought injury-hit Palace level before Aubameyang was ordered off and neither side could force a derby winner.

Tottenham have handed starts to Japhet Tanganga and Christian Eriksen in Saturday's Premier League clash against leaders Liverpool.

Twenty-year-old defender Tanganga will make his first top-flight appearance for Spurs, with Eriksen also playing from the start despite being heavily linked with a move to Inter.

With Harry Kane out injured, Eriksen, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura will support Son Heung-min in attack.

Tottenham look set to play a five-man defence, with Jan Vertonghen, Ryan Sessegnon, Moussa Sissoko, Tanguy Ndombele and Kane dropping out of the team who played Southampton in their last league game.

Tanganga, Son, Harry Winks, Davinson Sanchez and Danny Rose are the players to come in.

Liverpool make one change, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting his first game for over a month as he replaces James Milner, who has a hamstring injury.

Jose Mourinho said it would be like having "two new players" as he confirmed Hugo Lloris and Ben Davies should be back in action for Tottenham by the end of January.

Spurs are going through a difficult period, having won only once in their past five matches and lost key players Harry Kane and Moussa Sissoko to serious injuries.

But head coach Mourinho is expecting to have first-choice goalkeeper Lloris and left-back Davies on the pitch by the end of January.

Lloris suffered an elbow injury at the start of October, meaning Paolo Gazzaniga has had to deputise, while Davies has been missing since sustaining ankle ligament damage in Mourinho's first match at the helm on November 23.

"The good news is that before the end of the month we have two new players, Hugo Lloris and Ben Davies. This is good news," Mourinho said in Friday's news conference ahead of facing Liverpool.

"Lloris never played a game for me, Ben played one, and very, very well in a system we were trying to develop, which was only possible with him because he's the one left-back that can play in that inside position, as Danny Rose is a pure left-back, Jan Vertonghen is not a left-back and Ryan Sessegnon is learning how to be a left-back.

"So, Ben is very important for our project. So, it's good news.

"[Lloris' return] is very important. He's the captain with Harry. We lose one, it's nice to recover the other.

"The experience, the way he plays, speaking - it's very important for a goalkeeper to play and speak at the same time.

"We have a goalkeeper that's doing his best and we have confidence in him. For Hugo to be back after such an important injury is good and it opens space in the medical department.

"Some people are leaving the medical room, some people are coming in. Is there an area in the medical department with a plate saying Hugo Lloris? Because he's there every day for the past three months."

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