Premier League winners and losers: Kompany and Moyes out but Hojlund and Liverpool very much in

Matt Stead
Burnley manager Vincent Kompany, Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund and West Ham coach David Moyes
Vincent Kompany and David Moyes could do with a Rasmus Hojlund to save their jobs

Manchester United’s sporting director has a decent bar to clear with Hojlund, while Liverpool and Torres shone. But oh Vincent Kompany and David Moyes…



Rasmus Hojlund
Why throw £20m in Newcastle’s general direction for Dan Ashworth when Manchester United could just give the transfer keys to whoever sanctioned the signing of their saviour Hojlund?

Oh, right. Antony. Easy to forget the £82m forward who has played just 21 minutes of Manchester United’s best run of Premier League form this season while being wholly available throughout.

The burgeoning brilliance of Hojlund shows that there is some knowledge and expertise operating behind the scenes at Old Trafford, despite the sudden rush to poach the best and brightest minds of every other club across the country. The Dane’s development has been stunning under immense pressure.

Erik ten Hag has had little choice but to persevere with Hojlund, of course, and while questions will persist over the sustainability of this style, credit must go to Erik ten Hag for his management of the game against Luton. With Casemiro losing his head, Harry Maguire getting rattled by Carlton Morris and Luke Shaw’s body stuttering again without the guidance of Jose Mourinho’s mind, the manager acted quickly.

He could easily have persisted under the false pretence it was working, but the introduction of Jonny Evans in particular was crucial. The foundations still seem rather shaky, but Manchester United are at the very least building a Champions League qualification charge when all seemed completely lost.

Rasmus Hojlund, Manchester United, February 2024
Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund celebrates goal for his side


Pau Torres
Even without the apparent contagious knee deficiency affecting the entire Aston Villa squad, Torres would be their most important player. With it, and the loss of Boubacar Kamara, Tyrone Mings, Emiliano Buendia and Ezri Konsa to such issues, he has become entirely indispensable.

It is no coincidence that Unai Emery’s side have suffered half their overall defeats in the six Premier League games Torres has missed this season. He is that crucial to their approach.

Back in the side against Fulham, the difference was clear. Beyond his unerring composure in defence, the Spaniard brings an air of control and authority Villa otherwise lack. There are precious few defenders better on the ball under pressure and Villa have sorely missed that progressive style.

Emery has been forced into picking more central defensive partnerships than he would have hoped this season; the only choice he has now is between bubble wrap and cotton wool for what he uses to wrap up Torres until May.


Nottingham Forest
Adding insult to injury time was the absolute least that Forest performance deserved. Their assured excellence was underlined by goals scored in the fifth and fourth minutes of stoppage time in either half, but there should be no suggestion these were late sucker punches delivered to a tired opponent; they were knockout blows at the end of dominant, confident rounds.

With those two impressive post-Christmas victories lost in the haze of a four-game winless run, Nuno Espirito Santo and his players needed to change the narrative. West Ham undeniably helped as the most pliable of opponents, but Forest still had to display a rare show of sustained competence to take advantage.

Murillo and Felipe complement each other wonderfully in one of the great mononymous defensive pairings. Neco Williams is benefiting from his longest run of consecutive starts in some time. Nicolas Dominguez was excellent in midfield. It might be impossible for Taiwo Awoniyi to complete a full 90 minutes but he is a glorious tip to this potent attacking spear. Between Anthony Elanga, Morgan Gibbs-White and Callum Hudson-Odoi, Forest boast a perennial if slightly basic threat going forward – and even Divock Origi made his presence felt against the Hammers.

Nine clubs have earned more points than Forest since Nuno’s first game; nine have conceded fewer goals; eight have scored more. In this tumultuous season, they will take that sort of middle-of-the-pack serenity as long as these sort of displays are littered within.

READ MORE: The worst Premier League XI of the weekend


They are really quite excellent. In the whole of last season the only club they beat home and away in the Premier League was Southampton; completing doubles over Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton so far goes some way to underlining the wonderful work of Gary O’Neil and his players.


The Celebration Police
One might assume that Arsenal winning their next two games, both away from home, 6-0 and 5-0 while allowing a single shot on target across those 180 minutes, completely undermines the charges the Celebration Police presented against them in the aftermath of the Liverpool victory.

Quite the contrary. Those immature, ruthful, hubristic Gunners increased the pressure on themselves to win the title (am I doing this right?) and were promptly put in their place, with this form merely the result of some fine investigating and forensic work by those diligent officers.

The irresistible Martin Odegaard and co. sure do look exactly like “a team that thought they’d be out of the title race” rather than one that can win it. Absolutely. Case closed.


Two of Chelsea’s best performances coming against the world, European and three-times reigning Premier League champions, who on both occasions were in fine form heading into those meetings, points to the promise of this Pochettino project.

No club has ever scored more league goals against a Pep Guardiola side than the Blues this season and that rare show of resilience, particularly so soon after the Wolves collapse, at least offers some proof that an actual billion pounds hasn’t been spent for nothing.


Those Liverpool bullies
Liverpool have scored 18 goals in their last six games, yet no player has scored more than once in any of those matches. Four different scorers and four different assist providers against Brentford only underlined the destructive brilliance of perhaps Europe’s most multipronged attack, which has scored more goals in all competitions this season than any other club across the continent (96, with Bayer Leverkusen second on 95 because the Xabi Alonso narrative is mighty powerful).

But another striking aspect of Liverpool’s campaign has been their ruthlessness against those they would ordinarily expect to beat. They accrued 36 points against teams which finished in the Premier League’s bottom half last season, scoring marginally more goals (39) against such opponents than Fulham managed (35), and conceding as many as Chelsea and Crystal Palace did (18).

They already have more points (37) against the current bottom half this campaign, scoring more goals (36) than every team bar an Arsenal side which has played an extra game against those placed 11th or below, and conceding by far the fewest goals (nine).

All of Liverpool’s great seasons under Jurgen Klopp have been characterised by robbing from the poor for their own wealth, bullying those on the outside of the aristocracy looking in, and this has been a fine return to form on that front.

READ MORELiverpool’s injury woes increase but laughable Brentford offer Reds no resistance


Simon Adingra
Sam Jewell is about to look like an absolute genius to Todd Boehly when he rocks up for his first day as Chelsea’s head of recruitment and says “well there’s this fella from the Ivory Coast who plays for Brighton…”.



Your apparently biweekly reminder of Vincent Kompany’s plea to the Burnley fans who lined the streets in May to celebrate their stroll to the Championship title:

“I will ask the fans for a favour. Next season Turf Moor has to be hell for every team that comes and plays there.”

Burnley are firmly on course to keep the worst Premier League home record in a single season since Sunderland set a record low bar of seven points accrued at the Stadium of Light in 2005/06. The Clarets have earned five points at Turf Moor so far and are projected to match that tally of seven.

Kompany is incredibly fortunate to have been seemingly insulated against criticism by his fearsome reputation as a player, for he himself has taken an axe to his stunning Championship work so thoroughly as to render it pointless to fall back on as a defence. The Clarets have spent almost £100m and added 18 new players to a side which won promotion at a canter yet it feels like last season’s iteration would comfortably beat this pale imitation.

The juxtaposition between 10 different defenders (Vitinho, Connor Roberts, Lorenz Assignon, Ameen Al-Dakhil, Dara O’Shea, Jordan Beyer, Hjalmar Ekdal, Maxime Esteve, Hannes Delcroix and Charlie Taylor) and 11 different wingers (Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Jacob Bruun Larsen, Aaron Ramsey, Wilson Odobert, Josh Brownhill, Manuel Benson, Luca Koleosho, Mike Tresor, Lyle Foster, Zeki Amdouni and Zarass Aroury), starting at least one Premier League game for Burnley, and James Trafford being needlessly signed and excessively used thereafter as Aro Muric watches from the bench, has been painful enough.

But beyond that, Burnley don’t even resemble a Premier League side in style or quality; their matches still carry the air of FA Cup ties in which they are the plucky Championship underdog. They have brought absolutely nothing even vaguely unique or interesting to the table.

Many a club has been accused of ‘wasting a Premier League space’ when they come up and show no ambition; Norwich come to mind on their last visit in 2021/22. What Burnley have done is far worse than getting promoted, not spending too much and hoarding the rest of the top-flight windfall for safekeeping. They have spent a fortune to torch their identity and be laughably bad in the process.

Premier League sack race: Moyes and Kompany circling the drain as Hodgson steps down

Burnley manager Vincent Kompany looks dejected during a match.
Vincent Kompany looks dejected during a match.


David Moyes
The period of self-trumpeting is upon is once again. And in absolute fairness to Moyes, anyone else in his position would do the same in response to what may seem like absent-minded criticism.

“I am pretty long in the tooth, you can never please everybody, it would be hard to say there have been many better times at West Ham,” he said, and it is hard to argue against a European trophy and finishes of sixth and seventh representing a halcyon era for this club, particularly in modern times.

But the point is not that Moyes hasn’t taken West Ham far, rather it’s whether this is as far as he can take them. And their results, their performances and their style of play point to one undeniable conclusion on that front.

The loss of Lucas Paqueta has had an understandably detrimental effect but West Ham’s sheer level of investment means that cannot possibly excuse a six-game winless run and three matches without scoring. An overreliance on one player betrays a failure in coaching.

There is a perfectly feasible timeline in which West Ham part with Moyes, his replacement struggles and the Be Careful What You Wish For crowd smugly stroke their collective chins. It would be boring, predictable and pointless if guarantees existed in football.

But boring, predictable and pointless sums up precisely how many West Ham supporters feel about watching their club right now and fear of the unknown alone should not prevent them from making a long overdue change in at least trying to make that next step and further their development.

Moyes is right: he “wins more” games than any manager West Ham could possibly attract to carry on his work, at least unless David Sullivan has something up his sleeve involving Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger. But Moyes has also lost the most games of any manager in Premier League history, because that is how longevity works. He is a very good coach with a very obvious ceiling and it is West Ham’s very clear duty to explore their options.


Dan Burn
The problem with Burn being, in the words of Eddie Howe, “pivotal to how we play”, is that Newcastle are not playing well. Save for their apparent hex over Aston Villa, this is a deeply inconsistent team bearing none of the hallmarks which made them brilliant last season.

Burn is not their only problem but he is clearly one of the biggest and undoubtedly the easiest to solve. And substituting him two minutes after Luton scored their fourth and Bournemouth their second goals of games in which he was routinely, specifically and obviously targeted is not the way.

Chiedozie Ogbene, Anthony Elanga and Antoine Semenyo are fine forwards in their own right but three bottom-half clubs should not be able to pinpoint and exploit a single area of weakness in a Champions League side in successive games. That they can and Howe seems so reticent to remedy that – at least partially due to loyalty – is damning.


There goes the title charge. And in, yet again to everyone’s deepest regret, come the ‘is Angeball sustainable?’ hot takes, as if these aren’t perfectly normal teething problems in a new manager’s first job in a different country, particularly at a club harbouring this level of expectation.

This result had been coming; the signs were there. Spurs had trailed at half-time in three of their last four games – including their previous two at home – but had mustered responses immediately after the break and made those short, sharp bursts of dominance count. It seemed to be heading a similar way against Wolves when Dejan Kulusevski cancelled out a Joao Gomes opener within a minute of the restart, but Wolves were competent enough to restore their lead soon after and the lack of response from the hosts was bleak.

There is no shame whatsoever in losing to a Wolves side set up specifically to thrive in these circumstances, but it might at least force some proper introspection and a chance of approach. Richarlison stepped up when James Maddison and Son Heung-min were gone; now they are back and all Tottenham’s attacking options are available, someone must take the mantle.


So imperious was Brentford’s record against the Big Six that Thomas Frank was invited onto Monday Night Football in September to speak well and share some of his secrets; the Bees had beaten Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, both Manchester clubs and Tottenham at least once in the Premier League in their two seasons since earning promotion, winning or drawing 13 of their 24 games against the gilded elite.

Frank’s insight was understandably delivered at arm’s length without being offered a peek too far behind the curtain, but perhaps he revealed too many of his secrets.

Brentford have played eight games against the Big Six this season, beating only this shadow of a Chelsea side, drawing with Spurs on the opening weekend and otherwise losing – handsomely against Liverpool at that, 7-1 on aggregate.

There should be no panic and there remains both a safety net in terms of points and teams below them struggling to tie their own shoelaces. But it is just a shame to see Brentford’s great strength turned into the same old weakness that every other team suffers from.


Far from a poor result, and certainly not a bad display, but Bournemouth have dropped more points from winning positions (19) than every team bar Brentford (26), and that tally now includes three separate 2-2 draws in which they have conceded stoppage-time equalisers.

As Andoni Iraola said after “one of the best performances we’ve had” in his reign so far, “it’s true that all the narrative is going to change because it’s 2-2 and it’s not 2-1”. The outlook is rosy enough but it could have been even better.


Another frustrating defeat, yet equal amounts of pride should be taken in Luton hosting Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Man Utd and Spurs this season and only losing by a single goal each time, while holding Liverpool at Kenilworth Road.

These games should be massacres, annihilations which emphasise the chasm between the Hatters and the Premier League establishment. It has been important not to reduce Luton’s entire season to an exercise in condescension and head-patting but their ability to bloody such noses so consistently has been remarkably impressive.

While Burnley and Sheffield United have been habitually hammered, their newly-promoted brethren have given a brilliant enough account of themselves to be legitimately annoyed at not making their quality count more often.


Those two 5-0 wins in the space of five December days remain just the most bizarre aspect of this entire season, not least because Fulham have otherwise not won consecutive Premier League games against teams which are currently in the division for an entire year (2-0 v Nottingham Forest and 1-0 v Brighton last February), yet they are still comfortably mid-table.


Jeremy Doku
Scored one goal and assisted four against Bournemouth in November and has not managed to advance either tally in the Premier League since. It feels like only one of the two managers at the Etihad would have wanted him to have more touches than Kevin de Bruyne or Phil Foden, and it wasn’t Pep Guardiola.


Kyle Walker
Genuinely cannot get over about five individual aspects of his defending for that Sterling goal.


Sheffield United
From last week’s Winners and Losers column:

Chris Wilder will presumably be keen to bypass the first part at some stage but it should not go unnoticed that two of Sheffield United’s three Premier League wins this season have come in games immediately after losing 5-0.

Wolves, beware. Not sure it’s sustainable but any tactic is worth exploring properly.