Six things we learnt this weekend: Liverpool will be fine without Gerrard; Gabriel Paulista has ousted Mertesacker; Wayne Rooney role

Manchester City's title defence is now surely over, Tim Sherwood might be regretting taking the Aston Villa job and the usual contenders are falling into place

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The Independent Football

Liverpool are into the post-Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard era - and the future looks bright

Understandably it took some time for Liverpool to recover from the departure of Luis Suarez. But a poor start to the season has been rectified thanks to a league run that has seen them avoid defeat since they were beaten 3-0 by Manchester United in mid-December. This summer another irreplaceable player will depart the club in the shape of Steven Gerrard. But rather than get to grips without their captain midway through next season, the Reds appear to be coming to terms with life without Gerrard already. With the captain missing through injury Liverpool showed enough verve and effectiveness in their performance against Manchester City to suggest they'll be just fine going forward.

Manchester City's title defence is now surely over

When Manchester City lost at Anfield at a similar stage of the campaign last season, it looked as though their title aspirations were over. But Liverpool were to slip and Manuel Pellegrini's side were there to take advantage. But this time around, defeat on Merseyside surely does mean the end of their hopes of retaining the title. Should Chelsea win their game in hand the west London club will hold an eight point advantage with 11 games to go - surely an insurmountable figure base on the two teams' current form.

Henderson fires Liverpool ahead with a long-range rocket


Per Mertesacker has been displaced and may never regain his place

Gabriel Paulista was selected ahead of Per Mertesacker in the Premier League for the first time since joining in the January transfer window at the weekend. It came as little surprise that Arsene Wenger gave the Brazilian a chance to impress considering the form of his German team-mate - and it was an opportunity the £11.3m defender took in the game against Everton. One particular tackle on Romelu Lukaku - inside the box, beautifully timed, cleanly taken - would have had Tony Adams purring. The clean sheet in the victory over the Toffees should ensure Gabriel keeps his place going forward and it's now his to lose.


The usual contenders are falling into place

Southampton and West Ham were beaten at the weekend in the type of fixtures they must win if they are serious about challenging for the top four. Defeats against West Brom and Crystal Palace respectively saw them lose more ground as the big boys get up to speed in the sprint finish stage of the season. For some time it's appeared a season in which an underdog might muscle their way in among the usual Champions League qualifiers - but the table is beginning to have a very familiar look to it.

Scott Dann celebrates during Crystal Palace's win over West Ham


Tim Sherwood might be regretting taking the Aston Villa job

Tony Pulis and Alan Pardew had the desired effects for the clubs that appointed them - that new-manager bounce that looks set to stave off relegation. But the appointment of Tim Sherwood at Aston Villa doesn't appear to have had the same impact. The former Tottenham boss is only two games in - much too early to judge - but in those two games Sherwood has overseen two defeats (the latest against Newcastle) and time is not on his side. The Villains are without a league win since beating Leicester in early December and confidence is at rock bottom. The arrival of Sherwood was meant to arrest that problem but the longer they go without a win under the new manager the worse the situation becomes.

Tim Sherwood has presided over two Premier League losses for Villa


Wayne Rooney should be used as a striker

Louis van Gaal has appeared confused over which is his best starting XI and formation and Wayne Rooney has paid the price for the Dutchman's indecision by being dropped into midfield for much of the season. The England captain returned to a forward role in the match against Sunderland and bagged both goals in the 2-0 win. With Manchester United looking blunt at times this season despite all the attacking talents assembled at Old Trafford it seems the most cutting option would be to use Rooney as a striker. But someone will have to make way.