Thoughts and analysis from formative weekend of Premier League action
EPL

Thoughts and analysis from formative weekend of Premier League action

Dec 11, 2023

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

Newcastle vulnerable at worst possible time

Newcastle United’s dinged-up squad could only last for so long.

Manager Eddie Howe had lost as many as 13 first-team players by the end of November, and while Newcastle United still managed to churn out results against Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester United, they clearly overexerted themselves. Now, the players who held the bandaged apparatus together are showing serious signs of strain. Kieran Trippier, who had been the epitome of consistency since joining Newcastle in 2022, gave the ball away twice in a costly 3-0 loss to Everton on Thursday and was exposed again Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur, allowing Son Heung-Min to twist him inside out en route to a 4-1 defeat. And it could’ve been much worse. Newcastle’s defense hasn’t looked this vulnerable since the Saudis took over.

Though Howe can finally count on midfielder Sean Longstaff and forward Callum Wilson, who returned to the lineup after several weeks on the sidelines, the Magpies can’t wait for them or any other returning player to get back up to speed. They need results – now. Newcastle are seven points outside of the top four, and the race for those places has become crowded. They’ll also be eliminated from the Champions League if they fail to beat a similarly hamstrung AC Milan side on Wednesday.

Newcastle’s upcoming matches

Date League Opponent
Dec. 13 UCL vs. AC Milan
Dec. 16 EPL vs. Fulham
Dec. 19 LEC at Chelsea
Dec. 23 EPL at Luton Town
Dec. 26 EPL vs. Nottingham Forest
Jan. 1 EPL at Liverpool

Half a billion pounds is supposed to buy you much more than a thinning squad, no matter how many injuries you have. It’s supposed to make players like 34-year-old midfielder Matt Ritchie, a former Scottish international who, with all due respect, is a relic of Newcastle’s past, obsolete. It’s peculiar that Newcastle have avoided the scathing criticism that Manchester United have faced in recent weeks, even though both clubs are falling short of the same objectives.

The fans who schlepped to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to watch this capitulation at least had the sense of humor and perspective to enjoy themselves. A few of them twirled jerseys in the air as Newcastle’s sunken players and manager paid them tribute. But how long will the good vibes last? Surely, these fans expect to be more than dinner guests at the grand old table.

Unfortunately, Newcastle are entering the busiest period of the season in need of total rejuvenation. – Anthony Lopopolo

By the numbers: More humiliation for Man United

Things were supposed to be looking up.

Manchester United found relief away from their Champions League struggles. Erik ten Hag was named Premier League Manager of the Month, Harry Maguire was selected as the best player from a productive November, and United’s midweek win over Chelsea gave them an opportunity to move level on points with Manchester City on Saturday.

But then came Bournemouth, who embarrassed United. No one in Ten Hag’s ranks was blameless in a 3-0 defeat that leaves the under-pressure manager with plenty of issues to fix ahead of matches against Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Martin Rickett – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Here are some standout statistics following a miserable performance at Old Trafford:

0 – Rasmus Hojlund, who was called off the bench in the 56th minute against Bournemouth, remains goalless after 12 Premier League appearances. Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, who cost less than Hojlund, crammed 18 goals into his first 12 outings in England’s top flight.

1 – The defeat was Manchester United’s first by three or more goals in a Premier League home match against a team starting the day in the bottom half of the table.

3 – The other five teams in the Premier League’s top six have lost three home matches combined. Manchester United have tasted defeat four games at Old Trafford (against Brighton & Hove Albion, Crystal Palace, Manchester City, and Bournemouth). Aston Villa are the next Premier League visitors on Boxing Day.

5/11 – Manchester United have conceded three or more goals in five of their last 11 home matches across all competitions. Before that leaky streak, the Red Devils had conceded three or more in five of 90 home encounters.

9 – It’s taken just nine matches for Manchester United to lose four games in Stretford. Over Sir Alex Ferguson’s 21 Premier League campaigns, the Red Devils lost four or more home fixtures just once.

35 – Manchester United have lost more Premier League home matches (35) since Ferguson retired than they did during the legendary Scottish manager’s lengthy reign. – Daniel Rouse

Emery’s day of redemption

It was a very good evening for Unai Emery.

Over 180 minutes this week, his Aston Villa side has gone from top-four hopeful to deservedly entering the Premier League title race after slaying two teams that finished at the summit of the table last season.

A benchmark midweek win over reigning champions Manchester City was obviously one to savor for the Spanish tactician. But the taste of victory won’t get much sweeter than Saturday’s win against his former employers, Arsenal. More than four years after he was dismissed by the Gunners – deemed a failure just 18 months into succeeding icon Arsene Wenger – Emery shook his fists wildly in celebration, with Villa moving within one point of the north London team and five clear of City.

It wasn’t as strong of a performance as Aston Villa’s complete domination of Manchester City, but it didn’t have to be. Villa’s approach against Arsenal after John McGinn’s early goal was just as effective, as the Scotland international’s eighth-minute strike allowed the hosts to focus on preserving their one-goal lead.

The cautious approach was perhaps to be expected against an Arsenal side that’s developed a reputation this season for coming from behind to steal points. Arsenal knocked on the door but struggled with their fluidity in attack against Villa’s high line.

Villa did threaten for more goals whenever the opportunity arose. And just when it seemed the momentum was shifting in Arsenal’s favor in the second half, Emery’s substitutions were instrumental in disrupting any rhythm the visitors tried to generate.

While Arsenal struggled with uncharacteristically bad decision-making – and were perhaps unlucky after VAR overturned a late equalizer – there’s no denying that the best team won in Birmingham. The victory was another example of how far Aston Villa have come since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard 14 months ago. – Gordon Brunt

Liverpool winning – but unconvincing?

Liverpool aren’t playing particularly well. That could be a good or a bad thing.

Gleaning victories or valuable draws from subpar performances could be viewed as the hallmark of eventual champions; they’re one point clear in first place before they’ve hit their stride – an ominous prospect for their title rivals. Liverpool have gained a league-high 18 points from losing positions this season.

Or their form could be viewed as unsustainable: At some point, the individual flourishes won’t save them or – to use Saturday’s 2-1 comeback win at Crystal Palace as an example – a needless red card or heavy deflection won’t assist them.

A lot of Liverpool’s success is built, somewhat predictably, on their varied and well-stocked attack. They attempt more shots per game than any other Premier League team. Mohamed Salah, with 11 goals and seven assists over 16 appearances, is regularly decisive in tight matches. Cody Gakpo emphasized Liverpool’s forward depth with a lively cameo at Selhurst Park, which included his lofted cross that led to Salah’s equalizer.

But at the other end of the scale, the protection from their new-look midfield and overall defending appears wholly unreliable while Liverpool’s players miss the most tackles (11.5 per game) in the Premier League. Perhaps the most important aspect of the Reds’ title bid is that Virgil van Dijk is defending better than he has in years.

Despite the concerns surrounding Jurgen Klopp’s current squad, it undoubtedly shares similarities to the character Liverpool possessed while capturing the Premier League crown in 2020. That belief and grittiness will be key to keeping Liverpool firmly in the title hunt while Salah represents Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations later this winter.

“I see the mentality: You just keep fighting until the end. We did that this game, and last game, and the game before,” Salah told TNT Sports after his goal ignited Liverpool’s come-from-behind victory.

“We can do something special this year,” he added. – Rouse

Quick free-kicks

Manchester City show some mettle

Shaun Botterill / Getty Images Sport / Getty

This sounds outlandish considering the modest opposition – Luton Town have nine points from 16 games this season – but Manchester City’s 2-1 comeback win on Sunday at Kenilworth Road was precisely the type of match that separates title winners from pretenders. Riding a four-game winless run in the league and missing Erling Haaland due to injury, Pep Guardiola’s team recovered from conceding on the stroke of halftime, using goals in quick succession in the second half to halt their slide. The reigning champions, despite their recent struggles and some premature talk of the dynasty coming to an end, are only four points off top spot and haven’t yet gone on their annual tear after the holidays, which has become a staple of their title-winning campaigns. They were eight points back of Arsenal at one stage last season, and look how that turned out. They’re still the favorites to collect the Premier League crown for a fourth successive season, warts and all. – Gianluca Nesci

The Ross Barkley renaissance

The Barkley redemption arc is in full effect. Once tipped as a future superstar – he drew comparisons to Paul Gascoigne early in his career – the English midfielder saw his development stagnate badly after joining Chelsea in 2018. It’s taken several years, a loan spell at Aston Villa, and a brief stint in France, but Barkley, now 30, is consistently showcasing why he was once regarded as one of England’s brightest prospects. His quick feet and ability to drive the ball forward from midfield have been instrumental in Luton’s recent string of impressive performances. Despite sitting in the relegation zone, the Hatters have made life extremely difficult on the league’s heavy hitters of late, drawing with Liverpool last month before pushing both Arsenal and Manchester City in their last two games. Barkley was a standout performer in the latter two matches, both narrow one-goal defeats, and he’s a vital part of Rob Edwards’ side. It probably won’t be enough to get him back into the England setup ahead of Euro 2024 – though that campaign is gaining steam on social media – but it’s wonderful to see. – Nesci

Fulham can’t stop scoring

Eddie Keogh / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Fulham are on a heater. The Cottagers picked up their second 5-0 victory in the space of just five days by hammering West Ham United on Sunday, spreading the wealth around with five different players getting on the board. Marco Silva’s men have now racked up 17 goals in their last four league matches, which is more than Sheffield United, Burnley, and Crystal Palace have scored all season. It’s also just one shy of what Manchester United have compiled on the campaign. Prior to this hot streak, Fulham had only nine goals in 12 games this season. A lack of scoring options was a legitimate concern following the summer departure of Aleksandar Mitrovic to Saudi Arabia, but Raul Jimenez has stepped up to fill the void of late, notching four tallies in five league games to match his total from his previous 49 Premier League appearances. The goal rush is unsustainable – both for the Mexican forward and the team at large – but it’s fun to watch, especially for Jimenez, whose career was nearly ended by a skull fracture in 2020. – Nesci

Dyche will keep Everton up

Points penalty be damned. Sean Dyche has Everton rolling right now, with Sunday’s 2-0 win over a beleaguered Chelsea outfit lifting the Merseyside club four points above the relegation zone. The Toffees have now won three of four games since they were hit with the harshest sporting sanction in Premier League history on Nov. 17, and were it not for their 10-point deduction, Everton would be in the top half of the table, four points clear of Mauricio Pochettino’s floundering Blues. Dyche can use the penalty as added fuel to motivate his players, something he’s almost certainly doing to great effect in the dressing room, but keeping morale up in the wake of such a heavy sanction is no small feat. Whatever message Dyche is delivering in his gravelly tone, it’s working, and he deserves enormous credit. So does Abdoulaye Doucoure, who scored again on Sunday with a pinpoint finish. Since Dyche took over at Goodison Park, the Malian international has more non-penalty goals (11) than any midfielder in the Premier League. – Nesci

Wilder things have happened

Few managers in recent decades can rival Chris Wilder’s impact in the tiers below the Premier League. He won five separate promotions through his stints with Alfreton Town, Oxford United, Northampton Town, and Sheffield United, and briefly bewitched Premier League viewers with the creative tactics he employed during the latter tenure. So why can’t Wilder’s second coming at Sheffield United inspire top-flight survival? James McAtee’s excellent curling finish was enough to give the Blades a 1-0 victory over Brentford at Bramall Lane, and they limited the visiting Bees to few chances for their first clean sheet of the season. Sheffield United are now just two points adrift of safety. “If we do the basics, then hopefully we can carry on the same form,” Wilder said after the win. – Rouse

Burnley showing signs of life

Mike Hewitt / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Burnley’s boardroom deserves some of the credit for the uptick in results of late. After all, recent success may not have materialized if the relegation-threatened club opted to cut ties with Vincent Kompany after a brutal start to the Premier League season. Days after thrashing Sheffield United – a 5-0 result that led to Paul Heckingbottom becoming the first Premier League manager sacked this season – Burnley earned a valuable point on the road against a tough Brighton & Hove Albion side to move within two points of safety. Goalkeeper James Trafford continued to impress after a poor start to the season, producing 10 saves against the Seagulls, while Jordan Beyer – arguably their best defender from last season’s promotion – kept Brighton striker Evan Ferguson quiet for the most part. Whether the club can sustain this momentum and string together more positive results remains to be seen, but resisting the urge to replace Kompany has seemingly paid off. – Brunt

Stat of the weekend

Is Rodri the most important player to his team across all of Europe?

Tweet of the weekend

Some things never change.


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