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. Shock start(s) give Solskjaer banner win (Man City 0-2 Man United): Ole Gunnar Solskjaer probably planned to sit back and counterattack from the get-go, but we’ll never know because United’s first-minute penalty made the decision pretty easy for a team that has not been ambitious in attack against the big boys. Bruno Fernandes’ conversion of the Anthony Martial-won penalty was United’s first goal against a Big Six opponent since…. Bruno Fernandes’ second-minute conversion of an Anthony Martial-won penalty on Oct. 4, a run of 540 minutes.
Luke Shaw’s long drive and 1-2 with Rashford to make it 2-0 minutes into the second half cemented what we’d say the rest of the way would not change at the Etihad Stadium. This is a huge win for a manager who failed to show much ambition in failing to beat a Big Six rival this season in seven tries prior to Sunday. (NM)
2. No one fears Liverpool’s attack (Liverpool 0-1 Fulham): Liverpool has lost six of seven in Premier League play and has lost six-straight at home after going unbeaten at home the previous three seasons and drawing 10 times, seven of those coming in 2017-18. They lost five home PL matches total in the previous five league seasons. Liverpool has four goals in its last seven games, two which came in a 2-0 win over last-place Sheffield United. Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino have been available for almost every minute of that run, too, but teams are pounding away at the Reds attack and they aren’t being punished by a club lacking confidence and ideas. (NM)
3. A better balance from Mourinho? (Tottenham 4-1 Crystal Palace): Tottenham’s three-game winning streak — and the 9-1 combined score by which they won those three games during a fantastic nine-day period — can be viewed one of two ways: 1) they’ve played Burnley, Fulham and Crystal Palace — three bottom-half teams — and simply done what they should do against that level of opposition, or 2) Jose Mourinho is striking a better balance somewhere between a low defensive block and a team that throws numbers forward and scores goal for fun. Perhaps the answer is a bit of both: it’s safer, at least in Mourinho’s mind, to give the front-three/four and wide players a bit more freedom against bottom-third sides, only to revert back to his usual ways against, say, Arsenal next weekend. (AE)
4. Havertz happy in the hole (Chelsea 2-0 Everton): The German playmaker has had far from an ideal first season in England (a COVID-19 positive test hit his fitness and injuries have popped up) but this performance was his best yet. His shot deflected in for Chelsea’s first, he had a goal ruled out for a borderline handball and he won a penalty kick for their second goal. Havertz, 21, looked happy in the hole as he made leggy runs behind the Everton defense and found gaps just in front of it. One of the main reasons Tuchel was given the Chelsea job was to get the best out of Timo Werner and Havertz. The latter has a long way to go, but he is looking more like the young star who broke through at Bayer Leverkusen. (JPW)
5. West Ham where they are on merit (West Ham 2-0 Leeds): The Hammers haven’t been beaten by any side not named Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea or Liverpool since the opening two weeks of the season, when they were beaten by Newcastle and Arsenal. Last time out for them was the narrow defeat to Man City, and Monday demonstrated a strong mentality which has routinely allowed them to bounce back from setbacks at the first time of asking. West Ham’s run of results without back-to-back defeats also dates back to matchweeks 1 and 2. (AE)
6. Europa League is now Arsenal’s priority (Burnley 1-1 Arsenal): They are losing ground in the top four race and finishing in the top six is probably out of the question too, and they were their own worst enemies. Xhaka’s error which led to Burnley’s goal came from Arteta wanting them to play out of the back through Leno, and this will happen from time to time, but this was peak Arsenal. This season in games they have often created lots of chances, not taken them and then shot themselves in the foot. Arteta and Arsenal now have one priority: winning the Europa League. They play against Olympiakos in the last 16 and it seems like the only way Arsenal will be playing in Europe next season is if they win the Europa League this season. Arteta will now save his best players for that competition between now and May. That is their reality. (JPW)
7. Tielemans makes the difference (Brighton 1-2 Leicester): It wasn’t exactly a star show for Youri Tielemans, but the influential Leicester midfielder provided a perfect assist on Iheanacho’s goal, giving a forward a chance in the way that injured Harvey Barnes and James Maddison usually do. Tielemans has been played a bit more forward lately, and his no-look through ball proved he can do that job.
8. No Grealish, no Jimenez, no party (Aston Villa 0-0 Wolves): This isn’t to take any shots at Villa or Wolves, who staged an entertaining-enough match, all things considered, but the absence of the hosts’ best playmaker in Jack Grealish and Wolves’ top finisher in Raul Jimenez haunted this match. There were 13 shot attempts but just one on target (plus the two struck goal posts by Villa) after 65 minutes. Are there any players outside the “Big Six” whose absence is more noticeable? Maybe Wilfried Zaha at Palace, Allan Saint-Maximin at Newcastle, or Matheus Pereira at West Brom would like a word but it’d make for a tough argument in most cases.
9. Bruce may cost Magpies top-flight status (West Brom 0-0 Newcastle): Three points here might’ve been enough to keep Newcastle above the bottom three for weeks, but Steve Bruce’s failure to plan for West Brom — the Magpies have reportedly been given plenty of days off despite their struggles — was apparent. West Brom concedes the most shots per game in the Premier League (15.3) and is the only team with worse possession than the Magpies. Even with the side’s injuries, a manager in this situation would’ve been expected to assemble a team that would challenge the Baggies with vigor by air and land. No such luck. (NM)
10. Saints can finally march on (Sheffield United 0-2 Southampton): This was a much-needed win for Saints. Hasenhuttl will be a relieved man, as the team who were in the top six when they beat Liverpool on Jan. 4 have been slumping since. They have been unlucky with injuries and decisions in tight games and they were never as bad as their form suggested. But the longer the winless run went on, you just never knew how far they would drop. Saints play at Man City in midweek, then they face Brighton, West Brom, Crystal Palace and Burnley in their next four and you’d fancy them to win at least two of those and push themselves towards the top 10. (JPW)