First they went to Liverpool with a front four of Ashley Young, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku; they managed one shot on target and drew 0-0.
They then went to Chelsea with a front three of Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Lukaku; they managed two shots on target and lost 1-0.
This weekend they went to Arsenal with a front three of Jesse Lingard, Martial and Lukaku; they managed four shots on target and won 3-1.
The availability of Paul Pogba is of course a factor, but Jose Mourinho has finally found a solution to Manchester United’s creativity problems in away games – wing-backs to provide width allied with pace, movement and one-touch passing through the middle, with Lingard the key, never-knowingly-still component of that plan. After a thrilling dress rehearsal against Watford, the performance at the Emirates was captivating. Injuries permitting, this is now Manchester United’s big-game line-up.
Manchester United do not need more than 25% of the ball if they can travel forward with pace and in numbers. Even when on form, Mkhitaryan looks a clunky fit in that plan.
For more on Mourinho and Manchester United, read our 16 Conclusions from a wonderful game.
The best week of his life? Whatever his motivation…
— Jesse Lingard (@JesseLingard) December 2, 2017
…this has been an astonishing week for Lingard. After not even making the squad for the 1-0 home stumble over Brighton, he has started back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since April and delivered three Premier League goals. Mourinho nailed it when he discussed his twin strengths – hard work and the knack of arriving in ‘finishing positions’. Unlike, say, Danny Welbeck or Raheem Sterling, he not only arrives in ‘finishing positions’ but looks like he is in full control of his limbs when doing so. It’s quite the skill.
Looking at his per-90 stats, only Lukaku produces more shots on target and only Mkhitaryan has created more chances for United this season. Rashford may be the Academy product with the verve and the flair, but right now Lingard is Mr End Product, with three Premier League goals and assists in just 393 minutes of football. That’s the same return as Christian Eriksen from 1249 minutes. Just let that sink in for a second while we draft an apology to Mr Jesse Ellis Lingard.
“You can’t get by winning every game 2-1,” said Martin Tyler after City’s third such scoreline against inferior opposition. The suggestion is, of course, that things are too squeaky to be maintained but City have such variety in attack (with the deliciousness of Kevin de Bruyne being just one) that it seems more likely that City will get better than worse in the coming weeks. The problem for their ‘rivals’ is that this feels like the blip, and they have won 13 Premier League games in a row. That is some blip.
Should they beat Manchester United next weekend, they will equal the record for most consecutive wins (14, by Arsenal in 2002) in the Premier League era. They are already almost halfway to the most victories in any season (set by Chelsea last season at 30) and it seems inconceivable that they will not break both the points record (95) and the goals record (103). They could stop fulfilling their fixtures now and they would still stay in the Premier League; they could stop at Christmas and finish in the top half.
The easiest ‘rescue’ job ever? One game – against a Huddersfield Town side lacking the quality to challenge anybody away from home – in charge of Everton and they are just one place and two points worse off than the same stage last season. Did they need to pay a man more than Zinedine Zidane to get them out of this ‘mess’? Did they balls.
The notion that Everton were in some sort of dire trouble gives Allardyce carte blanche to manage exactly how he wants over the next few months, meaning Everton fans have to watch their team ‘boast’ only 47% possession at home to Huddersfield, with only 68% of their passes reaching their target (down on a season average of 76%).
Everton cast themselves as relegation strugglers the minute they threw a load of money at a survival specialist; Allardyce and his acolytes will paint this season as a great escape if they finish in the top half, but this Premier League is so lacking in depth that anything outside the top eight should be deemed a disaster.
Sorry Everton fans, but your club has done a deal with the low-block, long-ball devil. You get awful football and smugness in return for the spectacular snuffing out of a candle.
But you won. So woo-hoo.
He will start every game now. Wherever the hell he wants. After all, who is Sam Allardyce to tell Wayne Rooney where to play?
Look at you, playing all 90 minutes like a good boy who can be trusted. And his eighth goal pulls him level with Romelu Lukaku so even Daniel Storey can stop saying he has been a disappointment.
Most managers would not recommend suffering a 3-0 defeat but it doesn’t seem to do Antonio Conte any harm. Last season Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat came at Arsenal and sparked a run of 13 Premier League wins that set them up for a successful title march. This season Chelsea’s 3-0 defeat came at Roma and since that humiliation they have played six games and won five times, with a 1-1 draw at Liverpool barely a blot on that copybook.
Chelsea will likely not challenge for the Premier League title but Conte has built a team that can react to adversity with strength, determination, hard work and not a little quality. If they finish third and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, this has been a good if not great season. It will certainly be enough to keep him in his job; the question is whether he wants it.
We told you he would be well rested. We didn’t tell you he would be quite that magnificent. Though not at the “peak of his career”, according to Antonio ‘nothing’s ever good enough’ Conte.
“The only player around me was Alvaro Morata, so if we wanted to win we had to do something together, just me and him. That’s why I tried to pass my opponent [by dribbling] every time,” he said after the Liverpool draw. There was a reprise against Newcastle with ten successful dribbles and nine shots.
Between Chelsea’s new strike pairing they have scored 50% of Chelsea’s Premier League goals. That’s only a problem if one of them gets injured.
Everybody seems awful keen to hand Mo Salah some kind of ‘signing of the season’ gong in December, but Alvaro Morata has been quietly scoring nine Premier League goals to take him ahead of Romelu Lukaku in a battle that seemed awfully important to rather a lot of people back in September.
Our early winner. We said the real test would come in him staying at Liverpool, and right now he is passing that test. He hasn’t just maintained his form after summer disappointment, he has actually improved.
A 5-1 win over Brighton looks easy, but Liverpool’s manager is very keen indeed to ensure you know that underneath the water, those legs are kicking like mad.
“It looks like we are flying but unfortunately it’s not like that, we have to work really hard,” says Klopp. “In our calmer moments we are a really good team, but we need to carry on. I’m much more interested in the next game. It’s important that it’s good because we need the points, we want to stay as close as possible to the teams in front of us.”
It looks very much like Liverpool have solved last season’s problem against the packed defences of the bottom half, though the real test comes against the master of the genre at home to Everton next week. They will spend every training session working on ‘shape’ while Liverpool have to think Moscow before Merseyside.
Still, ten more Premier League goals this season than Tottenham is a lovely place to find yourself in early December, especially if it is allied with a Champions League knock-out place.
Oh there you are. Unbeaten in three Premier League starts now. It’s going awfully well/well, awfully.
Only James Milner could play in a 5-1 win over Brighton and still manage to run more miles than any other Premier League player this weekend.
Masters of doing just enough to keep the wolves from the door, with 2-1 victory over Swansea coming after four games without a win. There is a growing feeling at the Britannia that this will be Mark Hughes’ last season in charge, and it ends – as it should – with long balls being aimed at the head of Peter Crouch while Jese, Ibrahim Afellay and Ramadan Sobhi wait on the bench.
The only reason watching Stoke still just about qualifies as entertainment. They have scored more goals than any other team in the bottom half of the table (18) and Shaqiri has scored or assisted half that number. His is the odd name out in a list of players with at least four Premier League goals and assists this season: Alvaro Morata (Chelsea), Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), Leroy Sane (Manchester City), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Xherdan Shaqiri (sodding Stoke City).
For the first time this season, West Brom dominated (well, had 51%) of possession in a home game. It’s a small step but it is being made in the right direction.
‘I’ve seen club owners make some daft decisions but Leicester City’s appointment of Claude Puel seems plain bizarre. It’s baffled, saddened and angered me all in one go’ – Stan Collymore.
Since Puel has been in charge, Leicester have picked up 11 points from six games. That’s more than every side barring the top five (and Burnley). It feels even more bizarre than ever that Collymore was so baffled/saddened/angered.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy and Wayne Rooney are the only Englishmen to have scored more Premier League goals this season. Get him on the plane.
No Englishman has created more Premier League goals this season. Get him on the plane.
Belgium, Tunisia and Panama
The Premier League ‘rest’
Last 23 matches between Premier League’s current top five team and non-top five teams:
P – 23
W – 23
D – 0
L – 0
For – 59
Against – 12
The noses of the bigger teams can be bloodied, but they can rarely be broken. Newcastle and West Ham both took the lead against big-five opposition this weekend but their eventual defeats felt pretty much inevitable. Good luck West Ham, Southampton and Everton next week.
And we are talking about the top five for a reason. Since Huddersfield beat Manchester United in October, the top five have not even drawn against a team outside their circle. In the same period, Tottenham have dropped points against West Brom, Leicester and now Watford. Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham have problems.
The headline statistic might be the first Premier League assist since the opening day, but delve deeper and you see the Dane trudging off the Watford pitch with a 63.9% pass completion rate, having lost the ball eight times through either a poor touch or an opposition tackle. The boy is knackered.
Bottom of the division and little prospect of pulling themselves out of that trough. When your greatest goal threat has only 19 touches in 90 minutes, you look doomed. But it is hardly surprising when you are relying on Leroy Fer, Jordan Ayew and Sam Clucas for creativity. Every time I see the name of Sam Clucas I am reminded that Swansea spent over £15m on him and I sigh, and not just because I cannot believe I predicted relegation for Burnley rather than this utterly awful Swansea side.
The problem for Swansea is that sacking Paul Clement is unlikely to offer any immediate bounce. Who could come in and make a strike partnership of Wilfried Bony and Tammy Abraham look dangerous? Who could make Ayew look anything other than frustrating? That trio did not create a single chance against Stoke on Saturday and nobody should be surprised.
Swansea have conceded fewer Premier League goals than every other side in the bottom half barring Bournemouth this season – this is not the job for a firefighter but a firestarter.
West Ham United
They will be really knackered today. And still in the relegation zone. Football can be cruel.
There’s little point recording an xG of 5.1 if your xF is even higher. Here begins the campaign for Expected F***-Ups to be recognised as a statistical measure.
For more on Arsenal, you know what to do: Read 16 Conclusions.
Not even on the bench for four of Manchester United’s last five games. And this time nobody is complaining.
These are not quite Mkhitaryan levels of quarantine, but Mata has not played a single minute in United’s last four away games. It has taken over a year but Mourinho has once again decided that the Spaniard lacks the pace for his natural counter-attacking game.
Talking to two people who made the trip to Everton on Saturday, both were agreed on one thing: Town may never score another away goal in the Premier League. They disagreed on the cause – one cited a lack of ambition and the other a lack of quality – but the end result is that there is now a ridiculous amount of pressure on their home games. The clash with Brighton on Saturday already feels massive.
No team outside the top six takes more shots than Southampton. No team outside the top six boasts more possession than Southampton. No team outside the top six has a higher pass completion rate than Southampton.
There’s a team in there somewhere but we fear Mauricio Pellegrino will be sacked before we catch a proper glimpse.
Still no goals away from home. But the good news is that the Premier League is so awful that they could probably stay up without scoring an away goal all season. Now that would be some feat.
Our early loser. It’s time he stopped moaning about who Newcastle cannot sign and organise his actual players.
Down to seventh. #dycheout.