What did we learn during Matchweek 31 of the 2021-22 Premier League season (which still has a Monday meeting between Crystal Palace and Arsenal on its docket)?
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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. Don’t let Liverpool hot streak distract from Man City’s power (Burnley 0-2 Man City) – Despite having far more players busy on international break, Man City bossed Burnley from the very early moments, with 79 percent possession in the first half, 75 in the second, and an 18-3 shot advantage that demanded four saves out of Nick Pope. City quadrupled the amount of completed passes as their hosts and Sean Dyche’s half-time inserting of Maxwel Cornet was more to work out the legs of the former Lyon man than hope to strike twice against the run of play (NM)
2. Say it again — “All top four roads go through North London” (Spurs 5-1 Newcastle) – While we wait for the Premier League to give us a date for the postponed North London derby, it’s looking more and more like the only way it won’t be one NLD rival reaching the top four is if Chelsea somehow drops out of the picture because Spurs and Arsenal both join the fun. Tottenham is too good with this manager and the additions of Cristian Romero, Rodrigo Betancur, and Dejan Kulusevski joining a back-to-their-best Heung-min Son and Harry Kane in making this team capable of a Champions League return (NM).
3. Grinding Liverpool goes top (Liverpool 2-0 Watford) – They are doing what they need to do to win games. Nothing more. Nothing less. This wasn’t a fluid, flamboyant Liverpool display but they kept their fifth clean sheet in a row (seventh in their last eight in the PL) and won for the 10th game in a row to put pressure on Man City ahead of their huge showdown next weekend. This is a Liverpool side which looks unflustered and in total control (JPW).
4. Chelsea can’t cope with Brentford press as Tuchel makes rare error (Chelsea 1-4 Brentford) – Thomas Tuchel revealed before the game that he selected Ruben Loftus-Cheek instead of Jorginho because he anticipated a rough and tumble battle with the “physical” Bees. That decision proved a disastrous one for much of the first half, as Chelsea were frequently unable to pass out of their own end after Edouard Mendy took a short goal kick. Some of the errors weren’t even forced by actual pressure, but perceived pressure once the Blues backline and midfield had been rattled. Without Jorginho on the field, Chelsea were without their safety blanket and easy escape plan. Anytime you’re under pressure and in trouble, just look for Jorginho. He’ll create a pocket of space to receive the ball and, somehow, turn out of the same danger you couldn’t handle, and all is typically well. Now, imagine facing one of the most aggressive presses you’ve seen all season, without Jorginho’s services (AE).
5. VAR saves Man Utd (twice?) — (Man Utd 1-1 Leicester) – It was 1-1 when Kelechi Iheanacho and Raphael Varane were allowed to let play despite fouls on each other after the Nigerian striker got the ball stuck in his feet late in the game, leading to a James Maddison goal. Varane shoved Iheanacho and the striker rocked back just as he kicked at the ball but caught Varane. Varane decidedly did not stay up, and stayed down long enough to ensure the situation was reviewed by VAR. Some angles looked weak, others stronger, and it’s really surprising that the goal came back if only because of Varane’s contact with Iheanacho prior to the reverse (though Iheanacho’s contact was stronger). And when you throw-in a non-red card after review of Scott McTominay’s full-blooded slide into Maddison’s ankle, well, United fans might want to underline this one the next time they think the refs are out to get them (NM).
6. Negative Everton has zero momentum (West Ham 2-1 Everton) – Frank Lampard was forced into a late change as Donny van de Beek was injured in the warm-up and Mason Holgate replaced him. Holgate scored the equalizer, but generally losing DVB made Everton more negative in the run of play. They had a few bright moments in each half but Everton played this game not to lose it rather than playing to win it. They have zero momentum right now and Lampard has lost six of his first eight Premier League games in charge. This is not the time of the season when you want to be bang out of form and lacking in confidence. Especially when you’re in a relegation battle (JPW).
7. Brighton’s solid buys request a finisher, please (Brighton 0-0 Norwich) – From Marc Cucurella — who was fantastic at left back — to Leandro Trossard — who was busy doing an Eden Hazard in his prime impression on Saturday, the Seagulls have purchased so many players perfect for Graham Potter’s system (and if they were already there when Potter was hired, credit the Seagulls for selecting that boss). But Brighton’s misses in front of goal have been well-documented and will be further magnified by Neal Maupay’s penalty sent well over the bar. There were also moments of robbery vs Norwich City, like Krul’s point-blank stop of international teammates Joel Veltman, who playfully shoved Krul down before the ensuing corner. But even a minor upgrade on Maupay or a real center forward for him to run off of likely has the Seagulls in the top seven conversation (NM).
8. Phillips’ return showcases control for Marsch’s Leeds (Leeds 1-1 Southampton) – There was a huge welcome for the Yorkshire Pirlo as he came off the bench and returned from injury to play for the first time since December 5. Kalvin Phillips came on just after Southampton made it 1-1 and were dominating the game, but he settled things down, dropped into defense to get on the ball and he brought calm to the usual Leeds chaos. That is what they’ve missed so badly this season (plus Patrick Bamford’s goals, of course) and Phillips showed his class as he looks to get back to his best and be fully fit for the last six weeks of the campaign (JPW).
9. Inconsistency holding Aston Villa back (Wolves 2-1 Aston Villa) – Player by player, there’s a strong case to be made that Aston Villa have the second-most talented squad (Leicester) in the mid-table battle. When they hit their peaks, they’re beyond brilliant to watch. When they come out flat, they hardly look like they belong in the Premier League. Three straight wins last month saw them score nine goals while conceding zero. Since then? Two goals scored and five conceded, in three straight defeats. (AE).
10. Tielemans question looms over Leicester’s middle (Man Utd 1-1 Leicester) – James Maddison, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, and Youri Tielemans make for an inspiring midfield, even without an injured Wilfred Ndidi. And while Maddison’s wizardry is well-documented and so now is Dewsbury-Hall’s late-blooming emergence as a relentless tackler, the biggest question for the Foxes is whether terrific Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans is going to see-out his contract in a view to Champions League football or if he’s open to sticking around in the hopes a healthier Leicester can get there next season. If he isn’t, the Foxes may have to make the unpopular decision to cash-in on a man who may not be long for the King Power Stadium regardless (NM).Follow @NicholasMendola