If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goes on to become a Manchester United managerial legend, might we suggest that the early part of his tenure be labeled as “The King of Baby Steps.”
Solskjaer found something to like from a rough 0-0 draw with Arsenal on Saturday, a result that saw the Red Devils remain winless against the traditional big six with a total of four draws and two goals in six games.
“I felt first half we dominated,” Solskjaer said. “Second half was more end-to-end but we had a good period and they had a period. …. The Sheffield United result of course was disappointing when you’re at home. If you feel, away at Arsenal, you deserve a win that’s a step forward.”
If that’s the bar for now, well, okay, but the draw also means United is four points back of table-leading Manchester City, a rival with a match-in-hand on the Red Devils.
Solskjaer also made a bit of news in his post-match Zoom call when he told our Joe Prince-Wright that Brandon Williams will not be going on loan this season.
Shaw feels draw is points lost
Luke Shaw has a different take.
“The chances we had, I don’t think it’s acceptable to come away with a point,” Shaw said, via the BBC. “I haven’t been in the changing room yet but I’m sure the lads will be disappointed. … We dropped points in midweek and again here. If we want to be in the title race we have to be winning these games. I don’t know what more to say.”
That’s more of what we expected from Solskjaer, even if he rarely issues public criticism of his men.
United needs a statement league win
The Red Devils, to be sure, have dramatically improved their results and upgraded their performances since returning for Project Restart.
But while celebrating comebacks and late equalizers or winners, has United papered over cracks?
Consider this list of teams beaten, drawn, and lost in the 2020-21 PL season.
Man Utd wins: Brighton, Newcastle, Everton, West Brom, Southampton, West Ham, Sheffield United, Leeds, Wolves, Aston Villa, Burnley, Fulham
Man Utd draws: Chelsea, Man City, Leicester City, Liverpool, Arsenal.
Man Utd losses: Palace, Spurs, Arsenal, Sheffield United
Newcastle United can become the third Premier League team this season to cross the 40-point marker when it meets West Ham on Saturday at St. James’ Park (watch live, 12:30pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).
The Magpies have been terrific at home in all competitions, including at midweek where they finished off Southampton to claim a spot in the League Cup Final.
How to watch Newcastle vs West Ham live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 12:30pm ET, Saturday TV Channel: NBC Online:Stream via NBCSports.com
Key storylines & star players
The Magpies won’t have their best all-around player in influential Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, and center forward Alexander Isak will miss out following a head injury suffered against Saints. Sean Longstaff will need to shine again after scoring twice against Saints.
As for West Ham, they have three attackers out but can look to Michail Antonio and Jarrod Bowen to continue upturns in form.
Newcastle team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Bruno Guimaraes (suspension), Alexander Isak (concussion), Javier Manquillo (undisclosed), Matt Targett (foot), Emil Krafth (knee)
Manchester City can gut the gap to Premier League leaders Arsenal to just two points with a win over Tottenham in north London on Sunday (watch live, 11:30 am ET on USA Network and online via NBCSports.com).
Arsenal (50 points) were handed just their second defeat of the season on Saturday, beaten 1-0 away to Everton as Sean Dyche made his debut as Toffees manager. Now level on games played for just over 24 hours, Manchester City (45 points) are once again within striking distance, but Tottenham (36 points – 5th place) have given them fits in recent seasons, when few others could.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham vs Manchester City.
When these sides met just two weeks ago, Tottenham found themselves 2-0 up at halftime and threatening to cause the Man City upset yet again, effectively handing rivals Arsenal a three-point boost in the title race. Then the second half kicked off, and the two-time defending champions poured in four games, including three in the first 18 minutes. Another fantastic half wasted by Tottenham, though it was typically a poor start followed by a frantic finish of their own. Harry Kane will pass Jimmy Greaves as Spurs’ all-time top scorer when he scores his next goal, taking his total in all competitions to 267. If Kane scores that goal in a Premier League fixture, the record goal will also be his 200th in the league.
Erling Haaland (25 goals) is the only player with more PL goals than Kane (16) this season, and though his numbers are certainly eye-popping, his arrival has clearly unsettled Pep Guardiola’s tactical system to some degree. A season ago, Manchester City conceded just 26 goals in 38 games (0.68 per game). This season, 20 goals in 20 games, up nearly a half-goal per game.
Tottenham team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Lucas Moura (calf) | QUESTIONABLE: Richarlison (adductor)
Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Phil Foden (foot)
Liverpool can’t worry about its European positioning when it’s currently getting outfinished by relegation-threatened Wolves in a 3-0 affair at the Molineux on Saturday,
It’s the third meeting since early January between the sides following a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup and a 1-0 Liverpool win in the replay, and Wolves will feel they deserved the full three points in several ways.
A Joel Matip own goal after six minutes was worsened by Craig Dawson’s goal on debut for Wolves in the 12th minute, and Liverpool could not break down Julen Lopetegui’s defense despite Mohamed Salah’s best efforts.
Adama Traore tortured Liverpool’s lifeless defense to set up Ruben Neves’s 71st-minute goal, and the Molineux crowd was Ole-ing every last touch of a stoppage-time possession in utterly unpredictable fashion.
The expected goals total was kinder to Liverpool, but that and the club’s current situation count for little more than a handshake; The Reds now sit 10 points outside the top four, the 10 next to their name wild given their status under Jurgen Klopp (even considered their terrible injury list).
Wolves entered the day in the bottom three and exits it in 15th with 20 points. That’s two points clear of the bottom three but the upward trajectory is real.
Injuries definitely start the story of this one, a 3-0 that was much closer on the xG scoreboard but just as divided in spirit.
Jurgen Klopp’s one-time mentality monsters looked mentality defeated, especially in front of either goal, as the boss exclaimed after the game — full comments below — that the club was lined up as directed but “passive, not active.”
Wolves, meanwhile, were very active, and Klopp would’ve wondered what might’ve been when Neves lashed in the third goal by darting between a collection of lined-up Liverpool backs to snap home the end product of Adama Traore’s robust work breaking the lines and conducting a trademark dribble.
The Reds have big holes by Darwin Nunez is snakebit in front of goal and Cody Gakpo may get there. At the moment, Liverpool’s entire attack seems to be, “Let’s hope Mo Salah cooks today.”
The Egyptian has been fine this year but nowhere near an even average day on Saturday. Thiago Alcantara was one of only a few to really show up in a loss that leaves the Reds fodder for Europa League qualification and not much else. Maybe the UCL route can open up for them.
Stars of the Show
Jurgen Klopp reaction: ‘I have no words for it’ (231 words later)
“Conceding early goals is not unfamiliar to us but the way we conceded them today was not acceptable. When you see the whole game, throughout the game in moments we played an outstanding game without scoring and a good away game without scoring, the third goal I don’t count because it was the first time they passed the halfway line in the second half. The other two goals, going into a game with all the things we said during the week and before the game then this is the start is horrible.
“You do yourself no favors in these moments, giving easy balls away. We were passive in the two goals, everything we wanted to do was be compact and active but we were compact and passive. I can’t explain it, I think why would you do that? But they did it anyway.
“The leadership [defensively] is missing but this is not my first explanation, I really think in the specific situation we could have and should have done better. We have to do better in these moments by not coming to this situation in the game so not chasing the game. We didn’t finish things off properly, we missed the last pass, the intensity we played at times was good but we have put ourselves in a really average position for the two goals.
“We better change it. That’s true, 100%. I have no words for it really, I’m sorry.”
Wolves will feel they can enter a purple patch with a trip to Southampton and a visit from Bournemouth on the next two Saturdays.
Liverpool has to snap to life quick: There’s a Merseyside derby at home to Everton, then Newcastle away followed by the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 vs Real Madrid.
How to watch Wolves vs Liverpool live, stream link and start time
Craig Dawson goal video: Debutant makes it 2-0 to Wolves with rare goal
Ruben Neves goal video: Adama Traore turns on style as Liverpool goes to sleep
Key storylines & star players
Winning games is about scoring goals and only two Wolves players have more than one. Daniel Podence has collected five, while Ruben Neves has four. Even more surprising, Wolves are still waiting on a goal from Raul Jimenez, Diego Costa, or injured Pedro Neto. Perhaps Matheus Cunha or Pablo Sarabia will chip in soon.
Liverpool has one win from its last three Premier League outings, but there’s a heaping helping of bad luck to their struggles. The Reds have 24 goals from open play and 20 allowed in that same situation. Their expected goals in those spots is 34.6 – 24. Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez have been especially unlucky despite combining for 12 goals and six assists on the season.
Wolves team news, injuries, lineup options
OUT: Pedro Neto (ankle), Sasa Kalajdzic (torn ACL), Boubacar Traore (undisclosed), Chiquinho (knee)
Brentford hammered sorry Southampton 3-0 in west London as the long unbeaten run continues for Thomas Frank’s side and the Bees are dreaming of Europe.
As for Nathan Jones and Saints, he has lost seven of his eight Premier League games in charge and they are rooted to the bottom of the table as the away fans turned against their manager throughout another very disappointing display.
Brentford are very good at whipping in crosses and winning balls in the air. Like Dracula, Southampton do not like crosses. This did not seem to be a good matchup for Saints before this game and it went exactly that way. Thomas Frank’s side were ruthless when their chances arrived and Southampton’s jumbled defense gave them too much time to pick out crosses and then switched off to defend the players arriving to score. These were basic errors from Southampton and it’s the reason they are bottom of the league. These crosses and the chaos they cause before, during and after the ball is coming in is also why Brentford are pushing for European qualification. Southampton’s biggest weakness (crosses) is Brentford’s big strength and this turned into a very routine win for the hosts as the pressure continues to mount on Nathan Jones with six defeats in his seven Premier League games in charge. Saints aren’t cut off at the bottom, yet, but it is getting to a very precarious situation for Jones as new players have arrived but there has been no real improvement for Saints since Ralph Hasenhuttl was fired in November.
Stars of the show
Bryan Mbuemo: Scored one, set up another and picked so many holes in Saints’ defense. We talk a lot about Toney, but what a season the Cameroon international is having.
Ben Mee: Won everything in the air, scored a beauty of a header and held things together so well. One of the best signings of the season across the entire Premier League.
Brentford head to Arsenal on Saturday, Feb. 11, while Saints have a massive home game against Wolves on the same day.
How to watch Brentford vs Southampton live, stream link and start time
GOALLL! Game. Set. Match. Mathias Jensen heads home after another wonderful cross into the box, this time from Rico Henry. Southampton all over the place. Brentford 3-0 up and Jensen’s final touch was to score as he is subbed off.
At the other end Saints twice go close as Theo Walcott is twice denied and Che Adams is clattered into by David Raya.
A quick free kick catches out Saints and Salisu clears off the line. So close to a third as Ivan Toney reacted first.
Much better from Southampton but they need a goal soon to try and launch a massive comeback.
A good start to the second half for Saints, as their two new deadline day signings are on for their debuts: Can Paul Onuachu and Kamaldeen Sulemana get them back in the game?
GOALLL! 2-0 to Brentford. Mbuemo slots home. The Bees are buzzing and catch Saints on the counter. Two goals in three minutes for the hosts. Saints look stunned.
GOALLL! Right before half time Brentford take the lead. Ben Mee bravely heads home a brilliant cross from Mbuemo. 1-0 to the Bees.
Not much going on in west London. Saints happy to sit back and Brentford struggling to create chances on the counter.
An even game so far with Saints having a few chances early on and Brentford have caused problems with crosses into the box.
Key storylines & star players
Last time out, Brentford settled for a frustrating 0-0 draw with Leeds, but before that they rattled off successive wins over West Ham, Liverpool and Bournemouth with just one goal conceded in three games. Ivan Toney is 3rd in the Premier League with 13 goals, trailing only Harry Kane (16) and Erling Haaland (an absurd 25). After initially struggling to replace the creativity of Christian Eriksen (4 assists in 11 appearances last season), Thomas Frank’s side is firing once again thanks to Mathias Jensen (4 in 20), Toney (3) and Josh Dasilva (2) picking up the slack.
After losing 3-1 to Newcastle over two legs in the League Cup semifinals, Southampton return their attention to the ongoing relegation battle. Having won just one of their last nine Premier League fixtures (1W-1D-7L), Saints made four first-team signings to strengthen the midfield and attack. They brought in some experience (30-year-old midfielder Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb and 28-year-old forward Paul Onuachu from Genk) along with some youth and potential (a pair of 20-year-olds, midfielder Carlos Alcaraz from Racing Club and winger Kamadeen Selumana from Rennes).
Brentford team news, injuries, lineup
OUT: Pontus Jansson (thigh), Frank Onyeka (hamstring), Shandon Baptiste (adductor)