What a weekend in the Premier League, as the final matchweek before the World Cup break delivered shocks, late drama and so many incredible moments.
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December 26 can’t come soon enough.
Until then, we will focus on yet another intriguing weekend as the Premier League season has been box office on so many levels so dar.
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Here’s a look at 10 things that stood out, as our writers Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Andy Edwards (AE), and Nicholas Mendola (NM) share their observations from across the most recent PL games.
10 things we learned in the Premier League: Week 16
1. All’s not well at Tottenham despite win, as Spurs still in bad shape (Spurs 4-3 Leeds): From booing Emerson Royal when he came off to the general malaise around the team, Spurs fans are feeling very negative right now. Even though they won. And they’re still in the top four heading into the international break. And they’re in the Champions League last 16. But all is not well under Antonio Conte. This week he refused to commit himself to the club beyond the end of his contract at the end of this season and unless Tottenham spends big in January, this is heading toward a very familiar outcome. It looks like Conte believes he has taken this Spurs team as far as he can with the current squad. He has shown enough to suggest if he’s given better players they can push on again but right now everything has gone stale. Still, there is enough fight to keep coming back and winning games like this. (JPW)
2. Eddie Howe, Newcastle giving Premier League “Something to Talk About” (Newcastle 1-0 Chelsea): The Magpies look so, so, so good right now and their place in the top-four chase is completely deserved. The fact that this is happening with so many contributors who were in the Newcastle side before the Saudi Arabian takeover is a real high-five to Eddie Howe, who has Joelinton, Miguel Almiron, Fabian Schar, and Joe Willock playing at or near career-best form. While new additions Bruno Guimares, Sven Botman, and Nick Pope have been sensational and the result of “new money,” the Magpies are recalling the spirit of Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” after reading so many stories about how their new wealth will inevitably make them a European power—> “Now that we know it, let’s really show it, darlin’.” Newcastle’s arrived ahead of schedule as a major player and achieving a Champions League place this season would show what many supporters knew was hibernating underneath previous owner Mike Ashley’s sleepy pursestrings: a northern giant. (NM)
3. Martin Odegaard, Arsenal feeding their new highs (Wolves 0-2 Arsenal): Martin Odegaard is a technician. Sometimes he’s the team metronome. Other times he’s asked to carve open a difficult, tight back line. But the Norwegian has also shown a willingness to fire when ready, and Odegaard’s pair of finishes on Saturday gives him six goals through 13 Premier League games this season. That’s one off his PL-best total, set last season, and two off his best-ever league season when he scored eight times with Vitesse Arnhem in the 2018-19 Eredivisie season. He’s about to get a month off to recharge his batteries with Norway’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, and that seems unlikely to be a bad thing for Arsenal. (NM)
4. Ivan Toney shows his class as Brentford upsets champions (Man City 1-2 Brentford): It must have been a very tough week for Ivan Toney who was called into the last England squad but not the World Cup squad as Callum Wilson was preferred to him. Toney headed home the opener, grabbed the winner in stoppage time and was denied a hat trick by Kevin de Bruyne’s goal-line clearance. He caused chaos throughout and it took incredible character to play the way he did after the disappointment of this week. (JPW)
5. Quality of Eriksen, Casemiro sets the platform (Fulham 1-2 Man United): There was one pass Casemiro made in the first half which never looked on. Nobody else inside Craven Cottage saw it but somehow he sliced through a crowded midfield with ease, taking out four Fulham players with one pass. The Brazilian is so much more than a destroyer and his classy displays alongside Eriksen have added control and poise to United. The summer arrivals have made a massive difference to this team and Eriksen grabbing his first goal as a Red Devil showed he still has the ability to pop up in the right place in attacking areas as well as excel in his new deeper role. With United playing a fluid front four, you need a stable and solid platform behind them and Casemiro and Eriksen supply that. The balance of this United side is so much better when they’re in midfield together and their intelligence and experience on the ball is exactly why Erik ten Hag signed them. When Scott McTominay came on in the second half to play alongside Casemiro and Eriksen was pushed higher up the pitch, everything fell apart for United. There’s no coincidence that happened when the Casemiro and Eriksen duo was broken up but Eriksen still had the class to win it as his brilliant assist fed Garnacho to win it. (JPW)
6. Another relegation fight or wasted season for Everton? (Bournemouth 3-0 Everton): Just three games shy of the halfway point of the season, the Toffees appear headed for another long fight against relegation. With just one win from their previous six games before Saturday (1W-1D-4L), defeats to Manchester United, Tottenham, Newcastle, and Leicester were understandable and largely expected. But to go down so quietly to a newly-promoted side is more embarrassing and a very worrying sign. If not Bournemouth, then who? As soon as the full-time whistle blew, there were words exchanged by an Everton fan (or fans) and midfielder Alex Iwobi, who reportedly received abuse from the away fans during the second half. Jordan Pickford walked closer to the fans than most of his teammates and was also seen having words with someone before being pulled away with the frustrations visible on his face. (AE)
7. Darwin Nunez has well and truly arrived at Anfield (Liverpool 3-1 Southampton): He’s going to be measured unfairly against Erling Haaland this season, but Darwin Nunez continues to look more and more like the star center forward Liverpool needed to one day fully replace Roberto Firmino. We say one day because Firmino is showing he’s not done yet and can teach plenty to his Uruguayan understudy, but Nunez found his finishing in the Champions League and now has been finding regular chances in the Premier League. His two goals Saturday looked a lot like videos we’ll see on repeat at other Premier League venues for years. (NM)
8. Worrall, Boly, Henderson give Forest solid showing at the back (Nottingham Forest 1-0 Crystal Palace): Joe Worrall has long been a key piece of this unit but Willy Boly’s a new addition and goalkeeper Dean Henderson was clearly in control of his box at the back. Throw in an odd strong game from Serge Aurier on one side and the recipe for success was there. Remo Freuler looks more comfortable in the center of the park and Morgan Gibbs-White shined in a sort of false-nine role, the ex-Wolves man getting better and better each week. Steve Cooper’s had to integrate a lot of new key pieces, but at least one has been there for quite some time in Worrall. Two if you count the boss himself. (NM)
9. James Maddison in the form of his life, hopeful injury no big deal (West Ham 0-2 Leicester): James Maddison’s goal was simply the continuation of the 25-year-old’s red-hot form of late, taking his recent tally to five goals and three assists in his last eight PL appearances. At the very least, he was set to be called upon to provide a creative spark off the bench for England at the 2022 World Cup in a matter of days, before coming off with an apparent injury to his right leg. Physios appeared to test Maddison’s knee as he sat on the ground in the 25th minute at London Stadium. Eventually, he made the long, slow walk across the field and went straight down the tunnel. He was shown in a good mood on the bench so hopefully this isn’t a heartbreaking blow for a player who’ll be 29 and a long shot to make the World Cup in 2026. (AE)
10. Unai Emery’s fingerprints already showing as Villa wins again (Brighton 1-2 Aston Villa): First-minute error aside, Aston Villa looks a different side. Unai Emery’s men look ready to stay compact in pursuit of possession or the chance to explode up the pitch. Four ball-winners across a midfield allowed fullbacks to get forward, which showed up in quickfire passing patterns and clearer ideas for Danny Ings and, especially, Emiliano Buendia. Good stuff… and that’s without mentioning the resolute defending with a 2-1 lead away to a very good Brighton team (Well, now it has been mentioned). One variable to note: Ollie Watkins was surprisingly not in the 18. (NM)