What did we learn in the Premier League over the weekend?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nick Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
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Let’s get to it.
1. Return of fans after nine months goes well: I was at both Chelsea v Leeds and Tottenham v Arsenal and the return of fans was both a welcome relief and it went very well. There were no big issues and the 2,000 fans at each game were very loud. The soul of the Premier League returned this weekend, and the measures in place should see even more fans allowed to return in the coming weeks. Banter was flowing, players could hear fans clearer (and vice versa) and there was an upbeat tempo and intensity to the games which had supporters back in the stands. Here’s an in-depth look at what it was like at Tottenham and Chelsea. (JPW)
2. Mourinho admits Tottenham are in formidable form: Jose Mourinho doesn’t want to play up the title chances of Tottenham, but he can’t deny their last three displays have been impressive. After beating north London rivals Arsenal at home, Spurs remain top of the table as they came through a stretch of games against Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal with seven points and zero goals conceded. That is title-winning form. I asked Mourinho about it: “We can lose everywhere,” Mourinho said. “Any team can come here and beat us. Of course people could expect these last three matches, three points, four points, or six but lose one. No, we did seven. We didn’t concede one goal against phenomenal teams. Of course we are in a good moment and the team is strong mentally but nothing’s changed.” That Tottenham pony is quickly becoming a thoroughbred. (JPW)
3. Aubameyang remains ice cold: Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta tried to enliven Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s season by teaming the Gabonese star with Alexandre Lacazette atop a 4-4-2 but Mourinho’s defensive plan kept the left-sided star in a box. While Lacazette looked dangerous, Aubameyang’s struggles continued to the tune of just 21 touches over 90 minutes. Arsenal could not get him the ball, and he finished with one off-target shot and another blocked. Aubameyang has two of Arsenal’s 10 PL goals through 11 matches this season. Woof. (NM)
4. Pulisic back scoring, as Lampard set to lean on USMNT star heavily: He came on after 30 minutes for the injured Hakim Ziyech and Pulisic scored late on to seal a big win for Chelsea against Leeds. Pulisic, 22, is finally off and running with his first goal of the PL season and he showcased the brilliant timing of his runs throughout, as he was found by Werner to slot home to send the fans at Stamford Bridge wild. With a solid defensive unit boosted by Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy, Chelsea are now genuine title contenders.
Frank Lampard told us this about Pulisic: “Really pleased because’s been a difficult period for him with the injury and he gets frustrated in a good way because he wants to play,” Lampard said. “Having played 65 minutes in Seville I knew this game would have a huge amount of energy for the players and thought it was wise to start him on the bench. My plan was probably to give him 30 minutes. But to play the period of the game he played, with the intensity of the game and get his goal… He has an incredible gift. It sounds simple, but arriving in the six-yard box as a wide man. So I was delighted that he got his goal and he is only going to get stronger now.” Chelsea will need Pulisic to step up and replace Ziyech, who has been great but now faces a spell out with injury. Just when it looked like Pulisic may struggle to get into this Chelsea team, an opportunity has opened up and he took it. (JPW)
5. The Portuguese Gretzky? If hockey assists were applied to the Premier League, Bruno Fernandes might have Wayne Gretzky numbers. Fernandes set up Pogba’s rocket equalizer with a terrific collection of Henderson’s long ball and a dribble to set up the Frenchman, but he played just as critical a role in two goals that will show up as Alex Telles and Juan Mata assists. Fernandes zipped into traffic to chop a pass wide for Telles’ cross to Greenwood before knocking a clever pass back to Mata ahead of Rashford’s goal. Fernandes finished with seven key passes despite not entering the match until halftime. Yeah, we referenced hockey. It’s cross-promotion, y’all. (NM)
6. Liverpool attack finding its groove with 4-0 demolition of Wolves: The thing that has made the Liverpool attack so extraordinarily dangerous over the last two-plus season is its three-pronged nature comprised of world-class superstars. Now, throw Diogo Jota, who had his first truly “meh” game (as a substitute, against his former team, it should be noted) for the Reds, and it’s very much a “pick your poison” proposition for opponents. Wolves were completely overwhelmed on Sunday — as many other sides have been, and will continue to be — and they never actually stood a chance. (AE)
7. Everton’s formation change changes game: Switching from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 system changed this game, but Everton still look disjointed as they drew 1-1 at Burnley. Due to Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne being out injured, Ancelotti has been forced to play players out of position at wing back. When Delph, an emergency left wing-back, was injured, Everton switched to a back four and brought on Andre Gomes in midfield. That extra man in midfield saw them dominate, get the ball to James Rodriguez more, and although Ben Godfrey and Iwobi aren’t full backs, at all, they did a decent job. Everton should stick to 4-3-3. They haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last 12 games in all competitions, so that is a big issue, but their players look more comfortable in a 4-3-3 and James and Richarlison are given more of a license to roam. (JPW)
8. VAR changes the game as Palace hammer Baggies: West Brom was feeling good after Darnell Furlong helped make amends for an early and unlucky own goal by setting up Gallagher’s equalizer, but VAR sent referee Paul Tierney over to the pitchside monitor to take a closer look at Matheus Pereira’s foot to the groin of Patrick van Aanholt. The slow motion replay showed Pereira straightening his foot after tumbling to the turf and Tierney was swayed. There was seemingly a lot of grey area here but the visitors eventually wore down Slaven Bilic’s Baggies. (NM)
9. Here come Man City: Pep Guardiola’s side have only lost two of their last 17 games in all competitions and they are starting to crank through the gears, as they beat Fulham 2-0 without pulling out of second gear. They look better defensively and the only problem for City is that they’ve been wasteful with chances. As soon as Sergio Aguero comes back from injury, that should change. Kevin de Bruyne continues to lead their surge and they are sat ominously behind the leading contenders with a game in-hand. There hasn’t been a lot of focus on City, but that is just the way Guardiola likes it. Once they are fully fit and firing, watch out. (JPW)
10. Almost doesn’t count: Leicester City stars Jamie Vardy and James Maddison each put a shot off the post in the first half as Leicester took nine of 10 shots over the first hour, with Blades scoring with their only shot on target and avoiding what could’ve easily been a second yellow card to defender Max Lowe. Fine margins seemed to finally be favoring Sheffield United, who entered the match with four goals scored but an expected goals total of 12. But the Foxes’ dominant match was rewarded by Vardy’s ninth goal in 10 PL appearances this season. (NM)