The Premier League table got plenty of work this weekend, with tumult in the top four and the relegation race while Chelsea looks sadly like a mid-table team.
Well, probably not sad for many, but definitely disappointing for Graham Potter. The Chelsea boss has joined Thomas Tuchel as a man wondering how so many attacking talents can’t deliver a finishing touch more than once in a blue moon.
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Meanwhile, Arsenal overcame a dull performance, Man City barely got through theirs, and Manchester United would like both to know that they’ll happily take a place in the title fight if neither wants to seize the advantage.
What did we learn from the Premier League this weekend? Here’s where our writers are living, as 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 24
1. Chelsea nearing ‘season write-off’ status (Chelsea 0-1 Southampton): Unlike Taylor Swift, Graham Potter is not singing about being the problem. The opposite is true. Okay, he wasn’t singing but when asked about Chelsea’s fans calling for him to be fired following their defeat to Southampton (they have now won just two of their last 14 Premier League games) here was his response: “I am sure there will be people out there who think that I’m the problem. I don’t think that they are right but I am not arrogant enough to say that their opinion isn’t worth articulating.”
In other words: ‘Hi! I’m not the problem. It’s not me.’ This awful dip in form has a new low point and the jury remains out on whether or not Potter will succeed. Chelsea created chances galore again but couldn’t finish any off and these are very similar issues to the ones Potter had at Brighton. The xG king is struggling to find the right combinations in attack to finish off these chances and Chelsea have now won just one of their last eight Premier League games. If the Chelsea owners are truly going to stick with Potter for the long run, they are now very close to the stage where they will have to write this season off. The gap to the top four continues to grow. (JPW)
2. Toffees looked tougher… The Dyche difference (Everton 1-0 Leeds): Leeds came to Goodison Park ready to fight, literally and figuratively, but that wasn’t a problem for the previously moribund Toffees. It’s a surprise given how the club looked under Frank Lampard, but not at all given the man at the helm now. Yes, Sean Dyche’s men were ready to go, and fittingly it was ex-Burnley man Dwight McNeil who got stuck into a scrap with USMNT star Tyler Adams that saw a half-dozen members of each side require separation by officials and assorted peacemakers. Everton may not be safe, but they’re no longer an easy out. Sean Dyche will take that, and Toffees’ fans should, too. (NM)
3. Fantastic Five hold keys to Man Utd’s glory chase (Man Utd 3-0 Leicester): They are still going for four trophies this season and Manchester United’s unlikely bid to win all four is fueled by the excellent form of David De Gea in goal, Lisandro Martinez in defense, Casemiro in midfield, and Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes combining in attack. They are a more cohesive unit and if those five players stay fit and in-form, United could just about win it all. DDG saved them early on against Leicester as a Casemiro sized hole in midfield (this was the last game of his domestic suspension) threatened to derail their recent upsurge. But then Lisandro Martinez started to shut the door. Bruno Fernandes pulled the strings. Marcus Rashford finished the chances. And boom. Just like that United were 3-0 up and cruising. It is the fantastic five throughout the spine of the team who will decide whether or not this superb United surge ends with plenty of silverware at the end of the season. (JPW)
4. Gunners snap out of skid (late), aren’t going away (Villa 2-4 Arsenal): Arsenal looked like they would cough up points in this game but they never stopped believing and found a way to win it. If they are to win the title this season, this feels like a pivotal moment. Trailing 2-1 at half time on the heels of a midweek home loss to Man City, Mikel Arteta must have said something inspirational at the break because the Gunners dominated the second half and in the end were deserved winners. Zinchenko and Jorginho (via the head of former goalkeeper Emi Martinez) were the unlikely heroes and that is what you need in a title push. Everybody stood tall for Arsenal after everyone else doubted their title credentials following the Man City loss, a defeat which Arteta said gave him more belief that his team can win the title. They proved that belief was well placed with a victory at Villa which was full of character, grit and determination. Beware Man City: this Arsenal side aren’t giving up their title push without a fight. (JPW)
5. Man City grounded at the City Ground (Nottingham Forest 1-1 Man City): A let down looked possible if not likely for Man City following their huge midweek defeat of Arsenal, but Bernardo Silva’s goal seemed to send forth better vibes that the side’s return to the top of the table would be accompanied by title-winning performances. Alas, despite 73 percent possession, a 23-4 shot attempts advantage, and a healthy bounty of xG — City produced 2.54 to Forest’s 0.98 — City again couldn’t get the result to match its performance. Keylor Navas made five saves as Forest’s back line, led by Felipe, scrapped forward and caused plenty of issues for Erling Haaland and Co. But really, sometimes your finish betrays you and Pep Guardiola will likely feel that’s what happened here ahead of a Champions League scrap with RB Leipzig at midweek. (NM)
6. Nick Pope loses plot but Liverpool still needs help from Alisson (Newcastle 0-2 Liverpool): This may sounds like a silly takeaway from a 2-0 away win for a Liverpool team craving positive praise, but the Reds shouldn’t feel back to their best after looking anything but comfortable up a man and two goals for more than an hour. Liverpool needed four saves out of Alisson Becker and gave up more than two expected goals to a Newcastle side doomed to 10 men in the 22nd minute. That’s when Magpies goalkeeper Nick Pope raced out to collect Alisson’s long ball but mistimed the intervention, his diving header thudding off the turf and into his hands for a straight red card well outside the box. Liverpool already led 2-0 at that point but somehow still opened the door to Newcastle on numerous occasions. All that noted, there were a lot of positives. Previously snakebit Darwin Nunez got on the board and Cody Gakpo score for the second-straight game. Trent Alexander-Arnold looks much improved and Virgil van Dijk returned to the Starting XI and got in minutes before a big test from Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. (NM)
7. Spurs take workmanlike win over flat Irons (Tottenham 2-0 West Ham): Tottenham only had to worry about one thing for most of this match and that was finding a way through West Ham’s defending-first shape and tactics. Whether it was David Moyes’ design or player selection, the Irons were barely thinking of the Spurs’ final third. Spurs’ first avenue arrived through the unlikely pairing of marauding Ben Davies and fullback Emerson Royal, who combined for an aesthetically-pleasing goal in the 56th minute. Then it was much more familiar, as Heung-min Son came off the bench to find a bit of form after Harry Kane made the most of a 50-50 with Angelo Ogbonna. Game. Set. Match. Welcome back to the top four, Tottenham. And… I guess… it could’ve been worse, West Ham? (NM)
8. Very different streaks extended by Vitaly Janelt’s late equalizer (Brentford 1-1 Crystal Palace): Patrick Vieira appeared despondent and bewildered on the touchline when the broadcast cut to him following Janelt’s equalizer, as limbs were flung into the air all around him. One more headed clearance was all the Eagles needed to end their winless run at six games (now 4D-3L) and climb up to 11th in the table, just three points off the top half. On the flip side, Thomas Frank accounted for two of the celebratory limbs as Brentford extended their unbeaten run to 11 PL games (5W-6D) amid an unlikely European push. (AE)
9. Advanced stats don’t matter if you don’t finish. Fulham finished (Brighton 0-1 Fulham): Fulham were out-shot 21-5 (seven on target), out-xG’d 2.20-0.31 and out-possessed 65-35, and not one bit of it mattered. Marco Silva’s side registered 0.00 xG on zero shots in the first half, as Brighton had their way everywhere but in front of goal (as they so often do). Never before has a newly promoted side had this many points at this point of a Premier League season — an incredibly far cry from the last time the Cottagers were in the top flight. (AE)
10. Cherries refuse to spoil (Wolves 0-1 AFC Bournemouth): This was not a great flowing display from Bournemouth but they’ve shown this season that they possess grit, can grind out wins, and have individuals to pop up at key moments to secure victories. Gary O’Neil’s side will not be cut adrift and looks ready to be in the relegation fight until the very end. Their January additions have been useful and the Cherries finally look to have a settled 4-5-1 formation which gets the best out of their wide players and Dominic Solanke while also making them more defensively solid. Bournemouth’s past is all about fighting against the odds and this team is following that mantra. (JPW)