What did we learn during Matchweek 32 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. The wait for a champion-elect goes on (Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool): We got everything we expected. Everything. Was the playmaking of Joao Cancelo or Trent Alexander-Arnold going to swing the game in his club’s favor? Yes. Would a surprise lineup move show one boss’ genius and a halftime adjustment remind us of the others’ brilliance? Yes. Two teams missing exactly one player of consequence — Man City center back Ruben Dias — gave us the appropriate spectacle of two impossibly big-spending teams with legendary bosses who preach the beauty and importance of positive football… and refusing to back off those philosophies. You can easily imagine both teams realizing mid-game, “Well, no one else is beating these guys, so if we want to like our chances win the title, it’s gonna have to be us.” (NM)
2. Cross after cross after cross after (no ideas, Ralf?) (Everton 1-0 Manchester United): Manchester United is bad right now. And if it isn’t bad, it’s static (which, of course, isn’t a very good descriptor for an attack-minded bunch, is it?). For a Starting XI with Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho, and Cristiano Ronaldo to turn into almost a one-trick pony of whipped-in crosses? Well, Jordan Pickford just lived at the near-post for most of the second half, challenging only by the decision of whether to punch or catch. As Rashford, who was poor, walked off the field without any acknowledgment from his manager (and vice versa) while Anthony Elanga got his latest inexplicable chance to shine under Ralf Rangnick, we saw the latest example of why the Rangnick era can’t end quick enough at Man United. (NM)
3. Kane, Son, Kulusevski make their mark once again (Aston Villa 0-4 Tottenham): Kane and Son were unstoppable together but Kulusevski has been superb since he arrived in January. The trio have the perfect combination of power, pace and skill and they complement one another so well. Kane’s passing and flick ons often find the clever runs of Son and Kulusevski and they are ruthless when they get a chance. Tottenham’s defensive improvement has pushed them into the top four and it gives Kane, Son and Kulu more confidence to express themselves and take risks in the final third. After Jota, Mane and Salah, is this the best front three in the Premier League? (JPW)
4. Top-four battle is perfectly poised (Aston Villa 0-4 Tottenham & Arsenal 1-2 Brighton): Spurs have dragged themselves back into contention ever since Antonio Conte lost it, big time, following their defeat away at Burnley in February. With Arsenal three points behind them, but with a game in-hand, the North London derby on May 12 is going to be epic. Manchester United and Wolves look like they are done and dusted, while West Ham are outsiders, so now it is all about Spurs and Arsenal going head-to-head for fourth. Right now, Spurs have the momentum but that one-off NLD is very likely to decide who gets to play in the Champions League next season. (JPW)
5. Chelsea show incredible reaction (Southampton 0-6 Chelsea): Thomas Tuchel said he wanted to see a reaction from his Chelsea side after they lost to Brentford and Real Madrid in the last week, conceding seven goals in the process. My word, did he get it. Chelsea were fired-up from the first minute and never looked like losing this game. They were in total control, won individual battles and were ruthless in front of goal. They could have even scored more. Chelsea were threatening a result like this as they had lots of chances against Real Madrid in midweek too. Finally it all came together and this was the perfect result ahead of a massive game at Real Madrid. (JPW)
6. Brentford back to bully-ball (and winning) (Brentford 2-0 West Ham): Typically, bully-ball conjures up images of a team that hacks and fouls all the time, injuring opponents a bit too frequently and, under no circumstances, are are they ever fun to watch. Brentford’s style of play under Thomas Frank flies in the face of all of those things, as they’re firmly mid-table in the discipline (yellow and red card) rankings and they’re highly interesting to watch (when the first-choice starters are healthy) because their style is such a throwback, though the Bees’ use of data, film review and collaborative thinking has helped them to optimize every press, possession, long ball and set-piece routine. Perhaps more than anything else, Brentford are brilliant at putting the ball in front of goal, where it’s dangerous and difficult to defend. Most sides in the Premier League aren’t built for the kind of battle the Bees bring to their doorstep, and that’s why they have five signature victories against top-eight sides Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham (twice) and Wolves. (AE)
7. Job nearly done for Marsch (Is he a survival expert now?) (Watford 0-3 Leeds): So while we’re here, how about a high-five for Jesse Marsch and the audacity of holding team huddles on the field or being optimistic or being born in those crazy colonies? It could all fall spectacularly apart for the USMNT man before too long but it won’t be with his first Premier League stint being a one-and-done relegation campaign. Marsch lost 1-0 to Leicester and 3-0 to Villa but his men are now unbeaten in four including six-pointer wins over Norwich and Watford. Get him a case of chewing gum and a bad attitude and you’ve got yourself the new Big Sam (we kid because we care). Great work by Marsch. Now how high can he finish? Leeds next heads to Palace before hosting Man City, then it’s Arsenal, Chelsea, Brighton, and Brentford. So don’t expect too many points coming to the Elland Road bunch, but their form does make it feel like Leeds would have to totally fall apart to go down. (NM)
8. Newcastle take the risks, earn their rewards (Newcastle 1-0 Wolves): The opening half-hour of this game was downright ugly from the perspective that neither side appeared particularly interested in possessing the ball. Eddie Howe clearly sensed that the points were there for the taking with Wolves uncharacteristically poor, and the Magpies adjusted accordingly. The midfield pressed more aggressively, and Wood and Allan Saint-Maximin stayed a few yards higher out of possession, putting them into far more dangerous spaces to launch a quick counter-attack. Between Bruno Guimaraes, Joelinton and Jonjo Shelvey, there’s plenty of ball-winning and long-range passing in there to spring a few chances, and that they did. (AE)
9. Dewsbury-Hall dares Foxes to dream of his potential (Leicester 2-1 Crystal Palace): We had yet to see Leicester breakout player Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall really show off his offensive chops in the Premier League, though a goal against Napoli in the Europa League was a proper preview. But his assist on Ademola Lookman’s opener was inch-perfect and still, somehow, will take a backseat to his smashing goal to make it 2-0. First PL goals are almost always memorable but this was special stuff. (NM)
10. Norwich never says die (Norwich 2-0 Burnley): For a perceived yo-yo club that has been absolutely battered around the pitches of the Premier League this season, Dean Smith’s Norwich City is not dead yet. It’s a very difficult run-in for the Canaries, but could they catch Man United sleeping — a lot of others have — next week to set up a grandstand finish? Not sure we’d bet against it, even at Old Trafford. Newcastle at home, Villa away, and West Ham at home follow that one. (NM)