What did we learn during Matchweek 33 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.
10 things we learned in the Premier League – Matchweek 33
1. Red Devils defensive overhaul needed more than anything else (Man Utd 3-2 Norwich): Look, you’re not going to compete for the Premier League with this Manchester United roster, but you can finish top four with a lot of these ingredients. Most of the backs are not some of these ingredients. Harry Maguire, like Jordan Pickford at Everton, is bafflingly different when appearing for club vs country and his trademark “arms raised, who’s fault is this?” reaction was on display a few times vs the Canaries. David De Gea has kept at least 15 of United’s point haul in the Red Devils column this season and we haven’t quite done the math but any amateur sleuths want to see what the defensive record is without Raphael Varane? Cause we bet it’s not good (NM).
2. Spurs make Conte’s latest case for spending (Spurs 0-1 Brighton): Again… this is because we’re writing from a theoretical fan’s perspective and if we’re Spurs fans we’d be red-blooded and furious after the 1-0 home loss to Brighton. But, Spurs have to let Antonio Conte complete his Tottenham teardown because most of us would agree that the man has won essentially everywhere and had almost zero misses in the personnel department so far in North London. Whatever it is that had Spurs looking sloppy and distracted when a win on Saturday could’ve made fourth place oh-so-snug in their beds, well it’s unacceptable and it seems unlikely to be the boss. Harry Kane was okay at center forward but Conte’s menacing midfield duo of Rodrigo Betancur and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg — while annoying — were the only other players who attempted to really take the game by its trunk. Whoever Conte thinks is responsible for matches like this popping up every three or four outings, they need to go (NM).
3. Arsenal playing without confidence (Southampton 1-0 Arsenal): The Gunners had plenty of the ball but no confidence whatsoever at St. Mary’s, as they lacked creativity and are in a really bad place. Arteta’s side has now lost three on the trot to put a huge dent in their top four hopes but there’s added concern is the way they’ve lost these games. Three defeats against midtable teams have come from nowhere but this is very similar to the start of the season where the Gunners looked shaky defensively, played without a clear plan, and had no cutting edge. Yes, they were missing Lacazette, Partey, Tierney and Tomiyasu but there was still enough quality in this Arsenal side to get past Southampton. They just never looked like they believed they could (JPW).
4. All of Leicester’s eyes on Europa Conference League (Newcastle 2-1 Leicester): You get the feeling that Brendan Rodgers has been thinking, “Get Fofana healthy and let’s cross our fingers for a European route back to Europe” for some time. Injuries and schedule congestion have crushed the Foxes this Premier League season and center back Wesley Fofana is good enough that had he stayed healthy, the club might’ve been able to stay in the top-seven picture. He’s back now, but Sunday’s loss means all rational expectations of a return to Europe rest on AS Roma and then either Marseille or Feyenoord. Ready the chihuahuas, Brendan. (NM).
5. Hammers’ top four push all but over (West Ham 1-1 Burnley): With Spurs and Arsenal losing on Saturday, this was a big chance for West Ham to gain ground in its bid try to finish in fourth. It looks very unlikely to happen now, and that’s disappointing even if understandable in the emotional wake of getting past Lyon and into the Europa League semifinals earlier in the week. West Ham have hung in the top four race all season long. With their small squad, another top six finish would still be incredible. That must be their aim now but their hopes of reaching the UEFA Champions League through their league position are over (JPW).
6. Rangnick flips the script — and it works, in attack, with an inspired Ronaldo (Man Utd 3-2 Norwich): Before we make any analysis of tactics or personnel, which are decidedly in Ralf Rangnick’s favor, let’s first acknowledge that Ronaldo set forth on Norwich ready to make a “I swear I’m a good person” highlight reel. The megastar ran his shorts off, pressing and tracking back, and bringing teammates in for joy. Almost as if he had just been cited for slapping a phone out of a fan’s hand in United’s last match. But anyway, Jesse Lingard was a surprise starter and he looked like a man who’s been physically and verbally begging for a start under Rangnick. The work rate and vibrancy of Lingard and Ronaldo — and Anthony Elanga, who looked better this week — opened things up for Jadon Sancho, who had his best game in a while. All that said, Norwich is bereft of defenders and we probably shouldn’t be saluting a team of United’s standards and talent for showing up against a team that feels like it allows handfuls of goals per week (NM).
7. Bad performance aside, just a huge chance missed by Arsenal (Southampton 1-0 Arsenal): With Spurs losing at home to Brighton, this was a huge chance for Arsenal to take control of fourth place. They didn’t take it. The Gunners knocked the ball around nicely but never really looked like carving Southampton open and this may be the game they look back on if they don’t finish in the top four. They play Chelsea, Manchester United, West Ham, and Tottenham in their next few games and they simply have to win at least three of those to give themselves a chance of a top four finish. That sound you can hear is a huge sigh of relief from Tottenham’s fans (JPW).
8. Watford home form a season problem, but Hornets have to change their overall model (Watford 1-2 Brentford): It is clear that Watford is going to go down and its home form is what has cost them their Premier League status. They set an unwanted club record with 10-straight defeats at home and have two wins at home all season. Two. They have won three away from home and you can see why. They are a good counter-attacking team who can sit back and soak up pressure. But they can’t really do that at home and when teams allow them to possess the ball, they aren’t at their best. From Xisco to Ranieri to Hodgson, this is a squad run by decent managers, full of decent individual talent. But there is no real plan and tactically the Hornets are a mess. That is what you get when you hire and fire managers several times in a single season. … They are a yo-yo club which changes managers so often and it works for the most part. But surely the Pozzo family will be thinking about changing that model now. Perhaps they go for a former player like Sean Dyche who can bring stability and an identity? It’s clear if they want to become an established Premier League team, they need to change their model (JPW).
9. All it takes is one moment of Brighton beauty and Spurs weakness (Spurs 0-1 Brighton): Leandro Trossard absolutely froze Eric Dier with a cut and then proceeded to slice off an inch-perfect shot to beat Hugo Lloris to the far post. Most of us can agree that Spurs need better than Dier as a regular starter at center back and most can agree that Brighton need a better center forward, but Trossard’s plenty dangerous from the wing (or midfield) and he’s now claimed six points for Brighton against North London derby opposition. But we imagine Antonio Conte would relish Eric Dier as a depth piece that only starts in emergencies rather than a weekly starter (NM).
10. We’re going to talk about Bruno no, no, no (Newcastle 2-1 Leicester): Sorry, I have three kids. “Encanto” songs. Anyway, Newcastle’s resurgence is way more than Bruno Guimares — and we’ll get into that later but suffice it to say it will always bear repeating that Eddie Howe’s turned Joelinton into a center midfielder and it’s working — but Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimares’ arrival on Tyneside is a little bit of everything that Newcastle’s new ownership needed. He’s a level of player they hadn’t bought in some time relative to his age and status, and also positionally fills a hole the club has had for even longer. Anyone who can remember Newcastle purchasing Georginio Wijnaldum, Yohan Cabaye, or Moussa Sissoko will be reminded of the club’s former status (though Sissoko and Wijnaldum were a bit too green). Bruno’s goals have been fantastic but also grimy and now timely. He’s a player who will want to see Newcastle bring in more “Brunos” this summer to stick around, but there’s not much fear there right now as Guimares has claimed desire to “be a club legend” and that will sound like a call back to better days for the Magpies faithful, when Shearers, Asprillas, and Ginolas ran free (NM).Follow @NicholasMendola