What did we learn during matchweek 22 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?
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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. City are the champions-elect (Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea): Liverpool are the only team that can catch City now and even if they win their games in-hand, they need City to lose three of their final 16 games to have a chance of winning the title. That doesn’t seem likely. City have won 12 in a row and have been consistently excellent throughout the last three months. Guardiola has rotated his team perfectly and different players are stepping up all the time. City are the champions elect, even if they don’t want to admit it (JPW).
2. Rangnick’s men run out of steam (Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United): Those who criticized Cristiano Ronaldo’s pressing work rate would’ve been yelling, “See?!? See?!?” at their TV screens as Manchester United buzzed all over Villa in the opening 30 minutes, as it was the hosts were trying to hold firm under siege. But the Red Devils had no gas left in the tank during a second half of struggle, and Rangnick didn’t sub until the 78th minute (Jadon Sancho). Only two more followed as Jesse Lingard and Donny van de Beek said hello for 89th-minute cameos. It took all of one half to go from buzzing to buzz-sawed. (NM)
3. No Salah, no Mane, no problem (so far) (Liverpool 3-0 Brentford): Liverpool are perhaps feeling rather fortunate that Salah and Mane will likely miss just two Premier League games while on international duty at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Fortunate, because the Reds’ attack predictably lacked the cutting edge and final-third expertise typically on display at Anfield. Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the wing in their absences, and though Oxlade-Chamberlain is serviceable in a number of positions due to him being a well-rounded footballer, he possesses very few of the things which make Salah and Mane truly exceptional. (AE)
4. Lukaku has a point about Chelsea’s playing style (Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea): When he revealed he wasn’t a fan of Tuchel’s tactics, many questioned what the heck Lukaku was talking about. Maybe he’s got a point? Lukaku made so many good runs, especially in the first half, but Chelsea were slow on the ball and not direct enough to find him. He needs a partner up top, someone like Werner? In the second half Lukaku was denied by Ederson with his only chance of the game and Chelsea have to find a way to get the best out of him if they want to win other trophies and defend their Champions League trophy. Their Premier League dreams are done after this defeat. (JPW)
5. Raphinha at peak of his powers (West Ham 2-3 Leeds): Harrison will get all of the headlines, and rightly so, but Raphinha was superb for Leeds. He put the ball on a plate for Harrison to score the winner, set up another that was disallowed and smacked the woodwork with a fine free kick. The Brazilian is getting better by the week and you can understand why top teams across Europe are chasing his signature. What a wonderful talent who makes everything look so easy when he’s on the ball, but he also works so hard to win it back. (JPW)
6. Don’t sleep on Philippe (Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United): He had less than a quarter of an hour to make the difference, and Barcelona loanee Philippe Coutinho danced on Manchester United like he was still playing for Liverpool. His 32 minutes only saw about 16 touches of the ball, but one was an assist, another was a goal, and a third was a shot on target. He hasn’t been a featured player in some time, but Coutinho is not terribly far removed from a double-digit goal and assist season on loan to Bayern Munich. Steven Gerrard is tapping his temple like the famous meme right now, members only. (NM)
7. Home form hampering Hammers (West Ham 2-3 Leeds): West Ham have picked up more points on the road than at home this season, and that is unbelievable. The Hammers have lost at home to Southampton, Brentford and now Leeds, as they struggle to stop teams hitting them on the counter when they are expected to take the initiative in games. David Moyes’ side missed a great chance to boost their top four hopes and sorting out their home form against teams in the bottom half of the table is something they need to do if they’re going to qualify for Europe. (JPW)
8. Howe gets it wrong (Newcastle 1-1 Watford): Eddie Howe has a lot of explaining to do after his team had no idea what to do with its second-half lead. Fair play to the attack, as the Magpies should’ve been ahead by plenty after 45 minutes but totally took their foot off the gas pedal following Saint-Maximin’s 49th-minute tally. Watford had nearly 60 percent of the ball in the second half and Howe didn’t make any subs until the 74th minute as his team was out-attempted 9-2 in the final 45 minutes as Joe Willock was an unused sub and Miguel Almiron only got four minutes on the pitch. They needed three points and got one, and there should be real questions about a manager who was relegated in his last period of a long, successful period at Bournemouth. (NM)
9. VAR causes controversy (Wolves 3-1 Southampton): Wolves got a penalty and Southampton didn’t for two very similar situations. Bednarek caught Ait-Nouri and a spot kick was given, while Romeu was clipped by Dendoncker and nothing was given. It was a clear case of a lack of consistency and Southampton will feel aggrieved that referee Michael Salisbury wasn’t called to the pitch-side monitor like he had been for Wolves’ penalty. (JPW)
10. No relief for Rafa, still (Norwich 2-1 Everton): Everton, a club which has spent nearly $700 million on transfers since Farhad Moshiri purchased the club in February 2016, are just six points clear of the relegation zone after playing half of their games for the season. Injured players are returning to the team, but the team is not improving. The Toffees have now won just one of their last 13 Premier League games (1W-2D-10L). A banner reading “Benitez, get out of our club” was unfurled in the away end immediately after the full-time whistle. UPDATE: Benitez has since been fired.