Thoughts and analysis from gripping weekend of Premier League action
EPL

Thoughts and analysis from gripping weekend of Premier League action

Apr 8, 2024

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

Liverpool’s wastefulness punished

The gulf in quality between the two teams was stark. Liverpool players queued up at Manchester United’s goal, testing Andre Onana with a fusillade of 15 first-half shots. Just one, a well-executed volley by an unmarked Luis Diaz, went in.

In addition to conceding loads of shots, Erik ten Hag’s unsophisticated tactical plan included vaguely punting the ball toward the fast lads in attack. It was ineffective. They barely had a midfield. For the first time since October 2015, United didn’t record a shot in the opening half of a Premier League home game.

Ten Hag’s side was extremely fortunate to be just one goal adrift at the break.

PAUL ELLIS / AFP / Getty

Three minutes into the second half, it looked as if nothing had changed. Harry Maguire cut out an Andy Robertson cross and blocked a Darwin Nunez shot in quick succession. Casemiro retrieved the loose ball with the haste of a sloth in a brass deep-sea diving suit – or just like Casemiro in 2024 – and possession was immediately swept away from him on the edge of United’s box. The hosts were barely more involved in the match than the disgruntled spectators in the stands.

But this time, Liverpool’s wastefulness came back to punish them. They’ve gotten away with it on other occasions – such as Mohamed Salah’s catalog of squandered chances before his winning goal against Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend – or have ensured it doesn’t matter due to the sheer number of shooting opportunities they create. However, at Old Trafford, it mattered. The fact that Liverpool are even less economical than Nottingham Forest and Luton Town in front of goal – under 11% of their shots result in a goal – was finally punished.

And they were punished in spectacular fashion. Bruno Fernandes’ opportunistic long-distance punt unexpectedly brought the game level and increased belief among his teammates. Kobbie Mainoo’s majestic curler then gave United the lead.

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Salah rescued a 2-2 draw with an 84th-minute penalty, but there were more openings and opportunities in the closing stages that could’ve earned them a three-point haul. If the Reds fail to deliver a Premier League title during Jurgen Klopp’s farewell, this – and, of course, Diaz’s incorrectly disallowed goal at Tottenham Hotspur in September – will be one of the matches they look upon with deep regret.

Premier League’s top three with seven matches left

# Team GD Points
1 Arsenal +51 71
2 Liverpool +42 71
3 Manchester City +40 70

Lewis could be important for England this summer

England fans’ desperation for a No. 6 who can mop up in front of the backline and give Declan Rice license to roam perhaps led to Gareth Southgate’s search being called off prematurely. Mainoo is the answer, apparently, and we can now move on.

The 18-year-old has had an impressive breakout campaign with Manchester United, displaying the awareness and composure of a seasoned Premier League midfielder while his agility and skill let him slip past opponents and progress play. But from an England perspective, he might be too dynamic, a bit too close to Rice’s profile. He was often the most advanced of United’s midfield trio when they tried to construct attacks against Liverpool and found space between the lines before scoring with a resplendent effort. Rather than a lively No. 8, what Southgate really needs is somebody with selflessness and discipline reminiscent of Rice’s midfield partner at Arsenal, Jorginho.

It’s a job that Rico Lewis could do.

Andrew Kearns – CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

The Manchester City terrace favorite, 19, offers similar dynamism to Mainoo but has an outside chance of being even more valuable at Euro 2024 through his industry out of possession and his measured play with the ball. Given the differing styles of play at their clubs, it’s no surprise that Mainoo attempts more tackles and completes more interceptions than his blue-shirted compatriot, but Lewis has a greater success rate with his challenges (71%) than Mainoo (65%) and seldom loses possession while he pings and pushes short passes that help his attacking colleagues prosper.

Lewis would embrace the drudgery and considerate use of the ball that would liberate Rice. His versatility – he can thrive in both full-back positions and in any role through central midfield – would also significantly boost Southgate’s selection options. If he’s picked for the tournament in Germany, Lewis would prove an invaluable tactical pawn off the bench and could even force himself into the starting lineup – maybe at the cost of Mainoo’s place.

The City academy graduate, who earned his first England cap in November, relieved pressure for his teammates by drawing the most fouls (four) at Crystal Palace and scored to give his team the lead in Saturday’s 4-2 win.

Quick free-kicks

Postecoglou tightens up Spurs and top-4 tussle

Ange Postecoglou isn’t afraid to shake things up at halftime. His substitutions against Nottingham Forest – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Rodrigo Bentancur replacing Yves Bissouma and Pape Sarr – changed the course of Sunday’s game. Emphatic second-half finishes from Micky van de Ven and Pedro Porro – a center-back and right-back – would neatly fit the lazy narrative of the Aussie being solely committed to freewheeling attacking football, but in truth, Postecoglou’s swaps brought control and calmness to the nucleus of his lineup. The match gradually became a rather dreary affair, but the 3-1 victory intensified the battle for fourth – the position that’s assured of Champions League qualification regardless of UEFA’s club coefficient ranking. Aston Villa’s grip is slipping, meanwhile, after they surrendered a two-goal advantage in Saturday’s 3-3 home draw with Brentford. “We lacked that big-team mentality,” Ollie Watkins complained after his 80th-minute header salvaged a point for Villa, according to BBC Sports’ Joe Rindl.

# Team Played GD Points
4 Tottenham 31 +20 60
5 Aston Villa 32 +17 60
6 Man United 31 -1 49

Luton’s resilience shines through

Luton Town can do more than win a popularity contest this season. The Hatters have established themselves as many Premier League followers’ second-favorite team through their playing style under the charming Rob Edwards, their throwback stadium, and their underdog status. But results were a concern. Luton were winless in 10 Premier League matches, had conceded seven goals in the 70th minute or later over that span, and were dealing with 10 absentees this weekend. But rather than feel sorry for themselves, Luton picked themselves up twice against Bournemouth on Saturday. Edwards’ side was comfortably inferior in the first half but improved dramatically after the break until the Cherries’ Marcus Tavernier struck in the 52nd minute. Other teams drained of confidence would’ve caved in, but Luton instead dug deep and rallied to win 2-1 courtesy of goals from Jordan Clark and Carlton Morris, both of whom have labored much lower in the English pyramid. “(He’s) like so many of our lads who have fought really hard over their footballing journey so far to get here,” Edwards said of Clark after his first Premier League goal, according to PA Media. “They don’t want to give this up.”

Burnley resurgence isn’t happening

This was an opportunity for Burnley. After a few games that suggested Vincent Kompany’s side was improving, it was presented with an Everton midfield significantly weakened by the absences of Amadou Onana and Idrissa Gueye. The Clarets also attack down the left 41% of the time – more than any other Premier League club – and 35-year-old Seamus Coleman was defending that side. But the ball looped into Burnley’s net after goalkeeper Arijanet Muric inexplicably smashed his clearance against Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Aside from David Datro Fofana heading straight at Jordan Pickford, the visitors did very little in the 1-0 defeat at Goodison Park. The accusations of Burnley overplaying at both ends of the pitch continue and reflect poorly on Kompany. What works in the Championship doesn’t necessarily work in the Premier League. To add salt to the wound, Burnley have done their ex-boss Sean Dyche a huge favor this season: Everton have won just two league matches since mid-December – and both were against his former employers.

Stat of the weekend

Two goals and two points from 62 shots is a miserable return for Liverpool against their northwest rivals.

Tweet of the weekend

Watching Manchester United cling on for dear life isn’t a pretty watch. It gets even uglier when Ten Hag calls the perpetually bemused Sofyan Amrabat off the bench.


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