A remarkable Premier League weekend has Sean Dyche and Harry Kane in their rightful places, with Nathan Jones and Jurgen Klopp damned by their own words.
A wonderful pair of Tetes
A man-of-the-match performance from Fulham right-back Kenny, who inhibited almost £170m worth of Chelsea winger in Mykhaylo Mudryk, Noni Madueke and Raheem Sterling during a commendable goalless draw on Friday, was the precursor to not-actual relative Leicester winger Tete inspiring a glorious win over Aston Villa with an electric display. A proud weekend for the family.
There has always been an element of obfuscation and simplification to Sean Dyche. The complaints about a lack of opportunities for and the perception of British managers; the eye-rolling scepticism with which he treats praise for foreign bosses implementing something he and his grizzled colleagues ‘have been doing for years’; the snood-banning and imaginary grudge-holding; the shirt-wearing snow-gazing. It all adds to the caricature, playing up to and thigh-slapping with a certain crowd.
“Our plan? Stop it going in our net, put it in their net,” was Dyche’s own condensed version of his debut win as Everton manager, but no amount of deliberate downplaying could disguise how impressive it was to turn around a ship which had sunk to a 10-game winless run, not least with four full days’ preparation to welcome the runaway league leaders.
Dyche has always been a phenomenal coach who has mastered his particular art: 28 of his 73 Premier League wins (38.4%) have finished 1-0, with only Tony Pulis (41.8%) having a higher percentage of total victories by the same scoreline; James Tarkowski’s header – from a Dwight McNeil delivery – was the 40th goal from a corner scored by a Dyche team since 2016/17, with only Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp presiding over more in that time.
The sight of him patrolling the Goodison Park touchline, bellowing tactical orders to orchestrate a world-leading low block which transitioned seamlessly into dangerous, incisive counter-attacks, must have been refreshing to those of a nervous Everton disposition. There remains a great deal of work to do but at least in Dyche they have someone proper to sift and sort through it, even if the man himself wishes to trivialise his impact.
Welcome back, Sean Dyche pic.twitter.com/DF15qh3tEv
— Jon Mackenzie (@Jon_Mackenzie) February 4, 2023
When Jimmy Greaves scored his 266th goal for Tottenham on January 10, 1970, Everton were leading the English top flight with Leeds in second, England were reigning world champions, Roy Hodgson was still an active footballer and Harry Kane had not won a single trophy. It was a different time and an untouchable record, a bar set so high that even contemplating clearing it felt futile. Then Arsenal released a “chubby” and unathletic nine-year-old from their academy and history was set in motion.
Kane might well end his career without trinkets but that record shines remarkably bright. It is a monumental, extraordinary, remarkable, tangible achievement capable of underpinning a stunning legacy. A total of 292 players own a Premier League winner’s medal and countless more can lay claim to a Champions League, FA Cup or League Cup. But Kane stands alone as this proud club’s single greatest goalscorer.
Opinions on quite how much that means will likely depend on personal allegiance, yet there can be no denying Kane’s unfading brilliance. For him to clinch this particular crown with the only goal in a 1-0 win was apt; he is so often the sole difference between good and great, bad and brilliant, awful and awesome. The 29-year-old might swap any number of those strikes – even that one against Stoke – for a trophy, but for Tottenham and England at the very least, no-one has ever done it better.
1-0 to the Tricky Trees
Nottingham Forest have won five Premier League games 1-0 this season. Their ability to defend such a narrow lead has been commendable.
Taiwo Awoniyi scored in first-half stoppage-time against West Ham in August; Forest allowed seven shots thereafter but stood firm.
Awoniyi netted in the 55th minute against Liverpool in October; Forest conceded eight shots thereafter but no goals.
Morgan Gibbs-White struck in the 54th minute against Crystal Palace in November; Forest let three shots through thereafter and kept a clean sheet.
Awonyi scored in the 27th minute against Southampton in January; Forest allowed six shots thereafter but no equaliser.
Brennan Johnson broke the deadlock in the 14th minute against Leeds in February; Forest conceded eight shots thereafter but held on to win.
Across 255 minutes, Forest have protected five separate 1-0 leads this season and emerged with maximum points. It is a valuable trait in a relegation battle which is quickly pivoting to a quest for mid-table consolidation.
Starting to think he can play as a centre-half in a Premier League back four, he won’t be ‘found out’ and he is probably of an adequate height to play professional football. Casemiro’s red card gave Manchester United an uphill task in the defence of a two-goal lead but Lisandro Martinez dragged his teammates above and beyond Crystal Palace.
No player won more headers (3) nor made more clearances (5) than the Argentinean, whose last stand inspired a critical victory. When perfection was required, Martinez did not put a foot wrong. Bright runs from Odsonne Edouard were thwarted with tackles made to look routine. Offside traps were set and activated at minimal fuss. One dangerous cross driven into the six-yard box by Naouirou Ahamada towards Jean-Philippe Mateta was repelled. When Eberechi Eze seemed to find freedom in the area to shoot, Martinez was on hand to block. These were basic defensive actions completed to an expert standard by the consummate leader Manchester United needed.
While Jude Bellingham shifts further into the Liverpool distance, Mario Lemina deigned to prove that it is possible to improve a midfield without a nine-figure spend.
Wolves paid under £10m to sign a player deemed surplus to Southampton requirements in summer 2021. The deal attracted little fanfare, consumed as it was by a winter of relative upheaval at Molineux. But Liverpool will be glad to see the back of Lemina, who gave them not an ounce of space in a wonderfully unyielding 83 minutes.
His substitution to a rousing applause was the appetiser to a raucous reception from the appreciative home support leading into the final whistle. Wolves were excellent to a man but Super Mario was outstanding.
Roberto De Zerbi
A first Premier League start of the year for Tariq Lamptey. A second Brighton start in the Premier League for Billy Gilmour. A first Premier League start of Deniz Undav’s career. A Premier League debut for Facundo Buonanotte. A first Premier League goal contribution for Jeremy Sarmiento.
The Brighton production line moves apace. Even without Levi Colwill, Adam Lallana and, for the majority of the game, the redeemed Moises Caicedo, the Seagulls were sumptuous against Bournemouth. There can be no more exciting team to support in the country.
Brentford fans might justifiably scoff at that statement. The small bus stop in Hounslow has taken a scenic route to seventh place in the table; a nine-game unbeaten league run is the second-longest in their entire history as a top-flight club, behind only the 14 matches without defeat which inspired them to fifth in 1935/36’s First Division.
Closing the six-point gap to the current occupants of that position, Tottenham, is far from unfeasible. Brentford are in quietly sparkling form and while Southampton had three goals put past them by the Bees, it was the control and defensive application of the hosts which continues to impress. Only Newcastle (12) and Arsenal (9) have kept more Premier League clean sheets than Thomas Frank’s side this season, with the goalkeeper and backline which kept out Saints costing a fair whack less (£25m) than one Aaron Ramsdale or Sven Botman. That is stellar coaching.
CHECK OUT: The downright crazy Premier League table since the World Cup break
In two Premier League starts this season, Kelechi Iheanacho has scored and assisted two goals each. Last season, Kelechi Iheanacho scored four goals and assisted three in 13 Premier League starts. In 2020/21, Kelechi Iheanacho scored 11 goals and assisted two in 16 Premier League starts. In 2019/20, Kelechi Iheanacho scored three goals and assisted one in 12 Premier League starts. In 2018/19, Kelechi Iheanacho scored one goal and assisted two in nine Premier League starts. In 2017/18, Kelechi Iheanacho scored two goals and assisted one in seven Premier League starts.
Kelechi Iheanacho joined Leicester in summer 2017 and has somehow only started 59 times in the Premier League since. To score 23 goals and assist 11 in that time, while often being misused by the manager and always considered second choice, is superb. Brendan Rodgers has the composite parts of an exceptional attack and Iheanacho must be at its heart.
Newcastle have drawn three and lost one of the four Premier League games Bruno Guimaraes has missed this season.
Not content with shooting himself in the foot, Nathan Jones sought to turn and take aim at everyone in the Southampton vicinity. A large portion of the support never did take to him but news of unhappiness throughout the squad at his comments should come as no surprise.
It was a bewildering self-immolation of a man not ready for the opportunity his C.V and Southampton’s situation bestowed upon him. Jones spoke of how he has “compromised in terms of certain principles” because of the squad he inherited, how they want to play and “because of fans”. He explained how he “tried to implement” his “very successful” style at Stoke but failed “because of certain things”.
He stated that “statistically, there weren’t any better than me around Europe in terms of aggression, clean sheets, defending your box, balls in the box, expected goals – all those things” at Luton, but he has “gone away from that”, presumably for certain reasons. He spoke mysteriously about “certain people in the building that we have to work with” and a need to “live and die by my philosophy”, which he had inexplicably stopped doing.
Jones chucked Romeo Lavia under the bus because he was frustrated at fan chants. He referenced how “the same things that have been happening for a year are still happening” at Southampton, as if he has no control over them and was not appointed to change precisely that. He admitted he had “gone away from what brought me to this football club and that’s the disappointing thing,” but failed to explain why. He suggested “it’d be so easy for me to come out today and say we didn’t defend our box, people pulled out of challenges and people didn’t work hard enough and all those things,” thereby proving that very point.
While Jones rages against the machine and laments those mysterious external factors which have prevented him from reprising his role as Europe’s best pound-for-pound coach, Southampton slip further into the mire. They were 18th and a single point from safety when he replaced Ralph Hasenhuttl; almost four months later they are bottom, three points from safety and James Ward-Prowse is their only player to score in the Premier League since the World Cup break. Jones has put himself into a compromising position and the trigger will have to be pulled soon.
#saintsfc need to fire Jones. No organisation with such a high profile can be led by a person like this. He is clearly unable to handle the pressure, scrutiny and responsibility that comes with his role and needs to be relieved of it. It’s sad but undoubtedly true https://t.co/dviYVlrhL4
— Tom Parker (@TomParker81) February 4, 2023
The end days are similarly dawning at Elland Road. Marcelo Bielsa was sacked on February 27 of last year, with Leeds in 16th, two points above the relegation zone and on a six-game winless run during which they conceded 21 goals.
Almost a year later – and with considerable investment made in the squad – Leeds are 17th, outside the bottom three on goal difference alone and winless in seven matches. That they have only let in 11 goals in that time is far from a compelling argument to persist with an experiment which does not seem to be working.
READ: Six managers who can replace Jesse Marsch at Leeds, including former Bielsa assistant and a Liverpool legend
“If we play this football then it would be crazy to give us space, so why would they do that? That is what we have to work on, it is our job and we have the players for it. It is never easy, you cannot only play counter-attack, you cannot only play high-press, you have to prepare for everything. There is nothing to moan about, you can’t ask them: ‘Come on, give us a little more space or something?’. It isn’t a problem. A lot of teams play against us like this, we move on. We cannot change what other teams do.”
Jurgen Klopp also spoke of a need to “adapt” to the approach of other teams and “accept” that opponents might set up to specifically counter Liverpool’s strengths.
Klopp was speaking after a 0-0 draw against Southampton in November 2016, a time when he seemed to relish the challenge of actual coaching. To hear Klopp more than six years later, sniping at a team for defending deep and counter-attacking when comfortably leading 2-0, is to listen to a completely different manager who no longer seems to embrace those problems.
There are arguments to be had about a perceived lack of investment but Liverpool spent £35m on a forward in January and have, as a team, scored once in the Premier League since. They keep playing a high defensive line when it isn’t working. Opponents savour the chance to play against them but no longer is that feeling reciprocated. Liverpool are 10th and have conceded three goals each in three of their last four Premier League games more because of Klopp’s failings than an inability to sign a new midfielder.
Having completed so many levels on an impossible difficulty, Liverpool and Klopp manager seem to want to play the game on an easier mode. There is no walkthrough for their current problems; something will have to give this summer.
The lack of an onslaught was the most striking thing. From the 77th minute onwards, Tottenham had as many shots as Manchester City, with Kevin De Bruyne’s blocked effort and a Rodri header which was saved almost as soon as the Spaniard connected with it the sum total of an attack which had a man advantage for 10 minutes or so.
Erling Haaland, burden that he is, could do nothing. As 16 Conclusions noted, the goal robot only malfunctioned in Eric Dier’s back pocket.
Manchester City’s failure to capitalise should not excuse Arsenal from criticism. It felt as though Mikel Arteta’s side simply accepted their inability to solve the equation of new-manager bounce + Dycheball + Saturday lunchtime Goodison Park atmosphere from kick-off, which equalled the sort of defeat the Gunners seemed to have put behind them.
They were sloppy and inexact in possession, fragmented and unimaginative in their approach play and they summarily failed to manage the game, opponent or occasion in the same way they have made look simple so often this season. Benjamin White was poor, the midfield lacked control and the absence of Gabriel Jesus hit the attack like a belated ton of bricks.
The sight of Oleksandr Zinchenko playing into the hands of chief wind-up merchant Neal Maupay in second-half stoppage-time as Everton ran down the clock was to be taken back to a time when Arsenal were naive, rudderless and easy to manipulate. Tottenham gave them a reprieve but Mikel Arteta must quickly re-establish the rule to which this performance was an exception.
The Kaoru Mitoma survivors support group welcomes another new addition. Adam Smith shan’t be the last to join.
It wasn’t a great response from Boubacar Kamara but the Aston Villa midfielder might not ordinarily expect to be handed a live grenade during a Premier League game. And being rounded twice more by Tete and Dennis Praet is not ideal but then trying to operate with the World Cup Golden Glove as an ungainly penis must be difficult.