What did we learn during matchweek 15 of the 2021-22 Premier League?
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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.
1. The pieces fit, even with pieces out (Manchester United 1-0 Crystal Palace): Adding to the consternation Rangnick will feel from United’s failures in front of goal, as Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes were quite lively too, will be the knowledge that he did not have two of the best players in the world available for selection. Raphael Varane is a sensational center back who can deliver most of what Rangnick wants, in many case to his very specifications. And Paul Pogba’s ability to pick out any pass from the midfield will add a dimension to Rangnick’s attack that just wasn’t there on Sunday. (NM)
2. Title race wide open (West Ham 3-2 Chelsea): This result blows the title race wide open. With Liverpool and Man City hot on their heels, Chelsea have shown some poor form in recent weeks and there are weaknesses to be exploited, especially on the counter. All of a sudden the Blues look unsure of themselves. The reigning European champions looked anything but that against West Ham. (JPW)
3. Not even Liverpool immune to a flat 45 (Wolves 0-1 Liverpool): It almost feels sacrilege to say after some of the brilliant displays they’ve put on for us in recent years, but Liverpool were uncharacteristically flat and lacking the pinpoint precision we’ve come to expect from them. Sure, they dominated the possession battle and outshot Wolves, but it was only by a 4-1 margin and their best moment came and went with Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah unable to touch the ball over the line from Andrew Robertson’s cross into the six-yard box. The second half was better from Liverpool, but still some way off their usual standard. (AE)
4. Grealish still finding his way at Man City (Watford 1-3 Manchester City): Jack Grealish has just one goal and two assists since moving to Manchester City for $140 million in the summer, but Guardiola and Co., are hardly frustrated or trying to hurry him along as he comes to grips with the new tactical setup in which he operates. Commentators Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux mentioned in the first half that Guardiola expected Grealish would take time to adjust to life in Manchester, where he is no long the only fish in a small pond, but one of many in the vast ocean. For as long as Guardiola remains patient and understanding that his system is incredibly complex and often asks its biggest stars to make significant sacrifices, and Grealish shows he’s making progress, things should turn out well in the end. (AE)
5. Conte sees class from two of his best (Tottenham 3-0 Norwich): Harry Kane is still waiting to show his very best form to Antonio Conte, but Heung-min Son and Lucas Moura will have reminded the Italian of some of the finest finishers he’s managed in his day with their goals. Moura and Son traded the ball a bit on Moura’s goal, which included intricate work, hustle, trickery, and a vicious finish, while Son’s goal was helped by a very strong Ben Davies and was fired through a sea of bodies to make it 3-0. (NM)
6. Gerrard really does seem to be making an impact (Aston Villa 2-1 Leicester): Leicester isn’t a very good defensive team but Villa looks more aggressive, better organized, and is picking out better passes in advancing up the pitch (Something manager Steven Gerrard undoubtedly knows very well). Yes both goals came from defenders, but Ollie Watkins, Emiliano Buendia, and the attackers were lively as well. Villa very much deserved all three points and probably more, as the ex-Rangers boss pulled Villa about the ex-Celtic boss on the table. (NM
7. A win is a win is a win (Newcastle 1-0 Burnley): Look, Newcastle don’t care that they were well on their way to a 15th straight Premier League game without victory to start the season; they don’t care that they were far and away second-best for the opening half-hour; the don’t care that Maxwel Cornet’s injury completely changed the game and gave them the upper hand. When you’re that many games without a win and facing the very real possibility of relegation, nothing matters aside from the points you pick up, and Newcastle picked up three on Saturday. (AE)
8. Norwich back to earth (Tottenham 3-0 Norwich): For all the heart Norwich will draw from better defensive performances under Dean Smith, they’ll know the chance they missed to beat 10-man Newcastle and now the gulf between them and the richer talents of the Premier League. It was reinforced at most turns on Sunday. There were a handful of encouraging spells for Norwich, but the opportunities that came the Canaries way were not turned on goal with any conviction, and the three-team, 10-point muck across the bottom three with Newcastle and Burnley could well be the relegation zone in May. (NM)
9. Saints have to make more of fast starts (Southampton 2-2 Brighton): So often Southampton start well but don’t score, but they have started to score early and often in recent games to pick up important points. Broja and Adams caused havoc early on and Saints could have scored three before Broja gave them the lead. Their fast starts have to yield more goals if they’re going to pick up the wins they need to move up the table. (JPW)
10. Toney’s absence overcome, Phillips’ not so much (Leeds 2-2 Brentford): Leeds led 1-0 when Phillips was injured leading up to Brentford’s equalizer and the lead was soon very much gone. Leeds still attacked well but was susceptible without Phillips, whose absence has loomed several times this season. Brentford was without its best striker in Ivan Toney but found answers through fluid play and solid finishes (Shandon Baptiste’s was a thing of technical beauty). (NM)