What did we learn during matchweek 16 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. Welcome(d) back, Steven Gerrard (Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa): Gerrard was warmly-received when he walked onto the Anfield pitch and his team’s display will do little to dissuade Liverpool supporters who view him as an eventual Reds boss. Gerrard’s team is playing much like him — skillful, decisive, fast, and more than a little nasty. Tyrone Mings was terrific right up until he gave away a penalty to Salah which, as we’ll detail in Thing No. 2, was a tricky call given the hatchets welcomed by the referee and VAR on the night. It’s difficult to disagree with Klopp that Gerrard will one day take the reins at Anfield. And Gerrard will probably know well that the home side at Anfield (and many places) often gets the benefit of the doubt. (NM)
2. Nervy Chelsea get the job done (Chelsea 3-2 Leeds): This was the kind of result which wins you the title. The performance wasn’t, but Thomas Tuchel will be happy with the character his side showed. Chelsea were sloppy on the ball and left themselves exposed on the break too often, which they’ve done in recent games against West Ham and Zenit too. Defensively they have to improve but the Blues found a way to dig deep and get a win. (JPW)
3. Liverpool get the calls (Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa): Great teams sometimes get the benefit of the doubt, and Liverpool got about a half-dozen benefits of at least a half-dozen doubts in gaining a one-goal edge on its visitors. In a game where it was going to take an outright punch in the face to see a red card and several easy yellow cards were just fouls or not whistled at all, it’s surprising that Mohamed Salah was able to win the penalty that essentially won the game (only because the Reds’ failed to finish plenty on the day, it must be said). Salah put his hands in the air the minute he felt contact, then played the opportunity to the ground as Mings was a bit clumsy in his challenge. But if it’s a penalty than so, too, is Alisson Becker’s ungiven foul on Danny Ings late in the game (below). Sadio Mane also had a nasty stamp on John McGinn go un-given — the Senegalese star looked to be cheeky and clever in pulling off the act with relative genius — and Villa fans feeling aggrieved will be well understood by neutrals. (NM)
4. Man United nearly runs out of gas (Norwich 0-1 Manchester United): The Red Devils’ fitness levels under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be in question because Ralf Rangnick is asking his men to press hard and they looked exhausted by the early stages of the second half. There’s an argument to be made that Norwich deserved a win better than their visitors, and Dean Smith will feel aggrieved by the outcome as well as an injury to Grant Hanley. (NM)
5. Aubameyang dropped for disciplinary reasons, again (Arsenal 3-0 Southampton): According to a report from NBC Sports’ Premier League insider David Ornstein, captain and star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was dropped for returning late from a trip abroad. It’s not the first time Aubameyang has been disciplined and dropped by Arteta, who was asked for further details in his post-game interviews. (AE)
6. Gallagher a blossoming star for Palace (and Chelsea) (Crystal Palace 3-1 Everton): If the season ended today, Gallagher would be a worthy Team of the Year selection (whether or not he would get the exposure and support is another story) — he’s been that good, particularly of late. In his last seven Premier League appearances, Gallagher has bagged four goals and tallied a pair of assists while also pulling the strings in Crystal Palace’s midfield with tireless work on both sides of the ball. He’s 21 years old and, by the way, on loan from Chelsea for the season. There are, however, reports of Chelsea having included a January recall clause in the loan agreement, thus it won’t be long before chatter over a Stamford Bridge return commences. (AE)
7. Raheem Sterling joins the 100 club (Manchester City 1-0 Wolves): He is the 8th-youngest player to reach 100 goals and Sterling was superb on Saturday. Roaming around and interchanging with Gabriel Jesus, he dragged Wolves’ defense all over the place. He kept his cool to slot home the penalty kick and it is crazy to think Sterling is just 27 years old. What a career he has already had and he’s back in form and showing his importance for City. (JPW)
8. Bees get out of trouble (Brentford 2-1 Watford): Prior to Friday, Brentford had won just one of their last eight Premier League fixtures (1W-2D-5L). Down a goal with barely five minutes left on Friday, it was hard to see things suddenly turning around without a serious stroke of good luck. Since goalkeeper David Raya (knee) and center back Kristoffer Ajer (hamstring) — both of whom are still up to six weeks away from returning from injury — last played for Brentford on Oct. 24, the Bees had conceded just nine goals in nine games (3W-3D-3L); during their absence, 13 goals in seven games. The instability at the back has undeniably affected the group going forward in attack, and that’s where the mini-miracle came into play. (AE)
9. Newcastle devoid of ideas (Leicester 4-0 Newcastle): The most disappointing thing about this result for Eddie Howe is that Newcastle looked devoid of any attacking threat. Aside from some Allan Saint-Maximin dribbling they never looked that dangerous and Howe started ASM, Wilson, Almiron and Joelinton in attack. The fact their four best attackers couldn’t create much together will be very worrying for Newcastle. (JPW)
10. Disappointing draw for West Ham (Burnley 0-0 West Ham): There’s no two ways about it, West Ham must have all three points from any game against a bottom-three side, if they are to remain in the top-four race for the duration of the season. From the high of beating Chelsea 3-2 a week ago, to drawing Burnley on Sunday, it’s two steps forward and two steps back. (AE)