Thoughts and analysis from informative weekend of Premier League action
EPL

Thoughts and analysis from informative weekend of Premier League action

Dec 18, 2023

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

Man City’s attention to detail is slipping

There’s something wrong with Manchester City. Not tactically, but something deeper.

“It is not bad luck,” manager Pep Guardiola said after blowing a 2-0 lead to Crystal Palace on Saturday. “It was deserved. We gave away two points.”

And not for the first time. City played well against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur and have just single points to show for it. They absolutely dominated Palace and only added another draw to their increasingly pedestrian record.

Consider this: Each of City’s 10 outfield players created a chance in the first half against Palace. That had never happened before in the Premier League, at least not according to Opta, which began tracking such statistics during the 2006-07 season. City controlled more than 70% possession and kept Palace from recording a shot on target until the 76th minute.

How, then, could they not win?

Michael Regan / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Maybe there’s a lack of motivation to diagnose here. When you’ve won all that City have, you can take for granted the little details that create the foundation for those wins. You can do what Phil Foden did in the 92nd minute and give away possession on a needless meandering run through the center of the pitch and concede a penalty in the near-immediate aftermath.

City have never been this sloppy under Guardiola. There’s a reason they had won 82 straight matches when leading by two goals or more. City have always been an unerring machine, especially when they’ve had a suffocating stranglehold on the game.

That they’ve allowed so much slack into their game is concerning. It could also be burnout. City are coming off a 61-game season and could come close to that mark again this campaign. They may be victims of their own success. City have escaped the rash injuries that have afflicted their direct rivals, but the underlying effects of such a long and grueling stretch might be unraveling.

Whatever it is, it’s Guardiola’s job to fix it. This could be the greatest challenge of his tenure. – Anthony Lopopolo

Footballers know how to save lives

Everyone knew what was happening when Luton Town captain Tom Lockyer fell to his knees and then flat onto his stomach midway through Saturday’s game at Bournemouth. A handful of Bournemouth players furiously waved to the medical staff, and within seconds, Lockyer was getting the attention he needed.

Just a few short months ago, Luton manager Rob Edwards saw this exact scenario play out – in the Championship playoff final, no less. Lockyer collapsed just 12 minutes into the big-money showpiece at Wembley Stadium, and he was stretchered off and later hospitalized. He underwent heart surgery shortly after and received the all-clear to resume playing, as well as further assurances from doctors that he wouldn’t experience an episode like that again.

That it happened again was of extreme cause for concern. But it also meant Edwards and Co. knew what to do. The manager knew he had to clear his players from the scene, so he raced onto the field and waved them away, giving Lockyer the air he needed and the medical staff the space they required to keep him alive. It was later revealed that Lockyer suffered cardiac arrest.

Steven Paston – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

Edwards spoke about how difficult it was to resume the final in May, knowing their friend and teammate was in hospital. But Luton wouldn’t play on this time. Understandably shaken by the sight of Lockyer again unresponsive on the pitch, Luton and Bournemouth agreed to abandon the match.

But the swiftness of Bournemouth’s response was critical, and their overall empathy was encouraging. Luton praised their opponents’ medical staff for their “amazing” and “immediate” reaction and thanked the fans at Bournemouth’s Vitality for applauding and chanting Lockyer’s name.

Ever since Fabrice Muamba collapsed at White Hart Lane in March 2012, the duty of care toward players and fans has increased tenfold. Players have the awareness to spot trouble and spring into action, whether it’s on the field or in the stands. It’s incredibly comforting to know they have the wherewithal to deal with such grave situations while playing such high-stakes football. Why this affliction is affecting so many footballers is a conversation for another time. But it’s vital that players know the difference between life and death and that a quick response can prevent victims of cardiac arrest from suffering calamitous brain damage. It has become as automatic as kicking a ball, and it’s saving lives. – Lopopolo

Man United’s damage limitation tactics pay off

Virgil van Dijk is right. Only one team wanted to win Sunday at Anfield, and that was Liverpool. But that doesn’t make Manchester United any less worthy of the point they earned from this utterly forgettable goalless draw.

Ultimately, it was in United’s best interests to turn this contest into a dreadful bore, to defend in deep blocks and limit Liverpool’s chances. And they did that with great efficiency. Raphael Varane was outstanding, leading all players by far with 15 clearances. Jonny Evans looked like the Jonny Evans of old, and Diogo Dalot made excellent recovery runs before giving the gears to match official Michael Oliver. Goalkeeper Andre Onana wasn’t particularly convincing – he dawdled in possession, suffered whenever Liverpool pressed him, and approached jump balls like they were locusts – but his defense was too solid for it to matter.

PAUL ELLIS / AFP / Getty

Erik ten Hag clearly had no desire to go toe-to-toe with a Liverpool side that had won 11 straight home matches and scored at least twice in each. So, he lined up his team to frustrate the Reds, and the stats show United did just that, limiting the host to an array of pot shots from distance and to just five on target from within the 18-yard box. Given United’s tendency to blow leads in wide-open encounters, Ten Hag’s decision to close up shop was wise, if not popular. After watching his side go out of the Champions League, the last thing he needed was an absolute shellacking at the hands of United’s greatest rivals.

United also had their chances on the counterattack, and that’s where he can demand more of his players. Antony ran himself into dead ends, and Rasmus Hojlund didn’t have the composure required to finish off United’s best move of the game. But Ten Hag can’t criticize his players too much. They did what he asked. More importantly, they’ve given him the opportunity to coach another game. – Lopopolo

Quick free-kicks

Arsenal’s dominant display

Few teams neutralize Brighton & Hove Albion the way Arsenal did Sunday. Though they’ve produced inconsistent results this season, the Seagulls always look threatening with their slick passing and buildup play – they went into Sunday’s contest having scored in each of their previous 32 league matches, averaging 17 shot attempts in that time. Aside from a solitary opportunity for Pascal Gross in the 82nd minute, Arsenal totally shut Roberto De Zerbi’s team down, holding them to six attempts and 0.7 expected goals. Brighton didn’t have a single shot in the first half, while Arsenal, eventual 2-0 winners, attempted 15 before the break. It was one-way traffic. “I think Arsenal are one of the best, maybe this season, the best team in the Premier League,” De Zerbi said after the loss. “We are not used to suffering in this way. We are used to controlling the game.” That’s a huge testament to Mikel Arteta’s work as the Gunners continue to chase a league title. – Gianluca Nesci

Paqueta’s trio of assists

West Ham United FC / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Lucas Paqueta became the second Brazilian player in history to record three assists in a single Premier League game with a hat-trick of helpers in West Ham United’s 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday. He follows in the footsteps of Roberto Firmino, who accomplished the feat twice during his Liverpool tenure. Paqueta’s creativity has been on full display for the Hammers, and it makes you wonder how different things may have been this season for Manchester City had they signed the 26-year-old in the summer window when they were looking to add more playmaking ability to their midfield. Pep Guardiola’s team ultimately opted for a much different profile of player in the form of Matheus Nunes. But don’t be surprised if the struggling champions at least broach the subject of Paqueta’s availability with West Ham in January. – Nesci

Rash of (rash) red cards

Did everyone in the Premier League suddenly forget how to tackle? We’re not even at the midway point of the campaign, and there have already been more straight red cards shown (18) than the entirety of last season (17). One of Sunday’s culprits, Ben Mee, was sent off for a wild lunge on Leon Bailey in Brentford’s eventual 2-1 loss to Aston Villa. The Bees, leading and in control until the incident, conceded twice after going down to 10 men. VAR intervened to upgrade Mee’s on-field yellow to a red, much to the dismay of an incensed Thomas Frank. Video review was always going to make straight red cards more likely – slowing down tackles and watching multiple replays inevitably makes them look worse. However, it certainly feels like players are being more reckless when diving into challenges right now. That could simply be recency bias, but it’s worth monitoring for the rest of the campaign to see if there’s a notable shift in either direction as it relates to straight reds. – Nesci

Brace for Guimaraes transfer talk

ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP / Getty

Bruno Guimaraes’ new contract with Newcastle reportedly includes a £100-million release clause. If he delivers performances like the one he put forth in Saturday’s win over Fulham, talk about interested suitors will go into overdrive. The Brazilian midfielder had the most touches, passes, chances created, fouls won, take-ons completed, and joint-most duels won of any player on the pitch in the Magpies’ 3-0 victory. In an era where players have become so specialized in their midfield roles, someone like Guimaraes, who can do everything and, at 26, is entering his prime, will continue to be of interest to all of Europe’s top clubs. – Nesci

Stat of the weekend

Raheem Sterling’s numbers are on par with some of the Premier League’s greatest-ever players. So why isn’t he revered in the same way?

Tweet of the weekend

Who knew Mesut Ozil was a comedian?


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