Alisson among the Premier League winners and losers

Date published: Monday 4th April 2022 5:46 - Richard Jolly

Manchester United players, Brentford celebrating and Alisson

Alisson kept Liverpool in the title race on Saturday but the result of the weekend belongs to Brentford.

 

Winners

Brentford
Brentford were almost certainly staying up anyway but perhaps the win that booked them a second successive season in the Premier League was arguably the result of the Premier League campaign. The only other side to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge was Manchester City and that was 1-0. Then Thomas Frank’s bold team made the short journey and scored four goals in 38 minutes, three in an astonishing 11 minutes.

Within it, there are plenty of success stories: Vitaly Janelt’s well-taken brace doubled his tally of Premier League goals, Bryan Mbuemo set up two goals and Ivan Toney wreaked havoc without scoring. Christian Eriksen’s first Premier League goal since 2019 followed a couple of classy strikes for Denmark and continued the most welcome of comebacks. If class is permanent, his has been timely, giving Brentford a mid-season injection of quality. Credit, too, to Frank who revived a season that seemed to be flatlining with a switch to a back four. After eight defeats in nine games, Brentford now have three wins in four and a stunning scoreline they can savour for years.

 

Alisson
There is a case for suggesting the title race is between the team who are the best between the penalty boxes and the side who are best in them. Manchester City’s passing and Pep Guardiola’s phalanx of midfielders make them the most stylish side outside the 18-yard areas. In a minute, however, Liverpool proved ruthless at either end. Diogo Jota’s opener came 34 seconds after Alisson’s brilliant save from Juraj Kucka; it was first parity-preserving and then the springboard for a 10th straight victory and, briefly, first place. The Brazilian is often described around Anfield as the world’s best goalkeeper. And while there are rivals for that title, he certainly seems the best in one-on-one situations. It is a useful skill for any side, but perhaps invaluable for Liverpool: by their nature, top teams give up fewer chances. Because of their high line, Liverpool can sometimes afford clear opportunities. Time and again, Alisson is their saviour in such situations.

 


F365 says: Watford stop Salah, but can’t stop Liverpool


 

Raheem Sterling
Guardiola reflected about the mood of two of his wingers after international duty. Riyad Mahrez was an unused substitute at Burnley, apparently sad after Algeria’s inability to qualify for the World Cup. Raheem Sterling’s spirits were lifted by captaining England. His performance at Turf Moor may have stemmed from the psychological, but the tactical element felt as important. Given Burnley’s preference to be narrow and compact, Guardiola may have needed an inverted winger like Mahrez rather less. Sterling offered genuine width, along with a habit of running in behind the Burnley defence. He and Kevin de Bruyne were involved in both goals and Sterling’s display was a reminder of his versatility. Under Guardiola, he has often been the goalscoring winger, cutting from the left. Here he was the goal-creating winger, staying wider on the right.

 

Matt Doherty
Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son were rather good but they often are. Doherty, on the other hand, had long appeared one of Tottenham’s mistakes, a player who was omitted by the manager who signed him (Jose Mourinho), then the one for whom he produced the best form of his career (Nuno Espirito Santo) and then one with a famous fondness for wing-backs (Antonio Conte). The chances are that Spurs would happily have sent Doherty back to Wolves in January if they could have agreed a part-exchange deal for Adama Traore.

Instead February brought his return to the team and if that may have been a consequence of Emerson Royal’s attacking shortcomings, the summer signing’s first Spurs goal came courtesy of Doherty. Having flourished on the right in recent weeks, he fared still better out of position on the left. His goal in the 5-1 demolition of against Newcastle showcased one of his greatest attributes: the ability to get into the box so that, when Kane’s cross reached the far post, he could react with a diving header. Perhaps more surprising was the skill and then the cross that brought Emerson’s close-range finish but Doherty seems to have understood Conte’s demands from his wing-backs.

 

James Maddison
It would have been a fair reflection of Maddison’s excellence had his goal, a seeming winner, not been disallowed. He was the outstanding attacking player on show at Old Trafford and if it was in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, Maddison nevertheless outshone Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Paul Pogba. His cross for Kelechi Iheanacho’s opener was wonderful, his finish for the goal that was chalked off similarly precise. He created more chances than anyone else. Maddison can have a cockiness, but perhaps that allows him to go to Old Trafford imbued with his belief in his ability. His last 24 games in all competitions have brought 12 goals and seven assists. It is a seriously impressive return, even before factoring in the style of some of those contributions.

 

Fabio Silva
There have been times this season when Silva has seemed Wolves’ expensive afterthought. Even when Raul Jimenez was finding goals hard to come by – and Francisco Trincao, Adama Traore and Daniel Podence still harder – he was left unused. He was only trusted to play 34 minutes of Premier League football before January. And but for Jimenez’s sending-off against Leeds, Silva would probably have been on the bench against Aston Villa on Saturday. Instead, he was rampant, running Tyrone Mings ragged and helping Wolves produce one of their most dynamic displays of the season. It doesn’t yet make him worth £35 million but, belatedly, it should bring some encouragement.

 

James Ward-Prowse
Thierry Henry and Gianfranco Zola are behind him now. Only David Beckham is ahead of him. If Ward-Prowse, more an excellent than an exceptional footballer, can look an incongruous presence among the Premier League greats, he is a great free-kick taker. A 13th goal from such situations was struck superbly at Elland Road. And if Beckham, with 18, is some way ahead of him, at his recent rate of progress, the Southampton captain is on course to draw level with him at some stage in 2023.

 

Aaron Cresswell
Ward-Prowse isn’t the only player who can take inch-perfect free kicks.

 

Losers

Chelsea
Perhaps it was a cunning way of luring Real Madrid into a false sense of security, though even losing 4-1 at home to Brentford may not convince a wily old fox like Carlo Ancelotti that Chelsea are no-hopers. Maybe it is an annual tradition, a ritual on the road to glory; a few days before the Champions League quarter-finals last year, Chelsea lost 5-2 at Stamford Bridge to Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion and, aided by rather better defending, they went on to conquer Europe. Or maybe it is what happens when one of Antonio Rudiger’s optimistic long-range efforts finally flies in: their own defence suddenly becomes porous.

In the final reckoning, it may not matter. Chelsea may be in no-man’s land, somewhere between the title race and the top-four battle. Given the standards they have set, maybe they can be forgiven one defensive off-day a season. The confusion between Thiago Silva and Rudiger for Brentford’s fourth goal summed up Chelsea’s confusion. But if their earlier problems were a reminder that they look less happy with a back four, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s performance may convince Thomas Tuchel that N’Golo Kante is happier alongside either Jorginho or Mateo Kovacic, a more recognisable Chelsea may return soon.

Lukaku Tuchel Martinez

 

Manchester United
Their season gets ever closer to ending in failure. A top-four finish looked ever more implausible, even before West Ham and Tottenham won on Sunday. A draw against Leicester was notable for recurring themes in United’s campaign: an inability to perform for 90 minutes, a day when seemingly lesser opponents often looked better, had a superior blueprint and certainly played with more cohesion, an inability to alight on their best team. Ralf Rangnick has tried the double false nine policy twice, against Manchester City and Leicester, and it worked on neither occasion.

His striker-free system further reflected Marcus Rashford’s fall from grace, with Paul Pogba preferred in attack; the best that can be said for Rashford, given Rangnick’s lack of faith in him, is that at least United will have a different manager next season. Somehow United, who overloaded with attackers in an unbalanced squad at the start of the season, have contrived to be in a situation where Rangnick was bemoaning a lack of available attackers on Saturday. Ridiculously, Fred is their third highest scorer in his reign and if that is a tribute to the Brazilian, it is an indictment of others.

Elsewhere in midfield, Scott McTominay should have been sent off at Leeds and now against Leicester; maybe a reputation as a nice guy is protecting him. Perhaps referees will start to penalise rash challenges. But the other damning element is that his wild lunge at James Maddison stemmed from a poor touch and United’s next manager may want a technically better player at the heart of his midfield.

 

Sean Dyche
Like Mike Bassett, Dyche plays 4-4-2. Except when he didn’t on Saturday. Burnley tend to be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch by many opponents. Dyche changed from the norm, looking for parity by playing Jack Cork, Ashley Westwood and Josh Brownhill. And yet Manchester City’s dominance in midfield was absolute. Their three central midfielders had five shots and two goals in the first 25 minutes alone as Burnley stood off them. Cork, Westwood and Brownhill completed 49 passes between them, Rodri 103 on his own. The statistics were a sign of how timid Burnley were. They are supposed to be tough to play against, but, even accounting for the difference in class, they have rarely been easier opposition than they were on Saturday. Dyche reflected afterwards that Burnley have 10 games to go, none against Manchester City. But there was absolutely nothing in their performance on Saturday to suggest they can get enough points against lesser teams to stay up.

 

A self-destructive Everton
If the season as a whole may be the greatest example of Everton’s ability to be their own worst enemies, there are plenty of other instances. Everton have struggled enough with 11 men over the last six months but have contrived to be reduced to 10 in each of their three most recent matches. Their chances of a point at West Ham probably disappeared with Michael Keane, whose rash lunge at Michail Antonio felt out of character – it was the first red card of his career – but came after an error for Manchester City’s winner and an own goal at Tottenham. Both Keane and Allan are banned for Wednesday’s trip to Burnley; Everton have hampered themselves for a game that a team whose only away victory came in August may think they must win. Defeat at West Ham – after perhaps their best away performance under Lampard – stemmed from another case of Everton causing their own problems, with Alex Iwobi’s bad piece of control leading to Jarrod Bowen’s decider.

 

A strangely shambolic Newcastle
Newcastle had only let in seven league goals in 2022. Then they conceded five in 45 minutes, beginning at the end of the first half. They looked ragged towards the end at Tottenham, offering a throwback to the early months of the season and an unwanted antidote to their recent organisation and obduracy. There was something incongruous about a back four of Matt Targett, Dan Burn, Fabian Schar and either Emil Krafth or Javier Manquillo having one of the division’s best defensive records in recent months. If that frugality had been a testament to Eddie Howe’s coaching, this was a reminder their revival came with largely limited personnel, both inherited and acquired.

 

Brighton
One point and one goal from seven games, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City next and having squandered the chance to beat Norwich by outBrightoning themselves in a game where they had 31 shots and didn’t score. What started off as a minor dip, almost a logical antidote to achievement, could become the worst run of the season for anyone.

 

Sam Byram
Looked a natural at volleyball, but it turned out he was a footballer with an inadequate grasp of the handball law. Still, Neal Maupay’s wayward penalty taking ensured it mattered not.

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