What did we learn during matchweek 25 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) and Andy Edwards (AE) share their observations from across the most recent Premier League games.
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Let’s get to it, as the Premier League delivered another wild weekend of action.
1. United once again unable to keep the press going: They started well, just like they did against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup and Burnley in midweek, but then the press faded. Badly. This United side have improved defensively but they do not have the fitness levels to maintain Rangnick’s Gegenpressing style. They will get there, but right now they are losing ground in the top four battle each and every week. United’s defense looks shattered after 60 minutes of a game and they failed to score two or three and put the game to bed early on. The fact United can’t work back or track opponents for an entire 90 minutes suggests the players, not the manager, are the bigger problem. (JPW)
2. Saints surging: What a job Ralph Hasenhuttl is doing at Southampton. In their last three PL games they’ve drawn against Manchester City, won away at Tottenham and drawn away at Manchester United. To have the energy levels to start the exact same team who won at Spurs less than 72 hours before (and had a day less to recover than United) is incredible. But this Saints side are more than just a physical side. They have become smarter on the ball, smarter defensively and they can control games too. Yes, they leave themselves exposed, but they attack and take risks. If they had been more clinical at United they would have scored three or four. With a low net spend over the last three years and now new ownership in place to help with funds to build on the third-youngest squad in the Premier League, look out for Southampton over the next few years. They also have five very winnable games coming up next. Can they cause problems to teams who will sit back deep against them? (JPW)
3. A new lease on life: It was as if someone had finally entered the Everton locker room and informed the team, “You actually can be relegated, it will happen if you’re in the bottom-three at season’s end,” and the players, mystified as they were, knew what was required of them. The energy on display from Everton in the opening 15 minutes was, in a word, jarring. Jarring for the way that apathy and indifference ruled their season for the first 21 games, when performances like the one on Saturday were somewhere within them. It’s only the first step of dozens and dozens still ahead, but a measure of credit must go to Lampard, who needed less than two weeks to galvanize the squad and get the raucous Everton fans back onside. Goodison was as raucous as (and long before) the Toffees were dominant. (AE)
4. More like Van de Back: With the necessary caveat that Saturday’s game was indeed just one game, Donny van de Beek looked like a player that Manchester United would have spent $65 million to sign — a player capable of running the midfield for a club much bigger than Everton. With all due respect to Everton, he wouldn’t be at a club of Everton’s size if things hadn’t gone tragically wrong (thus far) at Old Trafford. Van de Beek was tidy in possession, carrying the ball forward in transition and often the one in the right spot to sweep up second balls — typically a strength for Leeds, but on Saturday the ball seemed to find a blue shirt every time. (AE)
5. A long time coming: Saturday’s victory, which was anything but easy for Brighton, mirrored so many games from the last two seasons in which the Seagulls were thoroughly dominant in possession and created a high number of low-percentage scoring chances, but never put one away and so they dropped points when they had no business doing anything but winning. Graham Potter deserves loads of credit for never altering course when other managers would have scrapped years of work and progress once the outside world began to question his methods. The gulf in class between Brighton, in 9th in (top half), and Aston Villa, at the very top of the bottom half, feels much larger than the six points which currently separate them. (AE)
6. Magpies on fire: This is the Newcastle we expected when the new owners arrived. They spent wisely in January and have now deservedly beat Leeds, Everton and Aston Villa in their last three games. Newcastle play against West Ham, Brighton and Brentford in their next three and all of a sudden they could be pushing for a top 10 finish. Seriously. Trippier and Guimares have added extra quality, while the Premier League experience of Burn, Targett and Wood will be key. Newcastle are flying and the focus will now be about seeing how high they can finish. (JPW)
7. Spurs lacking in confidence: After their defeats to Chelsea and Southampton, this was a third-straight defeat in the PL for Spurs. That is the first time that’s happened to Conte (in the league) since he managed Atalanta in 2009. They are in a rut and the decision to drop Emerson Royal and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was strange. There seemed to be a hangover from the end of their loss against Saints and Conte is struggling to turn things around at Tottenham. He must get this team believing. The road will be long, and tough, and there is a feeling his players may not want to go on it. (JPW)
8. Fabinho pops up with another goal: In 2022 Fabinho has scored five goals in all competitions. He had scored three goals in 122 games in the three seasons at Liverpool before this campaign. He is having another superb season in central midfield and does great defensive work, but he is now popping up with key goals to become an unlikely hero. Nobody saw this coming, but Jurgen Klopp is very happy Fabinho is chipping in with big goals. (JPW)
9. Bowen almost unstoppable: The way Jarrod Bowen latched onto a long ball and hammered home the opener, then whipped in a great late corner for the equalizer summed up his confidence. The English forward has scored seven goals in his last seven games and he surely has to receive his first England call-up in March. Bowen is so direct and know he has confidence in his game, he isn’t even thinking about his runs or his finishes. That is dragging West Ham through in games right now as they aren’t playing particularly well but Bowen is on fire. (JPW)
10. Foden, Sterling stand tall: They both scored and were the difference makers throughout. The England duo are really getting back to their best as they had a slow start to the season, like most of England’s EURO 2020 stars. Foden dazzled with his quick feet and Sterling curled home a beauty, flicked home another and then scored a rebound off his penalty kick which was saved. Both players are showing their experience in helping City kick into full throttle at a pivotal point in the season. (JPW)