Vincent Kompany and Ange Postecoglou had their faith rewarded, while Paul Heckingbottom, Manchester United and Nottingham Forest paid for their mistakes.
Burnley’s two Premier League victories so far this season coming in games they also won last campaign feels like a necessary footnote to their latest momentum-shifting result. There remains more than an element of doubt as to whether this team and manager – at least in their current state – is simply too good for the Championship but not quite at Premier League standard yet.
But the biggest Premier League victory in the club’s history, a first clean sheet for James Trafford and eight players either scoring or assisting – Zeki Amdouni got one of each – should at least raise confidence levels which have been battered and bruised for weeks, particularly at home.
Kompany was sure not to linger on the victory, knowing it needs to be a springboard to the sort of consistency Burnley have not come close to establishing so far; their last win preceded a run of six consecutive defeats.
Yet there will have been a moment to cherish one of the rarer occasions on which the fruits of their labour were finally evident. Who knew, for all the money spent on forwards in the summer, that starting a 34-year-old Jay Rodriguez was the solution all along?
It is not sustainable but unless Spurs plan on playing Manchester City every week – and their recent record against them suggests that would not actually be the worst idea – that hardly matters. Tottenham riding their luck in one game away at the reigning champions and Treble winners is fine.
Postecoglou stuck to his word of playing his way but there was an important shift with the half-time introduction of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg for Bryan Gil. It was a necessary show of adaptability without impinging on the manager’s system or philosophy.
That flexibility was welcome, particularly in the face of the curious reaction from certain pundits. The Postecoglou praise and “mate” stuff will continue to grate with opposition supporters but that is of no relevance to the Spurs manager, particularly when his team’s fans are the happiest they’ve been in years.
Three losses and a draw but I've rarely felt better about my club. We're going to do special, special things under Postecoglou.
— Nathan (@NathanAClark) December 3, 2023
Fair cop, fella. Turns out you’re really bloody good. And also that increasingly rare breed of Newcastle player in that he is yet to succumb to injury.
There’s a little bit of Jamie Vardy about Gordon. They have similarly aggressive, confrontational and direct styles which are nevertheless so difficult to counter over 90 minutes and lead to the highest possible generation of opposition fume. Gordon is also replicating that sort of big-game record, scoring against Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United this season, and Chelsea last. Eddie Howe had the vision.
Jamie Carragher’s comments on Marcus Rashford and the onus on a “local player” to drag teams through periods of difficulty have been understandably used in some quarters to blow further smoke up the right-backside of Alexander-Arnold. Liverpool have kept themselves in the title race by turning defeats into positive results against Manchester City and Fulham in consecutive weeks, with their homegrown talisman front and centre.
The debate will never shift. Opinions are set on Alexander-Arnold perhaps more than with any other player: those who think he cannot defend will reject any evidence to the contrary and others who feel he should move permanently into midfield tend to ignore his poorer displays there. He remains a divisive figure for country, but thankfully not club.
Either way, Liverpool will care not with Alexander-Arnold approaching his best form again. Jurgen Klopp hailed the “real leader” his side needed after a shocking defensive performance at Anfield.
In the 14th game of last season, Arsenal beat Wolves to extend their lead at the Premier League summit to five points, taking full advantage of Manchester City failing to win. Almost a year later, a similar scenario has led to a smaller gap but higher hopes of maintaining it.
Key to that will be Odegaard, who has responded to a personal barren run with three goals in his last four games. In the wins over Lens and Wolves in particular, the captain underlined his credentials as the master of the first-time finish from a penalty-spot cutback.
Odegaard has never made so many progressive passes in a single game for Arsenal than he did against Wolves (21), while only once in 123 appearances has he beaten the 74 carries he managed at the Emirates. The 24-year-old being back to his best bodes well for Mikel Arteta’s leaders.
Four goals and three assists in 12 Premier League games is a phenomenal return, considering those 74 minutes against Bournemouth was the most the Jamaican has played in a single match all season.
In combined per 90 terms, only four players have started more than one league game in Europe’s top five divisions and been more productive than Bailey (1.35): Kylian Mbappe (1.44), Deniz Undav (1.67), Serhou Guirassy (1.95) and Harry Kane (1.98).
Even Erling Haaland (1.34) cannot quite touch the Premier League’s biggest attacking threat. And that is without taking Bailey’s three European goals and assists each into account. His turnaround under Unai Emery has been remarkable.
An 82nd Premier League win as a manager, of which 33 have been 1-0 (40.2%). Of all coaches with at least 50 wins, only Tony Pulis has a higher proportion by that scoreline (41 of 98, 41.8%).
And those Dyche comments on Everton from years ago, about how “this lot don’t know how to win a game away from home”, continue to provide the most compelling proof of his excellence. This season so far, only Tottenham have more points on the road than Everton, who have scored more goals in such matches than Arsenal.
The points deduction has predictably been appealed and it remains to be seen where that situation leaves Everton, who would be 12th without it. In any case, there is little doubt that Dyche will steer them to safety for good reason.
The crown of having had the most shots in the Premier League this season without scoring moves to the combined heads of Beto, Pedro Porro and Nicolo Zaniolo. They have had 18 efforts each; Fernandez offered them hope by netting with his 21st and 23rd shots to help Chelsea beat Brighton.
Beyond that more obvious contribution to the cause, Fernandez was crucial in stabilising the Blues when Conor Gallagher put everything at risk. The 22-year-old will be perennially measured against his price tag through no fault of his own, but performances of quiet efficiency rather than headline-grabbing dominance are fine.
Chelsea supporters might crave more assists from the World Cup winner, but goals will do.
Those Brentford bullies
Dating back to their final season in the Championship, Brentford’s league record at home to newly promoted teams is sensational. Their aggregate scores in such games over the past three campaigns are P8 W7 D0 L1 F20 A8.
Norwich in November 2021 was their only such defeat in that stretch, and opposition manager Daniel Farke was immediately sacked after that game. Everyone else has clearly learned their lesson since, but it is testament to how quickly Brentford have established themselves as a top-flight force that they handle these challenges so easily; they were in Luton’s position not so long ago.
Those Fulham full-backs
No-one of a Fulham persuasion emerged from that defeat with their reputation in any way damaged, but Kenny Tete and Antonee Robinson had their standing enhanced.
The former scored and the latter assisted but both allied that enduring threat with excellent and energetic defensive displays. They echoed prime Liverpool full-backs at times, like the Hull version of Andy Robertson.
Three shots, three chances created, four dribbles, six tackles, two interceptions, perfect accuracy from long balls and an assist.
How satisfying when a player passes both the eye test and the statistical examination. Christie’s heat map against Aston Villa was laughably impressive and Andoni Iraola’s midfield pairing of the Scot with Lewis Cook has transformed Bournemouth’s season.
The official confirmation is yet to arrive, but Sheffield United committing two of the all-time worst Premier League seasons to history, starting the first with Chris Wilder in charge before parting with him and calling on Paul Heckingbottom as the replacement, then attempting the exact inverse almost three years later for what will surely be the same result of relegation, does not point to a club with a particularly clear plan.
Wilder spoke of being “humbled by the unequivocal support” he enjoyed before his exit by mutual consent in March 2021, “even this season when things haven’t gone so well.” It was something Heckingbottom no longer benefited from, a natural consequence of losing 5-0 to a direct relegation rival.
Those heavy losses to Newcastle and Arsenal were at least understandable aberrations but they pointed to more than an obvious gulf in quality. The minimum expectation for any supporter is maximum effort and a positive attitude and neither Heckingbottom nor his players can honestly claim to have delivered that throughout the campaign. Failure to do so at any point will always leave Sheffield United fighting an uphill battle, such is the chasm they are hoping to bridge.
Only twice before has a team earned fewer points after 14 games of a Premier League season: Sheffield United themselves in 2020/21 (two) and Portsmouth in 2009/10, when a points deduction put them on -2. To be below Everton now in similar circumstances is devastatingly poor. And only Barnsley in 1997/98 had conceded more goals (40) by this stage of a Premier League campaign than the Blades (39).
In the end, Heckingbottom was a fine servant to the club, delivering promotion in difficult circumstances and representing the fanbase impeccably. But four wins in 24 games as a Premier League manager says it all and there is unlikely to be an opportunity to improve upon that – at least not until Wilder is sacked at some point in 2027.
The ‘form team’ thing was never more than a statistical quirk. A series of late single-goal wins against clubs lower in the table, then the Everton anomaly of an xG defeat powered by an unrepeatable instance of individual brilliance, did not point to reliable foundations on which Erik ten Hag could build.
It did imply a floor through which Manchester United can never fall. They are insulated against true disaster by their finances, their reputation, a level of player quality that can shine through a failing system in brief moments, like a flicker of light in a dark cloud. Their worst season remains the seventh-placed finish delivered by David Moyes: they are safeguarded in a way even Liverpool (8th twice), Arsenal (12th) and Chelsea (14th) are not.
It is impossible to think that has not contributed to the damaging, decade-long complacency of an entire club. From Anthony Martial leading the line in late 2023 to a left-back and unwanted former captain providing the central defensive backbone in one of the toughest games of the season, Manchester United know the accountability for their baffling operative decisions only goes so far.
Even now, with six defeats from 14 games and arguably no overall performance this season above a 7/10, they are five points off Champions League qualification.
There are no consequences, not for the club as a whole, nor the players being buried under the weight of the badge. Marcus Rashford should have been dropped based on his form a couple of months ago but Ten Hag only seems to save such repercussions for those he falls out with. In Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane there is more than £100m worth of talent sitting on the sidelines – and the funniest thing is that neither would be particularly helpful to the club’s predicament either.
Zero points against fellow teams in the top half is a phenomenal effort only Burnley can match, as is one point from a possible 33 in away matches against the top nine.
Steve Cooper bemoaned the concession of a “typical Everton goal” but it should have been the trademark Toffees’ reaction exhibited by the Nottingham Forest supporters at full-time that worried him. Dyche brought those famous Goodison boos with him to the City Ground to underline the pressure his opposite number is under yet again.
Cooper has indeed been here before, staving off at least two mini crises to remain in his post, even having his contract extended during one difficult period last season. But Evangelos Marinakis, also thought to be considering the future of Olympiacos manager Diego Martinez due to the ignominy of them sitting second in the Greek league, will only show patience for so long.
The problem is that Forest’s feels like a false position due to the Everton points deduction, and at any stage their situation could suddenly look even more dire. They are four clear of Luton and level with Bournemouth, whose direction of travel could not be much more different.
Cooper has staved off prior speculation over his role in no small part thanks to how far he has taken Forest: from the foot of the Championship to Premier League safety, handling a unique level of squad churn impeccably. But that sort of credit in the bank is never unlimited and once again he is skirting worryingly close to his overdraft limit. Cooper’s brilliance for Forest in the past cannot put off questions over his and their future forever, particularly when he seems so bereft of answers to their current predicament.
Not since Pep Guardiola became a Premier League champion had Manchester City dropped points in three consecutive Premier League games. That run of three draws with Stoke, Liverpool and Arsenal before a defeat to Chelsea in April 2017 came long before this side had reached trophy-hoarding maturity; the standards are higher now and too often City are falling short.
Manchester United have kept more clean sheets in all competitions this season and Erling Haaland’s under-performance translates to 19 goals and five assists in 21 appearances. Manchester City’s problems are never particularly ordinary but there is a degree of complacency creeping in that Simon Hooper can only distract from for so long.
A Manchester City side lacking control will now be without Rodri when visiting one of the Premier League’s best home teams in midweek. It really could get worse before it gets better – and their rivals are providing the sort of consistent challenge they could do without.
Level at half-time, things were clearly not lost for Luton against Brentford. But when it came to replacing Tom Lockyer at the break, the response was telling. Amari’i Bell was moved into the central three, with Issa Kabore swapping flanks and operating on the left as Jacob Brown came on to fulfil a role he never has as a Hatter: right wing-back.
Ryan Giles did eventually come on, bucking a trend that has seen him play the part of unused substitute for seven of the last 11 Premier League games. Those 14 minutes were the longest he has featured in any match since September, slipping behind not only Alfie Doughty in the pecking order but clearly a few others in the manager’s mind.
Rob Edwards explained after the defeat that he sees Giles “more as a winger” whose “attributes are crosses and final third actions”. Brown was introduced to “do the running” and Kabore switched “to deal with their most dangerous player” – Bryan Mbeumo – “probably better than Gileo”.
Giles started the first three games of the season at left-back or left wing-back; it is difficult to see the £5m summer signing starting a fourth any time soon.
Roberto De Zerbi’s side have had 18 shots or more in four Premier League games this season, winning only one of them: 4-1 against Luton on the opening day. Since then, the Seagulls have drawn with Fulham and lost to West Ham and Chelsea in those matches.
Their difficulty in breaking down deep-lying defences persists. Further scrutiny shows that Brighton have had more than two-thirds of the possession in six Premier and Europa League games this season but again, only against Luton did they emerge victorious. It is the most obvious chink in their armour.
Eight touches, not including those spent pulling the ball from the back of his net twice before being substituted with an injury in the 23rd minute, the sort of niggle we’ve all suffered when we really can’t be arsed getting battered in the December cold. And then Dan Bentley kept a clean sheet for the subsequent 70 minutes, the sod.
It’s all just a bit miserable. How surprising that bringing Roy Hodgson back for one more season would lock the club in mid-table stasis. It’s not a significant problem when Premier League safety is the bar, but in the midst of their 11th consecutive top-flight season, supporter frustration at a lack of clear future planning seems fair.
David Moyes’ team talks
Only Aston Villa (nine) have conceded more goals from the 46th minute to the 60th than West Ham (eight) in the Premier League so far this season. The Hammers are second in a table comprised solely of first-half results, and 15th in a second-half equivalent. What on earth is Moyes saying in that dressing room?