What did we learn during Matchweek 30 of the 2021-22 Premier League season?
With just four matches on the PL docket, we’ll need FA Cup action to get to 10 things we gleaned from a wickedly-tantalizing weekend in England, where Tottenham and Arsenal keep setting the stage for the soon-to-be resechedule North London derby and Man City clinched a second meeting with Liverpool in two April weeks.
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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.
Ten things we learned in the Premier League — Matchweek 30 and FA Cup
1. Priorities? Priorities! Priorities will decide fate of Premier League season (Saints 1-4 Man City, Nottingham Forest 0-1 Liverpool): April is going to be bonkers. That’s what we’ve learned as Manchester City and Liverpool have been drawn against each other in an FA Cup semifinal, which means the Premier League’s biggest powers will meet in the league in Manchester and a tournament semifinal at Wembley all while both are in the thick of the UEFA Champions League, a cup super-sought by both for different reasons.
So how will Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp treat that fortnight next month? Clearly both have spent an overwhelming amount of cartoon money and have the depth to play 3-4 huge matches in that period of time, and both will have all fires burning for the first tilt, but how will it shake out once these four dates have passed?!?
April 5: Benfica vs Liverpool; Man City vs Atletico Madrid — UCL
April 10: Man City vs Liverpool — Premier League
April 13: Liverpool vs Benfica; Atleti vs Man City — UCL
April 16-17: Liverpool vs Man City at Wembley — FA Cup
There’s no clear path here, as Liverpool will have to travel back from Portugal even if Man City at home faces a much stiffer UCL test. And how will each side’s UCL fate following their second legs affect their mindset for the FA Cup tie. This is juicy. (NM)
2. Crystal Palace ahead of schedule, a threat for Chelsea (Palace 4-0 Everton; Boro 0-2 Chelsea): The same logic as above will make Chelsea’s focus on the Premier League and FA Cup a bit off, especially considering cup semifinal rivals Crystal Palace will be targeting an FA Cup Final as a sign that Patrick Vieira is more than a honeymoon. An Eagles side that was wildly turned over now is led by a seemingly Selhurst-sated Wilfried Zaha, who sounded a warning to the rest of the Premier League.
“Amazing,” Zaha said, via the BBC. “It’s crazy that this is the first year we’ve played together you can see the progress already. There’s more to come from this side.”
Game on, Mr. Tuchel (NM).
3. Robust Gunners look set for fourth (Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal): Arsenal still has a few big tests to come (Tottenham away, Chelsea away, West Ham away, and Manchester United at home) but defeating Villa feels like a huge win in its top-four push. Arsenal was without Aaron Ramsdale in goal but looked as solid as ever as Bernd Leno came in and did his job, while Ben White and Gabriel continue to look reliable and durable at center back with Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey expertly shielding them. Arsenal is now a consistent team and even if they sometimes struggle to score goals, you get the sense they will hang in most games and that they aren’t going to be their own worst enemies. That is a huge culture change and that is why with 10 games to go they are the favorites to finish fourth. (JPW)
4. Set-piece status gives weary West Ham legs a chance, but tank runs dry after Europa League triumph (Spurs 3-1 West Ham): West Ham’s crowd — in this case, away fans — often comes to life at the mere prospect of getting corners because it knows how deadly the Irons can be from set-piece situations. A 10th goal off a corner kick this season, flicked back by Craig Dawson for Benrahma to cooly finish, made that excitement a justified one. But Tottenham, for once, was the benefit of midweek action for the opposition and ran the Irons off the pitch over the final 20 minutes. David Moyes plays a thin roster but will have to find more players to trust next season because injuries to Jarrod Bowen and Angelo Ogbonna are really taxing their hopes. (NM)
5. Schmeichel injury threatens UECL plans (Leicester City 2-0 Brentford): Kasper Schmeichel had to truck through the final 10 minutes with an injury that clearly kept him from operating at his typical clean standard. The Danish goalkeeper is one of the Premier League’s underrated players and is integral to their hopes of claiming European honors and finishing as high up the table as possible. Hopefully he’ll be fine and Schmeichel will have the international break to get right, but this is a real big question mark for Brendan Rodgers (NM).
6. Results all that matter for Marsch this season… but what a comeback! (Wolves 2-3 Leeds): Jesse Marsch undoubtedly has much larger long-term plans for Leeds than “scrape and claw our way to 17th place,” but that can all wait until this summer and next season. It’s just four games into his Premier League career, and Marsch has guided his side to six points (2W-0D-2L) and dragged them farther from the relegation zone than they’ve been all season. Barring an incredible collapse down the stretch, Leeds appears set for a third season in the Premier League. It’s safe to say the American is doing quite well to ingratiate himself with his new supporters. (AE)
7. Son, Kane partnership buzzing along (Spurs 3-1 West Ham): When these two are firing, is there a better attack pairing in the league. That’s not to say that Son and Kane would be your choice over Foden and Sterling, Mane and Salah, or even Saka and Lacazette, but there’s something special in the air between the South Korea and England captains. If Spurs were a board room, the boss would be pointing to Kane and Son and using finger quotes while clearly enunciating the word “synergy.” Antonio Conte knows how to get an attack buzzing, and this one is buzzing like it was early last season. (NM)
8. Leicester wins the best-of-3 beautiful goal competition (Leicester City 2-0 Brentford):: All three goals were feasts for the eyes, each the sort that make it a joy to be in the stadium (or watching on your screen, s, of course). Which one was best? Castagne’s hammer from distance after returning from injury? Maddison’s spell-binding free kick? Wissa’s hope to one-up Castagne? You could make an argument for any of the three, but we’ll take Castagne for a slightly-raised degree of difficult on the competition. (NM)
9. Villa plays scared in latest big test for Gerrard (Aston Villa 0-1 Arsenal): Steven Gerrard’s decision to start with Emiliano Buendia as an extra man in midfield — sacrificing Danny Ings up top — seemed to set the tone for this subdued display. This was a very anti-Gerrard performance from Villa. They didn’t play with any gusto, should have been 3-0 down at half, and they were too scared to keep the ball or try to go forward. It was very much a safety-first display, even though in the second half they were much better when they did throw caution to the wind. This display was even stranger as Gerrard’s side had a full week of preparation compared to Arsenal having less than 48 hours. They’re still having a decent season as they push for a top 10 finish, but this was lackluster. And that’s putting it nicely. (JPW).
10. Carnage at Elland Road (Wolves 2-3 Leeds): Patrick Bamford was sadly hurt again and will capture a lot of the headlines, but Leeds’ English center forward was only one of six players to leave Friday’s game due to either injury or red card. Ruben Neves was forced off two minutes after Bamford. Diego Llorente followed in the 40th minute and Mateusz Klich joined him in first-half stoppage time. Eight minutes into the second half, Illan Meslier and Raul Jimenez collided as they both made a play for a 50-50 ball. Meslier left the game with an injury, and Jimenez was sent off. That’s five injury subs and a red card, for anyone keeping score at home As much as the injuries will hamper Leeds in the coming days and weeks, the red card was undeniably the turning point of Friday’s game, and might also be the same for their season and Premier League status. (AE)