What a quiet Premier League weekend that was for Luton, Wolves, Kai Havertz, Jamaal Lascelles, Roberto De Zerbi, Marcus Rashford and especially Liverpool.
On behalf of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp: perhaps you aren’t actually that bad. All is forgiven.
Fairly easy to lose in all the ridiculousness – and with some PGMOL-flavoured seasoning it must be served – but Spurs are now a single point behind their Big Six mini league points tally of 2022/23, and have already matched the total of seven points from such games that Mauricio Pochettino achieved in his first and final full seasons.
There is a way to go to match the brilliance of that Pochettino side, which was reinforced by success against their closest elite peers. But Ange Postecoglou has already navigated fixtures against Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool with only a handful of his own signings and without compromising on his philosophy. Not bad, mate.
How embarrassing that no-one told Tom Lockyer that Luton have “no serious intentions of staying” in the Premier League. Why didn’t anyone let Carlton Morris know they were doing “only the bare minimum” in the top flight? And does Alfie Doughty not realise that it is dangerous to wake a team that has “sleepwalked to the bottom of the table”?
Some pundits might not be able to “take Luton seriously”, as Garth Crooks somehow deemed acceptable to openly admit recently, but their opponents really ought to. Whether they are here to stay or not is unknown; that the Hatters will compete and make the most of the opportunity either way is absolutely undoubted. And that they have as many Premier League wins this season as Chelsea is very funny.
Always rated Gary O’Neil. Cracking manager.
Only once in the entirety of last season did Manchester City fail to win a Premier League game they had equalised in (against Brentford in November). The Wolves manager made vague reference to that after those Molineux heroics, saying: “Everybody in the country expected City to go on and win at that point.”
They really did. It’s what Manchester City do. The sort of moment Julian Alvarez conjured from that free-kick tends to precipitate the completion of an inevitable and overwhelming comeback.
But also the last time Wolves won a game after conceding an equaliser was against Leicester in February 2022. They had been slaves to momentum as much as the champions have mastered riding that wave.
It is hardly revolutionary for Wolves to cause Manchester City problems by defending deep, pressing less, using wing-backs and focusing on counter-attacking through quick diagonal balls, but this was a refreshing throwback to their Premier League peak. Craig Dawson and Max Kilman were impeccable. Rayan Ait-Nouri was stunning. Matheus Cunha thrived in his selfless role. The Korean Guy was excellent. It will be a massive shame when Pedro Neto leaves for a huge fee in January.
Not mentioning any Wolves player by name does them a disservice because that was a team performance in every sense, tied together by a coach who has his shortcomings but is better than most in uniting and inspiring a squad.
“I was thinking this morning when the manager did the tactics meeting that it’s either going to be 6-1 to us or 6-1 to them,” said John McGinn, the captain perfectly capturing the essence of this volatile Aston Villa side after perhaps their finest hour and a half under Unai Emery.
It was a trait neatly underlined in the interim period between Steven Gerrard’s sacking and the Spaniard’s appointment as his permanent successor, when Aaron Danks oversaw a 4-0 dismantling of Brentford at Villa Park, then a crushing defeat to Newcastle by the exact same scoreline six days later.
When it clicks, when the high line operates so masterfully it generates a similarly lofty reward while masking the obvious risk, when those dynamic and direct forwards are at their devastating, irresistible best in transition, few can match Villa for destructive intensity and efficiency. The tally in terms of offsides – six for Brighton and none for Villa – was only slightly less stark than the actual scoreline, and only nine players have more combined Premier League goals and assists this season than Moussa Diaby; Ollie Watkins is among them, and he himself is only beaten by Erling Haaland.
When Villa beat Brighton 2-1 at the Amex last November, it was their fifth Premier League win of the season in their 16th game. Beating the same opponent 6-1 to reach the same point of this campaign after seven matches – and to become just the ninth team to ever record 10 consecutive Premier League home wins – sums up their continued evolution nicely.
After his first seven trips there resulted in as many defeats by an aggregate score of 22-4 across reigns with five different clubs over a span of 21 years, Hodgson has become the first visiting manager to go unbeaten in five consecutive Premier League games at Old Trafford.
Since Hodgson returned to Selhurst Park on March 21, Crystal Palace can claim the following: only Manchester City have conceded fewer Premier League goals; only Manchester City and Liverpool have lost fewer Premier League games; and by virtue of that 1-0 win on Saturday, they have scored one goal more than Manchester United in two fewer Premier League matches. Roy is inevitable.
📊 Roy Hodgson's last 5 PL visits to Old Trafford
Nov 2018 Man Utd 0-0 Crystal Palace
Aug 2019 Man Utd 1-2 Crystal Palace
Sept 2020 Man Utd 1-3 Crystal Palace
Feb 2022 Man Utd 0-0 Watford
Sept 2023 Man Utd 0-1 Crystal Palace pic.twitter.com/oPTJoeVQU5
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) September 30, 2023
That the last two Premier League wins Lascelles has started in have both come against Burnley sums up a period of immense upheaval for the Newcastle captain.
When he skippered a 2-1 win over Mike Jackson’s Clarets 17 months ago, it was likely in the knowledge that his place was under obvious threat. Sven Botman arrived soon after as one of the shiniest pieces in the Magpies puzzle and Lascelles was pushed out of the picture. He played more than 17 minutes of just two Premier League games last season and Newcastle were beaten in both, albeit by Liverpool and Manchester City.
An injury to Botman has required Lascelles to step into the void and he has responded phenomenally. A Carabao clean sheet against Erling Haaland and friends was the precursor to a commanding stroll at St James’ Park from a player many felt was no longer able to match the raised standards.
Thrown in at the deep end, the wearer of the Newcastle armband had a serene dip ahead of presumably tougher tests with Botman out for up to a month. That might have evoked panic before but Lascelles has earned faith as an able stand-in.
The beneficiary of Martin Odegaard’s finest assist of the season so far. The post-match comments from Mikel Arteta and Declan Rice were one thing and the reaction of the fans another, both encapsulating the contrast between online discourse and the actual feeling within the club, but it was almost possible to see a literal weight being lifted off the shoulders of Havertz.
It was far from a pressure-less situation. Bournemouth were hardly offering enough to suggest that a penalty miss at 2-0 down would have sparked some sort of home revival but the narrative was set if Havertz had missed from the spot and extended a personal goalless run that had stretched back to March.
Converting a dead ball from 12 yards does not answer many, if any of the questions surrounding Havertz at Arsenal, but it should do wonders for his confidence to see just how much his manager, team-mates and supporters want this to work.
Only Jordan Ayew and Jeremy Doku completed more dribbles in a Premier League game this weekend. And they both had the slight advantage of playing more than 19 minutes off the bench.
An excellent performance with 11 men. An exceptional display with 10. A monstrous attempt with nine.
As Jurgen Klopp said after the game: “I think I learned so much about my team, much more than [if] we would’ve won here and it been a bad performance. It was a really outstanding performance in a specific way. We didn’t get any points from it but we will use it anyway. That’s the plan.”
Rarely if ever before has a 2-1 defeat helped reinforce a team’s Premier League title credentials. Once those refereeing decisions balance themselves out they will have every chance.
One of the worst things about modern football fandom is the tendency for many supporters to believe their team is uniquely prone to calamity. They will bemoan a particular fallibility in any given situation with a prefixed refrain of it being ‘Typical [club X]’.
The opposition keeper has a blinder? Typical Leyton Orient.
A side on a winless run beats you? Typical Swansea.
An injury crisis, a hapless striker scores against you or any other regular negative occurrence that befalls every team aside from a gilded elite few happens? Typical Morpeth Town.
It is frustratingly insular, one-eyed, partisan nonsense. But also, officially turning a corner with consecutive excellent results and performances, only to lose at home to a side experiencing a first Premier League win in their entire existence? Yep, typical Everton.
Manchester City without Rodri
Pep Guardiola referenced how Manchester City cannot be too reliant on Rodri after their defeat to Wolves without the suspended Spaniard, but his impact is plain to see.
Since he joined in summer 2019, Manchester City’s Premier League record when Rodri has played 30 minutes or fewer of a match is: P22 W15 D2 L5 F49 A24. In per-game numbers, that is 2.14 points, 2.23 goals scored and 1.1 goals against.
When the midfielder plays an hour or more, it is: P137 W101 D17 L19 F346 A105. In per-game numbers, that is 2.33 points, 2.53 goals and 0.77 goals against.
The difference seems minimal and the sample size is relatively limited, but extrapolated over an entire league season it shows that Rodri is worth an extra eight points and 12 goals, both for and against.
Those five Rodri-less defeats have come against hardly stellar opposition in Southampton, Leeds, Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs, Brentford and Wolves, while a pair of 6-3 wins over Leicester and Manchester United helped highlight the defensive ramifications his absence has. No player is of greater significance to how Manchester City play and do and only Ilkay Gundogan seemed capable of stepping in when needed. Guardiola will be working overtime to come up with a viable solution before the trip to the Emirates.
Roberto De Zerbi
Brighton have scored three goals or more in 14 different games in 2023, with Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle among the teams to have been defecated on by the Seagulls.
Brighton have conceded three goals or more in seven different games in 2023, with Brentford, Nottingham Forest, Everton, Newcastle, West Ham, AEK Athens and Aston Villa clipping their wings.
As much as De Zerbi’s inimitable style can be as ultra-effective as it is wonderful to watch, it does carry the clear risk of an imbalance when trying to walk the tactical tightrope in any weather. The Italian has been an incredible appointment and Brighton’s development under him is clear, but that chronic inability to adapt has installed a natural ceiling on their progress as much as it has raised the floor of what they can achieve.
Fair play to De Zerbi for assuming “the biggest responsibility” instead of pointing fingers elsewhere, but while only Manchester City and Arsenal have scored more Premier League goals than Brighton since he arrived, just Spurs, Wolves, Bournemouth and Everton have conceded more. Taking the rough with the smooth is a necessary by product of an immensely entertaining and ultimately stubborn approach.
The lightning rod for wider frustrations around a failing attack. Manchester United rank sixth for total shots but third-bottom – above only Burnley and Luton – for percentage of shots on target. Almost as if an inexperienced 20-year-old is leading the line and one player is carrying the majority of the creative burden.
Rashford feels like the missing link in between Rasmus Hojlund and Bruno Fernandes, the player Manchester United need at their best to gel things together in the final third. After outperforming the constraints of a relatively ordinary team last season, he appears to have slipped back into the pack.
Time to update the tally: their record from the corresponding fixtures last season was P7 W0 D0 L7 F3 A25. They are three points better off, having scored two more and conceded 10 fewer goals. The fixture computer was clearly seeking justice for Scott Parker with that opening schedule.
But good lord, it becomes increasingly difficult to retain that sort of perspective the longer the wait for a tangibly positive result goes on. Bournemouth are on the longest current winless run of any Premier League team (11 games) and three of their last four victories came against sides no longer in the division; of course Spurs are the exception there.
Andoni Iraola himself called the display against Arsenal “the worst performance we’ve had this season”. It is the sort of opponent against whom a loss can be accepted – even expected – but the aimless, helpless nature of it was stark. And as difficult as the start was on paper, the way it has played out on grass so far only increases the pressure when the matches get supposedly easier. Everton away next week already feels monumental for both.
The most red cards Liverpool have ever been issued in a single Premier League season is five (2000/01, 2005/06, 2009/10 and 2011/12). Before September was out in the 2023/24 campaign they had already picked up their fourth.
Obvious and undeniable corruption aside, they ought to simply consider finishing a few more games with as many players as the opposition. Fair Play Champions for five consecutive seasons from Jurgen Klopp’s first full campaign in 2016/17 to 2020/21, Liverpool’s grip on that trophy has irrevocably loosened. They surely only have the Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup to compete for now; the Quintuple is off.
What’s more predictable: Sheffield United’s last Premier League away win coming against Everton? Or the one before that being at Manchester United?
The Blades have conceded by far the most shots per game and had the second-fewest. It is a crude and simplistic way of looking at things but also, well, yeah.
A sequence of results one might expect to suffer as a newly-promoted team with a rookie manager in charge of the youngest squad in the division, especially when circumstances have dictated that five of Burnley’s first six games have come against sides who finished in the top eight last season.
But it doesn’t feel particularly conducive to consistency that only Manchester United and Sheffield United have used more players than the Clarets so far this season. Burnley have had four different left-backs start their six games, with Vincent Kompany using as many unique formations.
Facing Manchester City, Aston Villa, Spurs, Manchester United and Newcastle underpins their form with a legitimate caveat but it is the same point as with Bournemouth: poor form in those games only heightens the tension when matches against the teams around them crop up. The trip to an invigorated Luton in midweek has taken on even more importance.
Eight points dropped from winning positions is already more than halfway to their total tally by that metric in the whole of last season. Needs sorting, that.
It will be funny when he calls up Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Marcus Rashford instead of Ezri Konsa, Jacob Ramsey and Ollie Watkins. At least he has the opportunity to do the funniest thing and put it down to significant human error.
Yeah nice one mate.