What did we learn from the final Premier League matchday of the calendar year?
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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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With only eight of 10 games played, two matches will get bonus ‘things.’ Let’s get to it.
1 + 2. Reds labor again, but Thiago brings hope (Newcastle 0-0 Liverpool)
Reds lack finish (again): Newcastle entered Wednesday’s game with an average of just 9.1 shot attempts per game this season, but took six in the first half alone against a Liverpool side expected to be angry after the draw with bottom-three visitors West Brom at the weekend. Goals could’ve been there early and the second half was all about the champions trying in vain to beat Karl Darlow, but the missing finish should be treated just as harshly as Man City’s has been this season. Liverpool did not score and will know that its three-point lead on Manchester United, who has a game-in-hand, will make a Jan. 17 rivalry match quite the consequential spectacle (NM).
Thiago returns: It wasn’t anything extraterrestrial on the field, but 21-of-23 passes, 6-of-6 long passes, and 6-of-6 duels won? Thiago Alcantara’s return to the pitch for Liverpool will give the Reds a huge boost as they build up confidence in the race for a second-straight PL title. His service was terrific over 17 minutes in red, and the difference in quality was enough that just three more minutes would’ve likely been enough to break apart Newcastle. Think KDB’s vision without the finishing prowess (NM).
3. Ings needs help (Southampton 0-0 West Ham): Early on a lovely piece of control, a deft dribble, and fine finish from Ings looked to have put Southampton 1-0 up, but Che Adams was just offside in the build-up. It was a shame, as that would have sparked Saints into life. Instead, their early flourish was as good as it got. Ings needs help up-top, as Adams has lost his form, Shane Long doesn’t offer much, and Moussa Djenepo and Theo Walcott tried their best to get close to Ings but couldn’t link up with Saints’ star striker. His return from injury is a huge boost but now Saints need players to step up to support him (JPW).
4. Superstar Saka (Brighton 0-1 Arsenal): Arsenal appears to have another homegrown superstar-in-the-making on their hands, as Bukayo Saka continues to perform at a very high level at just 19 years of age. Virtually everything the Gunners created on Tuesday had his fingerprints all over it. Unfortunately for the youngster, he was forced off with an injury in the 81st minute, though the move did appear to be more cautionary than anything. (AE)
5 + 6. Burnley turn Turf Moor back into a fortress and same-old story for record equaling Blades (Burnley 1-0 Sheffield United)
Turf Moor reinforced: The Clarets are now four games unbeaten at home, with three wins in that stretch, and fortress Turf Moor is the reason they are pushing away from the relegation zone. Burnley are back to their best with Barnes and Wood up top now fit and leading the line up top, and Mee, Pope and Tarkowski are solid as a rock at the back. Burnley need to keep winning at home to drag themselves up the table but with a sale of the club set to be complete in the coming days, Sean Dyche will have some money to strengthen his squad this January and that will make a big difference (JPW).
Blades historically poor: They have gone 16 games without a win at the start of the season, and that equals QPR’s record from 2012-13. Oh dear. Chris Wilder is exasperated as Sheffield United are playing very similar to last season, but the big difference is they had lots of one-goal wins after they were promoted. Something changed in the final months of 2019-20, though, as confidence seemed to drain and their poor form from ‘Project Restart’ set them on the back foot for this season. Sheffield United need a miracle to stay up, and the most surprising thing is that so many people are surprised by this. It was coming and the Blades massively overachieved in the first half of last season (JPW).
7. A big ask, even for Big Sam (West Brom 0-5 Leeds United): Perhaps it’s time to consider that West Brom, as currently constructed, is simply not cut out for the Premier League. Sure, they showed a fighting spirit to come back and take a point off Liverpool on Sunday, but when they went down early to Leeds, their heads dropped and the team looked like a beaten bunch. If Allardyce can’t reach the players in a motivational sense, all hope is lost (AE).
8. Maguire stands tall (Man Utd 1-0 Wolves): There were two plays in the second half where the Harry Maguire grabbed the game and made sure United stayed alive to find its late winner. First, the ex-Leicester City back charged to meet an inswinging corner kick as Fabio Silva bid to nod it toward goal. Maguire won the ball and treated the teen to the turf in a physical display quite symbolic of his day. Maguire then acted quickly when De Gea’s outstanding save left a juicy 81st-minute rebound. There was no panic from the England international as he dribbled laterally from his own six to clear the danger. He’s been strong since some early woes (NM).
9. Pulisic goes deep again (Chelsea 1-1 Aston Villa ): As detailed in Pulisic Watch, the USMNT star started his fourth-straight game. In starting, it shows that Frank Lampard didn’t count the American amongst the “lazy” Chelsea players who infuriated him in the 3-1 loss to Arsenal on Saturday. In going the distance, he played his most minutes in a two-week stretch since Project Restart. Lampard later deemed Pulisic “really bright” in a match that was lacking much shine for Chelsea (NM).
10. The draw no one wanted (Crystal Palace 1-1 Leicester City): The Foxes’ top -our hopes demanded three points from this one considering Palace’s four-match winless run and the 2-2 draw with Manchester United at the weekend. Likewise, the Eagles needed to snap out of their funk given how they’d like to avoid anything like last season’s slump that sent them from European contender to the lower half. No one went home happy from South London. Palace has Sheffield United next and Leicester goes to Newcastle. Anger should be dispersed then (NM).