What did we learn during Matchweek 12 of the 2021-22 Premier League other than Manchester United is looking for a new manager?
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Here’s a look at 10 things which stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas 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.
10 things we learned in the Premier League – Matchweek 12
1. Pieces don’t fit for Man United (Watford 4-1 Man Utd — FULL MATCH REPLAY): We knew that Manchester United’s squad was poorly-constructed coming into the season (we knew this because they are Manchester United), but Saturday’s first half only shone a bright light on the failures of the club in recent transfer windows. With the midfield crying out for anyone who could either win the ball or pass it to a teammate (you can forget about someone doing both), Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic were capable of doing neither. With the forward line starved for service, Bruno Fernandes was busy making a center forward’s runs in behind because Cristiano Ronaldo had drifted out to the left wing (where he was standing on Marcus Rashford’s laces and clogging up the space where Luke Shaw should be overlapping). For those keeping score at home, that’s one black hole deep in midfield and another one the size of the attacking half of the field. The above isn’t solely the fault of Solskjaer, as we’ve known for year that Man United’s institutional issues are gravely serious (AE).
2. Alexander-Arnold back to his best (Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal — FULL MATCH REPLAY): In his last five games for Liverpool and England, Trent Alexander-Arnold has recorded two assists, one assist (and one goal), zero assists, three assists and two assists. Five games, eight assists. Is he the best defending right back in the world? Will he ever be? No, but he has a manager who’s smart enough to maximize his strengths and protect him (and the team) from his weaknesses. When he’s receiving the ball in the final third and picking out crosses, Alexander-Arnold is unplayable (AE).
3. Midfield is Spurs’ biggest problem area (Spurs 2-1 Leeds — FULL MATCH REPLAY): As bad as the defenders have been individually for Tottenham this season, it’s the midfield that has provided the backline with undue pressure for far too long under managers who pick two and three defensive midfielders in the starting lineup. Tottenham’s inability to retain possession of the ball and progress it toward the opposition goal, instead giving it away cheaply in the middle third of the field because there’s not a technically proficient playmaker in sight, has not only crippled the side’s chances going forward, but made life immeasurably more difficult for the likes of Eric Dier, Ben Davies and Japhet Tanganga (yes, that’s the back-three that started on Sunday) (AE)
4. Rafa, Everton simply not gelling (Man City 3-0 Everton — FULL MATCH REPLAY): It’s becoming clearer and clearer with each passing pedestrian performance that Rafa Benitez isn’t the right man for Everton’s current squad. Not only does the majority of the Toffees’ top talent lie in the attacking areas (not exactly Benitez’s style), but the squad is also quite clearly not responding to Benitez’s ideas (tactics and motivation). Sunday’s defeat makes it six-straight Premier League fixtures without a win and more than a month since Everton looked at all inspired. It’s currently unofficially firing season for managers in the Premier League — will Rafa be next? (AE)
5. Path in place for Gerrard, Aston Villa (Aston Villa 2-0 Brighton — FULL MATCH REPLAY): Despite being forced to fire their manager already this season, Aston Villa remains in a strong position to build for the future. The talent is there, the fit is good with the vast majority of the first-team squad, and now everyone is pulling in the same direction again. Gerrard will have been a childhood favorite (if not idol) of a number of the players he now manages, and they all played like they desperately wanted to impress the man, the myth, the legend on Saturday (AE).
6. Blues squad so deep (Leicester City 0-3 Chelsea — FULL MATCH REPLAY): When you have Romelu Lukaku at home tweeting about the game, Timo Werner on the bench, and the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic coming on, you get the sense of this Chelsea side’s strength. Not to mention Marcos Alonso, Andreas Christensen, and Cesar Azpilicueta were all on the bench at Leicester too. With their eight shutouts in 12 PL games this season they are defensively solid but the real star is the collective and how players keep stepping up when needed (JPW).
7. Palace wasteful (Burnley 3-3 Crystal Palace — FULL MATCH REPLAY): They scored three times but they should have scored more, especially in the first half. Palace were so dangerous, as they have been for most of this season, but they have to take more chances. Again, that sounds silly after they scored three goals away from home, but Benteke and Gallagher both missed absolute sitters in the first half. Patrick Vieira’s team have had a good start to the season but they should be in the hunt for a top four spot given the chances they have squandered in games.
8. Upstarts Wolves, West Ham battling for Europe (Wolves 1-0 West Ham — FULL MATCH REPLAY): Both of these teams shouldn’t really be in the top six, but they are. They look set to stay there too. If injuries are kind to both teams then Antonio and Jimenez will score a lot of goals and their solid defensive units will keep a lot of clean sheets. Look out for Wolves and West Ham to challenge the PL’s elite this season (JPW).
9. Pukki back to his best, as Sargent shines off the bench (Norwich City 2-1 Southampton — FULL MATCH REPLAY): Teemu Pukki scored early on, had a good chance saved, and was buzzing around at his best. The Finnish striker has got going in the last few weeks and Norwich look so much better when he has support up top and he’s running at defenders. And he had help in the second half as USMNT man Josh Sargent came on at halftime and worked his socks off on the left. He supported Pukki and helped up the tempo of Norwich’s entire team as they dragged themselves back into the game (JPW).
10. Brentford’s arrow pointing downward (Newcastle 3-3 Brentford — FULL MATCH REPLAY): These are scary times for Brentford, and Thomas Frank will sense that fact after slumping to a fifth straight game without a win in the Premier League (0W-1D-4L). The red-hot start captured the hearts and imaginations of so many around the world, but if the Bees don’t start capturing points in a similar fashion, they’ll be battling against relegation in the spring (AE).