Thoughts and analysis from compelling weekend of Premier League action
EPL

Thoughts and analysis from compelling weekend of Premier League action

Nov 27, 2023

theScore examines the most important developments and biggest talking points from another entertaining weekend of Premier League football.

Chelsea are broken again? Of course they are

Chelsea are smack-dab in the middle of the Premier League table, and that’s probably about right. Some days they look like legitimate contenders, others like cannon fodder. They win when they’re expected to lose and lose when they’re expected – or at least in position – to win.

Saturday was one of those days. You’d think they could take an undermanned and wounded Newcastle United, even without direct assistance from manager Mauricio Pochettino, who had to sit in the stands as penance for a few too many referee lashings. With 11 senior players out injured, Newcastle needed three goalkeepers just to fill out their bench.

But you wouldn’t know it watching the 4-1 shellacking at St. James’ Park. Chelsea were second best all over the pitch. Newcastle hounded them and bullied them off the ball. Even Chelsea’s wisest old head, 39-year-old defender Thiago Silva, made a fatal error, coughing up possession under the breath of the tireless Joelinton.

Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC / Getty

How could such a brutal and heavy defeat follow encouraging performances against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City? The truth is that Chelsea have been a work in progress for 18 months, and they’ll continue to resemble a construction site for as long as they carry this loosely assembled roster of 30 players. Very little links the players Pochettino has at his disposal, and too many of them have considerable kinks in their games. Benoit Badiashile is very much not ready to start games – how can he be when he’s missed so much time? – and Mykhailo Mudryk goes nowhere in a hurry. Marc Cucurella is a full-back, but is he really? Conor Gallagher can’t seem to get the ball to settle between his feet, Nicolas Jackson is reverting to the mean, and Enzo Fernandez’s performances have barely been worth half of the £107 million that Chelsea paid to sign him.

Raheem Sterling is the only player who’s taken any responsibility. While he’s never been the greatest decision-maker and often runs himself into dead ends, he’s at least shown the appetite to take the game to his opponents.

As battered and bruised as Newcastle are, they’re a team in the truest sense of the word, with a clear style of play that Chelsea can only envy. Even as players struggle to meet the demands of Eddie Howe’s high-octane system, others can step up and produce. Chelsea have a bunch of passengers who expect someone else to take the wheel. – Anthony Lopopolo

Did international rigors ruin the league’s main event?

Jurgen Klopp has complained about Liverpool playing in the early Saturday slot after international breaks in the past, and his side’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City certainly lacked the pace and chaos that have defined the teams’ meetings in recent years. The Premier League’s top match of the weekend – and easily one of its biggest fixtures of the campaign – failed to live up to its billing.

Mohamed Salah, who played two full matches on either side of the African continent for Egypt, assisted Trent Alexander-Arnold’s equalizer but failed to register a shot while he was easily subdued by Nathan Ake. Julian Alvarez, usually a bustling attacking presence in Manchester City’s midfield, wastefully skied an effort over the bar and generally labored through 90-plus minutes after representing Argentina in two matches. Dominik Szoboszlai scored twice and totaled 220 touches over two appearances for Hungary; at the Etihad Stadium, he seemed to lose energy toward the end of the first half and was eventually substituted in the 72nd minute.

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Alisson appeared the most jet-lagged of all. The Liverpool goalkeeper played every minute as Brazil continued its World Cup qualification campaign with two worrying defeats, and his commitments in Rio de Janeiro and Barranquilla, Colombia, clearly took their toll. His sliced clearance in the first half was punished when Ake sauntered through three Liverpool players and set up Erling Haaland for a clinical finish, but the day could’ve been much worse for Alisson.

His kicking was poor. One attempt to move the ball away from danger went straight to Phil Foden on the edge of the box; the City attacker, perhaps slightly discombobulated after being gifted possession by the league’s best goalkeeper, shot tamely at Alisson. The shot-stopper also dallied on the ball for too long and was almost caught out by a lunging Haaland.

Alisson’s fortune continued into the second half when Ruben Dias tapped in at the far post. The goal was ruled out when Manuel Akanji was adjudged to have fouled Liverpool’s No. 1 while trying to head the ball. In truth, the biggest factor in Alisson’s failure to catch the cross was his poor handling. It was a soft decision that went in Liverpool’s favor.

His luck ran out when he played through the final minutes with an apparent leg injury.

There seemed to be more tired players in Liverpool’s ranks, which hints at how Klopp’s side fared. Manchester City missed a huge opportunity to beat their title rivals. However, for the neutral viewer, the game was a little disappointing when compared to previous clashes between the northwest rivals. The Premier League could’ve scheduled the fixture for later in the weekend to try to get the teams’ stars in better condition but, most of all, this was yet another example of players toiling to meet the demands of modern football’s grueling calendar. – Daniel Rouse

Youngsters thrive in febrile Goodison atmosphere

It wasn’t a setting where players could meditatively drift into positions and calmly nudge the ball around. Goodison Park was a din. Protests against Everton’s 10-point deduction and vociferous receptions for Manchester United players created an angry atmosphere inside the ground that would make some footballers cower and cringe.

Some footballers, but not Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho.

Garnacho’s performance in Sunday’s 3-0 win at Everton will live longer in the memory than Mainoo’s due to one moment. The rest of his outing was fairly forgettable as he habitually lost possession (his passing accuracy was a derisory 56.3%) and only completed one dribble, but he etched his name in Premier League folklore with one of the finest goals in the competition’s history.

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Diogo Dalot’s cross was poor. Garnacho and Anthony Martial were nearing the 6-yard box but the delivery floated around 6 yards behind them, forcing the former to retreat and then spring himself into the air to have any chance of connecting with the ball. Garnacho’s movement and athleticism for the strike were perfect; the ball sailed out of Jordan Pickford’s reach and into the far corner. The winger’s goal was comfortably better than Wayne Rooney’s iconic overhead kick against Manchester City in 2011.

Mainoo’s display lacked the explosiveness of Garnacho’s goal but, in his first start for the club, he was the best player on the pitch. The 18-year-old’s technical ability and consistency through Manchester United’s youth teams have impressed his coaches. His maturity belies his years, and his tactical intelligence has been nurtured through playing a variety of midfield roles in the academy.

Nevertheless, the ease with which he slotted into the midfield alongside Scott McTominay must’ve defied all expectations.

The Everton supporters’ fury intensified as the game slipped away and refereeing decisions went against them, but Mainoo was unflappable in the middle. He made himself available for passes at every opportunity. He was even willing to collect the ball off goalkeeper Andre Onana and then immediately progress play with a smart pass or intelligent turn into space.

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Mainoo was also crucial off the ball. He prevented both Idrissa Gana Gueye and Dwight McNeil from scoring during a prolonged spell of Everton pressure while United led 1-0.

Mainoo was a standout player during United’s preseason program but suffered an injury in July that he only recently returned from. If he had stayed fit, one wonders how his team would’ve fared. Erik ten Hag has wanted more mobility in the No. 6 role for some time, and the local teenager appears tailor-made for that duty. – Rouse

Quick free-kicks

Ramsdale survives rough cameo

Aaron Ramsdale was always going to play against Brentford on Saturday. The terms of David Raya’s loan deal prevented Arsenal from playing the goalkeeper against his parent club, leaving Ramsdale as the obvious candidate to fill the void. So he played, not because Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta wanted to see a reaction from the goalkeeper he recently relegated to backup, but because he had no choice. That left Ramsdale as a sort of sitting duck, and he started the game with understandable nerves, nearly gift-wrapping Brentford a goal when he dithered on the ball in the penalty area. Though he eventually collected a clean sheet in the 1-0 win, Ramsdale needed two goal-line clearances to preserve it. Credit must go to his teammates, who seemed legitimately invested in his success, however short term. They embraced him at the end of the match, lapping up an important win as much as the fact that he had escaped another potential setback in a season full of them. Now, he has to bide his time until he gets a chance to leave in January. Allowing him to depart is the humane thing to do. – Lopopolo

Edwards and Luton are the perfect fit

Richard Heathcote / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Everything is mapped out at Luton Town. Their decade-long rise from the fifth tier was built on prudent planning rather than short-term fixes, and their restrained summer transfer window demonstrated that. The club’s present shouldn’t come at the cost of its future; lavish recruitment followed by relegation would’ve undone years of careful work at Kenilworth Road. The on-pitch expectations are similarly pragmatic. Before the season started, Rob Edwards ensured his squad was equipped to deal with setbacks – a club promoted on a third-tier budget would, of course, encounter them – and that preparation has paid off. Luton have overcome a rough start to climb into 17th place following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. The Hatters are an anomaly in an era where fans crave big-money signings and demand instant results, but their considered approach is their biggest strength. Edwards is the personification of Luton’s philosophy. – Rouse

First sacking of the season must be close

At this stage of last season, Scott Parker, Thomas Tuchel, Bruno Lage, Steven Gerrard, and Ralph Hasenhuttl had already been dismissed. There’s yet to be a managerial change this term, with Julen Lopetegui’s mutual departure from Wolverhampton Wanderers coming a week before the campaign began. That’ll change soon. Vincent Kompany’s refusal to tweak Burnley’s approach has resulted in a naive and error-strewn outfit that, somehow, sits bottom of the table below Everton, who are saddled with a 10-point deduction. Paul Heckingbottom, meanwhile, is a victim of elements outside of his control. He didn’t deliberately weaken his squad over the summer – buying and selling are rarely the responsibilities of modern managers. However, there’s been little evidence to suggest he has the ability to pull the Blades out of the relegation mire. Both Kompany and Heckingbottom are on borrowed time. – Rouse

Game of the season so far?

John Walton – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Don’t let the modest scoreline fool you. Aston Villa’s 2-1 comeback win over an ailing Tottenham on Sunday was arguably the most entertaining contest of the season thus far. The end-to-end action began almost immediately. The two teams, battling for a spot in the top four and playing with aggressive high lines, each had a pair of glorious chances within the opening five minutes of the match. Spurs took the lead through an unlikely source in Giovani Lo Celso, who was making his first Premier League start for the club since Nuno Espirito Santo’s reign. Villa answered 60 seconds later, only for Ollie Watkins’ goal to be ruled offside by VAR. Pau Torres’ equalizer on the stroke of halftime stood, though, and Villa, buoyed by Unai Emery’s tactical changes at the interval, went on to claim all three points thanks to a slick winner by Watkins, who wouldn’t be denied. Son Heung-min, buzzing all match, wasn’t so lucky; he had a hat-trick of tallies chalked off after agonizing reviews. This game had everything and could’ve legitimately finished level at five apiece on another day. These two sides lock horns in the reverse fixture in early March. Don’t miss it. – Gianluca Nesci

Stat of the weekend

Can Ange Postecoglou restore the good vibes at injury-hit Tottenham?

Tweet of the weekend

Liverpool need to sign Alexis Mac Allister’s brother, Kevin, just for the memes.


source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *