What did we learn during Matchweek 29 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. Chances come, go again for Man City (Crystal Palace 0-0 Manchester City): The running debate about this Manchester City side has centered around the absence of a world-class center forward to match the brilliance of the other 10 players in sky blue (or white, as they were). Depending on which side of the fence you sit, you can say that’s either an easy nit to pick with Pep Guardiola after all he’s won, or it’s legitimate issue after watching them once again fail to put away the half-dozen brilliant chances they manage to create over the course of 90 minutes. All they needed was one on Monday, and they would have retained their cushion in the title race, but it comes down to this: How else, other than signing the right goal-scorer to lead the line, could the current Man City team be improved, and drastically so? For the record, Guardiola had it right in the summer: Harry Kane was the perfect player for the way they play. His play-making, passing and — yes — masterful finishing ability, combined with what Manchester City currently are, would have broken records. (AE)
2. Ronaldo the difference between 1 and 3 points (Manchester United 3-2 Tottenham): The Portuguese took eight of Manchester United’s 10 shots in the game, including five of their six shots on target, and served as the tip of the attacking spear. Jadon Sancho was industrious in the space just behind Ronaldo, but the absence of Bruno Fernandes (COVID-19) left Man United with few ideas. The one marked “Get the ball to Ronaldo” proved effective. (AE)
3. Diaz a perfect fit for Klopp, Liverpool (Brighton 0-2 Liverpool): The Colombian winger has been sensational since he arrive from FC Porto in January and he’s slotted in seamlessly at Liverpool. He is a proper Klopp player. Diaz was brave to put Liverpool ahead, worked back defensively all game long and combined so well with Mane and Salah. It looks like he’s played for Liverpool for years. Late on he couldn’t quite play in his teammates after two counters but his pace, relentless running and quality on the ball have all the hallmarks of a Klopp and Liverpool star. (JPW)
4. Atmosphere chaotic, frenetic, troubling (Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle): Chelsea’s fans love their club and have seemingly embraced a — pardon the term — siege mentality around is as Russian owner Roman Abramovich has been forced to leave the club amid perceived close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin amid the country’s much-condemned invasion of Ukraine. The combination of newly-rich Newcastle supporters chanting their financial superiority and more than a few Chelsea fans in very proud defiance of Abramovich was not a welcome situation and perhaps that uncertainty translated to the pitch for a foul-happy affair. Here’s the latest on all of the uncertainty at Chelsea. (NM)
5. How bright is the future at Arsenal? (Arsenal 2-0 Leicester): Look, there are a million ways that incredible promise can deteriorate into a legion of “What ifs?” but to look at this Arsenal team under Mikel Arteta is to dream that maybe, just maybe, the Gunners have found the right recipe. Credit to Arsenal for not cutting ties with Arteta amid reports of player unrest and standing by their man when some — writer’s hand raised — were ready to laugh him out of the room. Arteta has “played his kids” without forcing them in the lineup over better players. Was Nicolas Pepe kept on the bench at times in favor of Bukayo Saka because of the promise of the latter? Sure, but Saka kept working and players like Emile Smith-Rowe have been joined by purchases both savvy (Kieran Tierney and Aaron Ramsdale), try-before-you-buy (Martin Odegaard) and blockbuster (Ben White and Thomas Partey). Keeping well-liked players Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka is paying off, and the whole team knows that no one’s untouchable now that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was sent packing when he just could not get with the program. In consecutive matches, a rested Arsenal has dispatched a bad team comfortably (Watford) and a better, tired one just the same (Leicester City). Now will ownership allow the club to buy good depth for Europe next season. (NM)
6. Eriksen proves an inspired signing already (Brentford 2-0 Burnley): The world works in mysterious ways, as they say, for Christian Eriksen would have never — not in a million years — been a Brentford player in March of 2022 had he not suffered a cardiac arrest in the summer, while playing club football in a country that wouldn’t allow him to return to playing with a defibrillator implanted in his body. Put another way, Christian Eriksen wouldn’t be in the process of saving Brentford from relegation with a series of inspired performances in his first two starts. Eriksen’s cross to Toney for the winner on Saturday was a brief, but boisterous, reminder of the quality the Danish superstar possesses, and everything Brentford needed when their season reached a pivotal crossroads. (AE)
7. Yarmolenko! (West Ham 2-1 Aston Villa): There will not be a more memorable moment this weekend that Andriy Yarmolenko’s goal. The Ukrainian hero was a substitute in returning to West Ham’s 18 for the first time since he was given compassionate leave following Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine. Well, the Ukrainian legend went and delivered a goal and his reaction was more memorable than the fine settle and finish, as Yarmolenko pointed both hands to the sky and was surrounded by fans, Ukrainian flags visible in the stands as the Hammers surrounded their teammate, who burst into tears and had understandable trouble getting it together as he walked back to the touch line. (NM)
8. Leeds take flight on attack (Leeds 2-1 Norwich): This looked like the Leeds of “old” — not so long ago, just last season — when Marcelo Bielsa brought them up to the Premier League and unleashed his high-tempo, high-energy system en route to a 9th-place finish. That same energy and threat simply weren’t there from the start of season no. 2, but Leeds looked to be playing with a newfound confidence and hope that typically only comes from a new manager. It’s worth remembering that Sunday’s opponent is rooted to the bottom of the table and have now lost six straight of their own, but the fact that Leeds were massively improved from Marsch’s first two games in charge is undeniable. (AE)
9. Not a Lampard problem, not a Rafa problem either (Everton 0-1 Wolves): Everton have won two (2) (two) of their last 21 Premier League games. That kind of run doesn’t happen because of one manager, or even two or three, but as a result of years of mismanagement. The Toffees’ issues run much deeper than anything Lampard can fix on his own, whether he’s given three months, three years or three decades to work it all out. The hope now is simply: With three games in hand on just about every side below and above them in the table, the odds or picking up just enough points to staying the Premier League are in Everton’s favor. (AE)
10. Hornets give themselves hope (Southampton 1-2 Watford): This was a game Watford simply had to win to give themselves hope of staying up and they did. They don’t have another game until April and there will be a feel-good factor around Watford between now and then. This was a gutsy display where they stuck to the plan throughout. (JPW)