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.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Let’s get to it.
1. Stones, Dias drive City on (Man City 2-1 West Ham): When they’ve played together in the PL this season they have conceded three goals and scored five between them. Incredible. Dias and Stones look so hungry and fired up and give City a rock-solid foundation to build from. We all marvel at City’s amazing attacking talents but the story of their season is how Dias, a new signing, has slotted in brilliantly and Stones, who looks like a new signing, is finally realizing his potential. Both in attack and defense. (JPW)
2. Safe Solskjaer gets his minimum expected result (Chelsea 0-0 Man United): When the epitaph is placed on Manchester United’s 2020-21 Premier League season, one seemingly destined for the top four, their performance against traditional powers won’t be why they finished above 16 teams but why they failed to challenge anyone above them (even if that’s just Man City).
Perhaps United was scared by their 10-man embarrassment at home to Spurs to start the season’s run versus the “Big Six,” but the Bruno Fernandes second-minute penalty that kicked off that game has seen exactly zero United goals scored in the ensuing 628 minutes against Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, and Liverpool. (NM)
3. Where can Spurs land? What if it’s without Hojbjerg? (Tottenham 4-0 Burnley): Jose Mourinho has talked up the final table as a true tale of Tottenham’s season, and there are three-straight London derbies ahead with Fulham away, Palace at home, and an away North London derby at Arsenal on March 14. Six points back of West Ham with a match-in-hand, the top-four of the Premier League is there for them if they find good form more often than not. That will be very difficult if Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s late non-contact injury is serious on any level. Nervy days and weeks for Spurs. (NM)
4. Leicester still well-positioned… alas, more injuries (Leicester 1-3 Arsenal): The Foxes are now done with the Europa League but will be happy that the lack of schedule congestion will couple with some very nice fixtures as they focus on the FA Cup and Premier League. Leicester next has Burnley, Brighton, and Sheffield United ahead of the FA Cup quarterfinal visit from Manchester United. Then it’s Man City at home in the league before West Ham, West Brom, Palace, Saints, and Leicester City. That is a lot of available points before a brutal trio of Premier League fixtures to finish the season.
Can they have a nice cushion above Man United, Chelsea, and Spurs before those three matches? Not if the injuries keep coming to the King Power Stadium. Jonny Evans and Harvey Barnes left the pitch, the latter on a stretcher, while Wesley Fofana, James Maddison, Dennis Praet, Ayoze Perez, and James Justin were out of the lineup. (NM)
5. Blades a good test run for Kabak, Phillips (Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool): The list of center backs (and center back options) unavailable for Liverpool these days is truly astounding: Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. Without any of his first five central defenders available, not to mention January signing Ben White out due to illness, Klopp was forced to call upon another January signing, 20-year-old Ozan Kabak, and seldom-used academy product Nathaniel Phillips on Sunday. Sunday’s game marked Liverpool’s first clean sheet since Jan. 17 (seven games with 13 goals conceded). (AE)
6. Bale burns bright (Tottenham 4-0 Burnley): This is how Jose Mourinho, Daniel Levy, and Gareth Bale all thought it would look when the Welsh star and Spurs agreed to the loan move that brought him back to North London from Real Madrid; Heung-min Son, Harry Kane, and Bale came out of the gates with fire and class, leaving Burnley in the dust before the game was 20 minutes old (Yes, even with Tottenham’s struggling corps of center backs). He now has four goals and three assists in his last four appearances. If Bale’s season was judged on a scale of Matthew McConaughey movies, he’s gone from Bale-ure to Launch to Bale-las Buyers’ Club in terms of critical acclaim. (NM)
7. Aston Villa find a new way (Leeds 0-1 Aston Villa): Last week was Villa’s first Premier League match with Grealish starting and going 90 minutes in 51 matches, and it looked that way as Villa fell 2-1 to Leicester City. The organization was much better in Villa’s second try, as Marvelous Nakamba ran the midfield as part of a super strong spine from Emiliano Martinez all the way up to Ollie Watkins (even if the latter’s assist to El Ghazi came via a slip while shooting). (NM)
8. Saint-Maximin, Almiron injuries weaken Magpies (Newcastle 1-1 Wolves): Make no mistake about it, Newcastle United’s threat is largely based on the wizardry provided by Allan Saint-Maximin and the finishing of Callum Wilson.
[ MORE: Bruce gives Almiron injury update ]
The way the former pulled up, he may be out just as long as the latter. He left with the match 1-0 and there was a feeling that the Magpies had better keep hold of all three points given the tightening margins near the bottom of the table. Almiron was also hurt, though he played on to halftime with the ailment, and his bright month means he’ll be missed if misses any time. (NM)
9. Just how wasted of a chance for Fulham? (Crystal Palace 0-0 Fulham): It gets much more difficult for the Cottagers now. Spurs, Liverpool, and Man City are next while Newcastle gets West Brom, Villa, and Brighton. Speaking of Brighton, they meet Leicester, Southampton, and Newcastle. In other words, Fulham’s home match with Newcastle to finish the season isn’t nearly as attractive if the Cottagers are no longer within range of the Magpies, who also meet Burnley and Sheffield United along the way to May 23. Fulham has Leeds and Burnley on the docket, too. (NM)
10. VAR shambles steals show, Brighton’s point (West Brom 1-0 Brighton): Referee Lee Mason blew his whistle for a free kick, which Brighton captain Lewis Dunk took quickly and scored. Straightforward? Nope, it was anything but. Referee Lee Mason blew his whistle sharply just after the initial whistle blew, and VAR was used to determine the ball had not crossed the line before the second whistle blew.
[ MORE: Dunk rages in post-match interview ]
Confused? You wouldn’t be the only one. Both Graham Potter and Sam Allardyce, plus their players and coaching staff, looked around in disbelief. Eventually, no goal was awarded and Mason ordered the initial free kick to be retaken as he had seen some reason to stop play just after the free kick was taken. It was a farcical situation and we can only hope a more detailed explanation will arrive. (JPW)